Civilisation and chardonnay under the oaks

It’s maybe paradoxical, but there’s something wonderfully civilised about dining outdoors. I do mean dining, and not your average picnic where the beachsand gets in your sandwiches or the ants get up your shorts. No, civilised dining involves enormous amounts of effort – from other people, preferably, and preferably mostly unseen. They must bring proper tables and chairs, cover them with white cloths, blue-and-white china, silverware and cushions (as appropriate), and place them all on a green lawn in the shade of old oak trees, with a view of mountains and the slave-built, white-washed and graceful buildings of a proper eighteenth-century Stellenbosch erf. When the sun irritatingly moved across the sky, shifting the shade, more aides to civilisation staggered out with large umbrellas.

It happens all too rarely, does proper civilisation. But it made the new chardonnay of Matthew van Heerden all the more appealing, accompanied as it was by a fine country lunch prepared by his wife Monique (no doubt with a bit of the aforementioned necessary help to make civilisation for the likes of us lolling on the chairs). The setting was, in fact, Webersburg, near the foot of Stellenbosch’s Helderberg. I was too indolent to even take a photo. The one below comes off the Webersburg website: the edge of the old winecellar is on the left; our table was under the oaks a little further towards the mountains.


Matthew van Heerden made his name higher up the mountain, at Uva Mira, especially with rather showy, rich and sweetish chardonnays, but he’s been at Webersburg a few years now, concentrating rather more on reds. His own label – MVH Signature Wines – is being launched with a Chardonnay and a Pinot Noir, both from the 2014 vintage. Before this civilised lunch, we’d tasted them more carefully in the lovely long room which was the old wine-cellar here.

The Chardonnay 2014 is forward and immediately appealing, with lots of flavour, well-judged oak and good balance within the richer style that Matthew favours. I can confirm that it accompanies food very happily – I later called for more (from civilisation’s aides) a few times. It’s not a terroir-expressive wine, though Matthew has clearly worked hard in choosing and working with his half-dozen vineyard sources in Stellenbosch (mostly) and Elgin, whose fruit he blended.

Interestingly, Matthew also showed us the individual Elgin component of the blend. Bravely, perhaps, as I have to say that this was for me the more interesting and ultimately satisfying of the two: more elegant and refined, offering more of the stony minerality which was certainly a minor component of the final blend, and more potentially interesting as a single-origin wine, which is surely the direction in which we should be moving. But this is partly a stylistic preference, and the blend is beautifully put together, probably more complex than the Elgin wine by itself, and will appeal to many. It rated five stars in Platter, not too unreasonably.

The MVH Pinot Noir 2014 is from an Elgin vineyard. It’s again an extremely well-made, balanced wine, probably best for early drinking, in a fairly light style, but satisfactorily combining savoury and fruity aspects, the structure nicely based on subtle tannins, finish decently dry. Incidentally, Matthew also offered us a Meerlust 1984 as evidence that local pinot can age – to which I have to say: maybe it can, some of it, though mostly not for 30 years, and the evidence of this Meerlust didn’t help make the point. I’d drink the MVH long, long before then….

Both wines retail for about R250. Elegant civilisation is priceless (though of course the dusky ones lugging the tables and chairs around for the lucky few might argue the point!).

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