Style or Substance? Nitida left Me Wondering
Saturday 8 April 2017
Nitida Cellars was the last vineyard I visited before dashing back to Cape Town in time for the Stormers v Chiefs match at Newlands. It was barely 10km from the Meerendal estate but a road closure sent me on a merry go round. Nitida was a vineyard, wines too, that I knew nothing about in advance. It is always a pleasure to explore.
The large white entrance could have been the one at either Diemersdal or Meerendal. Nitida though immediately promised a contemporary and stylish rather than traditional offering. The estate name was writ large in modern font, complete with an accent over the second letter ‘i’. Cassia, the main restaurant and function venue, was spelt out in vibrant red in equally fashionable lettering. It did not surprise me to read after that Peta, wife of Bernhard Veller and co-owner, worked in advertising when the land was bought in 1990.
The Tasting Room was beyond the restaurant and beside trees just a short drive from the entrance. The bulk of the room was filled with 300 litre oak barrels piled high. Tasting felt to be of secondary importance to the main purpose of wine production and maturation. Shelley welcomed me and explained the tasting choice: 4 Classical wines for R30 or 4 Artisanal wines for R60. The Artisanal selection comprised blended wines and, wishing to taste ‘blind’, I opted for the Classical range.
I divided my choice into 2 whites and 2 reds. The Sauvignon Blanc was easily recognisable by its medium straw colour; watery appearance; positive green, grassy herbaceous nose layered with lime and citrus notes; together with a crisp acidity and dry, vibrant mouth feel on the palate. This was a well made and balanced wine.
More impressive was the Riesling. This was my favourite and the wine that I bought. The medium straw to pale gold colour made as much of a statement as the modern lettering at the entrance gate. This was a wine with bold, warm fruit aromas – white peach, melon, apple pie – laced with a floral under layer of honeysuckle and jasmine. This promise followed through to the palate with a creamy, heady fruitiness and complexity all the way through to the finish.
The red wines were as interesting. The earthy, musty Syrah – ‘naughty musk’ on the label – covered cedar, cigar box aromas and flavours that fooled me into thinking it was a Merlot. The Cabernet Sauvignon, by comparison, was full of dark fruit – berries, cherries, currants – on the nose. The tannin overpowered on the palate for my liking that limited its complexity. Ageing will assist to soften (this was a 2015 vintage) and improve.
The Tasting Room had quietened down by now and I chatted with Shelley who was a mine of intriguing information. The farm was originally home to 50 sheep and a few cows but managed to produce its first vintage within 3 years, a notable achievement. Notable too was the double gold award for the first vintage Sauvignon Blanc. I took photos too of the elegant wine labels – silver winners in the recent 2017 Wine Label Awards for bottles over R80 and for bottle series – hand drawn using ink from the leaves of the Protea nitida that grows in the garden. At last, I understood the background to the cellar name!
The more vineyards I visit the more linkages I see between them, whether coincidental or accidental. Protea nitida is the waboom or wagon tree, which was traditionally used for making wagon wheels and axles. The same plant is the origin of the name of another wine producer, Waboomsrivier Wynkelder, near Wolseley. Further, the pretty labels which feature local renosterveld plants, together with their mammals, bird and insects, reminded me of Constantia Uitsig that also has labels line-drawn with birds and local fynbos from the nearby wetland.
To finish, I tasted the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The Chardonnay was lightly-oaked (9 months in new and old barrels) and pleasant enough, creamy on the palate with moderate acidity and a rounded complexity. It would have tasted better chilled and served at the right temperature (the Sauvignon Blanc too). This seemed a strange lapse in concentration for a cellar with such obvious attention to detail. The Chardonnay shaded the Pinot Noir in my scoring, the latter being full of red strawberries with light tannins and a luscious finish.
Nitida intrigued but didn’t wow. I am struggling to determine why. The exception was the Riesling which I enjoyed for dinner last night with home-made pasta and smoked salmon in a creamy sauce. Nitida wines punch above their weight for sure. The vines cover just 16 hectares to make it the smallest farm – but one of the most successful – in the Durbanville Valley. Boutique wineries, such as Nitida, each have their individual, handmade characteristic. That is their appeal. These wines were young (2015 and 2016). Most were costed at or around the R150 mark and so punched above for price when compared with those from other nearby vineyards. This a premium usually paid at the smaller farms that must cover relatively high fixed costs.
I remain frustrated that Nitida did not leave a better impression when all the indicators were to the contrary. I guess I am less distracted by awards and pretty labels. I am learning the wine styles I prefer and learning too wines from the Durbanville Ward.
I don’t like to conclude without a conclusion. On this occasion, however, I am left wondering whether advertising has promoted style and design ahead of body and substance.
Wines tasted (bought *):
2016 Sauvignon Blanc – R90
2016 Riesling – R95* FAVOURITE WINE
2016 Chardonnay – R140
2015 Syrah – R135
2015 Cabernet Sauvignon – R120
2015 Pinot Noir – R150