The news for winelovers from the Swartland the last ten and more years has been unquestionably good. Great wine quality, interesting shiraz-based red blends, and a marvellous, newly-invented category of white blends based on the old-vine chenin blanc that grows in gnarled profusion on sunny slopes under the enormous Swartland skies.
The downside? Well, if there is one, it’s the prices. They’re not unjustified, given the quality – in fact sometimes the quality: price ratio is very good at medium to high levels. Mullineux Syrah, Sequillo White and Red, and most things from Lammershoek, come readily to mind; and Tobias offered a wonderful 2010 red for R75 – but you’re unlikely to have heard of it, let alone been able to source it, which is another Swartland problem except for the sexiest labels.
But R90 or so for second-level offerings from big-name producers, and even more for some ambitious newcomer ventures, is more than most people can, or will, afford. Swartland and Riebeek co-ops make decent enough cheap wines (particularly appealing chenin blancs), but the reds especially are seldom styled for serious wine-drinkers.
Relief is at hand, however, from Willie Dreyer – and it comes with such large potential volumes behind it that I think it should worry some Swartlanders. Dreyer is hardly a newcomer to these parts. In fact he’s one of the biggest and most successful wine-grape farmers in the whole country, with over 1100 hectares in the Swartland and the Voor-Paardeberg (the adjacent area, within the Paarl district). (The pic shows Leeuwenkuil workers establishing even more vineyards; taken from the Leeuwenkuil website.) In this time of glut, it seems he can sell all he can grow, he does it so well. Most goes into big-label brands, but some of his old-vine grapes have long found their way into some of the smart and expensive new Swartland wines.
Now Willie Dreyer has a team, including a former winemaker of Perdeberg Co-op, Pieter Carsten, producing four Swartland or partly Swartland wines in his own range, called Leeuwenkuil – it means Lion’s Lair, the name it’s been released under in the USA..
There’s a straight Chenin Blanc (R40) first of all – fresh and appetising, with a nice appley bite to it. For just R15 more you can get the succulent and vibrant Family Reserve White, and here you’re entering serious territory. Other varieties (roussanne, grenache and verdelho) are added to a chenin base to give more complexity. Five months maturation in oak barrels adds breadth and richness.
The red pair follows a similar strategy. The Shiraz 2011 is a happy, fresh and juicy wine with a lot of ripe flavour matched with a decent structure and some refinement. One of the glories of Swartland shiraz generally is how the tannins (the stuff that also gives astringency to strong tea) can grip firmly, but are smooth and easy.
Again, the blend (this time with mourvèdre, grenache noir and cinsaut added to the shiraz) is more ambitious, and intelligently oaked. The Family Reserve Red, which is just R60, is from 2010, so has had an extra year to gain further interest and harmony. It’s rich, savoury and warmly inviting.
Altogether a range of wines to welcome warmly. Leeuwenkuil have also got a big national distributor (Vinimark), so they should be easily findable – another change from some of the little Swartland stars. If they don’t have them, nag your local bottle-store to get them. It’s worth the bother.
First published in Mail & Guardian, 3-9 August 2012