Wednesday, June 25, 2014

90 year celebration at Alto, Stellenbosch

How to hit the ground running? Leave Hermanus at 10 am and drive through to Alto in Stellenbosch to celebrate their 90th anniversary as South Africa’s oldest red wine estate. Many of the most worthy media were present and most of us had to admit that this was our first visit to this lovely farm. That needs to be remedied. We think it is because it is in an area full of charismatic wine farms, but it is so worth the effort. But who knew this treasure was there;they have kept rather a low profile until now and things are changing. Alto are famous for their good value Alto Rouge blend of Shiraz, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and now Petite Verdot (the blend varies slightly each year). We tasted the 1993, 2001 and 2004 vintages and these wines have lasted. But they also produce some really exciting and delicious Shiraz and very classic Cabernets on this 193 hectare farm with, 93 of which are under vines.
We gathered round a large square table in the tasting room. This was a very civilised way to do a tasting, as everyone could interact. From L to R: Christian Eedes, Wine Magazine; Cathryn Henderson, Classic Wine; Lise Manley of Manley Communications; Ross Sleet, Marketing Director of Cape Legends; the tasting room manager, Louise Lamprecht; Winemaker Schalk van der Westhuizen; Simone Scott, Marketing Manager; Roy Davies, Vineyard Hotel GM
Alto is under the Cape Legends Portfolio and is widely available
Journalist Graham Howe getting down to tasting and and describing the wines.
Tasting the Alto Rouge 1993, which showed notes of ginger, aged wood and elegance on the nose and then sweet and sour fruit with long soft flavours, Lynne concluded this was probably better with food now than quaffing

Winemaker Schalk van der Westhuizen has been with Alto since 2000 and made his first vintage in 2001. There have only ever been four winemakers on Alto and all are legends: Mannie Malan, then Pieter du Toit, who handed over to his son Hempies du Toit (who now farms down the road on his own farm, Annandale) and then Schalk. Many of the vineyards have had to be replanted over the last 25 years to get rid of leaf roll virus. Schalk says harvest is always late on Alto and it is difficult to wait. He is still waiting for his Sauvignon Blanc vineyards
Three vintages of Alto Rouge 1993, 2001 & 2004. Some even need more time! And they do show the same Alto characteristics. And on the right the Alto Cabernet 2001 which had a slight balsamic nose with cooked fruit aromas, but the wine on the palate gave so much more than expected. And it was unexpectedly lovely and fresh with a good mouthfeel
Some snacks were served beforehand. These are roosterkoek, bread filled with cheese and ham and toasted on an open fire
These were succulent barbecued chicken pieces with a good hot peri peri basting sauce
These are the wines we tasted. Shiraz 2001 which was so rich and full of fruit on the nose and is a beautifully elegant food wine with long flavours and nice warmth from spice and alcohol. Lynne’s highest scoring wine for a long time at 19/20. The 2004 Shiraz was full of Chanel No.5 on the nose and full of sweet spicy warm fruit, a good quaffer. The 2004 Cabernet was shy and not overtly attractive on the nose, but has beautiful fruit and is a lovely wine to drink. Lynne wrote “BUY if we can find”. If you have some, you are very fortunate. Drink it soon. 18½/20. The MPHS is their flagship wine and the letters stand for the initials of all the winemakers. It is a blend of 67% Cab Franc, 43 Cab Sauvignon and is only bottled when the quality is there. It is made in limited quantities and is available at R750 a bottle. We tasted the 2007, which has a classic cassis and green herbal notes on the nose and has lots of depth and layers but is still very, very young. The 2012 is still in barrel
Tasting Room manager Louise Lamprecht with the wines
Then it was time for us to move through to the impressive barrel cellar for lunch
Here we could continue to drink the same vintages with our meal – always a valuable exercise, to see if they do actually go better with food

Ross Sleet talks to us about the wines and the food
The Menu
Lunch was a serve yourself buffet, prepared by redpeppercatering, and had some lovely healthy options like this Rocket and oven roasted vegetable salad
Roasted baby potatoes with mushrooms and, in the background soft pork belly, topped with sensationally crisp crackling and a dish of Beef fillet to be accompanied by a mushroom and pepper sauce.
Lynne’s scrumptious Banting plate, sans potatoes...
Tasting room manager Louise Lamprecht kept us well supplied with wine all through lunch
The weather outside was not playing ball and in fact the heavens opened as we left
A view of damp winter vines on the hills of Stellenbosch. In good weather there are lovely views from Alto. Do go and see them
© John & Lynne Ford, Adamastor & Bacchus 2014

No comments: