A great chenin just trumps a sauvignon

Beaumont is a real family farm near Bot Rivier, a warm refuge from grandly pillared entrances, rolling lawns and clever-clever PR. They also make one of the Cape’s best Chenin Blancs. The old rustic cellar, last used 40 years before and a place of vaults and alleys, was refurbished and reintroduced to use when Jayne and the late Raoul Beaumont decided in 1993 that their grapes should start being vinified and bottled under their own label. The first bottling was in 1994, with Jayne the first (pretty successful) maker of the Pinotage. Niels Verburg, now a neighbour at his own Luddite, was winemaker from 1996 until 2003, when the Beaumont’s son, Sebastian, took over. Hope Marguerite was, they tell us, Raoul Beaumont’s mother, with “a passion for gardening and a love for wine. A true individual with a strong but very feminine character”.

I don’t quite know what “feminine” means in this context, but the wine named after her and produced since 1997 from old (1978) vines, is individual and characterful indeed – and unpretentiously excellent. We (Cathy van Zyl, Angela Lloyd and I) tried the 2009 at a tasting of recent releases and it was the star of the show. References to concepts like “authentic” somehow kept coming up when we talked about it. A naturally fermented, barrel-fermented wine, with 25% new oak , it is remarkably complex for such a young wine, both rich and delicate, bright, fresh and unshowy – and likely to get only better over the coming years (how many? it would be a guess, but I would be prepared to bet on five years absolute minimum). A rather serene and happy wine, to be psychological about it. To be ungenerous, I’ll give it 18/20 as a score. Cathy thought 20/20 would be appropriate, and that’s certainly not a laughable thought. So let’s rise that to 18.5/20. A delight and a bargain, anyway, at R135 ex-farm.

Another standout wine was the Steenberg Sauvignon Blanc Reserve, also from the splendid 2009 vintage. It seemed to me less greenly pungent than this wine usually is – gently grassy only, with peach, granadilla and lemon verbena (excuse me if I sound like one of those absurd Wine Spectator critics). The big thing is the mineral core and brilliant, big acidity perfectly counterpointing the fruit. A wine from its top sauvignon vineyard that utterly justifies Steenberg’s great reputation for sauvignon. Also 18/20, with no squabbles. R180, which is quite a lot, but it’ll keep for many years if your tastes run to mature sauvignon blanc: I’d urge you to hold back at least a year or two – if you do, you’ll be glad you did!

Same price for the Steenberg Semillon 2009 and very much less worth it in this case. Here the Steenberg reputation didn’t match, we thought. Notes of toast, lemon-curd and wax, but, judging it by high standards, the wine was curiously flat and a bit clumsy, a touch insipid in its lack of fruit and structure. I think it was Angela who spoke of a sort of sheen of alcohol over it. 15/20, perhaps 15.5. I can mention that it didn’t improve after a day in an open bottle. As for the Steenberg Merlot – I’ve never been a fan of this wine, though I know some people like it. It’s decently structured, with a bright acidity and a reasonable tannic structure balancing the overt ripeness of the fruit – although the tannins are in fact rather dry and oaky. The ripeness certainly doesn’t preclude a minty, eucalyptus greenness. 15/20, in a generous mood. You could do much better with R120. (Add R15 and learn from Beaumont just how seriously good Cape Chenin can be, even when it’s not the basis of a Swartland blend!)

 

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