Lemberg Punches Above its Weight
LEMBERG WINE ESTATE
Saturday 27 January 2018
I’ve heard it said to leave the best until last. That was certainly the case (pun intended) today. Lemberg Wine Estate was my final tasting of a busy time in Wolseley and Tulbagh, in the aptly named ‘valley of abundance’. Earlier, I had visited Lateganskop Winery, Rijk’s Private Cellar and Manley Wine Lodge. Tasting wines, meeting winemakers and host sommeliers, taking photos and writing copious notes, however many times I have done so, takes concentration. It is always therefore a treat when the final tasting of the day is a great one.
Lemberg is barely 5 kilometres to the South-West of Tulbagh – 120 kilometres from Cape Town and closer than one imagines – on the R46 towards Gouda. The region is one of outstanding natural beauty and spectacular mountain scenery. The estate lies in the heart of the Tulbagh valley and surrounded by the Witzenberg and Winterhoek mountains.
Easy to find and follow signposts from the main road led me down a sun-bleached gravel road through ripe vines to the Tasting Room. Winemaking equipment outside the Cellar building gave clue to the burgeoning harvest and the frantic activity that happens at this time of the wine calendar. The large Tasting Room offered a welcome respite from the heat of the day. Beautifully decorated, the room contained a mix of traditional furnishings and contemporary artwork that made for a cosy setting for my tasting. A large television showed the Proteas v India Test match – sport being almost as much a passion of mine as wine – and so I deliberately chose to sit at the tasting bar with my back to the screen.
I was welcomed by co-owner Henk Du Bruyn. Partner Suzette van Rensberg later took over the tasting as he had a prior appointment. I was fortunate too to be able to outstay my welcome beyond the 3pm Saturday closing time. Lemberg produces 2 collections of wines: the ‘White Label’ Lemberg Range and the Premium Range. I tasted from both but sadly the rare Hárslevelü, a Hungarian spicy, aromatic, white cultivar that is grown on 24 hectares only in South Africa, was sold out.
I began with two white wines. The first, a Sauvignon Blanc made from 1980 vines, was an inviting shiny greenish straw in colour. I might have expected a tropical fruit salad styled wine given the heat of the Tulbagh area. However, the Sauvignon Blanc showed a green style with intense aromas of fresh lemon, lime and grapefruit. The acidity was moderate to make for a wine that was easy on the palate and with an average finish.
I preferred and bought the Lady white blend, the first white blend to be made at Lemberg. Viognier-led, it contained some Hárslevelü (25%) so I guess I tasted some of the rare variety. Made naturally in minimalist and oxidative style using wooden vats, the wine combined flavours of floral peach and pear fruitiness with honey. The mouthfeel was lightly creamy and smooth with decent acidity to make for an excellent wine.
As I tasted, Henk explained the background to the estate. Lemberg was established in 1978 by winemaker Janey Muller. She was reportedly the first woman to own a vineyard in the Western Cape – though I suspect other wineries might dispute this – that became known for its Sauvignon Blanc and Hárslevelü. It is believed she named the farm after Lemberg in Poland (now in Ukraine), the place of her husband’s birth.
Later, in 1994, the property change hands and German owners Klaus and Uschi Schindler expanded the farm by building a new Cellar and guesthouse accommodation, together with planting new vines. Further expansion and development took place in 2001 when Hank and Suzette took over the estate. The Cellar and Tasting Room were improved and new cultivars planted. Nine hectares of the 21 hectares are under vine. Red wines make up 60% of production from Grenache, Pinotage, Pinot Noir and Shiraz. Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier and Hárslevelü are used to make white wines.
I discovered, as I sampled next the Blanc de Noir, that the 3 vine leaves on the Lemberg wine label are those of Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and Pinotage. This onion skin coloured – or, as the French would say ‘eye of the partridge’ coloured – Rosé was another favourite wine and another that I bought. The wine had a spicy bite to the fresh lemon and raspberry aromas that made a pleasant change to the many sweet and largely insipid Rosé that I taste. The zesty wine was all one wants from the Rosé and will be good to drink alone or with food.
The first red wine was the Syrah-led Cape Blend from the Lemberg White Label Range. It is unusual to see Pinot Noir in a blend and it balanced the 2 spicy Syrah and Pinotage cultivars well. The quality, including soft relaxed and rounded tannins, was excellent for the price and I am not surprised it sells well at Shoprite.
The single cultivar Pinot Noir, grown on sandy, clay soils, was a deeper ruby colour than most I have tasted and unsurprisingly so given the heat of the region. The cherry aromas were more bitter than sweet to give a tartness that followed through to a grippy palate and olive aftertaste. It was not my favourite wine.
I compared next the Pinotage from the 2 ranges. Both were decent wines but I preferred the greater depth and intensity of aroma and smoother tannins of the Premium wine. The Lemberg Pinotage showed a dusty, dry and ripe rather than juicy fruit bouquet. Dry, bright tannins were prominent from the 3rd and 4th fill 5,000 litre French cuvee barrels. Deeper in colour due to extended 48 hour cold maceration, the Spencer wine exuded dark cherry and plum fruit aromas on the nose and, despite maturation for 19 month in 30% new/2nd fill French barrels, deft tannins and a moderate to strong finish.
The Cellar, once one of the smallest in South Africa and extended in 2010 and 2011, was visible through the rear of the Tasting Room. Barrels were stacked high on both sides but it was Henk’s classic British Morgan car that caught my eye. A wine cellar must make a great garage with its temperature and humidity control. Morgan cars are traditionally built with a wooden chassis but, if I remember correctly, from ash rather than oak!
Side by side tasting of the 2 Syrah followed. As with the Pinotage, I preferred the wine from the higher range. That is not to say that the cuvee-matured White Label was poor, far from it. Bold Carignan (14%) added weight and body to red-to-dark fruit and white-to-dark spicy peppercorn aromas that warmed the nose. The palate and mouthfeel were excellent too. The Nelson Syrah, containing just 3% Carignan, was the same but more. Bright, forwards, full, intense fruity plum and peppercorn spicy cherry notes invited more. These followed through to warm flavours that balanced well the alcohol and tannins in the mouth.
Spencer, Nelson and (soon) Louis are the Old British bulldogs that are a large part of the Lemberg family and the vineyard owners. At least 2 paid me a visit during the tasting and they enjoyed lying on the cool Tasting Room floor to give relief from the hot summer sun outside. They are portrayed in many of the fine artwork on the walls and give their names to the Premium Range wines.
The highly-rated Premium Louis Rhône Blend was the final red wine of the tasting and my favourite of all the Lemberg wines. This was another excellent wine and a beautiful deep ruby and full body in appearance. The 4 cultivars gave a delicious and layered fruity bouquet. There was elegance on the palate and an extended finish.
Last, I sampled the Potstill Brandy from the ‘House of Spencer’ with bulldog logo on the black and gold label. The base wine heralds from Wellington but the brandy is aged for 5 years at Lemberg. I’m not a huge brandy drinker but I liked the bright, bold yet smooth refined taste and texture.
Lemberg was another of those lesser known wine estates that punch far above their weight. Much of the wine is sold to Holland and to Scandinavia and so it does not surprise that I had little heard of Lemberg in South Africa. Their export success is down to the importance and priority that Hank and Suzette give to quality, consistency and relationships. This matched the generous hospitality and the excellence of their elegant wines, most of which are rated 4-star and above in the Platter’s Guide. I needed to remind myself that the boutique estate has less than 10 hectares of vines given the number of cultivars grown and wines produced. Make Lemberg one of your first wine estates to visit in the Tulbagh wine region and you will not be disappointed.
Wines tasted (bought *):
2017 White Label Sauvignon Blanc – R70
2015 Premium Lady (53% Viognier, 25% Hárslevelü, 11% Sauvignon Blanc, 11% Sémillon) – R120*
2017 White Label Blanc de Noir (74% Syrah, 26% Grenache) – R50*
2013 White Label Cape Blend (55% Syrah, 30% Pinotage, 15% Pinot Noir) – R65
2014 Premium Pinot Noir – R100
2013 White Label Pinotage – R85
2013 Spencer Premium Pinotage – R85
2013 White Label Syrah – R75
2013 Premium Nelson Syrah – R180
2015 Premium Louis (59% Syrah, 25% Carignan, 12% Grenache, 4% Mourvèdre) – R210 FAVOURITE WINE
Lemberg Potstill Brandy (750 ml) – R300