Dr Peter Rating – Experience: 5/5
Dr Peter Rating – Wine: 4.5/5
A few weeks ago, during another ‘Taste Live with Dr Peter’ 6pm daily tasting, I experimented with glasses of different sizes with a red wine, a 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon from Stellenbosch Reserve. The tasting experience fascinated with a mix of outcomes, some predictable and others less so. It was always my intention to repeat the tasting with a white wine. The recently released 2019 Oldenburg Chenin Blanc – of similar price and quality – offered the ideal opportunity. The variety is one of the more aromatic common cultivars and perfect to expose any differences between the glasses. The grapes are hand-harvested, de-stemmed and then barrel-fermented using natural yeast in 20% new/80% old French oak, with 10 months of maturation with weekly barrel-turning to stir the lees.
Read the previous article for more background about the wine glasses we own and use. The aim of the tasting was the same. Does glass size and shape really make a difference to the drinking experience, as the glossy marketing material from the single-varietal glass companies will have us believe? The only was to discover, of course, was to put it to the test. Thus, I picked out 3 quite different glasses to compare. There was the utility, durable ISO 21.5cl glass that is used in most tasting rooms and wine courses, retailing at R25 each but far cheaper when bought in bulk. Second, was my trusty Riedel Vinum glass. It is recommended for Cabernet/Merlot, but it is very much a universal size and shape. I am familiar with it as it is the glass, I use for my WSET Level 4 Diploma tasting and a big step up from the ISO glass in quality and price (R400). The final glass was the featherlight White Wine glass from high-end Zalto with an exalted price of R670 to match.
Riedel and Zalto are both Austrian companies. Riedel dates back 11 generations to 1678 and steeped in the history of Bohemian crystal glass. Fast forward to 1973 and it was the first company to make machine-made varietal glasses. The glass promised to ‘emphasize the fruit …. to allow the bouquet to develop’. Zalto has roots in Murano, Venice dating back to the Middle Ages, but it was not until 2006 that the current mouth-blown, seamless glass collection hit the headlines. The shape is said to be inspired by the tilt angles of the earth. Like Riedel, the marketing copyrighters have been busy to claim that the glasses are ‘nearly too delicate to hold’. Surprisingly, there was no mention of Chenin Blanc in the single variety copy (nor for Riedel) but the universal White Wine glass suited as being ‘especially suited to fruit forward white wines’.
I poured the Chenin Blanc into each glass at the same level and at the ideal serving temperature. There were no differences in Appearance as one might expect the wine being pale lemon in colour. As with the similar red wine experiment, I assessed the nose from each glass without swirling to start, as this might best emphasize the differences between them, before swirling. The ISO glass showed simple lemon and lime citrus aromas that, even with swirling, showed limited intensity. The Riedel offered a greater steely minerality on the Nose – typical for this lean style Chenin Blanc – with similar lemon and lime but with delicate white spice and kiwi notes. Surprisingly, the glass brought out subtle vanilla aromas from the barrel-fermentation. Last, the Zalto glass showed the greatest intensity of aroma – more open – with a riper lemon and mineral character that was backed up by a gentle florality of white blossom.
The Chenin Blanc was bone dry on the palate. Like the Nose, the Palate with the ISO tasting glass was simple and one-dimensional, with the wine barely filling the mouth and showing modest length. The aroma profile followed through to the Palate for the Riedel with flavours of lemon, lime citrus, green melon, and kiwi. The big difference was how the broader glass rim led to a fuller mouthfeel with more pronounced alcohol, texture, and length. Further, the glass emphasized the bright, zesty acidity of the Chenin Blanc for a fresher experience. The Zalto glass on the other hand made for a subtler and softer feel to the wine to show off the lean mineral character with a more rounded elegance and finesse.
In drawing together the conclusions, I am mindful of the results from the comparison of the different glasses for the red wine as there are similarities. The ISO tasting glass offered a limited tasting experience, in terms of both aroma and flavours on the palate. The glass did not do justice to the wine and that is a sobering thought (pun intended) for the many Tasting Rooms that use this size and shape of glass as their standard. The Riedel and Zalto were closer in how they presented the wine than to the ISO glass. The Riedel better brought out the aromas and flavours in both intensity and complexity. Interestingly, and I am unsure why, I detected enhanced vanilla notes on the Nose for the Chenin Blanc and for the Cabernet Sauvignon during the red wine comparison tasting. The Zalto, meanwhile, displayed softer aromas and flavours of lesser intensity than the Riedel but with more refinement.
It certainly does seem therefore that bigger is better – and that size does matter 😊
2019 Oldenburg Chenin Blanc – R150
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
DE KRANS WINES
Thursday 26 December 2019
Dr Peter Rating – Experience: 4/5
Dr Peter Rating – Wines: 4/5
Visiting De Krans was a spur of the moment decision. Calitzdorp was the night stop for the second day of my trip down Route 62. I did not know where else I was going other than Route 62. The trip to Jeffrey’s Bay had been a ‘bucket list’ ambition for several years. Even better if I could sneak in some wine tastings along the way. It being the Xmas/New Year period and close to harvest this was perhaps easier said than done. Thus, late on Boxing Day afternoon, I found myself on the edge of Calitzdorp village some 400 miles from Cape Town on the Western edge of the Klein Karoo. Best known as one of the important Cape Port producers in this hot semi-arid inland region, I was looking forward also to tasting some wines. If my memory serves me right, the Tritonia red blend was a previous Best Non-Bordeaux Red Blend winner at the 2017 Old Mutual Awards.
I parked in the shade beside the road a short distance away from the main entrance. The small white painted Tasting Room nestles beside the vineyards with shaded outdoor seating spilling over from the inside. The vines were heavy with grapes with long stems and V-shaped trellising to raise them above the ground. I learned after that these were Hanepoot, for public picking in February when ripe, and not for winemaking. The Tasting Room was busy – I sensed mostly with local guests – who were enjoying their wines and a light lunch from the Deli or Bistro. Xmas carols played through the Tasting Room speakers which, as a Brit used to chilly Xmases, still seems weird.
Wine tasting was a very affordable R40 for 6 wines (waived on bottle purchase). I ordered a cheese platter (R125) that was large enough to share with my fiancée. It was made up with bread and toast, 4 small cheese portions and a choice of 3 sides. Choosing 6 wines was quite a challenge given the number of and range of wines and styles available. It was good to share different tastings with my partner which made the choice a little easier. De Krans wines essentially fall into 3 groupings: Sparkling (MCC and Moscato Perlé); white, rosé and red table wines; and fortified and Port-style wines.
I sampled as broad a range as I could, beginning with the Tritonia White from the Flagship Terroir Range. Made from 70-year old Malvasia Rei (Palomino) and Verdelho, the two wines were blended after 4 months each on the lees with 15 months of barrel fermentation. The wine was served from a tall, heavy bottle and needed cooling to have been at its best (it was over 30ºC outdoors). Pale lemon in colour, the nose showed a mix of green and citrus notes – lemon, lime, lemongrass, green herbs and a mineral saltiness – that were simpler on the palate, showing vanilla flavours from the oak, with a medium+ acidity. This was my favourite wine.
Next was the Free Run Chenin Blanc from the entry Classic Range. The R58 price showed. Whilst it was an obvious Chenin Blanc with fresh aromas of tropical guava, ripe lemon and mango, the intensity was modest. This was matched on the palate that was dry with more citrus flavours and a short finish.
I was excited to taste a Pinot Noir that was made using grapes grown in the foothills of the Outeniqua Mountains, hence the Garden Route name and Wine of Origin Outeniqua. Pale garnet in colour and showing some signs of ageing from the 2016 vintage, the wine showed an uncharacteristic ripeness of jammy red plum, redcurrant and black cherry on the nose with slight pepper spiciness. I might have bought the wine until I tasted it. I was reminded how few Pinot Noir do well away from a cool climate. Almost certainly better had the wine been chilled, it needed more depth, layering of flavour, bite and length. I sensed the fruits had already tailed off as it had aged in the bottle.
I much preferred the more robust Tinta Roriz from the Terroir Range. The first of the red Portuguese varieties I tasted, the wine was an inky deep purple in colour. There was an intensity of aroma that contrasted with the Pinot Noir – port-like and oxidised – with ripe black cherry, dark plum, cassis, ripe blueberry and herbs. These gave way to dry, earthy, dusty and chewy tannins on the palate to balance the 13.0% alcohol and medium length.
I rated the Touriga Nacional almost the same. The variety was first planted in 1994 and made into a single variety wine in 2000 aided by the continental climate and shallow clay Karoo soils that are not unlike the hot, dry Douro Valley in Portugal. The wine was similar in colour with ripe red as well as black fruits, including cassis and bramble to match an earthy spicy clove and cinnamon nose (no doubt from 12 months maturation in 3rd/4th fill French oak barrels). This was a definite food wine with firm drying, earthy tannins, though the 13.5% alcohol appeared less than expected, that filled the mouth and offered a medium+ finish.
De Krans dates back to 1890 when it was bought by the Nel family. The 78-hectare estate remains family owned. Chris and brother Danie built the Cellar that is behind the Tasting Room in 1964. Chris planted the first Portuguese grapes in 1973 albeit unintentionally. There’s a parallel here to Carmenère and Merlot in Chile where supposed imported Merlot turned out to be Carmenère. The intended Shiraz that was planted in 1973 turned out in 1976 to be Tinta Barocca when the first grapes were produced. Further Portuguese varieties have been planted since 1985. Today, De Krans has 45 hectares under vine – there are peaches, apricots and the Hanepoot too – with Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Muscat, Cabernet Sauvignon together with the Port-producing varieties of Touriga National, Tinta Barocca, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Amarella and Souzao. Red wines amount to half of the production (50%) followed by fortified wines (37%), with 10% white wines and 3% Rosé.
The next wine I tasted was entirely different, a White Moscato made in Natural Sweet Perlé style. Perlé usually refers to a lightly carbonated wine that is often pink in colour (after the German grape of the same name). The Moscato was all that I expected: vibrant in character with floral and perfumed jasmine, Turkish delight, rose petal and grapey Muscat de Frontignan aromas and flavours; sweet on the palate with medium- acidity and low alcohol (7.5%). This was a pleasant, easy-drinking wine and perfect for a summer’s day like today. The wine was great value for money too at just R58.
As indicated above, I had tasted the Tritonia before. De Krans call it a Calitzdorp blend (as opposed to a Cape or Bordeaux Blend) as it is made from 5 Portuguese varieties: Touriga National, Tinta Barocca, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Amarella and Souzao. These are typically used to make Port and Cape Port but these cultivars are increasing being made into table wines, even single cultivar wines. The Tritonia was deep garnet in colour with early signs of ageing at the rim (2016 vintage). Blackberry, cassis, plum, dark cherry black fruits were luscious and ripe with spices on the nose and palate. Dusty tannins – benefiting from 12 months maturation in 2nd/3rd fill French oak barrels – and high alcohol (14.0%) gave the wine a full body in the mouth with layers of flavour for an extended length at the finish.
I sampled one Port in my tasting selection, the Cape Vintage Reserve. Sediment at the bottom of the glass showed this was unfiltered. The nose showed intense dried black fruits and the oxidation. This was confirmed on the palate with rich flavours of black plums, prunes, hazelnut and Dundee marmalade matured over 20 months in large vats. The Cape Port warmed by its 19.0% alcohol to give a medium sweetness of character.
The Tasting Room Manager, Chris, asked me to taste the Pinotage Rosé that was of 2019 vintage. The wine was a very pale pink to show very little extraction with mostly strawberry and raspberry fruits on the nose. Dry acidity came to the fore on the palate to overpower the delicate fruits. The crisp mouthfeel was too sharp and biting for my preference.
A visit to Calitzdorp and to sample the Wines of Origin from the Klein Karoo and Calitzdorp was long overdue. De Krans offered me an insight to how dry the region is and the challenge to balance vine growth and crop and the need for excellent water management. The range of De Krans wines was impressive to reflect a willingness to experiment and try new styles, notwithstanding the accidental history behind the first Portuguese grape planting. The wines were generally very good with a broad price range that reflected in their quality. I would have liked then to have been served cooler and at the right temperature. This is never easy for Tasting Rooms at intense peak visitor periods and so I am willing to set this imperfection aside and award a 4/5 experience rating. In sum, do visit De Krans if you are near Calitzdorp. Better still, venture down Route 62 and make a night stop of it.
Wines tasted (bought *):
2019 White Moscato Natural Sweet Perlé – R58*
2017 Tritonia White (Malvasia Rei, Verdelho) – R150* FAVOURITE WINE
2019 Free Run Unwooded Chenin Blanc – R58
2019 Pinotage Rosé – R58
2016 Garden Route Pinot Noir – R120 (reduced to R80)
2018 Tinta Roriz – R90
2017 Touriga Nacional – R100
2016 Tritonia Calitzdorp Blend (Touriga National, Tinta Barocca, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Amarella, Souzao) – R185
2016 Cape Vintage Reserve (87% Touriga National, 13% Tinta Barocca) – R295
METZER & HOLFELD FAMILY WINES
Wednesday 6 November 2019
Dr Peter Rating – Experience: 4.5/5
Dr Peter Rating – Wines: 5/5
I had a special reason to visit Metzer. It was probably an unusual one. I wanted to buy a PétNat wine for a special tasting I was arranging for my WSET Diploma colleagues ahead of the Sparkling Wine Exam in early 2020. Pétillant Naturel is a wine made using the méthode ancestrale (also known as artisanale or rurale) that is currently in vogue. The wine is made by an method older than champagne and its equivalent sparklers (MCC or Cap Classique) included. The wine is bottled before fermentation has fully finished, thereby allowing the carbon dioxide produced by fermentation of the natural sugar remaining to form the bubbles. It is a risky approach for obvious reasons. PétNats are not disgorged, though may be fined and filtered. The sparkling wine is typically light, fizzy, spritzy and low-alcohol and for early drinking. [Afternote: the Metzer PétNat was ripe fruity in character with flavours of lemon citrus, white honey and pineapple. The bubbles were fine and simple but short-lived with the wine showing medium alcohol and an average finish].
I digress. I had already travelled to South Stellenbosch for a morning WSET class and so I was conveniently placed to collect the PétNat and taste some wine. Metzer was a secret that seemed determined not easily to be disclosed. The wines – mostly exported to the USA, Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland and Japan – are Wine of Origin Stellenbosch yet the vineyards are on the lower slopes of the Helderberg Mountains. You won’t find Metzer in the maps at the back of the 2020 Platter’s Guide either. Tasting is by appointment only in a spacious modern house that, even with satnav, was not the easiest to find. Nonetheless, head South and past Avontuur Estate on the R44 towards Somerset West. Turn onto the Cordoba Road and pass Pink Valley Winery and you will be almost there.
I was warmly welcomed by Wade Metzer, winemaker and co-owner with Barry Holfield. The winery was established in 2006 and produces mostly (60%) red wine. I began the tasting in the family kitchen with 2 Chenins Blanc. Both wines were of 2017 vintage, vinified in old French oak using natural fermentation with 8 months lees ageing, but made from grapes grown in differing climates and soils. I rated them both highly. The ‘Maritime’, with grapes sourced from a vineyard 4 kilometres from the ocean at False Bay, was fresh in character with delicious lemon, lime citrus and tropical fruit aromas on the nose. The palate was well balanced with the fruits matched by a crisp bright yet integrated acidity, showing a saline minerality. Deeper in lemon colour and grown on granite, quartz soils on the mountain slopes, the ‘Montane’ chenin was equally elegant. The wine had a weightier character with vanilla notes complementing those of lemon and lime. The wine was more textured on the palate due, Wade explained, to the clay subsoils.
Cinsault is a favourite variety and, like Chenin Blanc, is found in small parcels of old vines. The wine was made from bush vines planted in 1964 on the lower slopes of the Helderberg West peak. The low yield of concentrated berries made for a beautifully perfumed pale ruby wine with aromas of raspberry, bitter cherry, cranberry and violets. White pepper spice emerged on the palate to balance a green and herbal stemminess (30% whole bunch pressed) that gave added complexity on the palate. I would have preferred even greater concentration on the palate.
The Shiraz also comes from the Helderberg but from a single block containing sandstone, granite and clay soils. The wine was made in a light style, belying its 13.5% alcohol, with scented red to dark fruit notes of cranberry, mulberry, white pepper and violets on the nose. The elegance fed through to a precise palate with good intensity and a balanced, integrated acidity.
I ended the tasting with a Cabernet Sauvignon, the first release for Metzer. This was another high scoring wine with an elegant and inviting nose. The red cherry, black plum, cassis and eucalyptus aromas were complex and intense, aided by added 10% Shiraz and 5% Cinsault. Green tobacco leafiness emerged on the palate that showed a good structure from tight but not astringent tannins (14 months in 30% new French oak). The Cabernet Sauvignon was approachable and already very drinkable but will age well for another 10 years.
Metzer was the very essence of a boutique estate. The wines were superb with elegant, simple stylish labels (there is also excellent detailed information on the website). I rated the wines highly and the effort to find the winery was well worth it. I liked the cultivar and terroir specificity that came from the carefully selected vineyards in small parcels from the immediate area. Whilst the Stellenbosch or Helderberg location conundrum confused at first, there was nothing contradictory about the wines. Each one was precise, authentic and made with minimum intervention to allow the soils and varietal character to shine best. The wines were pricey (R250 to R300) but this is understandable for a boutique winery producing only 4,500 cases annually. Their quality is without question and so worth the money. The ‘Montane’ Chenin Blanc, for example, gained 5 Platter stars in a very competitive category in 2020. I could very easily have bought every wine had my pockets been deep enough. I would also buy any Metzer wine without prior tasting. That combination is a rare treat for me indeed.
Wines tasted (bought *):
2018 Metzer PétNat (100% Chenin Blanc) – R250*
2017 Metzer Family Maritime Chenin Blanc – R250
2017 Metzer Family Montane Chenin Blanc – R300 FAVOURITE WINE
2018 Metzer Family Cinsault – R300
2017 Metzer Family Shiraz – R240
2017 Metzer Family Cabernet Sauvignon – R240
Dr Peter Rating – Experience: 3.5/5
Dr Peter Rating – Wines: 4/5
Villiera was the last tasting of my day out to the North of Stellenbosch having tasted at Morgenhof, Quoin Rock, Laibach and Slaley. Just off the R304 and close to the N1, it was an ideal last port of call on my way back to Cape Town. The entrance was easy to find and led to the small car park via an attractive avenue of trees with vineyards on either side. It had been a dank day and it showed even more so against the tan and dark brown Cellar and Tasting Buildings in the soon to fade winter light.
I made my way into the Tasting Room – or rather the ‘Wine Sanctuary’ – as it is now called following extensive renovation by architect Rick Stander and interior designer Liesel Rossouw. The modern feel with its bright LED lighting and artworks provided quite a contrast to the outside that was offset by the olive green uniforms of the serving staffs. Lee was my attentive host who advised the tasting options which, besides MCC/Nougat and pre-bookable MCC/Chocolate Pairings (R120 and R130, respectively), were a choice between a Reserve Wine Tasting (6 top wines for R110) and the Standard Tasting (any 6 wines from the Villiera White/Red Ranges, MCC Range and Domaine Greer Range for R40. I opted for the Standard Tasting which, at current, increasing tasting fee amounts, was a bargain.
I decided against tasting any of the MCC Range as I had tasted many sparkling wines before at the annual PicknPay Stellenbosch Festival and at the Stellenbosch Street Soirée. I began with 4 Villiera whites which I sampled in pairs for comparison. First up were 2 Sauvignons Blanc, one unwooded and one wooded. The regular wine, made from Elgin grapes, was made in classic New Zealand style with pungent and intense green herbaceous, bell pepper, lemon and lime notes with a good intensity. The bright acidity was almost too bracing slightly to offset the balance and to mask the fruit intensity. This was a classic green style Sauvignon Blanc and priced at the right level (R79).
The Bush Vine Blanc Fumé slightly confused by its name since Blanc Fumé is a term associated with a Sauvignon Blanc and Bush Vine mostly refers to Chenin Blanc. The Sauvignon Blanc grapes come from a single dry land block on the farm and were part fermented in concrete eggs before the juice was racked to 50% new/old French barrels for the remaining fermentation but without malolactic fermentation to preserve freshness. The result was a deeper coloured straw wine with warmer, sweeter lemon, lime and slight vanilla aromas on the nose. The acidity on the palate was far better integrated for a fuller and more balanced wine.
My second flight, so to speak, were 2 Chenins Blanc. The regular wine (35% fermented in oak with 2 months ‘sur lie’ before bottling) was the weaker – and cheaper – of the 2 wines. Made in lemon citrus style, there was some ripeness and bright acidity on the palate but little of the expected Chenin richness or fruitiness. The Traditional Barrel Fermented wine was far better with defined aromas of lemon, pineapple, pear and white honey aromas on the nose of good intensity. Made from one block of bush vines and 2 trellised blocks, the grapes were part whole bunch pressed (35%) with the remainder de-stemmed. Malolactic fermentation was limited to 40% of the juice to give freshness and the wine fermented for 7 months in new/2nd fill French barrels. This made for a more complex wine with honeyed fruits on the palate that became more prominent at the finish, albeit the acidity was a little too forwards and fresh for my preference.
Villiera has been family owned since being started by cousins Jeff and Simon Grier in 1983, with 4 family generations being involved in the poultry and then wine business since the 1920s. It remains one of the largest private wineries in South Africa with 180 hectares of Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz and Pinotage on the 400 hectare property, grown in equal amount (50% white. 50% red). Villiera specialises in MCC (45% production) that was developed in the mid-1980s via a 10-year partnership with Jean-Louis Denois, a Champagne specialist. Woolworths and Marks & Spencer, locally and in the UK, are major clients. White and red wines take minor positions (30% and 25%, respectively).
Villiera has a keen environmental awareness and eco-friendly ethos that pervades the viticulture and the winemaking: the winery was the first switch to solar power in 2010 and has one of the largest privately owned solar panel installations in South Africa; rainwater is harvested; natural pest control, water conservation, indigenous tree planting and the use of 35 owl boxes are standard practice in the vineyards; game drives are available to guests in an electric game viewer; and the farm is home to the Pebbles Project charity that educates and enriches the lives of disadvantaged families and children from the Wineland farming communities. These initiatives all feature as ‘back label’ stories on the Villiera wines: Natural Energy; the Duck and the Snail; the Villiera Family; Wisdom; Unlocking Nature; Carbon Footprint; Leave an Impression; Doing Things Slowly; and Sustainable Farming.
The red wines were next and I selected a comparison tasting of 2 Merlot. The Villiera Merlot was ruby red in colour and just full-bodied. Red berry and currant fruits showed limited complexity on the nose together with some mixed spices. The wine was not well balanced on the palate. Fruit flavours fell away to be dominated by flavours of cedar, with tight, astringent tannins and a bright acidity. I much preferred the flagship Munro Merlot – Munro is the second name of all the men in the Grier family – that was made from selected old vines and aged for longer in newer French barrels (18 months in 50% French oak compared with 10 months in 75% old barrels). The resultant wine was fuller bodied with much more intense red and dark cherry, currant and plum aromas with liquorice. The tannins were nonetheless bold and taut but better balanced by the richer fruit flavours.
Villiera invested in a 22 hectare vineyard in the Roussillon region in Southern France in 2006. The vineyards grow Syrah, Grenache, Carignan, Chardonnay and Maccabeu (more commonly used to make White Rioja and Cava in Spain). Selected wines from the Domain Grier Collection are available for tasting and purchase, both in the tasting Room and online. The wines sport elegant white, grey or black labels with a simple and stylish silver pattern in which the fleur-de-lis meets Africa.
The Alba is a white Grenache blend and mostly (80%) the least known Grenache Gris. This is a pink skinned mutation of Grenache Noir, important in Roussillon, and more perfumed that Grenache Blanc. Grenache Blanc, which makes up the remaining 20% of the Alba, is a mutation of Grenache Noir. The vines are grown as field blends and the grapes co-fermented. The juice is barrel fermented with malolactic fermentation before undergoing 8 month maturation in oak. The wine showed a good intensity of fresh citrus, honey and peach/apricot stone fruit aromas on the nose. Fresh, bright and integrated acidity well balanced layered fruity flavours together with subtle citrus, almond and herb flavours. The fruitiness surprised for an Old World wine and for the Mediterranean climate. I liked it.
I tasted the Odyssea from Domaine Grier too. I felt this to be a South-East France equivalent of a Rhône blend but, instead of being Grenache-led with Syrah and Mourvèdre, the blend was mostly Syrah (50%) with Carignan and Grenache (30% and 20%, respectively). This made for an interesting wine and was my favourite wine of the tasting. The nose was bright and forwards, slightly atypical for an Old World wine, with aromas of red cherry, red plum, cranberry and definite pepper spice. The palate showed a much more Old World character with garrigue herbal and savoury flavours to complement more bitter fruits and right tannins, aided by limited ageing in old oak.
My last wine was a single variety Grenache (Noir) that also showed a good fruity intensity on the nose. The red cherry and red plum aromas with their smoky and pepper spice complexity, together with the pale ruby and medium-bodied appearance, could easily have made me mistake the wine for a Pinot Noir in a blind tasting. Grenache can be thought of a beefed-up Pinot Noir with a fuller body, more tannins and higher alcohol but with lower acidity. Oaky tannins came to the fore on the palate, held up by the fruit flavours, and good acidity for a clean palate.
Villiera made a good final tasting of the day. I had just enough time to taste the wines I wanted although the Cellar door was locked so I could not do the self-guided walkthrough on this occasion. The tasting experience was adequate and I would have liked to have heard more of the green and social credentials as that is a story worth hearing at a tasting. Further, the quality of the wines varied which always make an overall rating difficult, especially since I chose not to taste any of the MCC. I much preferred the wines priced over R140 which included the interesting and unexpected Domain Grier collection and so, on balance, I have rated a slim 4/5 for the wines. The investment in Roussillon shows the pioneering nature of Villiera and the Grier family which makes me interested to follow future developments and vintages. The future certainly seems green.
Wines tasted (bought *):
2018 Sauvignon Blanc – R79
2017 Sauvignon Blanc Fumé – R150
2018 Chenin Blanc – R65
2018 Traditional Barrel Fermented Chenin Blanc – R143
2016 Domaine Grier Alba (80% Grenache Gris, 20% Grenache Blanc) – R199*
2016 Merlot – R86
2017 Monro Merlot – R199
2015 Domaine Grier Odyssea (50% Syrah, 30% Carignan, 20% Grenache) – R141 FAVOURITE WINE
2015 Domaine Grier Grenache – R136*