Vista to Verdot at Glen Carlou
Friday 9 March 2018
Glen Carlou is close to Klapmuts which is in the midst of a triangle whose points are at Paarl, Stellenbosch and Kraaifontein. It was my third and final tasting of the day following visits to Backsberg and Babylonstoren earlier. Glen Carlou has a vaguely Spanish or Scottish ring about it but I could not find out the origins of the name anywhere. The farm was first established on the Northern slopes of the Simonsberg Mountain by the Finlayson family in 1985 so there might be a clue there. Intriguingly, the long, low shape of the Restaurant building and elevated position are not unlike those of the Tasting Room at Bouchard Finlayson. The family no longer own the 145 hectare farm (68 hectares under vine) as it was bought in 2003 by the Switzerland-based Hess family who own an international wine group of 6 estates worldwide.
Use any search engine to look for Glen Carlou and you will see photographs of the thatched roof Restaurant perched high on stone foundations above the vineyards on the mountain slopes. This was the view that greeted me beneath azure blue skies as I drove through the arid vineyards. The car park and access to the Restaurant, which doubles as the Tasting Room, is at the rear of the building. This leaves the best to last as one walks to the front terrace through the traditional open roofed, barn-like structure with its exposed beams. The view across the entrance road and to the Paarl Mountain Nature Reserve beyond was superb and made a perfect setting for the many diners who arrived before me.
I chose to sit at the circular bar for my tasting. The sight of the tasty Restaurant food got the better of me and so I ordered a Cheese Platter (R12e) to ease my hunger. It was simple with pre-wrapped biscuits and cheeses (most likely from nearby Fairview Estate) that reminded me of the one I ate at Zevenwacht Wine Farm a couple of months ago. The oddly-named Tafleen was my tasting host. I opted for both the Classic and the Prestige Tastings (R25 and R35, respectively). As I decided which wines to taste, she explained the origins of her name. It made for an interesting story. Her mother was utterly convinced she was giving birth to a boy and so agreed with her father that, if the baby was a girl, he could name her. He therefore got to choose. Her name came from a book he was reading at the time about early naval vessels.
The tasting options reflect the Glen Carlou wine collections: the terroir-expressive Classic Range and the ultra-premium single vineyard Prestige Range. There’s a limited release Curator’s Collection too that essentially is 4th winemaker Johnnie Calitz’s ‘playtime’ – as Tafleen called it – whose wines are available for sale only at the Glen Carlou Tasting Room or Restaurant or through the Wine Club.
Tafleen insisted I start with the Rosé before the white wines. Unusually made from Pinot Noir, the minimal skin contact made for a shiny pale salmon to pale copper wine. The bouquet of fresh strawberry and unripe raspberry, with slight underlying spiciness, was simple and of good intensity. A lightness on the palate matched that of the nose as the fruitiness fell away far too soon.
Next, and also from the Classic Range, was a bright Sauvignon Blanc made with grapes from the cooler Durbanville region, which had a pleasant mix of light tropical and herbaceous aromas – green fig, lemon, melon, kiwi and gooseberry. This was similar in character to the Rosé: rather more promised on the nose than was delivered on the palate. Nonetheless, the acidity was bright to leave a pleasant if undemanding wine.
I rated the Curator’s Chenin Blanc higher. Made from Swartland grapes to fill just 3,000 bottles, I liked the moderate intensity of lime, quince, kiwi, apple and white honey bouquet. It was mineral in character and with good acidity for a clean mouthfeel.
Glen Carlou is known for its Chardonnay. The Prestige ‘Quartz Stone’ wine, in elegant black and gold labelled bottle, was my favourite of the tasting. Made from the oldest block of vines on the estate (1989) famed for quartz shards in the soil, using fermentation in a mix of French oak barrels (90%) and concrete eggs (10%, 6 weeks lees contact), the pale yellow wine invited me to taste. The nose was ripe and warm with teasing notes of baked apples, butterscotch and toasty vanilla. The richness of the fruit intensity followed through well to the palate with great balance and length. The many awards and Platter’s Guide 4½ star rating did not surprise.
It was soon the turn of the red wines for tasting. The mild Mediterranean climate of warm, dry summers and cold, wet winters with varied slopes and soils make for ideal growing conditions for the low yielding vines. The Wine of Origin Paarl Pinot Noir made from the block below the Tasting Room was not though best suited to the region. Lightness in body and pale ruby colour, the red cherry fruit aromas were shy on the nose that gave only average intensity and depth on the palate. The wine needed more fruitiness and length for the price.
In contrast, the Curator’s Mourvèdre was much better value for money (R105). Pinot Noir-like bitter sweet cherry, cranberry, redcurrant and berry fruits made for an inviting bouquet. The mouthfeel was clean, of medium acidity and average length, with tannins boosted by 24 months maturation in old French barrels.
The Classic 5-cultivar Bordeaux Blend was medium to full bodied in appearance. The Cabernets gave a rich berry fruitiness that was balanced by Merlot elegance and Petit Verdot body. Eighteen months maturation in 1st/2nd/3rd fill French oak gave just enough tannins, albeit closed in structure, for this lighter style blend.
The final wine that I selected for tasting was an unusual one – a blend of Petit Verdot and Tannat. Petit Verdot is commonly used as a minority blending cultivar in Bordeaux Blends (I remember tasting as a single variety wine at nearby Anura) due to its deep purple colour, high tannin and floral character. Tannat, from France’s Basque Region but growing in prominence in Uruguay, is another variety known for high tannins and blackberry fruit. The combination, unique in my experience, made for an interesting wine. Deep ruby in colour, the bouquet combined dry dusty fruits of bramble with nettle and slight chamomile. Wisely matured in older oak (3rd/4th fill) due to the already high tannins, the wine was chewy on the palate with forwards, olive tannins that were closed and stayed for a long finish.
Before leaving, I peaked at the Cellar beneath the Restaurant – barrels being visible through the Restaurant floor – to see the concrete eggs and rows of oak barrels containing wines later to be bottled. It gave me the opportunity too to look at the Hess Museum of Contemporary Art that was opened in 2006. The collection includes items of artwork that Donald Hess began accumulating as a young man.
Glen Carlou lived up to its reputation for a spectacular Restaurant setting, consistency of wine quality, excellent Chardonnay and art collection. The winemaker remains relatively new (appointed in October 2016) and so it will be interesting to see what imprint he puts on the Glen Carlou label. Meanwhile, I enjoyed the tasting for the interesting range of decent wines.
Wines tasted (bought *):
2017 Classic Sauvignon Blanc – R75
2017 Curator’s Collection Chenin Blanc – R145
2016 Prestige Quartz Stone Wooded Chardonnay – R290 FAVOURITE WINE
2017 Classic Pinot Noir Rosé – R75
2015 Classic Pinot Noir – R145
2014 Curator’s Collection Mourvèdre – R105*
2015 Classic Grand Classique Bordeaux Blend (28% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, 18% Petit Verdot, 17% Malbec, 15% Cabernet Franc) – R150
2012 Classic Petit Verdot & Tannat (56% Petit Verdot, 44% Tannat) – R195