Esona – The Very (Magnificent) One

Tugged away between green vineyards and majestic mountains, Esona Wine Boutique, situated on the R317 between Robertson and Bonnievale, catches your eye and you cannot help but be intrigued by this small piece of paradise as you drive by. This idyllic location, in the heart of the Robertson Wine Valley, is where my wine-thirsty feet led me, on Tuesday morning.

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The breathtaking views from the tasting room at Esona Wine Boutique.

Esona, the brainchild of husband and wife duo, Rowan and Caryl Beattie, started in 2003 when they purchased this gorgeous piece of farmland as a sustainable sanctuary of uncompromising landscape luxury, away from the busy city life. Nestled between rural tranquillity and unspoiled natural beauty, Esona Wine Boutique offers a vibrate escape to the wary urbanite. The upstairs tasting area gives new meaning to the phrase, room with a view.

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The scenic entrance at Esona.

In 2004, Rowan and Caryl had a vision to turn the 17 hectors of farmland into lushes, wine-producing vineyards. But it would take another six years before it yielded its first crop. In 2010, Esona released its very first bottle of wine under its newly-found label. Esona, a Xhosa word meaning ‘The Very One’, (or, my Afrikaans readers will appreciate this; ‘Die Ware Jakob’), capitalised on its staggering scenery and innately friendly staff to lure visitors to its front porch, and it worked beautifully!

It was, however, the well thought-through creativity in almost every small detail that caught my attention; from the small handprint on the torn bottle label, to the cork-inspired table decoration, to the RIEDEL glasses… Oh… the RIEDEL glasses! Let me tell you about this elegant piece of glassware. But let me start off by saying that I have a ‘thing’ for glasses. However, the RIEDEL glass is not just another glass, it’s the king of glasses, shaped and designed specifically to enhance the flavours and aromas of every sip of wine. The RIEDEL glass is grape-specific, ensuring that the taste, balance and finish of the wine is affected by the shape of the glass from which it is drank.

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Tasting Room Assistant, Daneen Pienaar showing off their selection of RIEDEL glassware.

I was welcomed to Esona Wine Boutique on Tuesday morning by Tasting Room Assistant, Daneen Pienaar who has been a part of the Esona family for just over a year now, she tells me. The rustic interior entrance is interwoven in the subtle, yet provocative design features throughout the property. The 75-year-old Oregon Pine wood staircase adds to the antiquity of the interior décor. Esona produces around 2500 to 3000 bottles per cultivar, per year, making every bottle of Esona wine special and unique, Daneen tells me.

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The rustic entrance at Esona adds character to the location.

Grapes are handpicked and much effort is added to ensure that just the very best grapes are used to make the prefect bottle of wine, says Daneen. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are so much more that makes this wine boutique so special, she adds. She boasts with the range of wine awards received by the farm, including the prestigious Neil Pendock award which the farm obtained in 2011 when its Esona Chardonnay took second place in the blind-tasting competition. But visitors often struggle to decide between its Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, making both wines some of its top-sellers, says Daneen.

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A selection of the various types of soil is displayed.

“The Beatties have been actively involved in various social responsibility initiatives on the farm,” Tasting Room Manager, Michelle Kotze tells me. “Rowen believes in education and development of all workers, including the tasting room staff.” Farm workers are encouraged to grow their own produce of which they keep 100% of profits earned, while tasting room staff are regularly send on courses. “We also open up new opportunities to those wanting to get their foot into the hospitality and tourism industry,” Michelle added.

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Well thought-through creativity in almost every small detail.

La degustation (The Tasting)

Armed with some of the most stylish glasses possibly south of the Equator, Daneen presented me with some of the most delicious wines that the Robertson Wine Valley has to offer.

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I was also offered a glass of their ‘Frankly My Dear’ Blanc de Noir, which is produced from their Pinot Noir grapes.

Esona Sauvignon Blanc

First up was the 2014 Esona Sauvignon Blanc. Refreshingly light, this Sauv hit all the right spots on the palate, perfectly. I loved the fruity and citrusy aromas that accompanied this delicious Sauv. Aftertastes of greenpepper and fig linger on the palate, followed by a smooth finish. It was the perfect thirst-quencher and starter to my wine-tasting experience.

Esona Chardonnay

The 2013 Esona Chardonnay was another hit. How anyone can claim to be an ABC (Anything but Chardonnay) is really beyond me. I loved this Chardonnay! Ten-months wood-matured in third-fill barrels, the Esona Chardonnay offered aromas of vanilla and caramel mixed with an almost coconut aftertaste. Daneen wanted to give my taste buds a kick and also offered the 2012 Chardonnay, and what a treat it was! The 2012 presented a fuller, more complex yet incredibly smooth taste. The Chardonnay’s will appeal to both the complex and simple wine palate.

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Esona offers a selection of yummy delicacies for a quiet picnic.

Esona Shiraz

The 2012 Esona Shiraz is another crowd pleaser. I love red wines and was delightfully surprised by this lovely Shiraz. Eleven months wood-matured, the Esona Shiraz embodies tastes of black pepper while soft tannins make the tasting such a pleasant experience. It is full-bodied yet soft and elegant to enjoy for just about any occasion.

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Tasting Room Manager, Michelle Kotze and I against the backdrop of the beautiful lushes vineyard at Esona.

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Daneen and I took a quick photo-break during our tasting.

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Michelle and Tourism intern, Dailyn Kleintjies.

Esona Wine Boutique also offers a range of tastings, including a Taste of Africa and a Taste the Difference experiences, involving the various RIEDEL glasses. You can also book an underground cellar tour or enjoy a delicious picnic with fresh, locally-sourced produce from their in-house restaurant, Caryl’s Deli.

I’d like to thank Manager, Michelle Kotze and her lovely team, especially Daneen Pienaar, for their hospitality and making me feel right at home. I loved Esona and will, as promised, be back for the ‘Taste the Difference’ experience. If you’d like more information on the delish selection of Esona wines, please visit their website. Please also join them on Facebook and Twitter.

Did you like this review (of course you did!)? Then please subscribe to my blog (see top right hand side). Please also follow me on twitter and follow my blog on facebook. I’ll be posting a lot more reviews over the coming months.

Till next time, hugs and high5’s!

xoxo

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Alls well at Weltevrede

I took a long, leisurely drive to Weltevrede Wine Estate on Tuesday morning. The harvesting season has officially kicked off and it is time to make some wine here in the Roberston Wine Valley. You can see it while driving down the road, you can smell the freshly picked grapes and you can almost taste the delicious, soon-to-be-produced wines on your palate. When I arrived at Weltevrede Wines, just outside of Bonnievale, I was overwhelmed with the serenity and calmness offered by this magnificent estate.

I was met and accompanied on an underground wine cellar tour by Public Relations Manager, Elzette Steyn who has been a part of the Weltevrede family for fifteen years, she tells me. Weltevrede, a fourth generation farm, has been in the Jonker family for 102 years and spans 160 hectares of farmland. Harvesting of its Pinot Noir grapes started on Monday, says Elzette.

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The scenic entrance towards Weltevrede Wine Estate.

It is such a pleasant time to be on the farm, witnessing the occasional tractor passing with buckets of freshly picked grapes. The grapes, however, are the very first harvest of the season and have a low balling reading, i.e. a low sugar content. You’d be ill-advised to taste some of the grapes as they tend to be quite sour.

The Weltevrede Estate is well-known for its selection of Methode Cap Classiques and Chardonnay wines. The 95 kilometre canal that runs adjacent to the estate is the lifeblood of the farm, ensuring that it is thoroughly irrigated throughout the drier seasons. But it’s Philip Jonker, son of Lourens Jonker, who’s vision distinguishes, and remains the spark of life, for this well-established Estate.

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Harvesting season has just started in the Robertson Wine Valley.

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160 hectors of beautiful views at Weltevrede.

His vision is what led Philip to acquire national acclaim in 2012 when he produced wine from the seven ancient vines from Robben Island, where former president Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years. The dream started when Philip and his wife, Lindelize visited Robben Island seven years earlier and Philip noticed the vines in the prison garden. He arrived back at Weltevrede with a passion and a plan.

Many obstacles were encountered including early morning trips to Robben Island, hard labour, volatile weather conditions and ravenous seagulls that devoured two of the vines. But finally, in 2012, the patience and hard work paid off when the first crop was harvested, producing 228 kilograms of grapes. Philip was able to produce 20 bottles of sweet wine, Madiba’s favourite, from the grapes. Named, The Parable, the very first bottle was presented as a birthday gift to Madiba on his 94th birthday.

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The canal that runs adjacent to the Estate ensures it remains irrigated throughout the year.

It is Philip’s relationship with the soil that fuels his passion, says Elzette. “His love for wine and winemaking is visible in all the wines produced here on the estate. When you work with someone who has that kind of vision, you cannot help but also be inspired,” she adds. The Estate was also the first to produce a Vanilla Chardonnay, currently their top-selling wine, and the industry soon followed suit. “Philip always has something up his sleeve,” Elzette added with a smile.

The underground cellar tour led us along dark walls, lit only by candlelight, which provided just enough glimmer to see our way through cemented cisterns. Here, thousands of bottles of MCCs lay dormant for four years. Previously used as wine tanks to store the wines, the cisterns were rubbed with molten beeswax to seal each hole and crack and prevent the wine from coming into contact with the raw cement.

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Thousands of bottles of MCCs are awaiting perfection.

The Tasting

Elzette prepared seating for me and my fellow tour guests underground to sit and enjoy tales of the estate, as narrated by her.

Vanilla Chardonnay

The first wine Elzette presented was from the Simplicity Collection, the Vanilla Chardonnay. Refreshingly soft, this Chardonnay was a delightful treat to the palate and I could see why it’s one of their top selling wines. Tropical and citrusy flavours coupled with a soft hint of vanilla explode on the palate from the very first sip. It’s a delicious treat on a hot, summery day.

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The underground cellar tour offered a new wine tasting experience.

Place of Rocks Chardonnay

From their Terroir Estate Collection, the Place of Rocks Chardonnay was second in the tasting experience. A truly sublime wine, this Chardonnay crept slowly into my heart with every sip. I fell in love with the limey, citrusy flavours and that is because the vines are grown in limestone soil, explains Elzette. Wood-matured for six months in French oak barrels adds depth and ensures a fuller taste on the palate.

Cherrychoc Merlot

Elzette spiced up the tasting (literally) with the Cherrychoc Merlot, also from their Simplicity Collection. I’m a real sucker for red wines and this merlot had me from the very first sip. I loved the simplicity on the palate, yet it is full-bodied with a long finish. It’s an easy-drinkable wine with flavours of cherries and chocolate which linger on the palate.

Bedrock Black Syrah

Another wine from the Terrior Estate collection, the Bedrock Black Syrah was impressively good. Slightly drier yet more delicious, this Shiraz was made to be enjoyed leisurely. Full-bodied with dark berries and plum flavours, this wine was a luxurious treat to me and my fellow tour guests. This is a special-occasions wine that should be appreciated slowly.

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Weltevrede Wine Estate is well-known for it’s delish MCCs.

Oupa se Wyn

From the Heritage Wine Collection, Oupa se wyn (Grandpa’s wine), named after Oupa Klaas Jonker, the founder of Weltevrede, is a Red Muscadel made from vines planted on the farm in 1926. The muscadel, a fortified, sweet wine, serves as a delicious dessert wine to be enjoyed after an evening meal. It is deliciously soft on the palate it offers flavours of ripe cherries and raisins. It was the perfect end to a delightful tour.

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Elzette and I after a wonderful tasting.

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Tractors filled with freshly picked grapes were a beautiful sight.

I’d like to thank Elzette Steyn for her friendliness and hospitality. I had an amazing experience and a wonderful time touring and learning about Weltevrede and its selection of award-winning wines. If you’d like more info about the various wines Weltevrede has to offer, please visit their website. Please also join them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter.

Did you like this review (of course you did!)? Then please subscribe to my blog (see top right hand side). Please also follow me on twitter and follow my blog on facebook. I’ll be posting a
lot more reviews over the coming months.

Till next time, hugs and high5’s!

xoxo

Tasting and pairing at Zandvliet

There’s a sort of ‘gentleness’ that accompanies the landscaping views when I took the turnoff into Zandvliet Wine Estate’s driveway on Tuesday morning. A gentle energy is overwhelming as nature unveils itself in its most scenic form. The gravel pathway towards the tasting room felt magical and I knew something wonderful was about to happen.

I was an impatient visitor, I wanted to gobble up all that is esteemed estate had to offer in one big gulp. But I had to mentally curb my enthusiasm, forcing myself to apply some patience. The true beauty of life presents itself mostly in nature and can only be seen with the eyes and felt with the heart. I wanted to make sure that I fully experience all the emotions that accompanied my trip to this special place. And my patience was deeply rewarded.

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The scenic entrance towards Zandvliet Wine Estate.

The Zandvliet Wine Estate is as known for its famous racehorse, Pocket Power, as it is for producing possibly the best Shiraz in the country. And it was the latter that had me knocking on this fourth generation estate’s door on Tuesday morning. Owned by brothers Paul and Dan de Wet, Zandvliet has largely moved away from its horse breeding practises to concentrate more on its winemaking. There are, however, still many horses roaming around the estate.

Before I continued onto the tasting room, I parked my car at the designated parking spot and paused for a moment to truly indulge in the beauty of this magical place, I didn’t want to miss a thing. I was in awe, and like a child, I wanted to drop my little notepad and bag and just make a run for it with my arms spread out wide between the tall, established trees and green manicured grass. This is what the nature-lover’s dreams are made off.

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I drove past the nearby old train station, called Sandvliet.

The tasting room, a double story, wooden floor, old converted building tells the story of rich English and Dutch influences. The old stables on the farm are an indication that horses live here and it adds character to an already scenic haven.

I received possibly the most inviting welcome when Brand Ambassador, Werner Els and Tasting Room Executive Adriana Goliath came out onto the front porch to greet me. It was wonderful. I felt special. I was guided towards the back door which opened up onto a small piece of heaven. A special table setting with four selected wines had been set up especially for this tasting. The largest Plane tree provided more than enough shade, overlooking a charming, little farm dam.

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The breathtaking outside wine-tasting setup was fit for a queen.

“I only have two rules when people enter my tasting room and that is that they should have a great time,” Adriana tells me excitedly. “I don’t want to complicate their tasting, I just want them to relax and have a good time. And secondly, I want to do the best job possible to make them feel at ease.”

Adriana and I hit it off immediately. She was friendly and helpful and had a real passion for the wine, and I loved that. She tells me that she loves this small tasting room as it adds character to the tasting experience but it also allows for her to give that personal interaction when engaging with her visitors. “It’s very intimate,” she says.

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Tasting Room Executive Adriana Goliath and I enjoying a lovely glass of Zandvliet wine surrounded by stunning views.

She comes from humble beginnings and grew up on a small farm not too far from Zandvliet, called Le Chasseur. However, she has since moved to the neighbouring town of Robertson. She loves to work with people and it’s evident in her demeanour. Adriana kicked off my tasting journey with the Zandvliet Shiraz Rosé from the My Best Friend range.

Zandvliet My Best Friend Shiraz Rosé

I’ve mentioned once or twice before that I’m not the greatest fan of Rosé wines, specifically the sweet Rosé. However, the Zandvliet Shiraz Rosé is a dry, and not a sweet wine and it was absolutely delightful. “I believe people do not only buy with their palates but also with their eyes, and this Rosé is such a lovely, inviting colour that you cannot help but just love it,” Adriana tells me, and I completely agree.

It was lovely and soft on the palate and appeals to the simple palate. This wine embodies all the characteristics of an enjoyable rosé and will have you fall in love from the very first sip. I enjoyed it because it presented a lovely solace from the hot summer’s day. It’s a real people’s pleaser.

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The Manor House at Zandvliet Wines.

Zandvliet Hill of Enon Chardonnay

I love Chardonnay and often cannot grasp why there are so many ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) people out there. I was super excited to try their Chardonnay and it did not disappoint. Twelve-months wood matured in French oak barrels, this Chardonnay was a real treat to the palate. Soft yet elegant, this Chardonnay encapsulated the true essence of a good old-fashioned white wine.

Zandvliet My Best Friend Cape Red

Ninety percent Cabernet and ten percent Shiraz, this dark red wine was a lovely treat. Full-bodied but soft, the Cape Red will appeal to both the simple and complex palate. I loved it because it is elegant and contains aromas of red plums with a smooth finish.

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One of the old stables on the farm.

Zandvliet Kalkveld Shiraz

I must admit, I was mostly excited to get my lips onto one of their famous Shiraz wines and finally I was granted the opportunity. Fourteen-months wood matured, in first-fill French oak barrels, this Shiraz is truly a showstopper. I revelled in the delight of this glorious red wine as it completely lived up to its hype. It is incredibly soft and balanced, yet robust and dominating on the palate. A mix of plum and chocolate flavours explode in your mouth from the very first sip, with a smooth, long finish. I truly enjoyed this elegant red wine.

Wine and Olive Pest Pairing

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The yummiest wine and olive pesto pairing.  

If I thought I had a grand wine tasting experience, I had another thing coming. In fact, I had a wine and olive pesto tasting coming. Brand Ambassador, Werner Els spoiled me with some of the very best wines of this beautiful estate, paired with the yummiest green and black olive pesto’s produced at the Olijvenhof Olive Estate just outside of Bonnievale.

Werner’s pairing presentation was filled with energy and his passion was almost tangible. Having spent sixteen years in the wine industry, I was completely fascinated with the wine knowledge he contributed to the pairing. I am always open to new experiences and when he suggested the wine and olive pesto pairing, I was slightly sceptical. Wine pairings have increased over the past couple of years but I’ve never even heard of a wine and olive pairing. But since I absolutely adore olives, I was open to the experience.

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Brand Ambassador Werner Els brought a new, exciting dimension to the wine and olive pesto pairing.

It was, however, not until the moment that I was seated, with the gorgeous array of bottles of wines and olive pesto jars in front of me, that I truly comprehended the intensity of the flavours I was about to explore. How will the wine compete with the dominant olive flavours? But I was delightfully surprised that Zandvliet’s collection of fine wines maintained its superiority amongst these flavourful treats.

“We really wanted to think outside of the box and so I came up with the idea of a wine and olive pairing,” says Werner. “It’s very unconventional and people are often sceptical about the combination but once they try it, they are usually blown away by the combination of aromas from both the wine and the olives.” I also found that the olives exposed the true personality of the wines.

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The tasting room is a historical building with Edwardian and Dutch influences.

First we tasted the Zandvliet My Best Friend Sauvignon Blanc with the green olive pesto with parmesan, and it was an absolute winner.  Refreshingly new, I loved the limey and salty combination that lingered on my palate. The Sauv also added a tropical aroma while I tasted strong apricot flavours dominating. It was a true delight.

Next was Zandvliet’s legendary Shiraz and I was especially curious to know how this icon will keep up with the black olive pesto with parmesan, and it was pure joy. Classical and elegant, this pairing was possibly my favourite. I loved the almost earthy richness that the Shiraz provided. Werner tells me that Zandvliet’s Shiraz is made exactly the same way as it was back in 1976 , when the first Shiraz was produced on the farm.

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Large Plane trees added to the spectacular views of Zandvliet Wine Estate.

The Cabernet Sauvignon paired with the chilli and garlic olive pesto was up next. Yet another lovely pairing, I loved this combination for the full flavours and the medium, warm characteristics that the chilli brought to the pairing. Werner says that chilli is a very challenging ingredient to pair with wine because of its dominating characteristics but I found the Cab Sauv complimented the chilli wonderfully and vice versa. I really enjoyed this one.

The last pairing was the one that completely blew me away. I simply couldn’t fathom the pairing of the Zandvliet My Best Friend Sweet Natural Muscat and the black olive with garlic and chilli pesto together. But I was I delightfully surprised! I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a fan of sweet and semi-sweet wines, but I’m always open to a new adventure and that is exactly what this pairing offered. The natural sweetness of the Muscat accommodated the chilli and garlic flavours of the pesto perfectly which made this pairing a winner.

I loved Werner’s enthusiasm about the wine and the future of the industry in South Africa. He’s very excited about the potential that the African market holds for the local industry. “There are still many cultures where wine is considered a status symbol and this is difficult to overcome. It impacts on the quality of the wine we produce,” says Werner.

And so my visit to the lovely Zandvliet, sadly, came to an end. It was a perfect day spent in great company, breathtaking views and, of course, delicious wine. I promised to visit soon again, and that’s a promise I intend to keep.

Please note that the wine and olive pesto pairings are priced at R20 per person per pairing and prior notice is needed to allow for the freshest ingredients. Visitors are also welcome to bring their own picnic basket and enjoy the beautiful landscape views Zandvliet has to offer.

Many thanks to Werner Els and Adriana Goliath for the wonderful experience I had at Zandvliet. Thanks for making me feel right at home, I truly had a fantastic time. If you’d like more info about the various wines Zandvliet has to offer, please visit their website here. Please also join them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter.

Did you like this review (of course you did!)? Then please subscribe to my blog (see top right hand side). Please also follow me on twitter and follow my blog on facebook. I’ll be posting a lot more reviews over the coming months.

Till next time, hugs and high5’s!

xoxo

De Wetshof: The House of Chardonnay

The picturesque entrance towards De Wetshof Wine Estate’s tasting room tugs at my heartstrings and it’s official: I have fallen in love. The journey towards the tasting room represents old world charm with a hint of modern chic. A misty, foggy morning added to the mystery of this beautiful place and I couldn’t take my eyes off this scenic journey. Completely overwhelmed by the serenity and minimalist views, I continued down the gravel road on to what turned out to be one of my greatest tasting adventures.

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The fairy-tale entrance to De Wetshof Wines.

Tall, muscular Jacaranda trees with lavender-coloured flowers give way to the most spectacular white double-story building, the tasting room of this esteemed estate. Manicured gardens and a sparkling water fountain adds to the well-groomed appearance. The building, a replica of the Koopmans/De Wet House in Strand Street, Cape Town, was designed by French-born South African architect, Louis-Michel Thibault. Thibault was known for his neo-classicism architecture and this large white building with it’s big, square windows fitted perfectly into the ambiance of this charming place.

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Views to spoil even the fussiest landscape snob.

De Wetshof Wines, or the House of Chardonnay as it is known in local circles, is a third generation family farm dating back to the 1970s. However, winemaking as a profession has been practiced by the De Wet family since 1694 when the first De Wets arrived at the Cape. The first Chardonnay in South Africa was produced on this very farm with some of the oldest Chardonnay vineyards still present here.

The stairs that flow into the centre of the tasting room give it an almost royal feel, and I swear it is with this very majestic air that Johann de Wet, co-owner and son of De Wetshof walked down to meet with me. It is also with this poise and confidence that he shares his wealth of winemaking knowledge with me.

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The royal-like staircase that flows into the tasting room (left) and the majestic antique door entrance.

Johann, eldest son of the legendary Chardonnay pioneer, Danie de Wet, oversees the estate’s marketing operations, while brother, Peter manages the winemaking process. Danie de Wet, the founding father of South African Chardonnay, took to the noble white varieties when he studied winemaking at the famous German Wine Institute in Geisenheim, Germany. As a result, Chardonnay wine has become synonymous with the De Wetshof brand.

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The De Wetshof building was designed by French-born South African architect, Louis-Michel Thibault.

“While most farms have opted for the lifestyle feel with their wine-tasting areas, we wanted to give visitors a slightly different experience when they visited De Wetshof,” says Johann. “The tourists who come to our door are people who want to know more about the winemaking process and so we choose to inform and educate them. Our entire tasting experience is thus also a learning session. We tell them about our wine varieties, and about our soils, and of course about our wines. And we do this in a comfortable environment that allows for the tasters to relax while they are learning.”

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De Wetshof co-owner and son, Johann de Wet.

“We don’t follow trends,” says Johann. “We’ve been making wine for a very long time and that’s why we don’t hunt the latest winemaking trends to stay fashionable. Trends come and go. We like to stick to the traditional way of winemaking, particularly focusing on the Chardonnay variety, which is our area of specialisation. We’ve found in the past that many other cellars have tried to copy our Chardonnay recipe but failed. That’s a sign that we are doing something right,” says Johann with a slight grin.

De Wetshof currently produces seven different types of Chardonnays, all from the various types of soil on the Estate. “Each Chardonnay we produce is site specific,” explains Johann. “That means that the grapes from each Chardonnay come from a specific vineyard. Each vineyard on the Estate has a different soil composition which adds to the unique expression in each of the wines.”

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Johann with his innocent-looking Weimaraner, Wotan. Don’t be fooled by those puppy-eyes, he’s quite the active one.

“The latest technology has mechanised the winemaking process so much that it’s easier to make wines today than it was a decade ago,” says Johann. “The Langeberg area’s moderate climate also ensures that we are able to produce a good harvest almost every year which ultimately leads to a better quality end product.”

Johann is very excited for the future of the wine industry both locally and abroad. “Wine drinking has moved away from the exclusivity that it previously enjoyed. We’ve entered into a period where wine is now enjoyed almost daily with just about any meal. People used to save it for special occasions but times have changed. This is great news for wine producers and we believe the wine industry will continue flourish.”

Johann pulled out all the stops to present their best selection of premium Chardonnay wines and I was an all-too-willing participant.

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De Wetshof’s Bateleur, The Site and the Finesse Chardonnays.

De Wetshof Bon Vallon Chardonnay

The Bon Vallon 2008 was a lovely start to my tasting experience. Soft and gentle on the palate, this white wine has a hint of sweet and presented a very comfortable drink. I especially enjoyed it because of the limey and citrus flavours that exploded in my mouth from the very first sip. It is a lovely comfortable wine to enjoy on just about any occasion.

De Wetshof Limestone Hill Chardonnay

The Limestone Hill Chardonnay was the wine that completely exceeded their expectations when they first produced it in the late 90’s, says Johann. “Of course, as a wine producer you hope that the general public will like the wines you make, but we didn’t think that this wine would be so well received. It has since become one of our best-selling wines and we couldn’t be happier.”

Un-wooded and soft on the palate, this Chardonnay proved why it is such a favourite amongst locals and foreigners alike. I was delightfully surprised by the rich complexity that embodies this Chardonnay. It was a real treat.

De Wetshof Finesse Chardonnay

Ten months wood-matured in second and third-fill barrels, I found the Finesse Chardonnay softer on the nose yet more robust on the palate. A hint of zesty, citrus fruit with a long nutty finish, this white wine added another dimension to the tasting experience. I loved that it was full-bodied but yet gentle enough to appeal to both the simple and complex palate.

De Wetshof ‘The Site’ Chardonnay

Named after the site were this vineyard is planted which overlooks the most beautiful views against the mountain tops, ‘The Site’ Chardonnay was possibly my absolute favourite of the entire selection. I loved the complexities that accompanied this wonderful Chardonnay. Twelve-months wood matured in first fill barrels, this wine was exclusive and you can taste it with every sip. Elegant and sophisticated, this lovely Chardonnay had me head over hills. I also loved the hint of lime that plays softly on your palate.

De Wetshof Bateleur Chardonnay

Their most premium Chardonnay, the Bateleur derived its name from the Bateleur eagle, and like its namesake, this white wine literally glides onto your palate. The wine embodies all the characteristics of the hunting bird; it is elegant, sophisticated but complex, aggressive and robust. Twelve-months wood matured this Chardonnay is a true delicacy and should be shared between kings and queens. It is a special occasion wine to be appreciated leisurely.

I’d like to thank Johann de Wet for taking time out of his busy schedule to sit down with me. Thanks also to Marketing Manager Bennie Stipp who assisted in setting up the interview. I had such an amazing experience at De Wetshof Wine Estate. If you’d like more info on their wide selection of wines, please visit their website. Please also follow them on facebook and twitter.

Did you like this review (of course you did!)? Then please subscribe to my blog (see top right hand side). Please also follow me on twitter and follow my blog on facebook. I’ll be posting a lot more reviews over the coming months.

Till next time, hugs and high5’s!

xoxo

Excelsior’s excellence in a bottle

Excelsior, a Latin adjective meaning “higher” or “loftier“, used in English as an interjection with a poetic meaning to indicate ‘superior quality’, is the perfect depiction of this wine estate just outside of Ashton, in the Langeberg region. This fifth generation, family-owned farm presents all the bells and whistles for the perfect country hideaway, offering impeccable service and jaw-dropping views.

Nostalgia settled inside of me while driving down the gravel road towards Excelsior Wine Estate’s tasting room. Breathtaking views of green vineyards and white roses demanded attention and for a moment I stopped to fully embrace my surroundings. Completely in awe of this natural beauty, my eyes simply had to steal another glimpse before I continued on my journey.

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The breathtaking entrance to Excelsior Wine Estate’s tasting room.

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The quaint little restaurant on the farm, Graze@Excelsior offers a selection of delish meals.

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Excelsior Wine Estate, initially an ostrich, horse and subsequently, a wine farm, offers all the amenities for the tired traveller under one roof, so to speak. Besides for the tasting room which offers a wide selection of the farm’s premium wines to taste and purchase, the weary urbanite can also revel in the delish cuisine of Graze@Excelsior, the on-farm restaurant, before settling in for the night at their exquisite, four-star accommodation, the Manor Guesthouse.

But Excelsior Wine Estate provides more than just a resting place for your fatigued feet; it also offers quietude for your soul. Sentiments, nuances, thoughts, perceptions… In the mist of all that natural beauty, time seems to stand still and life offers you a breather. Amongst the overwhelming visual attractiveness of this beautiful place, while I was searching for my next tasting experience, instead I found a little piece of my soul.

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Truly jaw-dropping views… Excelsior’s tasting room is situated on top of the dam, overlooking endless landscaping beauty.

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The estate offers wonderful solitude for the fatigued traveller.

Dating back to the late 1800s, Excelsior Wine Estate turned its farming practices to ostrich plumes which where the essence of haute couture at the turn of the 20th century. Ostrich plums were purchased at ridiculous prices and as a result, ostrich breeders became wealthy almost overnight.  However, with the invention of the open-top motorcar, ostrich feathers were no longer practical and ostrich farmers suffered the consequences.

Kowie de Wet and his son, Oscar, Excelsior’s second and third generations respectively, quickly shifted their focus to breeding horses and cultivating vines on the farm. This quick thinking and good business sense saved Excelsior from bankruptcy. At the time, it was only a handful of farms that escaped insolvency. When current owners Freddie de Wet and his son, Peter took ownership of the farm, it was already a well-established wine farm producing several hectolitres of wine annually.

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Tasting room assistant, Patricia van der Westhuizen and yours truly.

My tasting companion, Tasting Room Assistant, Patricia van der Westhuizen greeted me to their unique tasting space with a friendly smile. Overlooking the tranquil waters, the cool breeze from the dam flows effortlessly into this lovely room adding to the notion of exclusivity. Calming views from just about any angle inside of the tasting area make you want to sip a little longer, linger a little longer.

Upon arrival at Excelsior, Patricia was quick to offer me a glass of their famous Sauvignon Blanc while explaining the farm’s rich history. In-between the storytelling, she quickly added that the Sauv, their best-selling white wine, boasts numerous awards, including the recently-acclaimed Michelangelo Double Gold Award.

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Views to die for…

She also tells me excitedly of the various social responsibility awareness programmes the De Wets have been involved with, including the establishment of a playschool on the farm for the farmworkers’ children between the ages of 18 months to five years of age. Excelsior also partly financed a computer room at the departmental preparatory school which is adjacent to the estate. Students are equipped with computer skills during afterschool tutoring.

A large consignment of their wines is exported to the USA, Tasting Room Manager, Tanya Swiegers tells me. That is one of the reasons they changed their logo two years ago. “The Americans were not too happy with our old logo and we had to change it,” she tells me. “We’ve still maintained the horse, our signature animal, on our logo, but we’ve changed it slightly to satisfy our American customers,” she adds.

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Tasting Room Manager, Tanya Swiegers and I.

“While many cellars concentrate on producing easy-drinking, entry-level wines, Excelsior has maintained its superiority, producing quality, sophisticated wines for our selected audience,” says Tanya. “Our brand is associated with premium wines and that is what we’ll continue to produce.”

I was also offered a tour to their wine cellar and viewed first-hand the cleaning of one of its massive wine containers. It’s quite heart-rending having to see litres and litres of wine washed down the drain, literally. Bottle and Labelling Manager, Bruce Geduld explained the entire wine-making process to me, starting from the time the grapes enter the cellar. Excelsior’s state-of-the-art cellar produces around 12,500 hectolitres of wine every year, Bruce said.

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Hundreds of litres of wine drained from the wine container. I had to resist the urge to get down on my knees and start licking some of that yumminess. Ha!

“We are a very family orientated farm,” says Bruce who has been with the estate for more than 20 years. “We look after the farm and the farm looks after us. The de Wets are really good people who invest in their farmworkers and that really lays the foundation for the relationship between employer and employee.”

When we returned to the tasting room, Patricia was ready to make my stay even sweeter when she presented their selection of award-wining white wines.

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Patricia and Bottle and Labelling Manager, Bruce Geduld inside the wine cellar.

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Some of the friendly ladies in the bottle storage department.

Excelsior Sauvignon Blanc

The Excelsior Sauvignon Blanc was a refreshing start to my tasting experience at this esteemed estate. Fruity and soft on the nose, yet robust and tasty on the palate, this lovely Sauv proved why it scooped up the 2014 Michelangelo Double Gold Award. A favourite amongst locals and foreigners alike, I loved that this wine embodied all the characteristics of a fruity white wine. Hints of figs, asparagus and green apple were prevailing in this lovely white wine. It’s a delicious treat on a hot summer’s day.

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Excelsior Chardonnay

Three-month wood matured, the Excelsior Chardonnay is slightly drier than its Sauv counterpart. Full-bodied and full of flavour, the Chardonnay contains deep tones of citrusy and orangy flavours. This white wine will appeal to both the simple and complex palate.

Excelsior Viognier

I must admit, I was mostly excited to try their Viognier, a single French cultivar, most often used in red wine blends and I was delightfully surprised! Winemaker Johan Stemmet truly pulled out all the stops with this refreshing white wine. Full-bodied and robust, this wine is soft and fruity on the palate and offers a refreshing long finish.

Excelsior Caitlyn Rosé

Named after farmowner Peter de Wet’s youngest daughter, I found the Caitlyn Rosé much sweeter on the nose than on the palate. I’m not a fan of sweet rosés and so this dry rosé presented a lovely alternative. It still offers all the flavours of a fully, fruity wine yet it’s not sweet and uncomfortable on the palate. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc, this rosé was a real delight to taste.

Excelsior Wine Estate also offers a wonderful wine blending experience. Visitors are able to blend their own bottle of red wine right there in the tasting room. They can blend, cork and label the bottle in a matter of minutes. This makes for a great gift over the holiday season.

I’d like to thank my tasting partners, Patricia van der Westhuizen and Tanya Swiegers for their hospitality and assistance during my visit to Excelsior. It was truly an honour to visit this beautiful place. If you’d like more info on Excelsior’s premium selection of wines, including their wine prices, please visit their website. Please also follow them on facebook and twitter.

Did you like this review (of course you did!)? Then please subscribe to my blog (see top right hand side). Please also follow me on twitter and follow my blog on facebook. I’ll be posting a lot more reviews over the coming months.

Till next time, hugs and high5’s!

xoxo

Rietvallei resonates with my heart

I blame the Muscadel. And the nine-week old Alaskan malamute, Mona, the latest addition to the Rietvallei family. I was lured into this sixth generation farm with an inviting glass of the loveliest Muscadel and the cutest puppy eyes possibly south of the equator. Rietvallei, one of the most charming wine farms in the Langeberg region and producer of some of the best Muscadels in the area, and possibly the country, turned my intended wine-tasting appointment into a delightful visit in a relaxing environment. Even farm owner, Kobus Burger pulled up a chair.

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One of Rietvallei Wines’ prestigious Muscadel wines.

I couldn’t quite put my finger on it but Rietvallei Wines resonated with my heart. It could be the rich history that is cemented into the walls of the cellar, or possibly the never-ending rows of the greenest vineyards some dating back to the early 1900s, or perhaps the selection of premium wines from this established estate. I’m not completely sure why, but I loved the serenity that accompanied my visit to this beautiful place.

Set in the heart of the Langeberg region in the Western Cape, Rievallei Wines is one of only a handful of South African estates to remain under one family for 150 years. Their wines tell the story of deep-rooted tradition and the legacy of the Burger family. Winemaking, as a result, flows through Kobus Burger’s veins, as it did through all of his predecessors.

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Farm owner and cellarmaster, Kobus Burger with the cutest puppy ever, little Mona.

However, the art of winemaking remains a difficult task, admits Kobus who is also the cellar master for the estate. “The wine-making industry in South Africa, and the world in general has suffered a lot these past couple of years. Many reasons can be attributed to it, including the ignorance of wine drinking, the 2008 world recession, and non-inflationary increases of the price of wine which remained around 2-3% per year,” says Kobus.

“Every year we overproduce hundreds of thousands of litres of excess wine. South Africa’s per-capita consumption has been declining for years, now at around seven litres per person per year. If we could increase that to around 12 litres, we’ll completely eliminate the excess wine,” Kobus, who is also the Chairman of the Robertson Wine Valley, explained.

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Visitors can opt to rather enjoy their tasting outside, overlooking the most gorgeous views.

“Although not necessarily cheap, South African wines are still some of the most affordable in the world,” says Kobus. “The cultivated wine drinker is few and far between and they are the only ones who will fork out R200 or more for a bottle, however, the average wine drinker refuses to pay that much for wine. People want more bang for their buck. They want the best wine at the cheapest price and we have really strong competition out there.”

New and upcoming wine drinkers still prefer easy-drinking, entry-level wines. They opt for cheap and cheerful which makes selling good quality wines even harder. “One of the best wines I’ve produced was a dry rosé, called the Juanita. Many people loved it but because it was pink, people assumed it was a sweet rosé. I had to discontinue the range because at the time people were still very uneducated about dry rosés.

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Rietvallei Wines’ tasting room used to be a  reservoir on the farm.

Kobus took ownership of the main operations of the farm from his father, Johnny Burger in 2002. At the time they had only bottled three wines; a Chardonnay, a Cabernet and a Muscadel, Exports Manager Lezaan Stemmet tells me. In 2005, they converted an old reservoir into their tasting room, which is where you’ll be able to enjoy a glass of your favourite varietal today. However, in summer, tourists opt to rather sit outside under the cool shades of the massive trees and enjoy a leisurely visit while sipping on the wide selection of Rietvallei wines.

Rietvallei’s selection of wines has grown significantly since those initial three bottles, says Lezaan. Kobus has recently added two single vineyard wines under a new label, the JMB series, in honour of his late father, Johannes Marthinus Burger. The culmination, a Cabernet Franc and Chardonnay, boasts an elegant black and gold label adding a touch of sophistication to this selection.

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The scenic entrance to Rietvallei Wines.

Rietvallei Wines was also recently selected to be the wine of choice for Kenya Airways, which offered them a one-year contract to supply wine to all of their flights. Kobus is excited for the new venture and says that Africa holds a lot of unexplored promise for the wine market. Their biggest exporting market currently includes the UK and the Netherlands, respectively.

Administrative assistant, Natasha Crous took me on a delicious journey of discovery between the wooded, award-winning wines.

Rietvallei Sauvignon Blanc

The Rietvallei Sauvignon Blanc 2014, recipient of the prestigious Terroir Wine Award, offered a welcoming start to my tasting experience. Refreshingly fruity, this Sauv presented the perfect solace for a hot summer’s day. It is citrusy and light on the nose yet explosive and overwhelming on the palate. A zesty, crisp taste adds full flavour to this delish Sauv. Although slightly dry, this Sauv will appeal to both the simple and the complex palate.

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Recipient of the Terroir trophy, Rietvallei’s famous Sauvignon Blanc.

Rietvallei JMB Chardonnay

The JMB Chardonnay, one of the wines from their latest selection the JMB series, presented a delicious taste of citrus and orangey flavours. Soft and sophisticated, this Chardonnay takes you on an adventure from the very first sip. Gentle on the palate yet full-bodied and robust, this wine offers a long finish. It is a lovely summer treat for conscious wine drinker.

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The JMB series boasts an elegant black and gold label.

Estéanna White

A combination of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Chennin Blanc and Viognier, this white wine proved why it is their flagship wine. Beautiful aromas of fig and melon, this white appeals to a broad spectrum of wine lovers. It has all the elements of a complex white, yet it is soft enough for wine drinkers to enjoy leisurely. The Estéanna White was barrel fermented which adds a touch of elegance to this lovely wine. It is full-bodied yet easy on the palate. A refreshing aftertaste lingers on the palate long after you’ve enjoyed it. This one was my absolute favourite of all the varieties.

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Named after Kobus’ two darling daughters Esté and Annie, the Estéanna range is Rietvallei’s premium wine.

I’d like to thank Natasha and Lezaan for the lovely tasting, I had a wonderful time at Rietvallei Wines. Thanks also to Kobus for fitting me into his very busy schedule. If you’d like more info on the wide selection of Rietvallei Wines, including their wine prices, please see their website. Please also follow them on facebook and twitter.

Did you like this review (of course you did!)? Then please subscribe to my blog (see top right hand side). Please also follow me on twitter and follow my blog on facebook. I’ll be posting a lot more reviews over the coming months.

Till next time, hugs and high5’s!

xoxo

Fall in love with Van Loveren

The drive en route towards Van Loveren Wines must certainly be one of the most scenic journeys I’ve ever embarked on. Red cannas, Van Loveren’s exclusive signature flower, embrace you long before you actually reach the entrance of the farm. It comes thus as no surprise when I’m told that the Retief’s have expanded their realm significantly and now includes at least 10 farms owned by the country’s most famous ‘four cousins’.

The farm, which is as rich in history as it is in fertile soil, dates back to the late 1930s. A third generation farm, Van Loveren was initially part of a larger farm called Goudmyn (Goldmine) before oupa Hennie Retief acquired it in 1937. It was sub-divided and renamed ‘Goudmyn F’ which irked his wife, ouma Jean, who thought the “F” signified ‘Fools and Failures’. Subsequently she persuaded her husband to change the name to Van Loveren, the surname of Christina van Loveren, an ancestor of hers who was the first Dutch relative to arrive in South Africa in 1692. Christina van Loveren’s trousseau chest remains on the farm to this very day.

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The red cannas are a welcoming spectacle.

The first wine, a red muscadel, was produced in 1939 at Van Loveren but it wasn’t until the 1980s that the first bottle of wine, the Premium Grand Cru was launched. Prior to that, wine was not bottled and only sold in bulk. Nico and Wynand Retief, the two sons of oupa Hennie, took ownership of the farm before the four cousins, brothers Neil and Philip and brothers Hennie and Bussel took over the reigns from the 1990s and turned it into a commercial powerhouse.

A household name, Van Loveren’s Four Cousins range exploded onto the wine scene in 2000 with a collection of easy-drinking wines. “Our wines are mostly entry-level, yet premium quality wines and that’s why the South African consumer has taken so generously to it,” Van Loveren Marketing Manager Bonita Malherbe explains to me. “And because we produce bulk quantities of wine, we are able to remain very cost-effective and competitive. And that is one of the reasons Van Loveren is South Africa’s biggest selling bottled brand.”

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Christina van Loveren’s trousseau chest remains at Van Loveren’s tasting room.

Van Loveren has invested significantly into eco-conscious farming over the past couple of years, creating a completely P. E. T. (Polyethylene terephthalate) bottled range, the Tangled Tree collection. It has significantly reduced its carbon footprint in the process and hopes to improve on it in future. Besides for caring for the environment, Van Loveren also cares for its farmworkers, investing in a BEE scheme in which farmworkers acquired 52% of one of its farms. The Five Reserve range is produced by grapes from the BEE farm and a portion of the proceeds are invested back into the farmworkers.

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The Van Loveren Tangled Tree collection is P. E. T bottled.

Arriving at Van Loveren’s state-of-the-art tasting room outside of Ashton on the renowned R317 wine route towards Bonnievale, I was welcomed by tasting room assistant, Nadine Pietersen who seemed as excited to present the tasting as I was to do the actual tasting. The massive glass doors at the entrance give way to a backdrop of white interior which allows for natural sunlight to fill all corners of the room. The perception of light and space has been perfected with this design.

The tasting room’s design, which was inspired by a wine barrel, offers lavish furnishings for a leisurely tasting. The contemporary design against the natural setting of the mountains is any architect’s dream project. Eloquently designed to take advantage of the lush gardens, a piece of art on its own, the tasting room capitalises perfectly on its use of spacious interiors. Architects Kuger Theron did a sterling job with this breathtaking design while Chrislene Retief takes credit for the beautiful interior.

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Beautiful, spacious interiors offered the perfect hideaway.

Nadine, the tasting room assistant, led me to a quiet table before presenting some of their best wines which, I may add, completely swept me off my feet!

Christina van Loveren Sauvignon Blanc

First up, from their premium selection, was the Christina Van Loveren Sauvignon Blanc. Classic and full-bodied, this Sauv is any white wine lover’s dream. Handpicked to ensure only the very best grapes are used to make this lovely Sauv. A mix of tropical flavours and grass explodes on your palate from the very first sip. I loved it because it’s a comfortable wine yet it offers a little complexity which allows you to savour every sip.

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Some of Van Loveren’s selection of white wines.

Neil’s Pick Colombar

Named after Cousin Neil Retief the viticulturist, this Colombar was made to entertain the wine enthusiast. A refreshing taste of lime and guava, the Colombar is a real crowd pleaser. It’s an easy-drinking wine and appeals to the simple palate. Guaranteed to hook you from the very first sip.

Christina van Loveren Method Cap Classique

I must admit that I was mostly excited to taste their promised MCC and was delightfully surprised. Well balanced and smooth, this MCC was made for celebration. Eighty six percent Chardonnay and 14% Pinot Noir, this MCC was an absolute pleasure to my palate. A burst of bubbles erupts on your palate with limey and citrusy flavours to fill all corners of your month. It truly is a lovely treat for any occasion.

Christina van Loveren Cabernet Sauvignon

Nadine ended our lovely tasting by offering me a sip of their award-winning Christina van Loveren Cabernet Sauvignon. Fourteen-months wood matured, this Cab Sauv is an absolute treat to the palate. Full-bodied, it has all the characteristics of a dark red wine. Although slightly heavier on the palate, this wine will appeal to both the simple and complex red wine lover. I truly enjoyed this wine.

Van Loveren also offers a selection food and wine pairings including cheese and wine, chocolate and wine, and nougat and nuts and wine. For the nature lover, it also offers a range of activities including a 7.5 kilometre hiking trail, bird watching and mountain biking. Christina’s Bistro restaurant, also on the premises offers a delectable menu for the hungry traveller.

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I fell in love with the large variety of delish delicacies they stock in their tasting room.

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Choices included olive oil and a variety of yummy jams.

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A display of massive bottles of Van Loveren Wines was intriguing.

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My tasting ‘partner-in-crime’, Nadine and I.

I’d like to thank Nadine for the lovely tasting, I had a wonderful time at Van Loveren. Thanks also to Bonita for running me through the farm’s history, it was very insightful. If you’d like more info on the wide selection of Van Loveren Wines, including their wine prices, please see their website. Please also follow them on facebook and twitter.

Did you like this review (of course you did!)? Then please subscribe to my blog (see top right hand side). Please also follow me on twitter and follow my blog on facebook. I’ll be posting a lot more reviews over the coming months.

Till next time, hugs and high5’s!

xoxo

Unwind at Viljoensdrift

As Murphy’s Law would have it, the banks of the Breede River were soaking wet on Tuesday morning, the day scheduled for my visit to Viljoensdrift Wines. This was not ideal as Public Relations Manager, Claudé Regester had planned a lovely tasting aboard their river cruise boat. As a result, she had to fit me in late on Wednesday, so that I could have my review signed, sealed and delivered as per the usual Thursday deadline. Sadly because I arrived so late on the farm, the cruises had already concluded for the day but I promised to visit again. Next time I’ll include a review of the boat cruise as well. I promise.

Viljoensdrift Wines has truly pulled out the red carpet for my arrival, literally. The brightest cherry red rose blossoms nestled perfectly between endless rows of lush green vineyards decorated my journey towards the tasting room. The entrance renders homage to the Langeberg’s adage; The Valley of Wine and Roses. I immediately pulled over. I simply had to get pictures of this glowing welcome. It made me smile.

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The breathtaking entrance to Viljoensdrift Wines.

A fifth generation wine farm, Viljoensdrift Wines boasts with the tranquil Breede River right on its doorstep, so to speak, contributing to the perfect country lifestyle. The lifeblood of the area, the Breede River adds to the serenity and natural beauty of this farm. Wine tasters have the option of either enjoying a lovely glass of wine and a picnic aboard the river cruise, or if that doesn’t tickle your fancy, you can opt to enjoy the scenic views from their expansive deck area which overlooks the peaceful river.

After the Huguenot’s fled France escaping the French Revolution in the late 1700’s, many of them settled in the Stellenbosch area of South Africa. It was only until 1863 that the Villion family moved to the Robertson area. By then the Dutch had taken control over a large part of South Africa and Villion, the French last name was changed to the Dutch dialect, Viljoen.

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A lot of detail has gone into the interior design inside the tasting room.

But it wasn’t until 1998 that brothers Manie and Fred Viljoen decided to produce their own wines. Prior to that, the grapes from the Viljoensdrift vineyards were sold to local co-ops. They still grow around 50 hectors of fruits, including apricots and peaches which they supply to the local canning factories.

Manie, the viticulturist manages the vines and ensures that only the very best grapes are harvested, while Fred dominates the wine production in the cellar. They’ve been expanding their international footprint, with the Netherlands being their biggest exporting market, but they hope to invest a little more locally over the coming years, Claudé explains.

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The Viljoensdrift Deli provides a welcoming space to a weary, hungry tourist. 

“The tourism industry in the South African landscape has changed a lot over the last decade or so,” says Claude, a French native who speaks fluent Afrikaans. “Tourists don’t want to visit cold, hard buildings to enjoy a glass of wine anymore. They want to be entertained and dined. Wine tasting has developed into a lifestyle experience,” she says.

The Viljoens have invested a lot into keeping up with recent trends. Their gorgeous tasting room is the perfect combination of elegance and sophistication with a touch of comfort. Beaming sunlight streams from all corners of the room giving it a warm, homey feeling. If, however, you’re like me and cannot get enough of the breathtaking landscapes, then the deck area, overlooking the serene Breede River will be your seating of choice. The Viljoensdrift Deli serves a variety of fresh pastries daily, cheeses and other delicacies which offer the perfect bite-size snack to nibble on.

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I loved the display cabinets at their Deli. It was filled with the yummiest delicacies.

The Viljoens are also actively involved in obtaining a WIETA accreditation for its farm and farm workers. This initiative includes a stringent audit of participating farms against a set of generic good practice standards. These standards are based upon legislative compliance, measuring working conditions, health and safety and housing requirements of farm workers.

“We take great pride in looking after our workers because they are the foundation of this business,” Cellarmaster, Fred Viljoen says. “We’ve always believed that an informed worker is a happy worker and that contributes towards a better company and ultimately towards a better end-product. Obtaining the WIETA accreditation was just the next step to ensuring a growing partnership between the farm and its workers.”

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The Viljoensdrift sign on the mountain was added earlier this year and has become a trademark of the farm. People come from all over the world to view it, said Claudé.

And off to the tasting we go.

Viljoensdrift Villion Méthode Cap Classique

Claudé started our tasting with one of their best sellers, the Villion Méthode Cap Classique which is a Blanc de Blanc and has an extended yeast contact. This lovely MCC is the recipient of the 2014 Michelangelo Gold Award and not surprisingly so. Refreshingly soft on the palate, this MCC is a mix of fruity honeysuckle and buttered toast flavours. Since it’s not wood-matured, this 100% Chardonnay is soft on the palate making it an easy drinkable wine. It is a perfect celebratory MCC.

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Viljoensdrift Chardonnay

The Chardonnay was another lovely treat. Six months wood matured, this wine offers a slightly woody taste on the palate. Full-bodied, a citrus and gooseberry taste explode on your palate from the very first sip. I loved that it offers a mix of sophistication and simplicity. This wine is perfect for a fish braai on a warm summers evening.

Viljoensdrift Anchor Drift Dry White

Claudé was very excited to introduce their Anchor Drift range of wines to me. The range, which she named, is their entry-level wine and tends to be more cost-effective than their other varietals. “This is a picnic wine,” Claudé says. “It’s the kind of wine you want to enjoy during your boat trip here in the summer.” A blend of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc, the refreshing citrusy taste of this wine will hook you from the very first sip.

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Viljoensdrift Cape Blend

From their premier brand, the River Grandeur selection, the Cape Blend offers all the complexities of a rich red wine. A blend between the Pinotage and Shiraz, this red embodies a complex taste of plums and blackcurrant. Although soft on the palate, it has a long finish. This wine is to be enjoyed leisurely.

Viljoensdrift Pinotage

Another one from their River Grandeur selection, the Pinotage was my absolute favourite! This is also their flagship wine with only the very best of grapes selected to produce this wine, according to Claudé. Grapes are sorted and handpicked to ensure that only the very best are used to produce the Pinotage. Claudé also says that this wine is Cellarmaster, Fred Viljoen’s favourite since it always poses such a challenge to produce the perfect wine. But oh, what a delight it was to my palate. A full-bodied mix of ripe berries and plums, this Pinotage will entertain you with every sip. It was truly a delicious treat.

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Viljoensdrift Merlot

Claudé ended our tasting with a delish taste of the Viljoensdrift Merlot. A seasoned, spicy taste of berries and sweet fruit, this wine was slightly softer than its Pinotage counterpart. Twelve month wood matured in oak barrels, this lovely red offers a robust yet gentle flavour to the palate. I loved it because it was rich and complex yet simple enough to enjoy every sip.

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Cellarmaster Fred Viljoen enjoys a glass of wine with Public Relations Manager Claudé Regester.

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Claudé and I after tasting their delish range of wines.

I’d like to thank Claudé for being so accommodating and understanding. Thanks also for a lovely tasting, I had such a great time at Viljoensdrift. If you’d like more info on their wines, including their wine prices, please visit their website. Please also follow them on twitter and facebook.

Did you like this review (of course you did!)? Then please subscribe to my blog (see top right hand side →). Please also follow me on twitter and follow my blog on facebook. I’ll be posting a lot more reviews over the coming months.

Till next time… xoxo

Experience elegance at Arabella

Driving down the white-stoned gravel road en route to Arabella Wines’ tasting room, with stunning views of the muscular Arabian horses galloping on the side felt, for a split second, like a scene from the 1980’s television series, Dallas. The Arabella farmstead, situated on the spectacular Route 62, could easily be mistaken for the Ewing’s famous Southfork Ranch.

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The scenic entrance to Arabella Wines.

The farm, which is named after the famous endurance riding horses for which the De Wet family has an inherent passion for, has views to spoil you rotten. Endless mountains and skies to impress even the fussiest landscape snob, a sea of greens to calm the soul and a massive front porch that is both inviting and relaxing; the perfect resting place for a thirsty throat. Arabella Wines, right outside Ashton, is where my journey took me this week.

The tasting room with beautiful vernacular architecture was perfectly designed to capitalise on the exquisite landscape views. You immediately feel at home upon entering this very comfortable setting with large couches to help you feel right at home. I met with Winemaker, Marna Brink and Marketing Manager, Nelmarie Baard for a lovely afternoon of tasting and touring.

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The beautiful tasting room with vernacular architectural designs.

The Arabella brand has market itself successfully as a supermarket brand and supplies to most major supermarkets within the country. Their exports have also increased substantially over the last few years with around 60% of produce exported, mostly to the UK, and 40% distributed locally.

Arabella has a long harvesting season; around two and a half to three months, Winemaker, Marna explains. “This is mostly because we use a variety of grapes, for our wines. We use both the younger grape with higher acidity, but then we also use the sweeter grape that stays longer on the vine for our sweet wines and rosés. This is why our harvesting season tends to be slightly longer than other farms’.”

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Stephen de Wet inherited this beautiful Bible from his parents.

Although the farmland belonged to the De Wet family for generations, the Arabella farm was only established around eight years ago when brothers Stephen and Freddie de Wet divided the two farms, forming Excelsior (Freddie de Wet) and Arabella (Stephen de Wet), respectively. Stephen insisted on the latest technology and built a state-of-the-art wine cellar which has the capacity to produce and store around 3.6 million litres of wine at any given time. He also invested in the best bottling and labelling machinery to ensure a completed process under one roof, so to speak.

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The high-tech bottling and labelling machinery. 

“We focus a lot on producing easy drinkable wines for the greater public”, says Nelmarie. They launched their latest offerings, the Natural Sweet Rosé and the Natural Sweet White earlier this year during the Wacky Wine Festival, and were pleasantly surprised at the reception it received. “It was our most successful launch to date, it really exceeded our expectations”, she added. The reason, she reckons, is because a sweet wine or rosé usually attracts first-time wine drinkers and since the Wacky Wine Festival generally attracts a younger crowd, it was a total hit between festival goers.

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Arabella’s two new offerings; the Natural Sweet Rosé (left) and the Natural Sweet White.

Arabella Sauvignon Blanc 2014 Vintage

The Sauvignon Blanc was the first target in the tasting process. This is their most popular white wine, Nelmarie says and not surprisingly so. I love that it’s light enough to lure the gentle wine drinker yet it will also appeal to the more complex palate. A burst of summery, fruity flavours settle on your tongue from the very first sip. It’s a lovely soft wine to be enjoyed during warm summer evenings.

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I sipped leisurely on their Sauvignon Blanc (left) and their Merlot. #yum

Arabella Pink Panacea

Although a dry rosé, the Pink Panacea still offers that sweet, fruity taste that lingers on your palate. A little more complex than their sweeter varieties, this wine is a lovely alternative to a sweet rosé if that doesn’t tickle your fancy. Another one for the summer, this rosé makes for the perfect poolside wine.

Arabella Merlot

One of their most awarded wines, the Arabella Merlot proved why it is such a favourite amongst consumers. Rich flavours of plum and blackcurrant, this wine is soft on the palate yet has a long, slow finish. This was by far my favourite of all the varieties. I loved the complexities, yet it makes for a simple, easy companion.

Reserve range

Next we moved onto their premier brand, the Reserve Range.

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Their Reserve Range boasts an elegant black label.

Arabella In Unison Reserve

The In Unison Reserve was up first. An equal mix between Merlot, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon, this red was truly a delight to savour. This is the wine you want to drink like an alcoholic; alone after a tough day at work. Nelmarie’s words, not mine. It is 12 months wood matured in oak barrels and offers that rich, seasoned taste. It truly is a ‘special-occasion’ wine to enjoy leisurely.

Arabella Shiraz Viognier

Recipient of the 2011 Michelangelo Silver Award, the Shiraz Viognier was another lovely treat. It contains all the complexities of a Shiraz yet is gentle on the palate. Full-bodied, this red exemplifies all the qualities of a dark, rich blend, offering a long finish. It has a blackcurrant and rich coffee aftertaste. It’s a wine to be appreciated and cherished.

I concluded my trip to Arabella with a tour of their ultramodern wine cellar, including the entire bottling and labelling operations. The tour is also open to the public pending prior arrangement, Nelmarie said. It is truly amazing to see how much work goes into what we perceive as just a ‘simple’ bottle of wine. It was incredible to view the process first-hand.

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The lovely ladies from Arabella Wines; Nelmarie Baard (left) and Winemaker, Marna Brink.

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Arabella’s state-of-the-art wine cellar can produce and store around 3.6 million litres of wine.

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2014 Merlot anyone? Marna has to check and approve all labelling (left).

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The Arabian horse dominate the discipline of endurance riding and is one of the oldest breeds in the world.

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Arabella offers picture perfect views.

Electric Vines, in association with Arabella Wines, will host a New Year’s Eve Music Festival, featuring a whole bunch of great local artists, including the likes of Just Jinjer, Prime Circle and Jesse Clegg. It will be a two-day event from 30 to 31 December and promises to be great fun. If you don’t have your tickets yet, please visit Electic Vines for more info.

I’d like to thank Marna and Nelmarie for the lovely visit at Arabella, I had an awesome time. If you’d like more info, including prices on their wines, please visit their website. Also follow them on twitter and facebook.

Did you like this review (of course you did!), then please subscribe to my blog (see top right hand side →). Please also follow me on twitter and follow my blog on facebook. I’ll be posting a lot more reviews over the coming months.

Till next time… xoxo

 

Step into luxury at Graham Beck Wines

From the time you step into Graham Beck Wines’ tasting room in Robertson, you immediately notice that this is not just another tasting room. The opulence is immediately noticeable and you know you have entered into a completely new ball-game. The tasting room is like no other I’ve experienced before. I used the word ‘experienced’ on purpose, because the Graham Beck Wines’ tasting room offers you exactly that; an ‘experience’. It was thoughtfully designed purely for leisure.

I could tell you about the exclusive pieces of art on the walls; or the crafted sculptures which add a mix of contemporary and antiquity flair; or the carefully selected pieces of furniture in the room; or the endless glass walls which capitalise perfectly on the exquisite views; but instead, I really want to tell you about their unique selection of MCC’s.

Upon entering the tasting room on Friday, I was greeted pleasantly by sales executive, Ricardo Booysen and escorted to their little bar-seating area, which again, looks out on the most gorgeous views of the Langeberg valley. The tranquillity of the views compliments the tasting impeccably.

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A massive bottle of Graham Beck bubbly (left) and the beautiful views from the tasting room (right).

I’ve touched slightly on what an MCC is in my previous post, but I was completely fascinated with Ricardo’s explanation that I really want to delve a little deeper into it, in this post. Also, Graham Beck is mostly known for its delish MCC’s and so I think it ought to be the cornerstone of this review.

An MCC, or Méthode Cap Classique is, in layman’s terms, a champagne. However, the word ‘champagne’ is restricted to be used only for wine that’s produced from the grapes grown in the Champagne region in France. The method, however, for producing both an MCC and a bottle of champagne is essentially the same. It requires, amongst other, a secondary fermentation period of the wine in the bottle to create the carbonation. This method is exclusive to a bottle of champagne or MCC.

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Their gorgeous bar-seating area (left) and one of the many sculptures in the tasting room (right).

Graham Beck Wines is one of only a handful of cellars that produces MCC’s in the region and not surprisingly so. I have renewed respect for winemakers Pieter Ferreira and Pierre de Klerk. It takes an intensive process of planning and nurture to produce the perfect bottle of MCC, Ricardo explains to me. The MCC grapes are harvested early to ensure the perfect balling reading. Essentially, the balling reading should contain a high acidity and low sugar reading of the grapes. Grapes are then harvested before sunrise to manipulate the balling reading.

After the first fermentation period, which includes settling the juices of the two cultivars and fermented separately, the two are then cross blended and bottled for the second fermentation period. The second fermentation (as mentioned) requires the MCC to be bottle-fermented. It is then bottled and left for 15 month to 18 months yeast contact time before disgorgement. During this period, the bottles are riddled occasionally. Although this process was done manually during earlier years, it is now all automated, Ricardo says. (Apologies for the in-depth explanation but I was completely blown away by this info.)

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Another bottle of bubbly (left) and their spacious tasting room (right).

After the second fermentation period concludes, and after numerous tests have been performed to ensure the MCC is perfect (and delish!), the yeast is disgorged. To ensure a slightly sweeter taste, a hint of dosage (liqueur d’expédition) is then added to all the MCC’s with the exception of the Brut Zero, which contains no sugar.

All Graham Beck Wines’ MCCs contain a combination of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes, with the exception of the Blanc de Blanc which contains 100% Chardonnay grapes. The red Pinot Noir grape is sourced from Graham Beck’s Firgrove farm while the Chardonnay grapes are grown at the Robertson estate, right here in the Langeberg valley. All MCCs are produced at Graham Beck’s state of the art cellar, in Robertson.

You may also notice a substantial difference in price between their Vintage and Non-Vintage MCCs. Essentially, the long and short of it is that; the Vintage wines are produced from one specific year while the non-vintage varieties can be more than one year’s harvest. No year is thus recorded on the non-vintage bottle labels. This makes their vintage wines a tad more expensive than their non-vintage range.

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I was literally in bubbly heaven with endless bottles of MCCs (left) and a portrait of the legend himself, Graham Beck (right).

Ladies and gent’s, we have officially reached my **favourite** part of the interview; i.e. the tasting!

Graham Beck Brut NV

Of course I insisted that Ricardo opens our tasting with the legendary Graham Beck Brut NV. It is after all the MCC that both former president Nelson Mandela and US President Barack Obama served at their respective inaugurations, and it did not disappoint. A citrus, limy taste explodes on your palate from the very first sip. Ricardo explains this is because the soil is treated with a limestone which gives it the zesty flavour. I loved it because it is so refreshing and citrusy. A real treat.

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Ricardo doing what he does best (left) and a lovely glass of bubbly (right).

Graham Beck Blanc de Blanc Vintage 2009

If I thought the Brut was a lovely treat, I was in for a pleasant surprise; the Blanc de Blanc completely blew me out of the water. This was my absolute favourite of all the varieties. I loved the complexities yet elegance that accompany this MCC. It is robust and full-bodied yet fresh and versatile. If you never try any of Graham Beck’s MCCs, please at least try this one. It was a real delight.

Brut Zero Vintage 2008

Although a tad bit drier than their other varietals, the Brut Zero Vintage 2008 is not only fresh on the palate but also light on the hips, with no added sugar. If you’re anything like me and like to watch what you cram into your pie-hole, this MCC is a lovely alternative. No dosage was added to this MCC making it one of the purest wines. It offers an invigorating, natural taste to be savoured and enjoyed leisurely.

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Bubblies to pick and choose…

Graham Beck Brut Rosé Vintage 2009

Ricardo was filled with child-like excitement upon pulling out the bottle of Brut Rosé. Cheer filled his voice as he explained this MCC, his absolute favourite, to me. Pretty and pink, this 82% Pinot Noir and 18% Chardonnay MCC is slightly softer and fruiter than its Brut counterpart. In a South African first, the whole bunches for this MCC were co-fermented; the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes were jointly pressed as a blend in the same press. The Brut Rosé’s delicious salmon pink hue makes it attractive to both the eye and the palate and I could relate to Ricardo’s enthusiasm.

Graham Beck Bliss Demi-Sec NV

Another light MCC, the Bliss Demi-Sec NV, offers full flavour yet is softer on the palate. A mix of sophistication and simplicity, this MCC is a tad sweeter than the other varieties. It is easy drinkable and those who prefer a lighter wine will appreciate this MCC.

Graham Beck Gorgeous

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Their lovely new rosé, Gorgeous.

Let me start off by saying that I’m always sceptical of the media hype around a new wine. I’ve read a lot about the new Gorgeous before I had the change to actually taste it and so of course I had to insist that Ricardo sends me off with this new rosé.

Please quote me on the following: “Graham Beck’s Gorgeous completely and utterly lives up to the hype as portrayed in the media.” I think it is safe to say that the media frenzy around this new wine is completely justified. Point proven. Wow, what a lovely rosé it is!

Gorgeous is lower in alcohol content which means that I can have more glasses of wine (score!). Just in time for the summer, this rosé is a refreshing pick-me-upper. The fruity salmon pink hue makes it softer on the eye and gives it a slightly feminine characteristic. It’s a delightful wine and will appeal to both the delicate and the complex palate. It truly is this summer’s must-drink wine.

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Ricardo (left) with Tasting Room Manager, Nadia Lakey (right) who ensured that I had a lovely tasting.

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GBW Accounting Manager, JC Kriegler (right) lend a helping hand when the tasting room started to fill up.

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Both Ricardo and I were very impressed with his great tasting. This picture was taken right after the tasting.

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The impressive GBW building in Robertson.

I spent a lovely afternoon at Graham Beck Wines and was so sad to leave. I will return to their tasting room soon, if only to get another sip of their Blanc de Blanc and delish Gorgeous.

I’d like to thank Ricardo Booysen for his enthusiasm and professionalism. I had a fab time drinking (oops… I mean tasting!) and learning about their lovely wines. Please visit Graham Beck Wines’ website for more info and prices. Follow winemaker Pieter ‘Bubbles’ Ferreira on twitter. Please also follow GBW on twitter and facebook.

If you liked this review (of course you did!), please subscribe to my blog (see top right hand side). Please also follow me on twitter and follow my blog on facebook. I’ll be posting a lot more reviews over the coming months.

Till next time… xoxo