No Blues at Hillcrest
Monday 15 July 2019
Dr Peter Rating – Experience: 4/5
Dr Peter Rating – Wines: 4/5
Set on the curve in the bend of the Tygerberg Valley Road midway between Table View and Durbanville, Hillcrest is easily accessible from the Northern Suburbs, Cape Town. Oddly, I have never tasted at Hillcrest despite having been to the annual Blues Summit concerts from 2011 through to 2015 (sadly, no longer in being) and other rock/blues music at the Quarry venue on the farm. It seemed rather odd to turn left to the Restaurant and Winery parking rather than continuing up the hill to park for the events. Hillcrest was thus extremely quiet on the wet wintry morning, especially since the large open Restaurant beside the Tasting Room is closed on Mondays.
Reynard assisted me with the tasting in cheerful, polite fashion and with an obvious interest in and passion for wine. I sat in the front area, overlooking the empty, casual Restaurant, rather than the attractive back room Cellar in the former storeroom with its stacked bottles and wine barrels. There was more light and space there for me to make my written notes. Additionally, there was a temporary loss of electrical power that made the Cellar option impossible.
Hillcrest grows all the key Bordeaux red grape varieties, Sauvignon Blanc too, on 25 hectares of the farm (olive trees too since 1993) to make estate white and red wines in near equal amount. The wines fall into 3 main groupings: the entry Estate Range; the mid-level single variety Saartjie Range (so named after the winemaker’s Jack Russell dog); and the flagship Metamorphic Range. The Fee was charged per wine tasted (R10 to R25) which is uncommon and new for Hillcrest. Indeed, and having tasted using this method only recently for the first time (at Haut Espoir in Franschhoek), I wonder if this is a growing trend in South African wineries.
The flagship Atlantic Slopes Sauvignon Blanc was one of the best wines of the tasting and sported a clever wraparound label that showed the surrounding skyline with each peak named, Table Mountain included. When it warmed up (it was served straight from the fridge), the pale straw wine showed classic Durbanville fruity character with slightly pungent herbaceous notes combined with slight tropical aromas. Added, lightly wooded Sémillon took the edge off the sharpness of the acidity and gave the Sauvignon Blanc extra body.
It was good to taste the single variety Sémillon after. Fermented using natural yeast (the only Hillcrest wine to be so), it was similar in colour to the Sauvignon Blanc and showed slight vanilla notes arising from 30% maturation for 6 months in old, 5th/6th fill French barrels. These aromas complemented those of fresh lemon for a citrus style like the Sémillons that I recently tasted at Haut Espoir and La Bourgogne in Franschhoek. The wine showed similar character to an unwooded or lightly wooded Chenin Blanc but without the honeyed tropical flavours, with less acidity and more body.
The next 3 wines of the tasting were all single variety reds from the Saartjie Range. I began with the Cabernet Franc that was just full bodied and made in green style. It showed a medium intensity of red fruits – currant, cherry and cassis – on the nose together with slight green olive aromas. The wine was fresh on the palate with bright acidity for a pleasant mouthfeel. The greenness came through onto the palate to make for a less fragrant Cabernet Franc than many I have tasted.
I preferred the darker fruited Malbec, also made from 1,000 vines grown in a single, North-West facing block, and similarly matured for 18 months in 1st/2nd fill barrels. Medium intensity dark plum, cassis and spiced clove aromas followed through to a clean and balanced palate in light style that included chocolate flavours.
The Petit Verdot was my favourite wine of the tasting. There was no mistaking the full body or the dark, dark fruits and concentrated tannins. The wine had the highest alcohol content of all the Hillcrest wines (14.5%). Rich, intense, inky blue bramble, black plum and dark cherry aromas led to pronounced cassis flavours on the palate which well balanced the intense tannins.
The Hornfels Bordeaux Blend, from the Metamorphic Range, was my last wine. Hornfels is a hard, durable and splintery rock that arises from silt, mud and sand of the Malmesbury Series in which hot, fiery magma has baked – or metamorphosed, hence the Range name – the underlying shale. Right Bank in style, and containing just 10% Cabernet Sauvignon with equal proportions of Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot, the shiny, medium garnet wine showed a sweeter nose than the single cultivar wines. This soon gave way to a savoury, gamey nose and then red and dark fruits with surprisingly limited complexity given the cultivar mix. The Hornfels was better on the palate than the nose as rounded tannins showed their 2014 age to balance more concentrated fruit flavours for a wine with decent length.
I was going to write that Hillcrest pleasantly surprised but then I had no prior expectations. That may be due to the very average wines that I tasted previously at the Durbanville Hills and Nitida wineries that lie either side of Hillcrest. I liked all 4 wines from the Saartjie Range that showcased some of the less common cultivars in single variety wines that were well priced for their quality. I liked too the fresh glass for each wine. This seems so little a point to comment on but makes a large difference to me as I can frequently smell or taste the previous wine/s. Reynard was a little tardy for my preference and the white wines were served too chilled but that did not detract from the overall positive experience. I have tasted better and I have tasted poorer wines from the Durbanville wine Ward. Boutique Hillcrest is certainly one of the better wineries and well worth a tasting visit.
Wines tasted (bought *):
2018 Atlantic Slopes Sauvignon Blanc – R140
2018 Saartjie Sémillon – R145*
2017 Saartjie Cabernet Franc – R145*
2017 Saartjie Malbec – R145*
2017 Saartjie Petit Verdot – R145* FAVOURITE WINE
2014 Hornfels (30% Cabernet Franc, 30% Merlot, 30% Petit Verdot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon) – R310