Perdeberg Earns Its Stripes
Friday 28 February 2020
Dr Peter Rating – Experience: 4/5
Dr Peter Rating – Wines: 4.5/5
My (new) wife told me after breakfast that she had a lunchtime business networking meeting at Perdeberg Winery. “Do I want to come with? You could do some wine-tasting”, she said. I did not need a lot of persuasion. I had been to Perdeberg before, nearly 2 years ago, for the annual Pinotage and Biltong Festival which returns for its 6th edition on 18-19 April. I had not tasted the Perdeberg wines, so this was too good an opportunity to miss.
Perdeberg lies some 10 kilometres to the North West of Paarl amid dry rolling wheat land. I well remember the large cellar building that is a legacy of the former co-operative winery. It was built in 1942 by Jan Roussow so that the local wine growers could gain best prices for their high-quality grapes. It is this kind of innovation that has become a tradition at Perdeberg. It was the second cellar in South Africa to introduce cold fermentation in 1956, the first winery in the region to employ from 2010 a full-time viticulturalist and, recently, to use aerial infra-red photography for the extensive vineyards.
The sun shone brightly as I sought a shady space to park. Inside, the Tasting Room offered a relaxed environment. There were relatively few guests for a Friday lunchtime but, I suspect, most were enjoying the new East@Perdeberg Restaurant upstairs. Des was my attentive and efficient host. The room was simple rather than opulent, functional rather than expansive and with wine and associated product displays on surrounding shelving against bare brick walls. The tasteful decoration in black, white and red perfectly matched the Perdeberg ethos of doing simple things well. The tasting offer was 5 wines for R50 from a selection of almost 30 wines. These were divided into 3 main collections (the iconic Speciality Range (2 wines) and the easy-drinking fruit-driven Soft Smooth Range (3 wines) were not available for tasting): the Dryland Collection, from selected grapes of dryland vineyards that showcase their terroir and made in the New World style; the single variety Vineyard Collection made from specific vineyards chosen for their combination of cultivar and terroir; and the Classic Collection of elegant fruity wines that can be drunk with or without food.
Choosing just 5 wines was a challenge and especially so when the choice included less common varieties such as Grenache Blanc, Cinsault and Malbec. Fortunately for me and knowing my interest in wine, Des was generous in allowing me to taste a wide selection. I began with a side-by-side comparison of bush vine Chenins Blanc from the Dryland Collection. Both the wines were a shiny pale lemon in colour with distinctive Chenin Blanc aromas of ripe lemon and lime citrus, tropical mango and pineapple, with an undertone of fresh herbs. The unwooded ‘Braveheart’ was crisp on the palate and fresh despite its 2015 vintage with medium+ acidity and a rounded feel at the average finish. I just preferred the 9-month French oak, barrel-fermented ‘Courageous’ that cost just R10 more. The nose was fuller and more concentrated to show a more honeyed, sweeter character together with nectarine stone fruits. The intensity of aroma followed through to the palate that was predictable more rounded, softer and with better integrated acidity. The 2 wines made an excellent start to the tasting and of excellent value for money (R100 and R110 only).
I opted for the Vineyard Collection Sauvignon Blanc next, but Des was keen for me to taste and compare with the ‘Expression’ sibling from the Dryland Collection. Their appearance was comparable, with the ‘Expression’ being a slightly deeper pale lemon in colour. The Vineyard wine was made in green style and dominated on the nose by bell pepper and grassy, herbaceous notes that developed in the glass to include lime and tropical fruits. The bright acidity on the palate led to a slight bitter finish but this was nonetheless a decent example of a warm region Sauvignon Blanc, again great value for money (R70). I much preferred the ‘Expression’ wine from the Dryland Collection. Sporting a cork rather than screwcap closure, the Sauvignon Blanc unusually was matured for 18 months in old French oak barrels with lees contact. This was very different wine albeit with the same herbaceous and green pepper aromas. These were toned down and layered with notes of sweet lemon, gooseberry, tropical fruits and vanilla. The texture was more rounded and the balance better with an integrated acidity and well worth the extra R30.
The last 2 white wines I tasted were a Grenache Blanc and a white blend called Roussow’s Heritage. Grown in just 0.14% of South Africa’s vineyards, the rare Grenache Blanc is commonly found in Rhône white blends. It is suited to dry conditions and I expect to see more wines in the future (Anysbos, for example, in Bot Rivier has recently planted). The wine, now in its second year of production, showed a medium+ fruity intensity of fresh stone fruits of peach, nectarine and lemon citrus. I detected slight notes of vanilla and white pepper to suggest a modest use of oak in maturation. Surprisingly, the intensity on the nose weakened on the palate. The acidity was firm with just the edge of sharpness rounded off (also suggesting some use of oak) to make for a clean mouthfeel. The wine makes a pleasant alternative to Sauvignon Blanc and was again excellent value at R75, when premium pricing for a rare cultivar might be expected.
The Roussow’s Heritage of the same 2019 vintage was a Chenin Blanc-led blend (59%). Des did not know the percentages of the 5 cultivars of this Southern Rhône-style white blend, but the website does not show it either. This was my favourite wine with an inviting, medium+ intensity nose that combined the honeyed tropical fruits from the Chenin Blanc and the herbaceous grassy aromas of Sauvignon Blanc together with delicate white stone fruits and blossom. The flavour intensity held up much better on the palate than for the Grenache Blanc with an elegant, rounded texture and a decent finish.
Perdeberg lies between Durbanville and Malmesbury in the Agter Paarl region. The extensive vineyards total a sizeable 2,564 hectares out of the 6,000-hectare owned property, a reflection of the former co-operative winery era. The vineyards, on varied soils, are largely un-irrigated to give concentrated fruits that benefit from cooling sea breezes during ripening. Most of the wine that is produced is red (60%) made from the Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cinsault, Pinotage and Shiraz grown in the Perdeberg vineyards. White cultivars include Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc and hence most wines are Wine of Origin Paarl, with some Wine of Origin Coastal Region among the red wines.
Lesser known Cinsault and Malbec were the first red wines I tasted. The 2 wines were from the Vineyard Collection, of 2018 vintage. 14% alcohol and priced a very affordable R85. The pale ruby Cinsault was a more representative example of the variety than the Waverley Hills wine I recently tasted. The wine showed classic red strawberry and raspberry fruits of bold intensity in the glass with a beautiful balancing violet floral character so typical of the cultivar. The fruitiness weakened a little in the mouth but were finely balanced by a fresh acidity and light tannins to give a youthful but not overworked wine. The Malbec was also youthful but typical of the grape with a deep ruby-purple colour with delicious, luscious red and dark fruity aromas of red and dark berries, cherry and plum. Dry oaky tannins emerged on the palate to give structure to balance the ripe fruits. The Malbec is a great food wine and improve with age as the tannins soften and integrate.
Des was not letting me taste single wines and so I sampled Pinotage and Shiraz from both the Vineyard and Dryland collections side by side. I rated the Dryland ‘Resolve’ Pinotage higher than the Vineyard wine. The 2 wines showed characteristic plush ripe, more dark than red fruits of cherry, plum, mulberry, prune and estery banana on the nose. Whilst the Vineyard Pinotage was lighter on the palate than I expected, the Dryland ‘Resolve’ showed added pepper spice for a more concentrated nose. This intensity carried through to the full-bodied palate with tight tannins that showed its youth (2017 vintage).
I ended the tasting – I could have sampled the Cabernets Sauvignon, Joseph’s Legacy red blend and Longevity Natural Sweet Chenin Blanc and more – with Shiraz, again from 2 collections. I scored both the same although they were different in style. Classic spicy, dark fruits of cassis, cherries, mulberry and blackberry notes hid underlying aromas of black pepper and liquorice on the nose. The Vineyard wine was fresh fruity, with a soft candy/ester Pinotage tinge, and of more delicate style hence, I imagine, the Rhône-shaped bottle. By contrast, the ‘Tenacious’ from the Dryland Collection showed greater focus and concentration of ripe fruits so typical of the outstanding 2015 vintage. The Bordeaux bottle nodded to a bigger style of wine with riper, fuller tannins that will soften with age.
Perdeberg offered an excellent range of, mostly, single variety wines and so much more than the Chenins Blanc for which the winery is known. I could have tasted or bought sparkling MCC Chenin Blanc and Rosé, Cinsault Rosé, Pinot Noir/Chardonnay blanc de noir, dessert Chenin Blanc and more. I was especially impressed by the rare cultivar wines in the collections together with the same variety made in different unwooded and wooded styles. I liked the distinctive shield-shaped label on the Vineyard Collection labels that gave a modern yet classic feel. So too did Merlot the mascot zebra, complete with own blog (!)(albeit the website link did not load), that gives a nod both to the historic wild zebra and quagga that once roamed the Paardeberg mountains and roamed the early vineyards and also to current conservation measures to preserve endangered fauna and flora. Perdeberg has clearly come a long way from its historic co-operative beginnings to produce some excellent, well-made wines. These were served at the right temperature (not always guaranteed, even at the most prestigious wine estates) and with minimum fuss. The wines offer superb value for money and I highly recommend a visit for tasting and to buy wine. Perdeberg has indeed ‘earned its stripes’!
Wines tasted (bought *):
2015 Dryland Collection ‘Braveheart’ Chenin Blanc – R100
2018 Dryland Collection ‘Courageous’ Chenin Blanc – R110
2019 Vineyard Collection Sauvignon Blanc – R70
2016 Dryland Collection ‘Expression’ Sauvignon Blanc – R100*
2019 Vineyard Collection Grenache Blanc – R75*
2019 Dryland Collection Roussow’s Heritage (Chenin Blanc, Roussanne, Viognier, Clairette, Sauvignon Blanc) – R130* FAVOURITE WINE
2018 Vineyard Collection Cinsault – R85*
2018 Vineyard Collection Malbec – R85*
2018 Vineyard Collection Pinotage – R80
2017 Dryland Collection ‘Resolve’ Pinotage R120
2018 Vineyard Collection Shiraz – R80
2015 Dryland Collection ‘Tenacious’ Shiraz – R120