Late summer, with a few tasting notes

Late summer in the Western Cape: much of the harvest already in, and wonderful Constantia hanepoot has arrived for eating. And heat, and fires. Already at 7a.m., Sunday was promising to be hot and heavy. For the first time this year the wind had allowed smoke to come from the (resurgent) fire in Somerset west – and from a shack settlement in Gugulethu – across the Peninsula, and the atmosphere was almost mistily grey for an hour or two. A helicopter above me was ferrying water to, I presume, Gugulethu. And there was a scattering of ash over my car. I always find it particuarly unnerving and frightening, this rain of millions of charred fragments of things that a few hours were alive and green.

However, life for most of us goes on, and I have a report to make of a few wines that I would like to say, in the grand Michael Fridjhon manner, have recently crossed my tasting bench. In reality, though, they were sampled, in the useful company of Angela Lloyd and Ingrid Motteux, at Angela’s most-unbenchlike dining table.

Tops was the Viognier 2007 in Fleur du Cap’s Unfiltered range. Only to be ventured if you enjoy unbridled power (and have R100 to spare), but if 14.5% alcohol doesn’t faze you, this is most attractive wine: creamily rich and forthright, with an appealing lemon edge to the expected peach and blossom, and some lemony acid, too, focusing the flavours and mitigating the power. Not overblown, as some viogniers are. Score: 16.

In recent years we at Grape haven’t been particularly enthusiastic about the wines of that significant winery in the Darling Hills, Groote Post. This time we tasted the trio from their Old Man’s range (the old man being Peter Pentz, who seems to like being also described as a patriarch, but doesn’t look very venerably ancient in this photo, does he?). All three we scored 14, which is reasonable at a modest level of offering – except that the rather ordinary bubbly, the Old Man’s Sparkle, is not cheap at R85. The lovely pale onion-skin colour is a great start (though a few more energetic bubbles to enliven it would have been good), and there’s a pleasant appley character, and it’s quite rich and flavourful, with a vaguely strawberry finish. But nothing of much interest to it, however, and, like many Groote Post wines it has a perceptible sweetness, which we didn’t much enjoy.

The Old Man’s Blend White 2008 (R39) is a pleasant, unpretentious combo of sauvignon and chenin, with decent concentration and a freshening acid bite. This is the one of these three that I liked most, though I’m sure that many will enjoy the fruity-oaky friendliness of the 2007 Red version (R44). Lots of simply mulberry charm, but I found the extreme ripeness just a touch sickly, and it needed the robust acidification it clearly received, to give it the illusion of freshness. A fun braai wine – but in this heat, I wonder if it wouldn’t be best to save it for winter.

Certainly summery are four 2008 wines from Riebeek Cellars – one of the great-value ex-co-ops of the Swartland – and I’m sorry we didn’t get round to reporting on them earlier, as they’re for this summer, not next… but there’s plenty of warm weather ahead, and at R25.50 for the Sauvignon and the Chardonnay, and R4 less for the Chenin and the Rosé, they’re for this financial recession too (though that’s likely to endure longer). Best value and best wine is the gently tropical Chenin Blanc (score: 13.5), we thought, as it had more character and bite than the green-flavoured (not excessively so) but rather dull Sauvignon Blanc (score 12.5). Maybe we did this latter wine a particular disservice by not tasting it late last year; look out for the fresher 2009, I dare say. The Pinotage Rosé, with the good strawberry and earthy notes that make pinotage such a good variety for rosé, could also have been a bit fresher and livelier, as it showed itself a little more ripely ponderous than this style should be. But congratulations to Riebeek for – unlike one or two other large wineries in the Swartland area – making their wines in a properly dry style. If you prefer your wines cheap but respectable, Riebeek is generally to be relied upon.

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