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
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*