Heat

Cape Town is not good at handling heat and, although each grim winter I promise that I will never again complain about being too hot, nor am I. A little rain earlier this evening hasn’t really helped the swelter – I think the raindrops mostly dried up before they reached ground level.

Of course, as always, suffering is relative. Fanning myself yesterday in the poorly-air-conditioned upstairs room at the French Toast Wine and Tapas Bar (a normally rather delightful addition to Cape Town’s inner-city food-and-wine scene, with a good approach to wine and delicious though sometimes rather oily food, but I won’t go there for lunch on a hot day again until their cooling system is improved) I spared some guilty thoughts for the grape pickers whose job, hard at the best of times, must reach the level of appalling in heat like this. The grapes don’t much like it either. At least the hard-working winemakers are mostly in the cool of the cellar. I think this is going to prove a troubled vintage altogether, actually.

We were in French Toast for an excellent tasting of the the wines of Hermanuspietersfontein, led by winemaker Bartho Eksteen, whose range is uniformly impressive – I shall be reporting more fully on it soon. But the wines were let down by the over-hot room unfortunately – all the wines warmed up too quickly in the glasses, a particular problem for the reds, which even started off too warm. It doesn’t do big modern ripe reds like Bartho’s any favours drinking them above cool.

I suspect that most restaurants in Cape Town are serving their reds too warm at present, just making the prevalent high alcohols all the more obvious. And the whites too cold…. oh well, this is an old complaint of mine (expressed more fully here, for example).

High alcohol was the only problem I had this evening with a glass (or two – so it wasn’t such a great problem!) of Buitenverwachting Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, which they’d kindly delivered me yesterday out of the goodnes of their hearts. The label says 14.5% and it generated rather more power and heat than I much care for. But, although clearly ripe, the wine is not jammy or sweet, the firm tannins are now integrating nicely.

Some years Buitenverwachting delivers a really excellent Cab (I remember the 2001 especially fondly) though perhaps not quite as often any more. It is usually very good value, however – I think it is close to R100.  (I’ve just been to look it up on the Buitenverwachting website, but that seems to be rather out of date – they still are listing there the 2003.)

I was particularly pleased to have also tried the current release of Buitenverwachting’s Hussey’s Vlei Sauvignon Blanc, the 2010. Just last week, trying to tidy up a motley collection of bottles, I’d come across a bottle of wine inscribed in white paint: “Buiten Lars’ Choice 04”. It was a left-over Platter sample of the first bottling of Hussey’s Vlei, before they’d finally decided on a name for it (the “Lars” in this version referring to Lars Maack, the hands-on owner).

In fact, this was initially tasted in advance of its bottling too, so this sample hadn’t been sulphured. As my experiences with Stellenzicht’s no-added-sulphur wines showed only too well, this can lead to problems, and it had in the case of my sample 2004 (which had also not been properly stored since then). I’m pretty sure that the properly bottled versions would still be drinking just about OK at least, but my bottle was dead.

Not so the 2010 Hussey’s Vlei, which is excellent – a prime example of good Constantia sauvignon, showing why this area is making such a successful specialisation of this variety (it’s by far the most planted). Some greengage and citrus rather than showy tropicality, with a nicely mineral lively acidity. I always tend to think savignon is improved with a judicious admixture of semillon, and here too it would have usefully padded out the middle-palate. But a fine and rather elegant example, which is surely not going to disappoint anyone.

By the way – last year’s very successful Constantia Fresh Sauvignon Blanc Festival is going to be repeated (with variation) on 25-26 February. This year the focus is precisely on sauvignon blanc as a great blending partner. The events are expensive, but the standard is going to be high, and if you’re in the Western Cape at the end of February, it’s highly recommendable. See details on the website.

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