This area has changed a bit since we were here in 1988. Then there were a handful of wineries and you just turned up, knocked on the door if necessary and then stood behind the counter while the winemaker or his manager offered you various wines and you discussed them with him. If you liked one, then you bought it. One or two wineries offered bread and cheese. And that was it. Friendly, informal and fun. I think it was that day in the vineyards of the Southern Cape that awoke our love of wine.
And we also realized what a good wine is made in South Africa, and at what a good price. It’s still the case now – South African wines are amazing value for money. Sometimes I wonder whether their value gives the impression that they are not so good. In which case, they are a very well kept secret.
Wine tasting here is different now. Flashy flagged entrances, long paved driveways, stunning buildings and specially built decks to enjoy the spectacular views. Instead of leaning over a counter, you are invited to take a seat outside and someone will be along shortly. Someone arrives with a menu and explains the cost of the tasting, if any. This varies from vineyard to vineyard, but is normally about £2-4. Sometimes the menu is divided into ranges, with cheaper and more expensive options. This means that you can’t choose one of each, which can be annoying. But if you buy a bottle, then the cost of the tasting is deducted.
You sit outside as if you were in a restaurant, while a server brings your wines out, normally one by one (this can be quite a leisurely process!) You can have one tasting between two, which is advisable if you are driving – and you can pour the extra into the bucket provided.
Now to business. Here are some of the wines from two of the vineyards we’ve visited:
Platters* winery of the year 2012. Beautiful surroundings, complimentary tastings of their own range plus PORCUPINE RIDGE and THE WOLFTRAP. We were offered six, but could have had more if we wanted. This is what we had:
PORCUPINE RIDGE SAUVIGNON BLANC. A good grassy, fresh nose. Fresh on the palette with a hint of pair. Very good drinkable summer wine. Costs under £3 from the winery. We bought a bottle.
PORCUPINE RIDGE VOIGNER/GRENACHE BLANC oaked, unfortunately, which makes it sweet and sickly, but I know people do like this in a wine. But not us. Under £4.
PORCUPINE RIDGE CABERNET SAUVIGNON Spicey and rubbery nose with a lingering taste. Slightly smokey, which we don’t mind in a red wine. Under £4
BOEKENHOUSTSKLOOF CHOCOLATE BLOCK one of their well known reds, a blend with a complex smokey rubbery nose, with hints of blackberry. Nice on the palette. Have completely forgotten why it is called ‘chocolate block’, but it’s not because there is a hint of chocolate in it! About £12 per bottle.
This used to be one winery, but he’s bought two next door as well. And a few up the road. ‘He’s going to end up owning the whole of Franschhoek,’ I heard someone say. On arrival you have to pass a security barrier and announce yourself to the guard. It’s incredibly plush with green lawns and sprinklers. More guards point you to the parking area. You then have to walk back over the road and into an imposing building flanked by two large bronze lions. It’s all a bit intimidating.
|The rather imposing Antonij Rupert tasting room|
The tasting menu has been divided up into sections, ranging from under £1 to about £4. Each group is called a flight, and you may have as many flights as you like. We went for the cheapest red flight, plus a mid-range white flight between the two of us.
I have to say, that despite the imposing grandeur, you do get to sit at the counter and can discuss the wine. This is what we thought:
VAN LILL AND VISSER CHENIN BLANC Smokey and not to our taste, which is unusual, as we normally like chenin blanc. £8
LAING SEMILLON Herby and lemony on the nose, fresh and woody on the palette. Not bad, but we preferred the Semillon from La Chataigne. £10
SERRURIA CHARDONNAY full nose, buttery and creamy, with a fresh pallet fresh with a hint of lemon. Unoaked and we liked this one. £10
MERLOT Pickled onion on the nose (another thing I often get!) but also fruity and the vanilla came out on the palette. £4
CABERNET SAUVIGNON Definite blackcurrant in there, plus rubber and a hint of instant coffee, quite tanniny on the palette and a little sharp. £4
RESERVE BLEND Rose petals, rubber, straw. Fairly light bodied. Under £6
*Platters is the wine bible for South African wines. Very useful to have, but many vineyards have one on the counter. To get a four star rating in Platters is something to be proud of and is often mentioned on the wine tasting ‘menu’.