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The South Africa Diary: Buitenverwachting

Lars Maack's estate offers some of the Cape's best values in Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay
Photo by: James Molesworth
The cellar at Buitenverwachting is home to the winery's hallmark ageworthy Sauvignon Blanc.

Posted: Feb 22, 2013 1:00pm ET

Located just next door to Klein Constantia is Buitenverwachting (bay-tun-veer-vak-ting). It's always been one of my favorite South African names, but alas, market pressures have forced them to change their label: Bayten will now be in large font on the labels in the U.S. market, with the winery's historical name shrunk to fine print. I say, "Boo." After so much time with the original label, I would have liked to see them stick it out and not worry about tongue-twisting their customers.

But at least the wine isn't changing. This is still one of the top Sauvignon Blanc producers on the Cape, along with excellent Chardonnay and a characterful Bordeaux blend. Lars Maack, 46, is the owner of this 370-acre property, which has an ample 260 acres of vines. For background, you can reference my notes from my 2007 visit here.

The estate is planted primarily to Sauvignon Blanc, along with smaller amounts of Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc and other Bordeaux red varieties. With virus an issue, Maack quickly retooled his vineyards, replanting 70 percent of the estate in a seven-year stretch.

Maack is a second-generation owner, his father having bought the estate in 1981. But Maack got involved early, taking over from his parents at the age of 24. He's relied heavily on his winemakers over that time.

"It was really thrown at me overnight," he said, noting production stood at just a few thousand cases when he started. "Jean Daneel was the winemaker from the start, and he really pulled me along. Then Hermann Kirschbaum joined in '93 as winemaker and I've relied on him too. Today, he's still here along with Brad Paton, who joined in 2004."

Production at Buitenverwachting is 100,000 cases, with half of that estate production and the other half sourced fruit, which is used for the winery's second label, Beyond.

Maack prefers a slightly richer styled Sauvignon Blanc, but one that can also age well, and the Sauvignon Blanc here has developed a track record for just that. The grapes are left on their skins overnight to reduce their acidity before fermentation in stainless steel followed by up to eight months of lees contact. Maack bottles to order so there can be multiple bottlings, but only one per market, officially.

The 2012 Sauvignon Blanc Constantia Bayten is sourced from the main portion of the vineyard, located on brown granite soils. There are 15,000 cases of this superb value (typically under $20 per bottle) that shows gooseberry, melon and creamed apple notes that are broad and gentle in feel with just a whiff of chalk dust lingering at the end. The 2012 Sauvignon Blanc Constantia Husseys Vlei is the parcel selection bottling, which now includes fruit from six blocks located on red granite soils located at the top of the farm, tucked up in a corner that gets a little more shade than the parcels down below. There are 5,000 cases of the wine whose quality easily surpasses its $20 price point. It's brighter and more delineated in style than the main bottling, with sweet pea, mâche, thyme and lime notes, followed by a bright, crunchy, gooseberry-filled finish. The 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Constantia Husseys Vlei is still showing well despite the extra bottle age. It's very savory, with thyme, gooseberry, yellow plum, lime and white asparagus notes and a strong sel gris twinge rippling through the finish.

As Maack has settled in, he's learned to take a slightly different approach to vintages in Constantia, known for its significant winter rainfall and thus more vigorous vines.

"Because extra vigor is the problem here, I look more at winter. If we get a long, cold winter, I expect better quality because the vines have slowed down a bit and won't be as vigorous through the following season," he said. "In a vigorous year, we can get [4 inches] of growth a day. If that happens during the Christmas break when everyone is away, that's a lot of growth resulting in a suddenly closed up and tangled canopy. So staying on top of the canopy management all along is also critical here."

The 2012 Chardonnay Constantia has plump yellow apple, shortbread, brioche and creamed yellow plum flavors, with just enough of a floral tinge on the finish to keep it fresh and bright. This is quietly one of the country's purest and most stylish Chardonnay bottlings, consistently earning outstanding ratings while checking in at a modest $20 per bottle.

If you're looking for friendly styled yet pure and nicely defined whites, all at a modest price point, just say it with me: Bay-tun-veer-vak-ting. It's really quite easy when you try.

You can follow James Molesworth on Twitter, at twitter.com/jmolesworth1, and Instagram, at instagram.com/jmolesworth1.

Andrew S Bernardo
Ottawa, Canada —  February 23, 2013 8:22pm ET

Unrelated question, when you refer to linzer torte as related to your tasting notes for Bordeaux, what version are we talking about? Red currant, plum, or the briar kind. (I'm guessing not that last).

James Molesworth
New York —  February 25, 2013 9:56am ET
Andrew: I use linzer to refer to the classic red currant jam/paste used in the famous Austrian torte of the same name...I try to convey both texture and flavor when I use fruit descriptors, hence terms like sleek, jammy, stewed, muddled, paste, coulis, confiture and so on...hope that helps!

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