A few notes, from sauvignon to brandy

One of the stranger judgements in recent Wine mags, I thought, was the suggestion in a tasting room review that Paul Cluver Estate rated 4/10 for value and 5/10 for quality. I suppose the magisterial Jeanri-Tine van Zyl simply has much higher standards than I do (not to mention a more splendidly inventive name), endorsed by her editor. I’d certainly put the estate amongst my top twenty Cape producers for overall quality, and suggest that it has few rivals at that level for good value.

Having said that, we (me, that is, plus Angela Lloyd and Ingrid Motteux) were slightly disappointed  by the recently released Paul Cluver 2008 Chardonnay compared to the previous vintage. It’s in the usual elegant Cluver mould, with a tight mineral finish and good flavours, and with oak at present outweighing the singing notes of citrus and blossom. But its refinement seems a touch too light and lean – perhaps instead of the usual complaints about too-high alcohols, I’m suggesting that this one could have benefited from a touch more ripeness and weight? Nonetheless, it is a very valid wine and at R100 still decently good value, and Angela thinks it will still fill out. 15.5 points we gave it.  Incidentally, we were lucky enough to also have a preview of the Pinot Noir 2008, and it continues the wonderfully upward trajectory on which winemaker Andries Burger and the team are taking this wine – but don’t even try to get some, as it hasn’t yet been released.

Rickety Bridge is one of the many historic and lovely estates in Franschhoek, and has had much more richly evocative names in the past than the present kitschy one which sounds as though it was invented to help sales in British supermarkets. It was part of La Provence, and when a subdivision passed to Paulina de Villiers it was called Paulina’s Drift; later it was Zanddrift, and then (the present farm) the lady was invoked again and it became Paulina’s Dal. The top range of wines does continue this bit of tradition, as Paulina’s Reserve. The two we tasted had in common, unfortunately, some rather unattractively odorous notes and a lack of freshness. The Paulina’s Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2008 is nicely crisp, however – and fairly angular and austere, with some dusty asparagus, vegetal aromas. OK, but it’s hard to justify the R75 involved in buying it. 14/20. We enjoyed a little more the Chenin Blanc 2008 (R68; 14.5/20), with its bruised apple character, though the acidity was rather hard and displeased Ingrid especially – she described it as arriving in a “whoosh”; and also didn’t much care for a sweetish, short finish.

I’ve commented before (and will do again, no doubt) that pinotage is a grape particularly suited to making rosé and Delheim Pinotage Rosé 2009 (R39; 14.5/20) offers eloquent testimony to this. Unpretentious and simple, delightful and fresh, well-balanced and dry, with a lot of raspberry charm.

Brandy is not something about which I claim much expertise, though I remember doing quite well in my Cape Wine Master brandy exam many years ago. So forgive me if I just say about the Joseph Barry Cape Potstill Brandy 10 Year that it seems to me to more than uphold the great modern tradition of fine Cape brandy: elegant, pure and smooth, with a focused mild fire to its orange-peel aromas (actually much more complex than that, but words fail me). It’ss made by Barrydale Winery in the Klein Karoo, which describes it as a “maverick” amongst their brandy regulars, Joseph Barry Traditional and Joseph Barry Muscat. This was the batch that “revealed itself as the one with the makings of a ten year old”. Just 3000 bottles released. I’m fearful about what Jeanri-Tine would say about its value at R350 per bottle (though fine brandy is inevitably expensive stuff), but I do hope she’d agree on its quality.


With winter rains arriving, Solms-Delta in Franschhoek last week thought it time to have a small ceremony to “wet” the large and pleasing mural which transforms the bleak sheds making up their wine cellar into something special. Joachim Schonfeld (in the pic on the left with Mark Solms) was the artist, who, in keeping with the spirit of the place, invited the participation of those who live and work on the farm. A youthful portion of the latter, who a few years ago had little music to offer, entertained the visitors with the loud happiness of a brass band – for they are trying at Solms-Delta to also transform the bleakness imposed on many lives.

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