Thursday, November 14, 2019

Vintage launch and Vegan lunch at Neethlingshof, Stellenbosch

An invitation to visit Neethlingshof to taste their newly released white wines, some of their current red wines and some barrel samples, followed by lunch, was quickly accepted
It has been rather a long time since we last visited and tasted the wines of winemaker de Wet Viljoen 
We were grateful that transport was also arranged to get us there and back to town. No, we are joking!
It was not in this wonderful vehicle, but in Emile Joubert's car. This one was to transport us all up to the top of their highest hill
We gathered in the manor house. This historic farm was established in 1692, when Willem Barend Lubbe, a German settler, began farming the site he had been granted by Governor of the Cape Simon van der Stel, on the Bottelary Hills overlooking False Bay
He named the farm De Wolwedans, “The Dance of Wolves”, having mistaken the jackals roaming the countryside for wolves
until it was time to climb on board
The view, as we proceeded up the hill through the vineyards, was truly spectacular
They have a boma at the very top that is used for functions
You can see the Simonsberg 
and then round to a view of the far Helderberg mountains
De Wet told us that Neethlingshof is once again owned 100% by the Schreiber family after 18 years in partnership with Distell. It is farmed sustainably. They are following an active biodiversity orientated strategy in their farming practices and are moving away from a mono culture of vines. In the process, they are giving back to nature some of what they took from her in the past. It is a large farm of 240 hectares with great terroir, 119 hectares are under vine
They grow 13 cultivars and the oldest vines are approaching Old Vine status; the Maria Magdalena NLH Riesling and the Gewürztraminer both were planted in 1986. The bush vine Pinotage is planted on the highest hill on the property and is the youngest vineyard at 4 years old 
Land that is unsuitable for vines is used for other purposes and 38 hectares have been returned to Renosterveld
Vines at the top of the hill are planted in different directions to make the most of the sun and the terroir for each cultivar
There are several outcrops of granite on the farm which offer habitat for wildlife, birds like guinea fowl, eagles, and owls,
predators like caracal lynx, and a silver fox has been spotted
The blue gum forest at the edge of the property is harvested for wood for the farm and the pizza oven!
Annually, they have a programme to get rid of noxious invaders like Australian Port Jackson wattle
and they reseed areas with indigenous renosterveld plants
de  Wet told us they do have to spray in wet years, but there is never any spraying in the Maria Noble Late Harvest vineyard,
as it kills the botrytis spores
A worker tending the vineyards
Bees buzz in the lavender
New vineyards
de Wet pointed out different features and vineyards as we returned to the farm buildings down the hill
Then back to taste the wines in the cellar. We had to walk through the well organised tasting room
Wines for tasting. We began with the 2019 Neethlingshof Estate Sauvignon Blanc which is full of green pepper pyrazines, fig leaves and granadilla on an intense nose. Crisp and round on the attractive palate with some sweetness mid palate, green peppers, lime and guava. We enjoyed this so much; it is an excellent example of a good Cape Sauvignon Blanc. And the price is affordable, R80 on the farm
Then from the Short Story Collection, the Jackals Dance Single vineyard Sauvignon Blanc; the vineyard is planted with a mix of favourite Sauvignon Blanc clones chosen by those who originally planted it. Grown on granite, the wine shows crisp minerality. peas, green peppers and a perfume of ripe figs. Crisp and zingy acidity with some tropical notes of guava, pineapple and a finish of lime and lees complexity
The Short Story Six Flowers is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Chenin blanc, Viognier, Riesling and Gewürztraminer. Smoke, spice, butter and peach come to the fore on the nose, the wine is full of peach, apricot, loquat and lemon fruit and wood from the Loire valley lightly toasted barrels. It keeps evolving in the glass; a great blend to drink with food. It is named after the six flowers incorporated in the original gable of the house by Maria Magdalena Marais and pays tribute to the current owners' restitution of the Renosterveld on the farm. 
Marketing consultant Carina Gous and Kyla-Leigh Rodgers, the tasting room manager, joined us. Next, we tasted the 2017 Merlot. Cherry and spearmint on the lactic nose with good incense wood. On the palate, cherry, berry, sweet and ripe fruit with good minerality and grip from chalky tannins and a long finishes. The sweetness is from some American oak. De Wet says 2017 is an under rated vintage and we agree with him; we think it will show itself with age. The wine was awarded the 2019 Michelangelo Trophy for the best Merlot
The 2017 Caracal from the Short Story Collection is a classic blend of Cabernet sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet franc and Malbec in 100% French oak. A complex nose with cassis, cranberry and raspberry fruit and incense wood. A superb blend of dark berry and black cherry fruit with intense minerality and chalky tannins. A wine built to last
We tasted at a long table in the barrel cellar. The final wine was the 2018 Owl Post Pinotage from the Short Story Collection. Incense wood, shy berry fruit, very subtle and sophisticated on the nose. Tight fruit, sweet and sour berries, more in the style of the parent Cinsault than Pinot Noir. Long flavours, chalky tannins
De Wet Viljoen became the Neethlingshof winemaker in 2003, so has been 17 years on the farm. Originally from the Breede River valley, he attended Stellenbosch University, where he studied oenology and viticulture after obtaining a BSc in microbiology. He has worked two vintages at Kendall-Jackson’s La Crema cellar in California
De Wet says he wants his wines to have a sense of place. They certainly do
The 2019 Neethlingshof Estate Sauvignon Blanc is our Wine of the Week
The white wines
Tasting in one of the best organised barrel cellars we have seen
Every Short Story wine has its story on the back label
PR Rules! Carina Gous, chairperson of Wines of South Africa (WOSA) and Neethlingshof Marketing consultant
with PR consultant Emile Joubert
Time for lunch. A welcoming glass of the Neethlingshof's crisp 2018 Ode to Nature Riesling

which, delightfully, shows no sign of terpenes
The reds to come with the next courses
Lunch was served in the Manor House
Alan Ware, Manager of the Neethlingshof restaurant, introduced the menu and the chef
Chef Brendan Stein came to explain the menu, which was Vegan for the event
They do offer vegan choices on the restaurant menu
He said it was interesting as a chef to do a whole vegan menu for us
They have done different styles of Asian and North African. And all the Neethlingshof wines are certified Vegan
The menu
The amuse was a black bean fritter, nicely spicy with chilli and umami and sesame flavours
with the bounce of tofu and inside, black beans
The starter of compressed yuzu salty watermelon, topped with shiso leaves, a cucumber and lemongrass gel, crisp battered and fried shallots with a peanut flavour, and pickled radish. A clear tomato consommé was poured around each dish at the table. The flavour of the consommé was superb
We drank the Neethlingshof Unwooded Chardonnay with this. Rich and crisp, it went well
The main course of chermoula roast cauliflower, soft quinoa flavoured with dukkah spice which gave it a good nutty texture, a yellow carrot purée, crisp deep fried glassy kale and a herb oil. It worked well. A colleague asked what had happened to the lamb chop which the chef had left a space for.....?! (She hadn't heard the brief)
The spicy Neethlingshof Shiraz 2016 was paired with this dish
Dessert was slices of poached nectarine in a spiced syrup, a peach sorbet and topped with Almonds
Served with the superb 2019 Maria Noble Late Harvest dessert wine made from Riesling,
full of rich honey aromas and flavour, with peach and nuts which matched these flavours so well
Niel van Deventer, Managing Director of Stone Pine Wines, which owns Neethlingshof
What a splendid day, thank you all at Neethlingshof

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