Thursday, July 04, 2019

Tasting Groot Constantia wines with Boela Gerber at the Blockhouse Kitchen, Constantia

Groot Constantia is the third oldest farm in South Africa’s wine industry and it is our oldest wine producer. It has been producing wine for more years than any of the producers in the Médoc or Champagne. Constantia was producing wine before Dom Pérignon made his wonderful discovery. So much for being “New World”! Groot Constantia is classified as an Estate, so all the grapes used in their wines are grown on the farm. None is sourced from outside the farm. The Cape Dutch manor house dates back to the earliest days of the estate which was granted to Simon van der Stel in 1685
We had a superb tasting of their wines with Groot Constantia Cellarmaster Boela Gerber and our wine club The Oenophiles this week. It was held at The Blockhouse Kitchen restaurant on Constantia Uitsig wine farm. Why? Because we wanted to have supper after the tasting and the two restaurants on Groot Constantia do not stay open late enough to accommodate our large group. Our tastings can go on for a while
Many of you will remember this venue as the River Cafe, run by Judy Badenhorst, and then as Neil Grant’s The Open Door. Chef Brad Ball has now re-opened it as the Blockhouse Kitchen and the word is out that the food is good. Blockhouse Kitchen is open for breakfast and lunch from Monday to Sunday, 09:00 – 11:30 | 12:00 to 22:00 and dinner from Tuesday to Saturday. For bookings and enquiries, please email or call +27 21 794 3010.
We were in one of the side rooms in the restaurant which makes a very good function room; high ceilings, good window light and lots of long tables and comfortable chairs. Boela had brought three white wines for us to sample. The classic 2019 Constantia Sauvignon Blanc is grassy, herbal with minerality, crisp and round on the palate, with some ripeness. We had a tank sample, so unfiltered as yet and a little cloudy, but very special. They will be bottling in August. Around R150. The Chardonnay is fermented and kept in barrel for 10 months, so there is some wood smoke; another classic golden chardonnay with apple, limes and butterscotch, with minerality on the end. R280 on the farm. The Gouverneur’s Reserve White is a blend of 75% Semillon 25% Sauvignon blanc and has the characteristic nose of Semillon; dusty and smoky. On the palate, oily lanolin, crisp and buttery flavours reminiscent of a good French brie, then lemon and limes with wood on the end. R450

We began tasting the Reds with a new wine from Boela called Lady of Abundance, named for a statue next to the Groot Constantia manor house. 2017 is the first vintage. The blend will never be set in stone, which will allow them to use what they have made to show the estate at its best each year. The current blend is 32% Pinotage, 32% Shiraz, 32% Merlot and 4% Grenache which does add a little wildness. It is quite a feminine blend, with fresh fruit & smoke hints on the nose, with sappige berry fruit on the palate. Then the cool climate 2017 Pinotage, which came as a huge revelation. We absolutely loved it and that is not something you hear from Lynne when she tastes young Pinotage. Pretty and perfumed on the nose with hints of raspberry aromatics from its Pinot parent, with some spice. On the palate, cherry and caramel, soft tannins, more plum fruit, soft and silky; good acid balance and, on the end, the Cinsault parent is visible. R280 on the farm. 19/20

The 2017 Shiraz is also pre-release. Bruléed fruit and vanilla oak on the nose. Plums, rhubarb, sweet & sour fruit with grippy tannins; intense fruit acids at present, very young and will soften with age. Made in big vats. R260. Gouverneur’s Reserve 2015. Boela says that this is a Constantia blend, rather than comparing it to a Bordeaux, of 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Cabernet Franc, 20% Merlot and 10% Petit Verdot. It has soft sweet fruit with some green cassis leaves & incense wood on the nose. Chalky tannins; a Cabernet Merlot dominated classic with bruléed wood on the end. The 2010 Gouverneur’s Reserve, made from 53% Merlot and 37% Cabernet Franc, was superb - showing how age plays its part. Wildness from the Cabernet Franc; violets, soft sweet cassis and cherry fruit and juicy. 18/20. But the wine that impressed the most in this line up of three was the Gouverneur’s Reserve Cabernet Merlot 2006. Sweet cherry berry fruit, wood smoke and vanilla oak. Lovely fruit on the palate with soft tannins and more gentle oak. Delish and still in balance. If you have some, drink now. 19/20

A happy winemaker opening another good bottle
Smiling duo of Chef Brad and winemaker Boela Gerber
Our wine club members enjoying the tasting
That superb 2017 Groot Constantia Pinotage, we scored it 19/20
Boela answering questions
He has been with Groot Constantia since the 1st of January 2001, and is the longest serving wine maker in the Constantia area - where winemakers do stay for a long time. This premier (and historic) area for making wine is so accessible to the city, being only a 20 minute drive away. And it is blessed with great soils, mountain water and cooling sea breezes

The final wine was a real treat. The Grand Constance is a recreation of the famous Constantia dessert wine. To quote Groot Constantia’s web site, "The renowned Groot Constantia Grand Constance is South Africa’s oldest wine and is the finest example of the famous “Constantia Wyn” as drunk by Emperors and Kings, from Frederick the Great of Prussia to Louis Philippe (King of France); all vied for their share. Charles Dickens celebrated it in Edwin Drood, a Jane Austen character recommended it as a cure for a broken heart to heroine Marianne Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility and Charles Baudelaire compared Constantia wine to his lover‘s lips in his most famous volume of poems, Les Fleurs du Mal. Napoleon was allowed to drink wine made at Groot Constantia whilst exiled on the island of Saint Helena from 1815 until his death in May 1821. These wines were produced in the Cloete Cellar directly behind the Groot Constantia Manor house. It is known that Groot Constantia used the French translation “Grand Constance” on its labels, additionally to the normal “Groot Constantia” reference. "Made from both red and white muscat grapes, it does not currently have any botrytis. Rose petals and sandalwood on the nose; then sweet floral aromas, tea and some herbs. On the palate, a nice grip of acid in balance with sweet honey and cream with lime, apricot and cherry flavours. The 375ml bottle mimics the historic 18th Century bottles which can still be found in a few very valuable collections. R650 from the farm. And this will age beautifully, should you be able to resist it for a while

The menu
They took our orders while we were still tasting and the food arrived promptly when the tasting finished. This is one of the very good "Dirty Cheese Burgers" which comes in a soft roll, with caramelised onion, a secret sauce, fries and a dipping aioli and was enjoyed very much
The salt and vinegar chips that accompany the soda-and-spice-battered hake, fresh from the sea, with pearly flakes, in a good spiced batter, served with a malt vinegar mayo and half a lemon. This was very much appreciated and recommended. Perhaps, for us, slightly crisper chips next time, although South Africans do prefer 'slap' chips which to us are half-cooked. These were somewhere in the middle. These two dishes cost us R270 including a 12% tip, which we think is very reasonable
We cannot sufficiently express our appreciation of the tasting we had. It was really enjoyable and certainly showed us some really excellent wines. And the food is worth coming back for again, and again

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