We strolled back to the car with the knowledge that we had to be back in Cape Town by 5:30pm to be sure of being scrubbed up and ready for our Black Tie evening at the Clifton penthouse.
What we hadn’t expected was that with the traffic in our favour we would make it to Somerset West on the outskirts of Cape Town just before 4pm! This gave us the magic half hour window to make an unscheduled stop at the world famous Vergelegen estate owned by the mining conglomerate Anglo American PLC.
My wife had been here several times before and waxed lyrical about both the wines and the gardens! What’s even more remarkable is that in 1962 the last vines from this 300 year old estate were removed and the estate left fallow until its purchase and substantial investment by Anglo in 1987!I can’t think of another estate in the world where so much has been achieved in such a short time, albeit with a substantial investment!
Sadly with just a 30 minute window we decided to go our separate ways with Gillian enjoying the gardens and I the wines. I was lucky enough to meet the manager of the tasting room , Frieda Stanbridge, who knew my wife from previous visits.
Frieda has been at Vergelegen for thirteen years and my god is her knowledge encyclopaedic or what??Despite being really busy she took me through a personal tasting of her favourite Vergelegen wines.
As I sat on the terrace at the rear of the tasting room, it was a real joy to look out over the magnificently manicured gardens whilst feeling the burning warmth of the afternoon sun on my neck. First of all Frieda took the time to explain to me some of the basic code of Vergelegen wines.
Premium: Equals the high volume wines and includes 2 Whites (a Chardonnay and a Sauvignon Blanc) and 2 Reds (a Cabernet Merlot and and a Shiraz). Don’t be fooled into thinking that these are their prestige cuvées like I was, these are their entry level wines with the grapes coming from 14 different blocks of terroir.
As I was under time pressure Frieda suggested that we bypass these and cut straight to the next level!
Frieda had lined up an eclectic selection of wines rom their next two tiers, four from the Reserve range and two from their stellar Flagship range wines. These two are bottled under the acronym G.V.B. (Grown/Bottled/Vinified).
So to the wine…first up
Vergelegen Reserve Sauvignon Blanc. I’ve never tried this before and my only yardstick was the Premium range Sauvginon. This was a completely different wine ! Unlike the Premium which is composed of grapes from 14 different plots this is produced from a specific block single vineyard.
The result is a wine that is less upfront than your typical New Zealand Sauvignon, and without the grassy and green pepper nose, by contrast the Reserve has an almost honeycomb nose with what the locals refer to as a nose of indigenous vegetation. This gives the wine a multi-dimensional and complex flavour with the tastes evolving with every mouthful.
Vergelegen Reserve Chardonnay. This is 100% barrel fermented with a natural yeast. The result is a not overly buttery style of Chardonnay with lots of varietal character.A very sophisticated wine.
Before we moved onto the Flagship G.V.B. White, Frieda also explained that the Vergelegen philosophy is that wine and food should exist in synergy. With this theme in mind we debated why do so many restaurants ask you for your wine choice before you’ve even chosen your food! We couldn’t really come up with a solution to that one!
I have to admit that I’m a bit of a White Bordeaux virgin so was completely bowled over by….
G.V.B. White: A Bordeaux style blend of 62% Semillon and 38% Sauvignon Blanc. This was one of my favourite wines that I tasted in South Africa. The Semillon dominates as you’d expect from the blend ratio. The honeysuckle nose gives way to a really complex and long finish.
At its heart this is a food wine.
It also possesses a chameleon like personality in that it pairs perfectly well with seafood/shellfish yielding bamboo like flavours equally it’s acidity cuts through the concentrated fat of a slow roasted pork belly joint or a Free Range fatty pork chop.
In the UK this wine is available from Jeroboams – Elizabeth Street
Vergelegen Reserve Shiraz
This wine is a little like a tall mysterious stranger! Unlike most South African Shiraz and those from the New World this wine does not exhibit those big, bold and in your face characteristics that personify wines from those areas. Instead think a style more reflective of a Rhone style Syrah and even more specifically those from the Southern Rhone, all soft dark berry fruit, spice and white pepper. Indicative of the winemakers wish to maintain quality, with only a mere 18 hectares of Shiraz available this wine is only released in years where he feels the wine meets his exactingly high standards for quality.
Vergelegen Reserve “DNA”
This is made in the style of a classic St. Emilion, a blend heavily weighted towards Cabernet Franc and Merlot.The wine is named after Don Tooth, MD of Vergelegen and André van Rensburg the winemaker. At its heart this is a food wine through and through! The herbaceous characteristics of the Cabernet Franc grape are really brought out with dishes that are cooked with fresh herbs like slow roasted lamb shanks with rosemary. There is also a nice finish to this wine that is reminiscent of stewed plums so its no surprise to learn that this wine is equally suited to spicy foods and rich meats like duck. This wine is available in the UK from New Forest Wines .
G.V.B. Red: This is their red Bordeaux style blend. A full bodied heady mix of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Franc. This is a such a complex wine it is probably best enjoyed without food. Its the kind of wine that you can curl up by the fire with a favourite book and reflect and indulge in its sheer opulence! If you really want to eat with it, let the wine do the talking so pair with nothing more than a simple fillet mignon with crushed new potatoes! Its a perfect balance between tannin, balance and black cherries and blackcurrants with a long finish and no grippy tannins which just dissipate.
As the clock struck 4:30pm we thanked Frieda for her hospitality and headed off to meet our driver Tim for the short drive back to Cape Town. We just had time to get in a pair of Planters Rum Punch’s to sup whilst we were getting our glad rags on!
Before we were swept away in our classic car, a 1950s Ford Zephyr to the Clifton Penthouse where the black tie dinner was taking place.
The penthouse where our gala dinner was taking place was reputedly owned by the millionaire Sol Kerzner and rented out for private functions. What was never in doubt was the truly stunning and memorable sunset view that we had from the terrace overlooking the infinity pool in the foreground and the Atlantic Ocean in the back ground!
We were also treated to a fabulous three course meal of smoked salmon, fillet steak and fruit cheesecake with of course a wonderful selection of South African wines and cabaret style entertainment.
As we wearily made our way back to the One and Only we reflected on another amazing 24 hours in Cape Town wondering what other treasure this fantastic city would yield to us tomorrow!