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
Thursday 25 April 2019
Waterford is another of those big name wine estates amid the other 800 or more in the Western Cape (and a growing number beyond too) that I have wanted to visit for some time. I have tasted at over 200 wineries since I started the Cape Wine Lovers’ Society over 2 years ago so there are several more to visit and review. Like many, I had sampled the Waterford wines before at festivals and other events but there is no substitute in my mind for tasting a wine at the place at which it is made, ideally looking out over the vineyards whilst doing so. The occasion was a mid-week break in the Upper Blaauwklippen Valley, South of Stellenbosch during which I planned to taste also at Kleinood Winery (Tamboerskloof wines), Keermont Vineyards and De Trafford Wines.
The stone walled entrance (opposite Kleinood) showed presence and status, leading to an impressive tree lined avenue that gave dappled shade from the bright late-afternoon autumn to winter sunshine. Growing ever closer and through the Clementine orchards, framed above by the stony Helderberg Mountains, were the cellar buildings with their red corrugated tile roofs and stately, central arched tower. I parked close by and tried to decide the architecture in my own mind. It was part Italian, part Spanish perhaps – much as I might expect a Californian winery – but certainly not Cape Dutch. The website refers to the ‘Mediterranean courtyard’ so I guess I was half right twice.
Impressive the arrival at Waterford certainly was. It was all the more so as I ventured into the large circular courtyard inside, complete with central gushing trademark Waterford fountain. Expansive, upholstered, and no doubt expensive sitting rooms flanked either side of the entrance with their large open fireplaces, terracotta floor tiles, designer décor and extravagant flower decorations. Further couches and low tables filled the verandah outside in case inclement weather prevented tasting whilst sat on the low circular wall around the fountain.
Waterford clearly meant to make a statement and a statement it did. I chose to sit at one of the many small tables at the edge of the courtyard so I could taste and write with ease. The Waterford Tasting Experience lists 7 options. I would have expected no fewer from the grand setting. Two of these require pre-booking (the 3 hour Estate Wine Drive and Porcupine Trail Walk, at R1,150 and R450, respectively) and are part of the ‘Waterford Way’ which is ‘to be prosperous’. There were 2 wine and chocolate pairings – or rather, ‘Experiences’ – for 3 or 6 wines, costing R95 and R125. There was also a single tasting of the Jem (R115) which is Waterford’s flagship wine – named after owner Jeremy Ord, also as in Waterf-ord – which is a blend from a selection of the 11 estate cultivars grown on the estate and first released in 2007; 8 for the 2014 vintage at an ethereal cost of R1,650 a bottle. Being neither ‘prosperous’ nor fortunate enough to have held the contract for Waterford’s marketing material, I opted to skip the Library Collection Tasting (R250 for a selection of unique and limited blends) for the basic or rather ‘Portfolio Tasting’.
While I waited for Thomas to bring the first of the 6 wines, I was reminded of Vrede en Lust whose lifestyle, entry level wines are part of their Premium Range. The wines came in set ord-er (pun intended) beginning with the Rose-Mary that is named after Jeremy’s late mother. This was a Rosé – more correctly from the website ‘a very sophisticated approach towards a blanc de noir’ – that was pale salmon pink in colour. Made from Shiraz, Mourvèdre, Tempranillo and Grenache grapes, picked early to be bone dry (1.1 grams per litre residual sugar) and low alcohol (10.8%), the wine showed typical sweet strawberry and raspberry aromas with a hint of white spice and medium intensity. The palate did not show much sophistication for me, with a weak follow though, little weight and low complexity (a different ord-er of magnitude to the outstanding Tamboerskloof wine I had earlier tasted at Kleinood opposite).
Next was the first of 2 white wines. In contrast to the Rosé, the Elgin sourced Sauvignon Blanc was almost too big on the nose with intense forward aromas of guava, litchi and pineapple that gave way to grassy, citrus, green pepper notes that belied the pale straw colour. I did not expect this degree of tropical fruit salad flavour for a cool climate wine but perhaps the 2018 drought and summer heat contributed or even yeast selection. The palate was dry, clean and fresh as expected of the variety but with very little flavour. The contrast with the aromas was as marked as the shadows around me as light and dark danced at the end of the afternoon.
I rated the Chardonnay, served in correct ‘balloon’ glass, the same. The grapes come from a single block (5.8 hectares) of vines that were planted in 1988, making them some of the oldest Chardonnay in the Cape. Barrel-fermented for 9 months in 24% new oak, the wine showed a pale gold colour. This was classic medium-oaked South African Chardonnay: sweet citrus, vanilla and pecan nut aromas of decent intensity, a smooth mouthfeel, and medium complexity. I would have rated it higher except that the acidity was not fully integrated to leave a bitter aftertaste.
The Waterford Estate has been owned by a partnership between two families since 1998, before which it was part of the adjoining Stellenrust farm. Jeremy and Leigh Ord purchased the property whilst Kevin and Heather Arnold have developed the wines to make it the estate it is today. Half of the 120 hectares are under vine with a wide selection of French, Italian and Spanish cultivars being grown, with the remaining 60 hectares set aside for conservation. Red wines form the majority (70%). The winery was designed by Alex Walker using stone from the vineyards and local quarries as well as timber from the estate.
My favourite wine of the tasting was the Estate Grenache Noir that could by its pale ruby appearance easily have been mistaken for a Pinot Noir. Look out for more Grenache in South Africa, better known for Priorat (as Garnacha in Spain) or as the major component of Château Neuf-du-Pape and many Rhône blends, due to its drought-resistance. The grape makes for a muscular and spicier Pinot Noir with more body, tannin and alcohol and lower acidity. Thomas described the wine as ‘a red wine like a white wine; a white wine like a red wine’ and I could see how it could appeal to traditional white wine drinkers who do not enjoy red wine. The nose showed a bright intensity of smokey, gamey cherry and currant fruity aromas with a hint of maraschino. The wine was bolder on the palate than I expected and certainly more so than a Pinot Noir.
The Kevin Arnold Shiraz was next which I had tasted at the Charcuterie & Shiraz Festival in Franschhoek last year. Subtitled Katherine Leigh, youngest daughter of the Ord family, the wine showed a better intensity of aroma than flavour. The nose showed good complexity of fruit, floral and savoury notes – sweet plum and dark fruits, violets, leather and meats – that lessened on the palate for a lighter styled wine. Tannins nonetheless were structured and green olive in flavour.
Cabernet Sauvignon was the final wine of the tasting as the shadows lengthened in the courtyard. It is Waterford’s leading varietal (30% of plantings) and made with 6% added Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Merlot for colour, perfume and structure. The medium-bodied wine was made in lighter style than many Stellenbosch Cabernets. It showed good fresh red and dark fruit aromas of cassis, blackberry, black cherry, pencil shavings and green herbs. The tannins were closed and forwards on the palate, with classic drying mouthfeel, for a bright finish as befitting its youthful age.
Waterford promised so much. The impressive approach, mountain backdrop and setting, the grand design, opulent Tasting Room and the wide circular courtyard spoke of the Waterford ‘prosperity’. The wow factor is definitely there and a lure for the many American and other foreign tourists beside me. It is undoubtedly the kind of wine estate that is made for the coffee table winery books and vice versa. That is all well and dandy for me and part of the rich and diverse South African wine landscape and heritage. The proof for me as a wine journalist, student and connoisseur lies in the wines. Waterford ticked all the right boxes. There was a broad selection of the best known white and red wines to show off the best of the Stellenbosch terroir. There was a Rosé too and a wine from Elgin (the Sauvignon Blanc). There was the interest cultivar too with the Grenache rather than a Pinot Noir. Wine quality was however variable, with the red wines higher rated than the white wines. The service level was variable too, even for late afternoon when there were relatively few customers, and I had to wait too long between some wine servings. Wine prices were well above average which did not surprise. The Waterford name itself brings premium pricing (as did the tasting fee) that many a tourist will not even notice.
I enjoyed Waterford and was pleased to have visited and tasted the wines, which was my motivation to go. The wow was more from the buildings than the wines. I was reminded on leaving of my experience at the similarly named Waterkloof (I often get the 2 estates muddled up for that reason) that also underwhelmed as expectation fell below experience. Overall, Waterford was more ord-inary than extra-ord-inary.
Wines tasted (bought *):
2018 Waterford Elgin Sauvignon Blanc – R132
2016 Waterford Estate Chardonnay – R272
2018 Waterford Rose-Mary Blanc de Noir – R116
2016 Waterford Estate Grenache Noir – R295 FAVOURITE WINE
2014 Kevin Arnold Shiraz – R295
2016 Waterford Estate Cabernet Sauvignon – R356