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News

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According to one guest, there wasn’t a bed left in the guest houses and BnB’s of Bonnievale and surrounds! It seems that Bonnievale’s launch of their River Collection was a large and popular event and I was sorry to have missed it.

But I have tried the quartet of 2018 wines that currently is available: three whites and a rosé, which will be joined by some 2017 reds later this year.

 

 

To rewind, for a moment, to the time when Bonnievale wines was founded half a century ago, the cellar produced accessible  ranges to 2006 when a three-way merger saw the winery join forces with Merwespont and Nordale co-ops, under the Bonnievale name. CEO John Barnardt has been at the helm ever since, taking the business to higher levels, so that when their 10th anniversary was celebrated in 2016, the producer was known as a cellar that remains unpretentious while delivering well-made fruit-driven wines at pleasing prices.

 

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Carina Gous joined the team as strategic brand advisor recently, while the winemaking team is headed by Marthinus Rademeyer (who made the chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and cinsault rosé), while Jean Slabber’s signature is on the label of the chenin blanc.

Turning to the wines, which form part of a new collection that celebrates the Breede river, the cellar’s lifeline and “the core and heartbeat of our wines” to use Barnardt’s phrase. They are all priced at R57 at cellar door and all share modest alcohol levels - both on-trend and welcome - of 12,5%, with the rosé coming in at 12%.

 

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They are approachable, enjoyable and well-made, offering good value: the chenin is, in particular, a pleasing addition as there are few offering such good value in the Robertson valley. I also liked the chardonnay which is well rounded, offering citrus and stone fruit balanced by a little oak. The sauvignon blanc is crisp without being over acidic and leans to the tropical fruit rather than green style, while the rosé is  very light-bodied, with  little cinsaut character evident.

 

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Over the last few years the quality and diversity of wines available from the producers in the McGregor valley have rocketed, When talking to visitors and wine lovers in other centres it was clear that few people knew just how good and diverse the offerings are. This led to my creating the McGregor Wine Meander which forms an informal link between the local outlets and provides travellers and locals a vinous route that can be visited over a weekend or longer stay. 

We invite you to ramble or run, hike or bike, trot on horseback or just drive your four-wheeled chariot through the valley, pausing wherever you feel like sampling one of our charming wines or sipping a grappa or eau de vie.

Here below are a couple of excerpts from the website, starting with the introduction.

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At present there are six members, and this number is set to rise by one or two more. Starting at the Robertson end of the McGregor/Robertson road, the first cellar is Tanagra Winery & Distillery, followed by McGregor Wines. Bemindwyne and Grape De-Vine are in the middle of the village, with the latter acting as tasting centre for Solara Organic Wines. Beyond the village, some 10km uphill, lies Lord's Wines, the highest cellar in the Robertson Wine Valley. 

 

Please log on to www.mcgregorwinemeander.co.za to plan your route and click on each member to obtain their details.

 

 

McGregor Wine Meander

Amazing diversity. Consistent qualityGreat value for money.

This best describes the wines and spirits that flow from the farms and cellars of the valley that encompasses the magical village of McGregor.

Where else would one find such extraordinary variety within one small wine-producing district ? Cellars ranging from garagiste through boutique to a large co-operative. Single vineyard white, red and rosés. Fine Cinsaut and Colombard that take these former humble – now trendy – grapes to new levels. Irresistible award-winning Cap Classiques. Internationally registered unforgettable organic sauvignon blanc and pinotage. Highly rated popular cabernet sauvignon and, of course, soetes, in the form of warming red and white muscadels.
And, from a small distillery, a range of world-class grappa or marc as its also known, along with eau de vie produced from both red and white wines. And there’s more in the guise of a fruit-based range where apricots, peaches, lemons and organic quinces play starring roles. An inviting village wine boutique doubles as a tasting centre for one farm while providing locals with a meeting place of note.

Only in McGregor!

This little route can be compared to a jewelled necklace, along which a handful of farms and cellars perch as gems waiting to be unearthed. The winemakers, viticulturists and farmers (sometimes all-in-one) share qualities like talent, passion and hospitality – the old adage, ‘arrive as strangers, leave as friends’ – could have been coined especially for this valley.

Welcome to The McGregor Wine Meander,

a slow and winding 15km route through vine-clad hills, past orchards, farmsteads and between stretches of veld where nature rules supreme. After leaving the village the road climbs to the foothills of the Sonderend mountains, where the final destination boasts heart-stopping views over the valley.
In anticipation of your tastings, we would like to raise a glass in welcome with traditional toasts of Cheers! Gesondheid! And, with a nod to our Scottish heritage, Slainte!

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Just what many of us need right now! Midwinter blues increased by rocketing petrol and other prices. Depressing ongoing national political news and Cape shenanigans that don’t inspire trust in municipal or provincial management.

Perfect timing, then to find a red and white wine that manage to offer cheer on several fronts: Stellenbosch Hills – long known for affordable quality wines - launches a pair of blends that retail for just under R45 each, which doesn’t dent the budget much.

Then, having tried both of them, one finds that – as expected – they offer uncomplicated sipping, but a lot more. Both these wines offer enjoyment way beyond their price – they are well-balanced, presenting fruit, freshness and enough backbone to make them meaningful wines.

And thirdly, there’s a feel-good angle as well: A percentage of Polkadraai wine sales is channelled to the Vlottenburg Primary School through the Polka Kids Community Project. Stellenbosch Hills has been a patron for a decade now, and shows no signs of stopping. Even if that percentage is very small, after 10 years the cellar’s contribution has made a good deal of difference to those 400 pupils.

The 2017 Polkadraai Pinotage/Merlot slips down like silk, easy enjoyment as a fireside aperitif, comfortable companion to pizza, pasta, sausage and mash and a whole menu of comfort suppers. At 14,5% alcohol levels, the second bottle needs to be watched with some care.

By way of contrast the 2018 Chenin Blanc/Sauvignon Blanc is a mere 12,5% alcohol-wise, is fruity and gentle and not bone-dry, but not flabby, and will accompany easy dishes like apricot chicken bakes happily.

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The pair make  the maiden vintages of his Focal Point Collection and there’s more in the pipeline, with a cab to come. Arco Laarman, whose name is almost synonomous with fine chardonnay after his long stint at Glen Carlou, went solo a few years ago, presenting his Cluster Series last year, and this impressive pair, both 2017 vintage, a couple of months ago.

Dubbed the Focal Point, Laarman explains that this range concentrates on specific vineyard sites to express their character, by making a wine that reflects a specific place and time. Deciding on Chardonnay as the maiden white was a given, while settling on Cinsault for the red was influenced both by the existence of fine old vineyards to tap into and the fact that its star is on the rise, just as chenin’s was a decade agao – and look at that so-called humble grape now.

 

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Laarman found his chardonnay grapes in a vineyard in limestone on the banks of the Duiwenhoks river near Vermaaklikheid, a cool southern region that’s been spotted by several adventurous winemakers in recent years. He does not reveal their age, but he harvested quite late, whole bunch-pressed them and used four different fermentation techniques before maturing the wine – half in new French oak, half in neutral oak for 10 months.

The result is impressive on every count. Elegance and freshness are both prominent, the nose offers citrus and pineapple, while rounded flavours and minerality come through on the palate, with a hint of nougat. Alcohol levels of 14% are unobtrusive. Laarman suggests pairing the wine with sophisticated seafood or roast chicken with asparagus and white wine sauce. I think there are several French gourmet chicken classics that would make an excellent companion, especially those from the north and French Alpine regions. At over R300, it’s a chardonnay to match  with patrician fare.

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To the Cinsault, which Laarman made from berries of 35-year-old vines in the Bottelary Hills. After natural fermentation had taken place and the skins pressed in a large basket press, the wine spent 10 months in 300 litre neutral oak barrels. The result is a delicious violet-tinged cinsaut, where purity reigns supreme, tannins are gentle, fruit, a distinct herbiness and earthiness add to the typical cinsaut character. Moderate alcohol levels of 13% add to its attraction. Those who favour light-bodied reds will be delighted with this fine example, which will enhance warming game bird casseroles, and mushroom dishes – eat your heart out, pinot noir, you have an affordable rival to contemplate. Recommended retail price is R210.

Final comment is on  the distinctive and attractive closure of the bottles which sees conventional cork topped with an innovative cork capsule for re-sealing the bottle. It's made by hand locally, it looks good and, being a natural product, beats plastic and wax seals both in looks and practicality.

For more info, see www.laarmanwines.com.

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It proved to be a bitter-sweet occasion, that day in May when a group of wine writers and retailers gathered in Morgenster’s hilltop tasting room. Similar in many ways to past events where the ever-courteous, charming Giulio Bertrand, flanked by cellarmaster Henry Kotze and consultant Pierre Lurton greeted guests ahead of a tasting of new wines and latest vintages.

This time, however, our host was absent, although we were told he was resting in the gabled farmstead which had been his home for more than 25 years. So he was near enough as we sipped the estate’s maiden bubbly, and sampled seven still wines ahead of a tour through the impressive olive oil plant, now graced by even more sophisticated machines. As always, the lunch that followed was an Italian gourmet triumph, from the simple, flavourful green pea soup, topped with a swirl of newly pressed oil, to the buffet of charcuterie, classic salads and cheeses.

A few days later we learned that Giulio Bertrand had died, with his family around him. One of the Cape’s most beautiful 18th century farms had lost a custodian who lavished money, attention and love on his southern home, adding world-class olive oil to its reputation for fine wines.

We started our tasting with the Cuvee Alessandra 2016, a Cap Classique produced from cabernet franc sans dosage. As could be expected, this is a distinctly different MCC which I found intriguing and enjoyable, with a fine mousse and full-bodied and a long finish. It sells for R227 .

The Morgenster sauvignon blanc 2018 is a wine that should enjoy wide popularity – produced from Stellenbosch grapes it is well-balanced, with subtropical fruit flavours and fresh zestiness in enjoyable combination. At around R80 it also offers good value.

 

 

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I think that Morgenster’s White Reserve 2015 is a memorable Bordeaux-style white blend that offers elegance, complexity and great character, its components (55% s/blanc 45% semillon) melding into a fragrant, fruit-filled mouthful backed by a well-integrated structure. After being in oak for 12 months, the wine was bottled early in 2016 . Expect to pay about R220.

 

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On to the reds, starting with the delicious Tosca 2015, a blend of 80% Sangiovese with 15% cab, and finished with a splash of Cab Franc. While its array of aromas, smooth tannins and fruit and spice combo makes it delightful right now, it is sure to improve even further if cellared. Priced at about R230.

Morgenster’s Nabucco 2015 is an expression of Giulio Bertrand’s favourite cultivar and an example of the great quality of much of the 2015 vintage wines. Nabucco takes a while to get to know – presenting an earthiness reminiscent of pinot noir, spice and herb flavours rather than fruit, all backed by prominent tannins. Cellarmaster Kotze added that when paired with food (beef, mature cheese, dark chocolate) it has a notable effect on the latter. It will also benefit from a few years in a dark cool place. About R340.

Morgenster Lourens River Valley 2014 is a wine made in a more accessible style and offers a delightful blend of a merlot lead with cab, some cab franc and 10% petit verdot. Heady aromas of cherry and vanilla, cinnamon and licorice are followed on the palate by ripe fruit, backed by elegant tannins. It sells for about R190.

The flagship Morgenster Estate Reserve 2014 proved to be a fine finale, produced by Kotze in collaboration with Lurton. This vintage is comprised of 36% cab, 36% merlot, 14% cab franc and 14% petit verdot. It’s a big wine in every sense, with intense nose of fruit and nut, coffee and cigar box and a blend of flint and fruit on the palate, with agreeable freshness. It costs around R392

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And so, an era has come to a close. A timespan of more than two decades which has seen Morgenster - originally established by one Jacques Malan who acquired Morgenster in 1711 – gain in beauty and value while Signor Bertrand was its custodian. I heard that his grandchildren are interested in keeping the farm in the family, which is encouraging news. Arrivederci, grazie.

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