FORT SIMON WINE ESTATE
Saturday 29 June 2019
Dr Peter Rating – Experience: 3.5/5
Dr Peter Rating – Wines: 3.5/5
I said to Nicholas in the Tasting Room as I arrived that I did not think there were too many passers by coming to Fort Simon for wine tasting. I was the only person there for most of the time, until a couple arrived shortly before I left. I was unsurprised as Fort Simon is a little off the beaten track, being some 4 kilometres along a passable but lightly potholed sandy road, South of the Bottleray Road to the North-West of Stellenbosch. I had been near before, to Goede Hoop and Groenland lower down the road as well as to Hazendal and Bellevue either side of the lane on the Bottleray Road. I know little if anything about the wines either so the visit was a complete surprise.
One cannot but help be surprised by the first sight of Fort Simon. Low winter vines, bereft of leaves and yet to be pruned filled the shallow Bottleray Hill upper slopes to the left of the rising road, complete with yellow flowering brassica plants between the rows. One last turn and the fort came into view. I guess I should have expected from the estate name but it nonetheless surprised. The fort, with its towers, merlons, castellations and arrow slits, looked out of place in the rural surroundings yet somehow reassuring and imposing. It houses the cellar and inspired by the Duwisib Castle that was built from local sandstone in 1908 in Maltahöhe, Southern Namibia, by a German artillery officer. Google ‘Duwisib Castle’ and you will see the clear likeness. Fort Simon was built some 60 years later, using local granite rocks from the estate by Dr Simon Uys and the Uys family.
I parked beside the fort and made my way to the Tasting Room, past empty crescent-shaped swimming pools that were perhaps a nod to a moat, and into the Fort Anna building (so named in 2013 after Anna Uys). The small room was originally used as a reception venue for friends but has since been enlarged to accommodate weddings and functions. Elsewhere on the state is a wedding chapel in one of the oldest Fort Simon buildings, the 1908 Houmoed Cellar that was converted by the removal of concrete fermenting tanks in 2013. The Tasting Room with its quaint mediaeval style was stark and open with large inglenook fireplace, chandeliers, wooden tables and bench seating. The wines are all made from 80 hectares of vines on the estate that includes all the main white and red Bordeaux cultivars together with Viognier, Pinotage and Shiraz.
Fort Simon produces 4 Ranges of wines: entry level Michele d’Or Wines; mid-range Fortress Hill Wines; the premium Fort Simon Range; and the Platinum Collection (Viognier). The tasting choice was simple: R75 for any 5 wines. I chose from the Fort Simon Range, beginning with the Sauvignon Blanc. The wine was a basic fresh fruity Sauvignon Blanc with tropical, kiwi fruit aromas with undertones of grassy herbaceousness and a medium plus acidity.
I preferred the Chardonnay that was also true to the cultivar. Pleasant sweet apple and vanilla notes of moderate complexity and intensity followed through to a buttery rounded palate that showed characteristic softness from malolactic fermentation and 9 months maturation in new French oak.
I chose 2 red wines to follow, the first of which was my favourite wine of the tasting. The Barrel Select was a cut down Bordeaux-style blend containing Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. I liked the full body and deep ruby appearance. Juicy, ripe Merlot red fruits of cherry and plum mingled with smoky, minty blackcurrant Cabernet Sauvignon aromas on the nose. The tannins on the palate were youthful yet structured and need time to open out for the wine to be at its best.
The single variety Cabernet Sauvignon, the most expensive Fort Simon wine that I tasted (R150), was bold on the nose with ripe – perhaps overripe and with slight volatile acidity – fruity plum, cherry, cassis, blackberry and graphite notes. The 2015 vintage fruitiness did not follow through as much as I expected to the palate where olive green tannins, aided by 24 months maturation in new French oak, came to the fore.
I ended with the Viognier dessert wine that was served in small goblet shaped glass. Medium gold in colour, the wine showed moreish floral aromas of acacia and jasmine together with dried apricot, peach and orange marmalade with good intensity. Sweet on the palate (258 grams/litre residual sugar), the wine needed more acidity to balance the sweetness for crispness.
Fort Simon did very much as I expected. The tasting experience was average with second year Stellenbosch University student, Nicholas being efficient and with a polite explanation for each of the wines. I would have liked to have learned more about the estate during the tasting rather than research after. The wines were mostly bold and fruit-driven, definitely New World in style, and of 90 to 92 point quality and with a price to match. Fort Simon is well worth a visit even if only to see the fort itself.
Wines tasted (bought *):
2018 Fort Simon Sauvignon Blanc – R98
2018 Fort Simon Chardonnay – R132
2016 Fort Simon Barrel Selection (70% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon)* – R116 FAVOURITE WINE
2015 Fort Simon Cabernet Sauvignon – R150
2017 Platinum Noble Late Harvest Viognier (375ml) – R133