HIDDEN VALLEY WINES
Tuesday 13 August 2019
Dr Peter Rating – Experience: 4/5
Dr Peter Rating – Wines: 4/5
Some of my favourite wines and wine estates lie to the South of Stellenbosch. Kleinood, Keermont, De Trafford, Haskell and Rust en Vrede come to mind. It was a pleasure thus to return amid a day of gathering cloud, first to Stellenrust and last to Alto, with Hidden Valley in between. I was even more excited as I could not recall having tasted their wines before. The winery was easy to find having been in the area before: take the right fork off the Annandale Road at Peter Falke, South from Stellenbosch via the R44 as if heading to Strand, past Guardian Peak and Ernie Els (long-term temporarily closed for major renovation) and towards Uva Mira Mountain Vineyards (also closed today).
The long narrow road with its passing places steadily heads up towards Hidden Valley which is a sight to behold. The setting is beautiful. The 40-hectare property straddles the valley road amid well-tended landscaped gardens: there’s the Deck self-service eatery floating on a dam on one side, whilst the main Overture Restaurant (opened in 2007), Cellar and Tasting Building lie on the other. The surrounds are peaceful and spectacular as if every indigenous pincushion Protea, Crassula succulent, hedge and lawn have been planted in exact position with a purpose. Some 3,000 Kalamata and Nocellara olive trees are planted beside to produce extra virgin oil and table olives in the fertile granite soils.
My excitement grew as I parked and headed to the Tasting Room. The contemporary yet functional gravity-fed Cellar, built in wood, glass and Sicilian-inspired stone wall frontage is impressive as it sits set into the sloping hillside. A large bronze Willie Botha mask, one of many, together with a giant luminous yellow-green apple stood as accent pieces of sculpture en route the large terrace to the Tasting Room. Inside, natural materials dominate as large trunk-plank tables on angular metal brackets give seating for tasting in the open, airy room that overlooks the modern cellar.
The tasting fee was R65 for 5 wines that came with a tasty selection of olives, olive oil and bread. Megan was attentive and knowledgeable throughout the tasting. Hidden Valley produces a small number of wines (some 7 to 9) that, unlike most wineries form one selection that is not sub-divided into ranges. Choosing 5 wines from those available for tasting was a simple task. I began with a pale, shiny lemon-coloured Sauvignon Blanc. The wine was herbaceous and green in style with fresh lemon, lime and melon aromas. The freshness fed through to a clean palate with a bright, though not totally integrated, acidity.
Viognier is the only white grape beside Sauvignon Blanc to be grown on the farm. The second wine was a blend between the 2 and an unusual combination. Sauvignon Blanc-led (65%), the unwooded wine was of similar appearance and in a Prosecco-shaped bottle. The Sauvignon Blanc-Viognier showed a warmer nose though still dominated by grassy notes but with added aromatic, white peach and pear notes. I preferred the more rounded acidity that took the edge off the Sauvignon Blanc sharpness for improved balance.
Hidden Valley does not, as one might reasonably deduce, stem from the secretive location. The name comes from the original owner, David Hidden, a Gauteng industrialist who purchased the property ‘- said by his viticulture Professor at Stellenbosch University to have ‘the best vineyard soil in South Africa’ – in 1988 and took up residence in 2006. The 21-hectares of vineyards were first planted in 2002 (most recent in 2016) with the latest planting material and methods. Red varieties make up the majority (70% by area) and mostly Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz – with lesser plantings of Merlot, Petit Verdot and Tannat – together with Sauvignon Blanc and some Viognier.
The sampled next the medium salmon-coloured Hidden Treasure which was a Merlot-led Rosé in an unusually shaped imported French bottle. The wine showed typical strawberry and cherry fruits, plum too, with a good complexity of aroma for a Rosé. The clean fruits weakened on the palate to leave a simple, light wine with medium intensity of flavour and length at the finish.
My favourite wine of the tasting was the Hidden Gems with elegant cerulean blue label on a broad-shouldered dark bottle. Red and dark Cabernet Sauvignon-led fruits – bramble, cassis, black cherry and plum – combined with distinct smoky leather aromas to make an interesting and inviting nose. The rich fruits well balanced the full body, 14% alcohol and firm tannins, aided by 18 months maturation in 20% new French oak barriques. This is an excellent food wine that will age well.
The final wine of the tasting was the aptly named Hidden Secret, another blended wine and made mostly (70%) from Shiraz. Bottled in similar Prosecco-shaped bottle to the whites, the wine showed like smoky, meaty character to its Gems sibling. Red and mostly dark currant, cherry, plum, cassis and blackberry aromas filled the nose together with white pepper spice and liquorice. The vintage was the same as the Gems (2016) but the tannins were smoother and better rounded. This is another wine that is approachable to drink now but will benefit from more time in the bottle.
It was good to meet winemaker Annalie van Dyk as I ended the tasting. She explained her approach of minimal intervention and careful vinification. I liked the individual nature of the hand-crafted wines and their sense of style. All were blended save for the Sauvignon Blanc, to make for an interesting selection – as were the individually shaped bottles – that were well made and interesting to taste. I could easily have stayed longer for a Charcuterie or Cheese Platter (ideal for 2 persons) or even a snack in the Restaurant but I needed to move on for my next tasting at Alto. Meanwhile, even if the winery name does not quite fit, the decidedly photogenic Hidden Valley and its wines were no longer hidden!
Wines tasted (bought *):
2018 Sauvignon Blanc – R130
2017 Sauvignon Blanc-Viognier (65% Sauvignon Blanc, 35% Viognier) – R185
2018 Hidden Treasure (70% Merlot, 15% Shiraz, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon) – R145
2016 Hidden Gems (56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 34% Petit Verdot, 10% Merlot) – R235 FAVOURITE WINE
2016 Hidden Secret (80% Shiraz, 15% Tannat, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon) – R235