Wine fundi John Maytham tastes a pinotage, a syrah and a chardonnay, in ascending order.

Everyday

I remain ambivalent about competitions in the wine world. There is just too much evidence of how random they are to take them too seriously. But, every now and then, they deliver unexpected and welcome surprises – like when a wine from an unfashionable area is tasted blind and doesn’t have to fight the prejudice that would almost certainly affect sighted judgement. A case in point is the Eagle’s Cliff Pinotage from the Breede Valley area. All recent vintages have scored, at best, three-and-a-half stars in the Platter's Wine Guide. The 2017 version won winemaker Christiaan Groenewald the Diner’s Club Winemaker of the Year Award. (The second time he has achieved this honour – the first being in 2013 for the Voetspore Tannat Syrah 2011 blend from the farm’s more upmarket label, Arendskloof.) I very much doubt that I would have tried the wine without the award. Having tried it, I think that it falls some distance short of being the best Pinotage in the country. That honour I would give to one of the Pinotage versions made by Abrie Beeslaar under the Kanokop label, or under his own name. But the Eagle’s Cliff version is an example of what new wave Pinotage tastes like – perfumed, pure-fruited and just charming; and, at R60, very good value for money.

Dinner Party

And, talking of unexpected and welcome surprises, it’s always very pleasant to rediscover a once-favoured producer that had dropped off one’s radar for whatever reason. The 2015 Siren Syrah brings Simonsberg property, Dornier, right back into my limelight and into my cellar. It was the last vintage worked by Jeanine Craven before she left to set up cellar with her Australian husband, Mick. (Their Craven Wines are well worth seeking out.) Philip van Staden moved from Guardian Peak to take over, and, by many accounts, is continuing a noteworthy process of refinement. The Swartland grabs much of the attention focused on Syrah, but the Siren is a reminder that, at its best, Stellenbosch is no slouch with this grape. It’s a beautifully balanced wine with an intense nose of red and black fruit, with just the right amount of white pepper prickle. The fruit purity theme continues onto the palate with a delicate line of acidity and tannins that grip and then slide into velvet. The R140 price is very competitive for this level of quality. It’s a farm with a beautiful view, and the Bodega Restaurant has also been reinvigorated, making this a very good destination to taste, eat and linger.

Out To Impress

I always think of Toyota when I think of Hartenberg. I’m not sure it’s a perfect analogy, but there does seem to me a Toyota-like long-term consistency and reliability about this Bottelary Hills producer. To (over-)extend the metaphor, there is a wide range of product available, from entry level to super luxury, and every price level carries with it the same guarantee of care and attention to detail. (I am not entirely sure what would be the Land Cruiser of the range – perhaps the Gravel Hill Shiraz?) Chardonnay and Shiraz are the two main calling cards of long-time winemaker, Carl Schultz (25 years at the helm). The 2015 vintage of the super-premium Chardonnay, the Eleanor, is utterly delicious. It’s named for the matriarch of the Finlayson family that owned the property between 1948 and 1977. The colour is an arresting primrose yellow; the nose is citric, nutty and delicately yeasty; the palate is refined, elegant and taut with a subtle, oaty creaminess and beautifully integrated oak. There are not many South African Chardonnays that can justify the adjective ‘Burgundian’ as well as does the Eleanor. R320.

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