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stirring the lees with james molesworth

South Africa: Day 4, No Frequent-Flier Miles

Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Mar 11, 2007 5:17pm ET

Today, I spent the day with Jean Engelbrecht, a former commercial airline pilot turned vintner. Engelbrecht (who drives like he’s still flying jets) has become one of South Africa’s de facto ambassadors of wine, along with other high-profile vintners such as Charles Back, Mike Ratcliffe and Ken Forrester, who spend lots of time in the U.S. and other markets.

We started the day off by flying up the western coast of the Cape, cutting in over the Olifants River region, then back down to Stellenbosch, before taking a turn out over Cape Point. It’s a striking piece of land, a curled finger jutting out into the ocean, the country’s southernmost tip. As you cross over it, you can see the meeting point of the two currents of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. No frequent-flier miles for this trip, though ...

Once we were back on solid ground, we did a run-through of Engelbrecht's three winery facilities, Rust en Vrede, Engelbrecht-Els and Guardian Peak. Engelbrecht’s on-again, off-again family feud at Rust en Vrede estate is now over, with Engelbrecht fully in charge of the historical wine farm on which he grew up. Located in a spot sheltered from the evening wind by the Helderberg mountain, R&V produces only red wines, topped by an estate blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Merlot, which shows lots of grilled herb and beef notes with racy currant and mineral flavors. We tried the 2000, which is my highest-rated vintage of this wine to date, and it’s still going strong, with some secondary aromas and a nice graphite edge to the finish.

 
The entrance to Engelbrecht-Els winery  

In contrast are the Engelbrecht-Els wines, which are more modern in style, with a classic Bordeaux varietal makeup. For comparison, we tried the debut 2000 vintage, which is plush and alluring, with fig and black tea notes and a supple finish.

Kudos go to head winemaker Louis Strydom and his team (each winery has its own day-to-day winemaker as well), as the rest of the wines here, including the Cirrus Syrah and the value-priced Guardian Peak wines, are excellent. I tried some of the just-bottled ‘05s, and they are showing strong, as are many South African wines from this vintage. Most of the ’05 reds will be shipped to the U.S. in the coming months.

In addition to the wine, both the Engelbrecht-Els and Guardian Peak wineries have restaurants (the former open for dinner, the latter for lunch). Engelbrecht also has more in the works, including another restaurant, as he helps to spur wine tourism and increase awareness of South Africa's wines.

I actually got in at a decent hour tonight, so I might just get some sleep for a change. Tomorrow, I’ll be seeing two different ends of the Syrah spectrum—Marc Kent’s spicy Cornas-like version that he produces for his Boekenhoutskloof label, and David Finlayson’s rich, plush bottlings at Glen Carlou.

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