V is for Vergelegen

It’s been a year or two since I’ve visited and tasted at Vergelegen – Anglo American’s magnificent estate on the edge of Somerset West – but today’s experience there reminded me just what a fine wine producer this is.

The prime purpose was to taste all the bottled vintages thus far of Vergelegen White, the blend of sauvignon blanc and semillon (à la Bordeaux) which was, in 2001, the pioneer of a now long list of such blends in the Cape – with a number of fine wines, but none more lustrous than Vergelegen itself. As today’s tasting proved yet again.

Angela Lloyd motivated the tasting and provided the wines for it from her own cellar – she has religiously bought a case of it each year and now has more bottles of some of the early vintages than Vergelegen does. (In fact, to its shame and embarrassment, there are a few vintages that Vergelegen has no bottles of at all!) Angela will no doubt soon be writing a full report of what was a remarkable line-up of wines – but I’ll just mention that, for example, the 2003, which has always been impressive and was at or near the top of most people’s ranking today, is drinking beautifully now, but is not tiring and there is no reason to think that it will not be giving pleasure in ten years time. If, indeed, there will still be any bottles of it left at all!

(In the pic, blurred winemaker André van Rensburg making a point at today’s tasting – though it was no doubt the photographer who was actually blurred.)

The 2011 vintage of Vergelegen White is actually being released right now, and in my opinion it is going to be one of the best yet – though the 2010, in the shops now I suppose, is right up there too.

We also, a little later, had the privilege and pleasure of trying a few of the other wines being released now. This was over lunch in the new restaurant which has replaced the old Lady Phillips one, and is named for the estate’s wonderful old camphor trees. It was in a sense a preview meal, as the restaurant opens in a quiet way tomorrow – though will only be fanfared in January, I believe. And if our lengthy and exquisite lunch today is anything to go by, it is going to add to the already impressive number of first-rate winelands eating places. It’s very smart too – perhaps even a trifle bling, in fact, though the glitter of chandeliers and mirrors is toned down by a lot of elegant greys. Whether it’s a good idea to only offer the estate’s own wines I’m not quite sure – but there will at least be older vintages available.

As to the new-release wines – I confess I was not by this stage taking notes, but am confidently happy to report that the Chardonnay Reserve 2011 and Sauvignon Blanc Reserve (with a small oaked portion for the first time) are fully up to the established standard.

When the reds started coming (first with the duck and then with the lamb… it was indeed a long lunch but I was never tempted to leave anything on my plate) we had a little squabble amongst ourselves over the Merlot and the Cabernet Sauvignon, some of us preferring the one, some the other. I voted for the Merlot, to my surprise, but can’t say I was really wild about either.

But then, ah, then came the Vergelegen Red 2006, the cab sauvignon-based blend, which definitely put the single-varietal wines into perspective and their proper place. A superb wine it is. This was a good vintage for Vergelegen – the White from that year had been one of my favourites in the line-up earlier. The 2006 Red is already drinking well, with its tannins smoothly tucked up amongst the restrainedly forceful fruit, but I reckon the next five or even ten years will bring further rewards, adding to the layers of interest it is already showing.

Then the V, from 2008. V, the wine that André van Rensburg, presiding genius of Vergelegen’s cellar, always himself seemed a little dubious about making – seeming to believe, reasonably enough, that there was already a flagship red so why make this? Well, in order that the estate could win some fame in the cult-wine stakes with a bigger, bolder, more Napa-style wine. The 2008 is possibly the best V yet – big it is, but not a million miles from elegance. Today I preferred the rather more graceful Vergelegen Red – but that wine did, of course, have the advantage of a few years extra maturation. Two first class reds, anyway, to match the Chardonnay and Sauvignon – and to provide accompaniment to the actually more brilliant White.


All in all, I was pleased to be reminded that if V is for Vergelelen, it is also for van Rensburg.

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