Four reds (and a lot of unnecessary glass)

Capaia, a Bordeaux-style red from the sparsely-vined Philadelphia region between Durbanville and Darling on the West Coast, was launched in 2003, and I was an early believer. Vast amounts of money on vineyards and cellar were spent – very intelligently – by Baron Alexander von Essen and his hard-working baroness (of the super-rich Miehle dynasty). Something was to go a little awry in subsequent years; I think it was too much respect being paid by the German aristocracy to fancy foreign winemakers as consultants and nowhere near enough to the local on-site winemaker, so that there was a rapid turnover in the latter slot, and the wines suffered as a consequence.

I hope that some stability has been achieved now and the great potential of this estate will be realised. I confess I know little about the last few years, but was recently reminded that I must find out more. The reminder was a bottle of 2004, the merlot-based second vintage of the flagship. I see I wrote about it for the Platter Guide 2006: “… supple and beautifully structured, fine acidity, melthingly smooth tannins – but deeper, more authoritative [than 2003]. Seductive, but criminally youthful (will be so for 5+ yrs) … concentrated flavours will emerge fully, more complexly. Big alc well balanced…”

Gosh – what a wonderful lot of words we were allowed in Platter in those days; their progressive reduction to allow for more entries without more pages is a sad thing. Anyway – the Capaia 2004 drunk over a couple of recent nights fulfilled my hopes of half a decade ago; it was a most delicious and rather complete experience. A very good wine indeed, that has determined me to find out what is happening at Capaia now (I’ll follow it up as soon as the current Platter-tasting season is over).

The connection between Capaia and another recent local wine is the pomposity of the bottle. But while the Capaia was wrist-achingly heavy, the bottle of The Bridge 2008, the maiden edition of an expensive “icon” cabernet from Franschhoek producer Rickety Bridge, is even more egregious. It looks and weighs almost like a magnum placed next to a standard bottle.

Rickety Bridge has been raising the bar for this sometimes-maligned appellation in recent years, but I feel that (even apart from the absurd bottle – and these heavyweight monstrosities are looking increasingly old-fashioned in our greener times) they’re trying too hard here. Simply, a good wine is spoilt by too much oak: it was fermented in new oak barrels and then kept in them for 2 years. Some too-dry tannins, oaky flavours, and even a touch of bitterness were the result, masking the lovely fruit from the single sloping vineyard. What a pity. (Angela Lloyd, who tasted it alongside me, was quite in agreement with this judgement.)

I must say that, after a few days of the bottle being opened, the fruit still showed its quality, and even triumphed a little over the oak influence. Perhaps with five years or more in bottle the wine will redeem itself somewhat – but why place such unnecessary obstacles in its way, especially as most will be drunk before then? I do hope that this exciting winery will realise that the excitement is in what they’re doing in the vineyards and that too much intervention in the winery will only detract. The Bridge is available only from the farm, in a grandly showy individual box, for R395. I look forward to future vintages, in the hope that they will be altogether less pretentious and thereby reveal a little more of the good Franschhoek truth.

Pleasing Cape Blends

A much nicer recent surprise in the tasting that Angela Lloyd and I had was the Clos Malverne Auret 2009 (retailing at around R160). This Stellenbosch winery has long been a champion of the “Cape Blend”, especially with this flagship. The 2009 has a quarter pinotage, along with merlot and some 60% cabernet. As a blend it works very well indeed, with serious fruit and a good structure that allows for early drinking but should ensure some complexifying maturing over a good few years. The great achievement is that there is a real measure of elegance in this wine – something neither Angela nor I was expecting to find, on the basis of earlier acquaintance with Clos Malverne. It’s a fine advertisement for a blend with pinotage as a subsidiary component.

Another Cape Blend recently sampled with some pleasure came from the banks of the Breede River, in the Viljoensdrift River Grandeur range. It had been received with even more pleasure by the Wine mag judges who, in their wisdom, gave it four-and-a-half stars. The panels of Veritas and Michelangelo also rated it highly. So who am I to demur and say that this is yet another demonstration of the absurdity of big tastings?

Because some snide cynic will turn round and say that I would give it about 14.5 or 15 out of 20 only because I’m tasting it sightedand it’s not a fancy origin. But I’d indeed score it something like that and say: Appealing aromas of mulberry (etc) fruit, with a clever hint of oak. Ripe, rich, sweet fruit, its extracted thickness well controlled and kept in check by a judicious acid addition. A big, friendly wine, likely to do well in competition line-ups and for sensible winelovers in the wintry cold. It’s about R40 – much cheaper than other River Grandeur reds, so perhaps the producers are also puzzled by the panellists’ ratings. Enjoy.


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