In the Cape: Day 1
Posted: Mar 8, 2007 2:31pm ET
Well, I finally made it. In transit for two days, and not a hitch—that’s got to be a modern-day record for commercial air travel.
After landing in Cape Town, I spent my first hour crawling through traffic on the way to my hotel. That made me feel right at home. That was, until we turned past Table Mountain and saw a small herd of antelope grazing. Then I knew I was in Africa.
After a quick shower and a plate of eggs benedict (is there any better travel hangover food?), I was off to my first appointment. Under warm, sunny skies, I headed to Constantia.
Constantia is only a 20-minute drive away, but it’s quite a change from the bustle of Cape Town. Here the Cape feels like a wine region, with lush green hills set against a backdrop of stark, rocky mountains. Constantia is a cool spot that makes some excellent whites, particularly at the wineries of Klein Constantia and Buitenverwachting (bit-EN-vehr-wok-tung).
Both wineries were part of the former historic Constantia Estate, which fragmented generations ago, and both properties were purchased by their current owners in 1980—the Maack family of Buitenverwachting and the Jooste family at Klein Constantia.
|The vineyards of Klein Constantia
At Buitenverwachting, winemaker Brad Paton, who is taking over for longtime winemaker Hermann Kirschbaum, produces two distinctly different Sauvignons. The regular Constantia bottling shows textbook lime, fig and mineral notes, while the Hussys Vlei bottling—sourced from different vines on heavier soils—shows a pronounced jalapeño note with lots of spicy green herbs. Rather than combine the two to make one wine, Paton and Maack prefer to let the two different spots in their vineyards display their own characteristics separately.
While Klein Constantia produces a tasty Sauvignon with a lime and mineral profile as well, it's probably best known for its sweet wine, Vin de Constance
, which is made from shriveled Muscat de Frontignan grapes. It’s full of orange peel, persimmon and dried apricot notes, but is also fresh and youthful. Klein Constantia’s owner Lowell Jooste also has a side project, having teamed up with Bordelais Bruno Prats and Hubert de Bouard to make a wine called Anwilka, a Cabernet Sauvignon-Syrah blend sourced from vineyards in Stellenbosch. I liked the modern-styled, plush 2005 I reviewed recently, and found the soon-to-bottled 2006 I tasted today to show more Cabernet character and structure.
I then moved on down the road another 30 minutes to visit with Duncan Savage of Cape Point
Vineyards. This young winemaker (just 29) is doing exciting things with Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon at this tiny 40-acre property, tucked up on a hill of similar sandy, granite soils as in Constantia. Its proximity to the coast though makes it an even cooler spot, and the hillside vineyards get their share of wind as well, which helps to concentrate the flavors in the grapes by keeping the vine vigor low.
“If I were going to be a vine, I think just sitting up here all day and looking out at that would be pretty cool,” says Savage as he shows me the view from the top of the hillside. He’s still planting vines and hopes to reach 60 acres by next year.
There are two Sauvignon Blancs here—Ternhaven, which is bottled just a few months after fermentation and meant for immediate consumption, and the Cape Point bottling, which sees nine months of lees aging before bottling, and shows deeper chive, flint and gooseberry flavors. The straight Sémillon bottling is also delicious—with tangerine, persimmon and mineral notes that are textbook for the variety. The top cuvée, a blend of 85 percent Sauvignon and 15 percent Sémillon called Isleidh (I-lay) is a beguiling wine with creamy texture and hints of fig and mineral. It’s tight when young and could use some modest cellaring to show its best.
Though Klein Constantia does produce some red, and Cape Point has one in the works, I consider these three wineries to be white wine producers. They have ideally situated vineyards to exploit the cool climate varietals, and they're doing a very good to outstanding job with their wines.
I’ve been touting South Africa’s Syrahs recently—but there’s more to the country’s wines than just Syrah. Whites have also improved dramatically in recent years and some new faces have popped up as well, as with Cape Point. If you like bright, fresh, acid-driven whites that marry well with seafood and lighter fare, Cape Sauvignon Blanc might be the thing for you.