If it is merlot, sauvignon blanc or semi-sweet rosé you want to sip at the FoodWineDesign Fair, pass the Swartland All Stars by.
They will stare at you uncomprehendingly, perhaps pityingly, and try to convince you of the joys of grenache, roussanne, viognier and the like — though the more familiar names of chenin blanc and shiraz will feature prominently too. But, if your mind and taste buds are open, the chances are you will love it all.
From their vineyards clinging to the rolling hillsides of the Swartland wheatfields, they have come to try once more the high culture they experienced in the big city at last year’s fair. So says their chaperon, Anton Espost, who is a big man in the little town of Riebeek Kasteel. These are some of the wines offered at his Wine Kollektive store and there will also be food from the Bar Bar Black Sheep bistro — think deep-fried courgette flowers, snoek viskoekies and braised lamb hearts.
From Swartland to Hyde Park, says Espost, “the winemakers travel in Colt Galants and Datsun Pulsars towing Ford 1600s”. (This dig is surely directed at Swartland superstar Eben Sadie, not present on this occasion, who thinks Ford bakkies should be declared an official part of the terroir.)
“With wine merchandise strapped to the roofs, bumpers and trailers, they disrupt country bars and braai at every roadside opportunity.”
However, as Espost also admits that he is “not good with facts”, which is certainly one way of putting it, I would not be surprised if they are flying up, after all.
The best-known names in the group are Badenhorst Family Wines and Lammershoek, and their wines are not to be missed. Among the others are some well worth getting acquainted with, it could be the start of a long relationship.
Definitely try the delicious Malbec from Annex Kloof, the ripe and rich reds and the old-vine Chenin Blanc from Babylon’s Peak. And from Nativo, one of my favourite small Swartland producers, a fine pair of blends made in the fresh and tasty Swartland mode.
Aristocracy of the Cape
Santa Cecilia is new to me. Ebullient Espost is co-owner and fellow winemaker and assures me that his wine is included just to make the others seem good. I do not believe him about that either.
Also there, says Anton, will be the wines of Lemoenfontein, the farm owned by wine journalist Neil Pendock; another rare sighting.
If the All Stars represent the corrugated dirt roads, modest farmhouses and shoestring budgets of the new-wave Swartland, the gabled, rolling-lawned aristocracy of the Cape is also coming to the party.
Witness Meerlust — you do not get grander than that. Unmistakably smart, too, is Anthony Hamilton-Russell’s Ashbourne, though it arrived on the Cape scene a few hundred years after Meerlust and a little later than the same owner’s Hamilton Russell Vineyards. The latest vintage of the red Ashbourne, largely from pinotage, is controversial: some love it, some do not. Go try.
There is more unanimity about the excellent white blend.
I doubt whether they travelled up together (the team spirit in the Hemel en Aarde region is not what it is in the Swartland), but just a little further down the winding road from Ashbourne is Creation. It is a very different story here, anyway.
Whereas Ashbourne makes just the two wines, Creation seems to take in just about everything, from sauvignon blanc to grenache. With enormous energy (I have my doubts, despite the winery’s name, about whether they rest on the seventh day), they have produced an average that is remarkably high and rising annually.
An old saying has it that the way to make a small fortune out of wine is first to invest a large one.
Probably feeling at home in Hyde Park, and better dressed than the Swartland boys, there is good representation of those big spenders.
The late Graham Beck, founder of Graham Beck Wines with its large range — do not miss the bubblies if they are pouring them — made a vast amount of money from coal, whereas diamantaire Laurence Graff prefers dealing with carbon atoms arranged rather differently.
Gossip has it that the last refurbishment of the international jeweller’s London premises (dare one speak of a “shop”?) cost even more than all the sparkling chic of the Delaire Graff Estate in Stellenbosch — and the views in Bond Street cannot compare to Delaire’s vista of the Banghoek valley. The wines are fine and not glittery — and valuable.
Another and probably less reliable word from that part of Stellenbosch is that a definite attraction of high-sited Delaire was that it looked down (as few wineries can) on lofty Tokara, the property of banker GT Ferreira — the prime spokesperson, in his wry way, of the doubtful financial rewards of investing in wine. If Ferreira is the poorer (or a fraction less rich) for his presumed fun, however, wine lovers are better off. Tokara wines are very good, as polished as Graff’s diamonds, but perhaps deft rather than soulful.
More international money came the way of Glen Carlou (from Swiss Donald Hess), whose Chardonnay, particularly, should provide much satisfaction for fairgoers. Italian capital and some Italian grape varieties, if not necessarily Italian flair, are reflected in the wines of Idiom. It is hard to think of these relentlessly powerful, ultra-ripe, sweet-fruited reds giving much refreshment on a highveld summer’s day, but they might well give pleasure.
You want sporting plutocrats too? Golfers seem most likely. No Ernie this time, but Retief Goosen’s The Goose wines will be there — including, presumably, the newer range called (ho-hum) The Gander.
And there are more. For one thing, official green earnestness is also travelling north. Wedderwill from Stellenbosch is now certified organic — and biodynamic too, so they will have checked the calendar to see whether the moon and planets will be smiling on their fine sauvignon blanc, and perhaps on the event as a whole. Avondale, in Paarl, is also organic, but likes to mix its biodynamic elements with a modicum of science. One of their wines is called La Luna, which might just indicate their priorities.
Recommended at the fair (or elsewhere)
- Ashbourne Sandstone 2008. With some attractive maturity, an excellent example of how sauvignon blanc becomes more complex and interesting with, in this case, a little semillon and chardonnay. Lively and elegant.
- Tamboerskloof Syrah 2007. Delectable aromas — a hint of floral fragrance from a few drops of the white grape viognier — finely structured, ripely gentle but firm, nothing overdone. One of the best shirazes from Stellenbosch.
- Nativo White Blend 2010. Billy Hughes’s Swartland farm provides organic grapes to some of the region’s best-known names. His own lightly oaked blend of viognier — well disciplined and not blowsy — and chenin blanc is rich but dry, poised and refreshing.
- Tokara Grenache Rosé 2011. Not one of your old-style sweetish, girly pinks, this instead is bone-dry and finer than frivolous, lightly fruity and perfect for summer lunches or sunset sipping.