Steenberg (and other) sauvignons

A remarkable event – even more than a remarkable tasting – was held at Steenberg’s Catharina’s restaurant last Saturday for customers, friends and some press.
It actuallycoccupied quite a substantial part of Saturday – some five hours I was there, and I was not the first to arrive or the last to leave. But we all left, surely, extremely well wined and dined and feted.

There were five courses (apart from pre-lunch snacks and post-lunch coffee; and I didn’t notice many plates going back to the kitchen not well-scraped, so delicious were they all) and five flights of wines which also seldom dipped below very good. The trios of wines arrived well before the food in each case, so there was a chance to taste them neat, as it were, and then to see how they went with the carefully judged menu.

Cool origins
Flight 1, about diversity of cool origins, was of Iona 2012 from Elgin, Fryer’s Cove Bamboes Bay 2012 from up the West Coast (surely the Cape vineyard closest to the sea), and Cape Point Vineyards Reserve 2011. Iona 2012’s long finish indicates intensity (though I found something of a hole in the middle) and promises very well; as usual, I think, it’ll take a few years to show at its best, and should mature long without acquiring the aggressive green pungency that some people (including me) dislike in many local aged sauvignons.

Fryer’s Cove is undoubtedly on the green side of things, but beautifuly structured in its elegance and quite characterful; should keep well. I most appreciated the Cape Point – but, then, I generally find that even good sauvignon requires some oak or some semillon to make it interesting. This wine has both, and I found it more intriguing and incipiently complex than many others on the tasting. The acidity is particularly thrilling, but Duncan Savage’s hard work in the vineyards has reduced the greenness in the profile and made the wine ripe as well as vivaciously fresh – the citrus note more tangerine than grapefruit. Elegant, restrained and moresh.

The next three wines all had oak influence, Chamonix Reserve 2009 brandishing it most of all – rather too much, in fact, for most of us, though it has great finesse and interest. At four years it is developing well, but will it ever absorb all the wood before the fruit has gone, I wonder, and, if so, will there be any left undrunk?

Klein Constantia’s single-vineyard Perdeblokke 2011 showed just a little oak-spice on the nose, but the wood was well integrated and supportive, adding some breadth to the steely body. So, as well as being a bit rich, nicely supple, the acidity was integrated, balanced and inviting.

I’d guess from the conversation that most people most enjoyed the Kleine Zalze Family Reserve 2011. I rather admired it, but didn’t much care for it: too showy and sweet-fruited for me, with ripe flowery, pineapple notes dominating any greenness. But precisely, I’m sure what was intended, in the usual Kleine Zalze upfront style, and with the usual Kleine Zalze excellence of winemaking.

Steenberg Magna CartaSteenberg
The next flight was of three diverse Steenberg wines. Firstly the varietal odd-one-out of the tasting, the Semillon 2011. Not so odd, of course, as Semillon is the great Bordeaux blending partner with sauvignon and turned up here quite often, including in another wine of this flight, Magna Carta 2010. This lovely, serene and vibrant portion of delight shows admirably just how much benefit there is in blending the two varieties – which seem to not only complement but also somehow complete each other. Magna Carta is delicate, but with subtle concentration and penetrating minerality (stony steeliness, if you prefer that absurdity). I’m not sure it is going to age particularly pleasingly (for me anyway) – there’s already a hint of green pea and asparagus suggesting the direction it is moving in; but it is so lovely and harmonious now, I see little point in waiting. Wish I had a case of it, and if I did, I’d drink it over the next year or two.

The straight Semillon is very good, as usual. 2011 was a happy vintage for Constantia – more so than 2010. More powerful than the Magna Carta, with oak showing subtly enough, with gingery spicy notes, along with textbook wax and citrus. Good length, balanced.
Then another odd-one-out – in terms of age: Steenberg Sauvignon 2005, showing some of the green asparagus, tinned pea development associated with Steenberg’s “green” style of sauvignon, and a nice smoky touch. Very much alive, if not an absolute wow.

Next came three from the Loire. Henri Bourgeois Sancerre Jadis 2010 was, along with Magna Carta, my top wine of the day. I recently wrote about drinking the 1998 vintage of this wine, and remarked how wonderfully it had matured; I’d guess this also has a long, complicating future ahead of it. Floral nose, a little earthy; fine, vibrant, some passionfruit; a touch of tannin.

Altogether distinguished.
Then two vintages of another famous Sancerre: Francois Cotat Sancerre Les Monts Damnes 2010. I was lucky enough to have a sample of the 2010 from the only bottle in the room which wasn’t undergoing some fermentation, so I got all of its attractive white peach, white-flower, pink cachou aromas and flavours. Very charming and fresh, with reasonable length, a hint of ripe sweetness I thought. The 2011 had, even for us with the good bottle of 2010, a cleaner nose, and showed richer, more forceful and “masculine”, clean and fresh.

Back home
The last three were the current Steenberg Sauvignon offerings (apart from the fruity, pleasant but simple Klein Steenberg 2013 which we’d sampled ex-tank, but finished, before lunch). The Steenberg Sauvignon Blanc 2012 is drinking well. Some typical slightly sour-green aromas and flavours as well as a smoky-gunflint character adding interest; stylish, firm, forceful and confident.

HMS Rattlesnake 2011 has, like the above, a barrel-fermented component, as well as a dash of semillon to add a little breadth and weight. It’s riper, though, with some more tropical elements, and the same air of firm confidence.

Sadly, 2011 is the last vintage of the Steenberg Reserve – a wine which has become deservedly pretty well known over the years. But the single yineyard from which it came had ceased to deliver enough fruit to be viable, and the wine will be replaced by another top-level version. But it’s a good note to say farewell on: a fairly ripe, appealing nose, not notably green. It’s full, silky-textured and intense, with some depth and character; the acidity vibrant and, please, mineral.
It was also a fine wine with which to end a magnificent lunch. Catharina chef Garth Almazan showed how good his best can be, as did MD John Loubser and JD Pretorious with the wines – the latter increasingly claiming an eminent place among the Cape’s young bloods. As for Anetha Homan, Marketing Director – I think that more than anyone we had her to thank for another occasion delivered with not merely the generous luxury than Steenberg can afford (though I doubt if the Graham Beck accountants will like the bill), but with a more rare level of detailed, intelligent and careful planning.

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