Gentle aftertaste of a tongue-twister

Hermanuspietersfontein – if you’re a lover of sauvignon blanc this name will probably have long since unwound its length in your mind, and the wines unfolded their savour on your tongue. Bartho Eksteen (in the pic below), the sauvignon-besotted winemaker and part-owner of HPF (the abbreviation is needed), markets four of them – allowing for a few other grape varieties admixed in small quantitites to add complexity to taste and texture. It would be difficult to find anyone doing it better.

The winery recalls the original, full version of the name of the frenetically over-touristed and over-retirement-homed coastal town of Hermanus. In 1855 the village honoured the memory of a Dutch farm schoolteacher, Hermanus Pieters, but a postmaster later decreed the shorter version – responding, perhaps, to the anguish of envelope-addressers in those epistolary days.

Bartho’s winery is on the edge of the town, at the entrance to the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley (home to an ever-increasing number of good wineries since Hamilton Russell Vineyards’ pioneering days). But most of the grapes now come from HPF’s farm near Stanford, 40 kilometres away. It’s a  large property, with much left to natural fynbos – HPF have ecologically-responsible farming and respect for biodiversity close to heart. (That’s the farm in the pic below.)

Two of the HPF sauvignons have zero influence from oak barrels. Sauvignon Blanc No 7 is the “greener”, grassier version, for those who like this style; No 3 (which I find more rewarding) comes from warmer slopes, so has riper flavours – delicate tropical fruit, with a vivid twist of grapefruit as it slips down. Both are suave and polished, as we’ve come to expect from this masterly winemaker, both gently intense.

The two grander versions have had some of the wine matured in wood. No 5 is the oakier, and I suspect it will be more satisfying when oak’s overt effect is better integrated in a year or two. Already there is a fine richness, with beguiling flavours of nut and apricot. The flagship white wine, Die Bartho, is definitely a blend in character, with a 20 percent addition of enriching, broadening semillon – the semillon grape is a great natural partner for sauvignon, and many of the Cape’s (and Bordeaux’s) finest white wines invoke this compatibility.

Die Bartho 2010, the current release, is splendid, with a beautiful balance of beguiling softness and typical sauvignon “bite”. The name, incidentally, might need explanation for non-Afrikaans drinkers (the HPF labels are solely in Afrikaans) disconcertedly imagining a death-wish imposed on the winemaker. It simply means “The Bartho”.

This odd practice (in any language, why not just the person’s name if they must personalise things?) is also used for HPF’s two top red wines. Die Martha 2007 is a smooth, sweet-fruited blend based on shiraz – some will find it a touch too jammy and soft, perhaps, as I do, but it is undoubtedly a good example of the style. Die Arnoldus 2007 is made mostly from cabernet sauvignon and merlot grapes. It’s big, powerful and fairly seriouos, though not difficult to enjoy in youth, with plenty of berry flavours melding with the savouriness.

Arnoldus sells for around R200 (all these wines are fairly pricey, though there’s also a small cheaper range) but there’s a pleasing junior version for half that – and with almost my favourite wine-name: Kleinboet,  literally translatable as “little brother”, but so much wittier and more meaningful in Afrikaaans.

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