Quoin Rock Gently Roars at Knorhoek
Dr Peter Rating – Experience: 4/5
Dr Peter Rating – Wines: 4.5/5
I have long wanted to visit Quoin Rock, off the R44 due North of Stellenbosch, ever since tasting at nearby Delheim for the annual Harvest Festival (and grape-stomping) some 2½ years ago. I have been close by since, to Muratie, but never down the right hand fork of the Knorhoek Road. I almost did not visit today either. Many Stellenbosch wineries were closed for their winter break and/or refurbishment. I started my day at Morgenhof and found Summerhill and Deux Frères shut. The drive up the rural, wet valley, streams in full flood after recent heavy rains, with pruned vines beside the road was beautiful. I stopped at a barrier only for the guard to tell me that Quoin Rock was closed too. Knorhoek – so called as ‘the place where lions growl’ – at least was open which I had planned to visit after and so I headed beyond to the estate with its pastoral setting.
I passed the entrance with its classic sweeping, curved walls and along a rock-edged twisting driveway. I parked and entered the simple, cosy Tasting Room within a traditional white washed and green tin roofed building. I was met by Amos who had been my excellent tasting host at Delaire Graff. He did well to remember me with my hair much longer in a kind of Einstein-meets-Richard Branson style (I am hoping that some of either will rub off on me). It was good to see Amos again. It was then that I discovered that Knorhoek had been sold to a new owner earlier in the year. The Towerbosch Restaurant and Guesthouse accommodation were open but there were no wines. I could sense my frustration rising at yet another abortive visit to a wine estate when Amos explained that a limited number of Quoin Rock wines were available for tasting (R70 for 3 wines, waived on purchase of 2 bottles). My relief was obvious.
Quoin Rock was closed too for extensive refurbishment over 7 years and only opened in late-2018, with winter closure to 1 August. The 3 available wines come from the Namysto range with stylish and distinctive modern label. ‘Namysto’ is Ukrainian for ‘amulet’ and the design incorporates not only red and white beads that symbolize grapes but the meeting of Ukraine and South Africa, the owner’s birth and adopted country, respectively. Beaded necklaces are traditionally worn in both countries and often believed to bring magical powers that bring prosperity and power.
The Namysto White – mostly Sauvignon Blanc (95%) with a dash of Sémillon and barrel-matured for 6 months – showed an immediate intense, pungent nose of green bell pepper very like a Marlborough, New Zealand Sauvignon. Green grass, asparagus, lemon and lime citrus aromas followed. The wine was fresh, light and bright on the palate with characteristic zesty acidity and better than average length. This was a classic, representative, quality Sauvignon Blanc if ever you want to buy one.
The sibling Red, a blend of mostly Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon, was full bodied and glorious ruby red in appearance. Red and black fruit aromas were of good intensity as I might expect of a 2015 vintage – plum, cherry, mulberry, cassis – together with sweeter pepper spice and clove. Matured for 20 months in French oak barrels, the tannins gave structure without aggression to balance well the fruit flavours. I liked too how the Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon matched each other to make for one of the best SH/CS blends I have tasted in South Africa that are, of course, a speciality in Australia.
I am pushed to find a favourite wine but the Sauvignon Blanc natural sweet dessert wine just edged out the Namysto Red. Natural sweet wines are those with above average sweetness and residual sugar made from grapes that have been picked late. In this case, the Sauvignon Blanc grapes have been ‘vine dried’ whereby the bunch stalks are twisted before harvest. This is an ancient Roman technique used to concentrate sugar and flavour that I have seen before at Solms-Delta. The liquid gold wine showed an inviting and delicious intensity of dried stone fruits, of peach, nectarine and apricot, with assured intensity. Fruit, acidity and sugar perfectly balanced on the palate for an unctuous and luscious dessert wine that begged to be drunk more. This was another wine I could not resist buying.
I can now see what my oenophile friends rave about when discussing Quoin Rock. Knorhoek offered a taster – a faint lion’s roar – of what there is to come. The wines were well made, distinctive and of high quality as was Amos’ hosting and explanation. I left feeling that my tasting task was just about half done as I stopped for a superb photo on my way back down the valley. The downside to being tempted by the mini tasting has the upside that I must return again and to sample the full range of Quoin Rock as well as Knorhoek wines….
Wines tasted (bought *):
2016 Namysto White (95% Sauvignon Blanc, 5% Sémillon) – R120
2015 Namysto Red (60% Shiraz, 29% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc) – R150*
2014 Namysto Sweet Sauvignon Blanc (375 ml) – R95* FAVOURITE WINE