A visit to Robertson wine region, South Africa

Coastal regions tend to hog the limelight in South Africa, especially Stellenbosch, Constantia and Walker Bay.  Having spent some time in these regions over the last few years I really welcomed the opportunity to spend a week inland in Robertson – an hour and a half’s drive from Cape Town.   It’s a really friendly region – much less “corporate” than the better known regions and this makes for characterful wines from quality-focused, family-run wineries.

Graham Beck Wines – established by Graham Beck, a mining entrepreneur who purchased Madeba farm outside Robertson in 1983.   The farm had been devastated in 1981 by the Lainsburg floods.  The farm was replanted and developed in 1985 & 1986 and, until 1989,  grapes were delivered to Rooiberg Co-op.  Robertson is a heavily co-operatised region so this was a real break with tradition and a mark of confidence in the region.  The winery kicked off in style with a Methode Cap Classique made in a new purpose built cellar in 1991 and Graham Beck is regarded as one of the Cape’s leading Cap Classique producers.

Graham Beck Blanc de Blanc 2002 – Pieter Ferreira is the king of Cape bubbly and this shows why – vanilla, brioche, nougat and creamy brazil nut add texture and complexity to its fresh, applely fruit; good length with persistent mousse.  Very good.

Graham Beck Lonehill Chardonnay 2005
– silkily textured, rich chardonnay with apricot, spicy vanilla and nougat.  Good balance.

Graham Beck The Ridge Shiraz 2002 – the flagship, single vineyard Shiraz shows sweet black cherry and plum with spicy mocha, star anise and a hint of eucalyptus; nicely structured tannins.

Robertson Winery
– this progressive co-op’s basic range is very sound but there’s some real excitement with Robertson Winery’s single vineyard and flagship wines:

Robertson Winery Retreat Sauvignon Blanc 2006 – lively, characterful Sauvignon with fresh aparagus, tomato plant, thai holy basil and bayleaf.

Robertson Winery Kings River Chardonnay 2006 – cedary, vanilla nose and palate with white peach, juicy lime, yoghurt and nougat.  Very good generous, balanced style.

Robertson Winery Wolfkloof Shiraz 2004
– Fleshy red, black and blue berry fruit with juicy acidity, sweet vanilla and some violet hints.

Robertson Winery Number One Constitution Road Shiraz 2004 – very tightly structured palate with a great heft of savoury, malty fruit surrounding a mineral core – needs time but will be worth the wait.

De Wetshof
– famous for its Chardonnay, patriarch Danie de Wet smuggled Chardonnay cuttings from Burgundy in the 70s and the rest, as they say, is history.  Danie is now pursuing his passion for Burgundy with a Pinot Noir which shows great potential.

De Wetshof Danie de Wet Chardonnay Sur Lie 2006 – this is probably the best value Chardonnay in the world – unwooded, yet textured it shows apricot and stone fruits with hints of nougat.

De Wetshof Bon Vallon Chardonnay Sur Lie 2000
– a spicy, biscuity edge to its stone fruits, this has a chalky spine and cool note of yoghurt.

De Wetshof Lesca Chardonnay 2006 –  very poised style with pear, citrus, nougat and that cool, tangy yoghurt note; mouthwatering acidity – very good.

De Wetshof D’Honneur Chardonnay 1993
– still fresh – lovely developed dried honey mingles with green apricot; attractive autolytic notes.  Impressive.

De Wetshof Bateleur Chardonnay 2005 – the flagship wine shows rich toasty hazlenuts and stone fruits wed to a tight, citric backbone; very long, focused finish – lots of potential.

Quando – brothers Fanus and Martin Bruwer are the 8th generation of the Bruére family who emigrated to the Robertson Valley from the Loire Valley, France in 1696.  And the Loire seems to still course through their veins because they’re a dab hand with Sauvignon Blanc even though they only started making wines under their Quando Estate label in 2001, originally in a 36 square metre garage! They still sell 90% of their grapes to the co-operative, keeping the best parcels for themselves which are handpicked and given lots of tlc.

Quando Sauvignon Blanc 2007 (trial blend) – blackcurrant bud nose joined by (attractive) dusty fig on the palate which shows guava on a long, persistent finish.  Very good.

Quando Sauvignon Blanc 2006 – struck match nose with tight knit palate showing lovely richness and complexity of flavour; nicely balanced and protracted by juicy acidity.  Very good – a go back to the glass and find more wine.

Bon Cap – certified organic wines from this family-run estate in the remote sub-region of Eilandia Valley. Bon Cap is owned by Roelf and Michelle du Preez – seventh generation growers but, in 2001, they decided to withdraw from the local co-operative and make their own wines.  Their own cellar was erected in time for the 2002 harvest and the vineyards were restructured to grub up 30 ha of uneconomic Colombard, Clairette and Chenin and concentrate on red varieties. Of the reds, Pinotage accounts for 40% of the total plantings, with the first dating back to 1966, making them some of the oldest in the Cape. Syrah and Cabernet make up the remaining plantings.

Bon Cap The Ruins Organic  Pinotage 2006 – quite simply the best Pinotage I have ever tasted and a great wine.  Lovely fruit purity and definition: black cherry compote with a dusting of cinnamon.  Smooth tannins and fresh acidity make this eminently food-friendly.  Fab.

Bon Cap Organic Cape Blend 2005 – fresh, complex, dry wine with lifted pepper, violets and mint mingling with its red and black berry fruits; nice tannic grip – fruit, not oak tannins with liquorice.  Very good.

Bon Cap The Ruins Syrah/Cabernet Sauvignon 2005
– fresh damsons and plums with violet and pepper top notes and a hint of smoky bacon – perfect for a plate of charcuterie.

Bon Cap Syrah 2004 – apparently this is £7.99 in Waitrose and what a bargain it is – a Rhone-ranger with violets, pepper, dried herbs and vanilla adding interest and depth to its succulent black cherry and red berry fruit; ripe but present tannins give an elegant structure.

Springfield Estate – brother and sister Abrie and Jeanette Bruwer spearhead this pioneering estate which really helped put Robertson on the map, especially for Sauvignon Blanc.  Springfield Estate continues to push the boundaries with hands off winemaking and long natural ferments.

Springfield Estate Firefinch Sauvignon Blanc 2006 – enticing nose shows a whiff of gunflint and a richness of fruit.  Juicy gooseberry on the palate cut with flint and chalky notes – very good value for money entry level “quaffer” from the Sauvignon gurus.

Springfield Estate Life from Stone Sauvignon Blanc 2006
– a tight nose with nettle and green bean which follow through on the pungent, slightly spicy linear palate.  A long focused finish sparkles with minerality.

Springfield Estate Special Cuvée Sauvignon Blanc 2006
– rounder, more fruit focused style with passionfruit, capsicum, green bean and fresh coriander.

Springfield Estate Wild Yeast Chardonnay 2004
– smoky cashew notes complex the fresh apple and melon palate; nice balancing acidity – subtle, food-friendly Chardonnay which reminds me of a top Macon.

Springfield Estate Whole Berry Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 – very attractive, approachable wine showing tobacco-edged, creamy yet succulent cassis of lovely purity with spicy fruitcake and good balancing acidity and a cool hint of mint.

Springfield Estate Methode Ancienne Cabernet Sauvignon 2001
– gorgeous vinous nose and palate – tremendous fruity purity and intensity with succulent black berry, cherry and currant.   Fine tannins and beautifully balanced acidity – reverse spitting for this one!

Sarah Ahmed
The Wine Detective
May 2007

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