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
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*