Notes from our trip to South Africa in 2011
Travel notes, Accommodation and Meals
The Robertson wine district is just 1½ hour’s drive from Cape Town. If it is a clear day the best way to get there is up the old Du Toit’s Kloof pass road (R101) rather than the shorter Huguenot Tunnel. The road winds up the Hottentots Holland mountains with spectacular views over Paarl towards Table Mountain. Add 30 minutes or so to the journey time for this. An interesting alternative way back to Cape Town is via Franschoek. The location of all wine estates is on a great map of the area on www.robertsonwinevalley.com.
To provide a totally different ecology to Cape Town we decided to stay in the Klein Karoo at Les Hauts de Montagu Tel 023 614 2514 www.leshautsdemontagu.co.za Route 62, Montagu.
Les Hauts de Montagu nestled in the Langeberg mountains
The main building — orginally a barn
View from our room
Outside shower — Les Hauts de Montagu
Les Hauts de Montagu is part of the Portfolio Collection of small hotels in South Africa (www.portfoliocollection.com) We have used this collection often in the past and have never been disappointed, and we weren’t this time. The only exception being that we were under the distinct impression that Les Hauts had a kitchen with a French chef but when we arrived we were told it was closed as it was out of season. A warning on the website would have managed our expectations. But the place was everything we wanted; quiet; out in the fynbos bush of the Klein Karoo; a roll top bath for 2 and an open log fire in the bedroom. It also had an open air shower – very invigorating on the chilly but sunny mornings. But, for the price, we expected towelling slippers and gown and not just hard pillows. Still, all in all, a great place to stay.
Jessica’s, Tel 023 614 1805, 47 Bath Street, Montagu. Recommended by Les Hauts as the best restaurant in Montague, we were looking forward to a great meal after our day in the vineyards. As we had had aperitifs and snacks looking out over our fabulous view at Les Hauts, we decide to give the starters a miss and head straight for the main course. We ordered a Karoo trio of lamb, ostrich and springbok; unfortunately a disaster which had to be sent back. After some um’ing and ah’ing the chef recommended we have the Karoo lamb. A lot of South Africans argue that Karoo lamb is the best because of all the fynbos they eat; not too dissimilar to the impact of the salt marsh diet for lamb in France. It was excellent and redeemed the recommendation. We had a bottle of Joubert-Tradauw (a wine estate just up the road towards Barrydale) 2006 merlot cabernet which was a great accompaniment; fruity but showing its age and lovely soft tannins.
Wine estate visits
The road to Bon Cap
Bon Cap Tel 023 626-1628 www.boncaporganic.co.za Mon-Fri 08h00 - 17h00
Bon Cap is the first wine estate that you come to in the Robertson wine region on the road from Worcester to Robertson although it is some way off the R60 main road in its own valley. In addition to being a wine farm they have a restaurant, self-catering cottages and specialise in weddings and functions. Their Ruins (a ‘lifestyle’ range) Sauvignon Blanc from the 2011 vintage (R45) was citrusy and minerally but quite restrained because of its youth (harvested only 4 months prior) but still drinking nicely. The Bon Cap chardonnay 07 (R90) was lemony with great clean, new oak. The Bon Cap reds were also matured in oak but had a largish slug of Pinotage so were not to our taste. We had a great light lunch and bought the Sauvignon Blanc.
Springfield cellar door view
Springfield tasting room
Springfield Tel 023 626 3661 www.springfieldestate.com Mon - Fri 08h00 – 17h00, Sat 09h00 – 16h00
To our minds Springfield is the benchmark Robertson wine estate for Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. They have two Sauvignon Blancs from the 10 vintage, made from the same rootstock, treated the same in the cellar but grown on different soils. The Life From Stone (R73) is grown on limestone has lots of fruit and is salty, minerally in taste. The Special Cuveee (R72) is grown on alluvial sand and we found it still minerally but more complex. We couldn’t decide which we liked best so bought the latter as it is not as readily available in the UK. They also have 2 Chardonnays. The Wild Yeast 08 (R81) was unoaked but spent 12 months on the lees. It was complex but had a sweet edge to it that we didn’t like. The Methode Ancienne 06 (R162) was unfiltered and unfined and spent 12 months in oak. The fruit was less forward and there were hints of bottle age coming through. A bit expensive for what it is relative to white burgundy. The red Bordeaux blend, Work of Time, 04 (R109) was spicy with hints of tobacco and strong tannins. They also have 2 Cabernet Sauvignons. The Whole Berry 09 (R93) named after the method of maceration used natural yeasts for fermentation and was unfiltered. It had great fruit and soft, soft tannins. We bought some of that. Their flagship Methode Ancienne Cabernet Sauvignon 04 (R224) was a stunner so we also bought that. Definitely the benchmark wine estate.
Bon Courage Tel 023 626-4178 www.boncourage.co.za Mon – Frid 08h00 – 17h00, Sat 09h00 – 15h00
We had lunch at Bon Courage and then went to taste their wines. Perhaps we should have done it the other way round. A friend of ours once tried to book an appointment at a champagne house for around 2pm and was told ‘No, 4pm!’. When he arrived he asked why, ‘The after-lunch coffee would have ruined my champagne!’ was the reply. The 11 Sauvignon Blanc (R38) had good fruit and acid and was the minerally style that we so like. The Chardonnay Prestige Cuvee 09 (R55) spent 12 months in new French oak and was all oak on the nose with hints of wet wool that comes from oak grown in the forest of Nevers. The Cabernet Sauvignon 10 (R52) had soft red fruits and tasted a bit thin and the alcohol was a low 12.5% - perhaps it was rain effected. The Pinotage 08 (R52) appeared to be well made but did not convince me to change my prejudices against the grape. The 10 Shiraz (also R52) was full of fruit and peppery spices with a deep colour but paled by comparison to the Inkara 08 (R110) which had spent much longer in wood (14 months). However good this tasted, the 15% alcohol level is too high for our likes and so we dismissed it. The Inkara Cabernet Sauvignon 08 (R107) has won many awards and had a great Ribena-like nose, red berry fruits and soft tannins. And at 14% alcohol was what we wanted, so we bought that.
Goedverwacht cellar door
Goedverwacht tasting room
Goedverwacht Tel 023 616 3430 www.goedverwacht.co.za Mon - Fri 08h30 – 17h30, Sat 10h00 – 13h00
In their value range, Crane, the Sauvignon Blanc 10 (R25) was minerally and fruity with good acid. The Good Earth Sauvignon Blanc was a 11, so was only harvested about 4 months ago. It was a complex wine, fruity and minerally, really rather good. The two chardonnays were both from the 10 vintage and both from the same area, just treated differently. The Great Expectations (R40) was lightly oaked in 2nd or more filled barrels and had great citrusy fruit – very good in our book. The Maxim (R150) was aged for 13 months in new French oak; beautiful clean oak and great fruit. The difference in price, obviously, the cost of the oak. The Crane Merlot 10 (R40) had a typical Merlot nose and the taste was full of fruit. The ‘An acre of stone’ Shiraz 10 (R65) was non typical at all; it was porty on the nose and taste. The Bordeaux blend, Triangle, 09 (R65) had good fruit. The single vineyard Maxim Cabernet Sauvignon 09 (R150) had great fruit and soft, integrated tannins. It had spent 12 to 14 months in new French oak. We bought the Good Earth Sauvignon Blanc, the Great Expectations chardonnay and the Maxim Cabernet Sauvignon.
Kranskop Tel 0236263200 www.kranskopwines.co.za Mon - Fri 10h00 - 16h30, Sat & Public Holidays: 10h00 - 14h00
We tasted their range starting with the ‘10 Sauvignon Blanc which was herby and minerally and, at R45, a real bargain. The ’09 Chardonnay was lemony with strong new oak on the nose both of which carried through to the taste; the oak was not yet integrated and the wine needs a year or two to reach its best. But again, at R50 a real bargain. The reds were from the 08 vintage. The Merlot was rather restrained but still fruity with soft tannins, a bit disappointing really even though it had won a Veritas Silver. The Shiraz was on the money; spicy peppery and good fruit. Both these were R55. The Cabernet Sauvignon (R60) was minty, fresh young berry fruit but somehow a bitter aftertaste. We bought the Sauvignon Blanc.