There are over 150 wineries listed in the Stellenbosch Wine Route (see map). One could pick almost any road and be hard pressed to visit all the wineries along it in one day. So halfwine turned to a long time friend who is extremely knowledgeable about SA wineries and he selected about 10 wineries spread around the region. We visitied some in 2010 (see Stellenbosch 2010), the balance we visited this time.
Ducks on the dam
Vergenoegd; Monday to Friday: 9h00 - 17h00; Saturday & Sunday: 9h30 - 16h00
Vergenoegd have always had a reputation for strong red wines that need time to soften their tannins. Rather than bow to the Parker-driven, fruit bomb approach to wine they have taken the admirable approach of releasing their wines at the start of their drinking time; so the current wines on offer are from the 2003 vintage, an excellent one for reds in the Cape. We tasted their shiraz, cabernet and bordeaux blend. The 02 shiraz (R90) was spicy but not peppery and reminded us more of merlot than shiraz; perhaps the non-shiraz-lover’s shiraz. We had a bottle of the ’98 for dinner (arranged by a great friend) and this was a perfect example of what the 2002 will be like in 2015; the tannins softer, the fruit slightly muted, a great wine for dinner. The 03 cabernet (R102) had really vibrant fruit and still strong tannins; definitely to keep for another 5 years. The 03 bordeaux blend (R160) was as one would expect, softened out by merlot, not quite as much fruit but nowhere near the same amount of tannin, great for drinking now but will age well for 5 years. There being debate about which we preferred, we bought both the cab and the blend.
As an aside, the lady conducting the tasting certainly knew her stuff. She opened a new bottle of shiraz, poured a little for herself, sniffed it and then poured ours. We thought it a bit flat, not much fruit on the nose or palette, tannins ok; a kind of inoffensive nothingness and certainly not what their reputation led us to expect. We didn’t say this at the time, but the tasting guide suddenly announced that she was fetching another bottle as she was not happy with the nose. The new bottle was like chalk and cheese. Nothing wrong with the first bottle but, as the tasting lady opined, perhaps a bit oxidized; like the wine had been open for a day or so. A very interesting comment as we were about to find out at a later tasting.
Vergenoegd also have a large flock of runner ducks that they use to eat snails and other ‘goggas’ (the g pronounced as though you are clearing your throat and thus quite a descriptive word for bugs). Those who have seen them in action in spring say it is fascinating. When we were there at the end of summer they were lazing about near the dam. They were not welcome in the vineyard as they also like grapes.
View over the vineyards to Table Mountain shimmering in 34c
Grangehurst; Monday - Friday: 9:00 - 16:00, Saturday - Sunday: 10:00 - 15:00
Eikendal Road, off the R44, Stellenbosch
Grangehurst has quite a bit of pinotage, but they make a point of adding 10% cab to theirs which to our minds makes it 10% better. Their blend Nikela has even more cab and we liked it even better. We were really looking forward to their cab merlot blend as their flagship wine is a bordeaux blend. We were told that he bottle had been opened the previous day. It tasted like it. The wine was flat and uninteresting. When we told the lady doing the tasting our opinion she just smiled back at us and did nothing; quite happy for us to think that their wine was lousy; pleasant person, but a PR disaster! We said thank you and walked away.
View from the cellar door
View down the road
Dombeya (Haskell); Monday to Saturday 9h00–17h00 (actually closed Mondays as we found out much to our annoyance as it is quite a trek up the hill) Annandale Rd, off the R44, Stellenbosch
We arrived at Haskell just as a tropical (lightning and bucketing rain) thunderstorm kicked off so there was no need to hurry the tasting. We started with the 2010 Sauvignon Blanc (R60) which had plenty of acidity to taste super fresh. The 2009 chardonnay (R90) was just the way we like; clean but not overpowering oak and strong citrus tastes. It started us wondering why we didn’t drink more chardonnay. Then onto the reds. A first vintage, 2007, merlot and cabernet sauvignon (both R85) ; the merlot was fruity with good tannins and not of the too sweet variety. The cab was similar; very easy drinking. The serious stuff was the Shiraz 2007 (R96) and the bordeaux blend Samara 2006 (R90). The shiraz had plenty of fruit, spice and pepper. The blend was super fruity but still an excellent structure; going to put this down till 2016 to see how the fruit and tannins even out over a reasonable time period.
Overgaauw cellar door
Overgaauw; Mondays to Fridays: 9h00 - 17h00, Saturdays and Public Holidays: 10h30 - 12h30
Stellenboschkloof Road, south west out of Stellenbosch along the M12.
The 2010 Sauvignon Blanc (R49) waslight and fresh, reminiscent of green apples, sort of in between the extremes of mineraliness and capsicum that seem to dominate the Cape sauvignons. Very pleasant. The 2010 Chardonnay (R63) is 100% barrel fermented, the new oak seemed to dominate, the wine seemed to be made of many parts but did not appear to be well integrated, very strange. We thought it might be because the wine was recently bottled but that was not the case. Maybe the 2010 just needs a bit longer in the bottle.
The Touriga Nacional Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 (R58) is a blend of a port grape with 25% cab, described as ‘fruit driven’. An unusual blend and interesting to taste. The 2009 (R94) merlot was sort of non descript as were most of the merlots we tasted from other wine makers. If one is used to softness and approachability of Pinot, one wonders why people drink merlot. SA does not have many (any?) Pinots in the decent Bourgogne Rouge quality and price range so the alternative to the tannins of cab has to be merlot. We really are lucky in the UK. The 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon (R109) was definitely our type of wine. We bought the Sauvignon Blanc and the Cabernet Sauvignon.
Further along the road from Overgaauw is Jordan but unfortunately they closed at 16h30 so we missed them. Back down the hill was a winery not on our original list, de Morgenzon (www.demorgenzon.co.za).
de Morgenzon cellar door
Their flagship wine is a wooded chenin blanc which has received much public acclaim. The wood dominated and the wine was straw in colour. This colour most often reflects age which was a bit strange since it was only a 2009. Their second label DMZ Syrah 2009 (R80) was value for money relative to other wines that we tasted in this price range.
Tasting haven on a hot day
Villiera; Monday to Friday: 8h30 – 17h00, Saturday 8h30 – 15h00
Just off the R304 near exit 39 on the N1.
Villiera has a large range of white, red and sparkling wines, all real value for money. In the whites we tasted their chenin blancs (2010 (R33) great for every day, lunchtime drinking which sadly we don’t do much of anymore; 2009 barrel fermented (R68) not as oaky as some examples but still not to our taste) and the sauvignon blancs (2010 (R45) blend of Stellenbosch and Elgin sourced grapes and the 2010 Bush Vine (R65) a must buy, and did buy, Sauvignon in our book). Among the reds we tried the 2005 Monro (a merlot based blend) (R115) and the 2007 Cabernet (R49) but moved on to try the sparkling wines. The sparkling wines are made in a manner similar to champagne and are a benchmark for SA sparklers. The Tradition (R68) has pinotage in the blend (and you know our views on that grape) whist the Monro 2006 (R120) is 50/50 chardonnay and pinot noir and spent 4 years on the lees. Champagne with the Monro treatment is what we really fancy but this did not do it for us. It seemed to froth in the mouth and the complexity did not come through.
Cannon at the entrance
Tasting room display but no halves!!
Kanonkop; no visit times on the website but probably 9 to 5
Just off the R44 on the Simonsberg mountain side of the road. You can cut across from the R304 to the R44 along the Bottelary Road past Simonsig (also worth a visit if you have the time).
Kanonkop is one of the leaders in the pinotage wine field, but it is also much more than that. Pinotage is the South African cross of Pinot Noir and Cinsaut (or Hermitage as it was called in SA). Pinotage has always received mixed reviews in SA and, when it is badly made which is inevitably the majority, it has an unpleasant acetone smell. To our tastes it is too sweet, reminiscent of grenache, which also falls into the same, too sweet category. On show the day we visited were four examples of pinotage and their bodeaux blend. The pinotage started with a 2010 dry rose (2 hours skin contact) (R52) – not bad, which if you know our views on rose, is actually quite high praise. Then the 2009 Kadette (R65) which is a pinotage dominated blend of all the farm’s young vine grapes. We then tasted two pure Pinotage, the 2009 (R185) and the 2001 (R240). The 2009 was quite pleasant, didn’t have any hint of acetone and was not too sweet. The 2001 was however not to our taste having what we didn’t like in spades. The Paul Sauer 2006 (R310) bordeaux blend was definitely more to our taste but was consistent with the vintage, not one of the best in the decade. We had a 1998 vintage for dinner and that was really excellent as it opened up. Kanonkop’s vintage guide rates the wine as a 5 star, mature further and we couldn’t disagree with that. We bought a 1990 Cabernet Sauvignon (R360) to try alongside the 2001 that we have at home.
Glen Carlou cellar door
Glen Carlou; Monday - Friday: 8h30 to 17h00, Saturday & Sunday: 10h00 - 15h00
Officially in the Paarl wine region it is nevertheless a good place to start or end a day in Stellenbosch because it is near the junction of the R44 (all roads lead to the R44) and the N1 (exit 47) On the R44 near the N1 you will see a signboard saying R45 Franschhoek. Travel for 3km along this road, and you will find Glen Carlou on the right hand side.
The 2010 Sauvignon Blanc (R65) is typical of what we are classing as the hot Stellenbosch Sauvignon Blanc – a different animal to the cool climate ones from Elgin or the West Coast. Generally we are favouring the cool climate versions. We have always loved the Glen Carlou chardonnays and the 2009 (R90) is no exception. Oak fermented, but no new oak, is definitely our style for oaked chardonnay. The new oak goes into the pricey (R275) Quartz Stone chardonnay. In the red wines we tasted the bordeaux blend, Grand Classique (R120), and the Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 (R90). We loved and bought both.