Thursday, January 23, 2020

Grande Provence launches the estate's first Merlot

An invitation to the Grand Provence Merlot launch on the estate in Franschhoek gave us an insight in to the growth
and confidence of two talented young men, the winemaker Thys Smit and Head Chef Marvin Robyn

We were picked up by minibus at 8.30 and, after rather a long trip to pick up other members of the media from various addresses in the city and suburbs, arrived at the farm at 10.45. Thankfully, it was great weather, nice and cool. Rain had been promised, but it didn't look likely, so Lynne took a raincoat and a sun hat. As we were early, it gave us a chance to have a look at the art gallery which has some superb paintings, sculptures and photographs. Whoever does the curating has a superb eye

Visitors were tasting wine outside. We hear that Grand Provence is proving to be a very popular wine and food destination in Franschhoek, with numbers well up. It is also a very popular wedding venue, especially for couples from the Northern Hemisphere. It is on the route of the Franschhoek Tram. And they have a bistro as well as the fine dining restaurant
The garden is always filled with monumental sculptures
Our tasting and lunch were to be in the Jonkershuis, shown here
The trees are home to many cheeky squirrels!
We gathered first at the Oyster bar in the garden
where oysters were on offer for the media 
and some of their good Rosé Brut MCC, which has crisp flavours of strawberry and raspberry
And chatted to winemaker Thys Smit. He told us that their Harvest would begin the next day and that,
while it has been a good long, slow season, the recent rain and extreme heat have changed things a little
Luckily, he kept the canopy on the grape vines full until a week ago, when he exposed the grapes to some sun to get ripeness
Broadcaster Guy MacDonald, who is the Breakfast show presenter on Magic 828 Music Radio,
explaining something to Maryna Calow of WOSA
We took our seats at the long table for the wine tasting
The wines were introduced by the winemaker Thys Smit. Thys was one of the five nominees for Young Winemaker of the Year in 2019. He has been with Grande Province since 2015, when he joined as assistant wine maker. In July 2018, he was promoted to Grande Provence Winemaker and Farm Manager. As a BSc graduate in molecular biology and biotechnology at the University of Stellenbosch, Thys began his winemaking career completely by accident. He worked three vintages at Lourensford Estate, and enrolled in a training program in the USA, where he worked at Roth Estate, focusing on Chardonnay and Bordeaux-style blends. We have watched his confidence grow and his wines become so special over the last few years
Definitely a winemaker to watch
Here he and Marna Viljoen, Grande Provence Hospitality Manager, begin pouring the wines
We were to taste through some of the current range of wines
We began with the Grand Province 2018 Chenin Blanc. Dusty on the nose, with perfume, fig and apricot notes. On the palate, lees notes, minerality, granadilla, pear and some white peach. It is crisp, complex and layered. It has spent 9 to 10 months in tank, stirred regularly. Thys told us that a tiny splash of Viognier and Verdelho was added which gave additional complexity to the wine. Grapes from Stellenbosch & Franschhoek. The Franschhoek grapes are from a 38 year old vineyard. A bargain at R99 from the farm. 17/20
The 2018 Chardonnay was next. 40% has been matured in new French Oak and there is a touch of Paarl Verdelho added. There is a whiff of oak on the nose, then buttered toast, peach and some minerality. On the palate, it is crisp and layered with smoked apple and citrus. Quite restrained, enjoyable wooding on the palate, it does open up with buttery roundness and finishes with some mineral tannin. R170 on the farm. 18/20
The Grand Provence White was much applauded and enjoyed. A wine of character and finesse, it is a blend of 60% Chenin, 30% Viognier and 10% Chardonnay. It is not often you see so much Viognier used, but it does not take over, nor is the wine blowsy at all. In fact, it is the Chardonnay from Robertson which shines through. Whole bunch pressed and aged in new and older French oak for 11 months. Pretty, perfumed notes with some peach and well integrated wood on the nose. A good texture on the palate, with lean fruit at first, which then ripens as it opens up, with limes, peaches, butter and some definite intrinsic wildness adding to the charm and delight of this complex wine. A definite food wine that will add to whatever it is paired with. R440. 19/20
The 2018 Shiraz has just been bottled and has 14.5% alcohol. The grapes are from Franschhoek. 28% was matured in new French oak for 21 months. Spicy, with wood notes, the fruit of Christmas. Soft, smooth on the palate with lovely fruit, but still a few heavy youthful tannins that need to settle, followed by chalk and plums. A 'Feast for the meat' wine with an ending of caramel toffee and spice. With some age, will be so good. R170 on the farm. 17/20
Their flagship red, the Grand Provence Red 2015 came next. A classic Bordeaux blend of 60% Merlot, 20% Cabernet and 20% Malbec, Thys uses special viticultural methods to obtain low vigour and slow ripening of the grapes. Smoky bacon on the nose, then cassis, eucalyptus 'mint', rich cherries and some spice. Initially some tomato flavour, then cassis, cherry and wood take over, ending in some chalky minerality. Can age well. R590 from the farm
And, finally, the newly released and just launched 2018 Merlot. The grapes come from the golden triangle in Stellenbosch and would usually have gone into the Grand Provence red, but they were just so good, Thys felt that they needed to be showcased alone. Tank fermented and then in barrel for 12 months. A splash of Malbec has been added and is just visible as umami. Good incense smoky wood, then lovely full rich, ripe cherries shine through on the nose. Silky soft on the palate with minerality, a cherry feast of all the different cherry varietals and their flavours. It is rich with long fruit flavours, a hint of umami licorice and dark chocolate on the end. It will age beautifully. We predict that this will win awards; one of the best South African Merlots we have tasted this year. R170 on the farm. 18.5/20 
Then it was time for lunch, to be paired with these wines. Head Chef Marvin Robyn came to tell us about the food and the pairings. During his career he has worked with leading chefs in a number of top winelands restaurants including Delaire Graff, Cuvée at Simonsig, Equus at Cavalli and finally Makaron at Majeka House. Marvin has shown tremendous leadership ability at Grande Provence, despite his young age and is an enthusiastic mentor to the rest of the kitchen brigade, with endless good energy and new ideas. He describes his cooking style as refined South African classics, bringing new inspiration and modernity to local heritage food. The food he had cooked for us for this lunch will be on their new summer menu
A view of the garden through the Jonkershuis door
The menu
The starter was described as a bisque, but was more of a corn, chilli, cucumber and tomato salsa,
topped with shaved crayfish, surrounded by a thick seafood sauce and topped with micro greens
Well flavoured with good textures and refreshing for a summer dish
Paired with the Grande Provence Sauvignon Blanc from vineyards on the estate, which is crisp and was a good match
There was genuine applause for the vegetarian Intermediate course. Using a new and (we were told) rather expensive spiraliser,
Chef had presented us with shaved beetroot tagliatelle, as thin as the best transparent pasta
The beetroot shavings were on slices of creamy burrata mozzarella made in the kitchen,
topped with orange zest, dukkah spice and honeycomb (undetected, but perhaps as a flavouring?)
So tender and fresh, a really good expression of beetroot at its best and Hurray!, no vinegar was detected
A choice of main courses: this was tender fillet of beef on a cauliflower purée, mushrooms and a good meat jus
The fillet was topped with fresh asparagus
A surprise was some freshly baked, sticky mosbolletjies which we used to sop up the sauces on our plates
Mosbolletjies are a traditional sweet Cape bread made in the winelands using the 'mos' from the grapes
Mos is "must" or unfermented grape juice. Traditionally grape must left over from wine production is used as a leavening agent
and added to dough, often with aniseed. They were as light as a feather and so delicious
The alternative main was fresh Yellowtail, nicely pan seared (and substituted for unavailable sea bass)
perched upon a bed of fire roasted sweet potatoes, with a fig cream, topped with shaved smoked snoek and pickled grapes
A really interesting dish, with good contrasts of flavours and textures
This went so well with both the Chardonnay, echoing the smoke, and with the Grande Provence White blend
Dessert was also summery and light, as were all the dishes. A light and perfect vanilla panna cotta,
topped with fresh strawberries and accompanied by a strawberry sorbet and some crumbled meringue
Music on the way home! A sculpture outside the Gallery
What a good day, with good wine and food. Very relaxed. Thanks to all at Grand Provence
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