Last night Mr R13 and I attended a tasting of wines from the Waterkloof estate in Stellenbosch, organised by Portland Wine (our very fine local indie wine shop) and presented by Louis Boutinot.
Louis set the scene by explaining the origins of his family business, showing us photos of the restaurant that his French grandfather opened in Stockport in the 1970s, complete with fabulous floral wallpaper, and of his father who worked as the restaurant’s sommelier, complete with amazing kipper tie and “offensive” flared trousers (Louis’ choice of words, not mine).
Our host then showed us some photos of the Waterkloof vineyard, set on an amazing steep slope overlooking False Bay. He explained that the vines are regularly exposed to extremely strong winds, which means that yields are very low and the grapes are protected from the growth of harmful fungi. Louis explained that the vineyard is certified organic, but his father Paul refuses to put this fact on the label, because he doesn’t want “wackos” (like me!) buying the wine purely because it’s organic. Given that attitude, I hesitated to ask whether they have considered a biodynamic approach (my select few regular readers will know that this is an obsession of mine) but Louis informed us that the vineyard is in fact the only biodynamic one in South Africa.
The estate has a herd of cows who provide fertiliser, horses for ploughing, as well as chickens (who eat weevils and are in turn served up in the estate restaurant) and lambs. In addition to the farmed animals, leopards and snakes also visit the vineyard. Apparently another useful thing about the horses is that they spot the snakes well before the human workers do. The wines are fermented using only the naturally occurring yeast present on the grapes. This means that fermentation takes much longer and the wine smells and tastes purely of the grapes, not of any artificial flavours introduced by the addition of commercially produced yeast.
The first wine that we tasted was the Circumstance Sauvignon Blanc. This was a very restrained and elegant style, like a Sancerre or Pouilly-Fumé rather than an in-your-face Marlborough. It tasted of juicy green apples and went perfectly with the first round of delicious canapés (prawn, smoked salmon and chicken) provided by Earle (the restaurant in Hale where the tasting was held). This was Mr R13’s favourite wine of the evening.
The second wine was the “Circle of Life” white wine: 70% sauvignon blanc blended with chenin blanc and semillon. Despite the predominance of sauvignon blanc, this smelled and tasted completely different to the 100% varietal wine, due to the presence of the other grapes, judicious use of oak and the wine spending an extended period on its lees up until bottling. For me, this wine was crème caramel in a glass: a rich creamy vanilla mouthfeel, plus a hint of dark (not at all sweet) burnt sugar. It was my number one pick of the evening.
Next up was the Circumstance Cape Coral Mourvèdre Rosé. This is a very pale pink, much closer to Provence rosé than the typical New World Schiaparelli pink. Louis explained that South African restaurants were initially reluctant to stock this wine, as they didn’t recognise it as a rosé! Waterkloof had to obtain samples of French rosés to demonstrate to them that it was a real wine. (This story reminds me of the scene in “Judgment of Paris” when Steven Spurrier argues with some jobsworthy French customs officials who refuse to let him import English wine because they won’t recognise that such a thing exists, even though it is sitting on the table in front of them. The situation is particularly grave because the wine is due to be served to the Queen at an Embassy dinner. )
Louis described this wine as a rosé to convert rosé haters (I wouldn’t have believed that such a species existed, but the gentleman opposite me confessed to being one). One of our fellow tasters commented that if you tasted it with your eyes shut, you wouldn’t know that it was a rosé. As a rosé lover, I’m not convinced that that’s a good thing. Personally, I prefer my rosés with a bit more oomph to them. However, I enjoyed the subtle strawberries and cream flavours of the wine, which made me long for our first barbecue of the year (with the current global-warmed British climate, who knows when that will be: it could be next week or the 12th of never), although Louis advised us that the wine went perfectly with spicy food and sushi – I would like to try one (or both) of those combinations.
Next we moved onto the reds, with a second round of (carnivorous) canapés. The first red was the Seriously Cool Cinsault, so called because it’s best served slightly chilled. This was lightly tannic and with elegant fruit flavours. The second was Circle of Life Red, which is a blend of both Bordeaux and Rhone grapes. This was a slightly quirky wine, but I like quirky. Sadly, we then had to move onto the final wine of the night, which was the Circumstance Syrah. This was fruity and earthy. Biodynamic sceptics, skip the rest of this sentence, but you could really taste the soil, packed with lovely earthworms, in this wine. I currently have a bit of a fetish for Northern Rhone style Syrahs co-fermented with Viognier, so this wasn’t my favourite Syrah, but it really gave a true sense of place.
This was a thoroughly enjoyable evening. I don’t know whether it was the wonderfully evocative photos, the passionate descriptions given by our host, or the wine itself, but I felt transported to the Waterkloof winery and hope to visit it for real and taste the wines in the beautiful (if somewhat precarious-looking) tasting room overlooking False Bay. In addition, these wonderful wines tipped my fragile belief system a couple of notches closer to believing that there must be something in biodynamic winemaking.
Many thanks to Louis Boutinot, Paula from Portland Wine, Earle restaurant and our fellow tasters for a wonderful evening. I’m looking forward to the Plaimont tasting on 5 March.