Signal Hill and no signal

Signal Hill has a certain reputation for maverick action, and no wonder with Jean Vincent Ridon at the helm. A crazee Frenchman in the best Anglo tradition, he continually shows a willingness to experiment, the new cellar in the middle of the Cape Town CBD being a good example. But pedestrians need a view of some honest winemaking while they shuffle away from a bout of bad decisions at Truworths, or Markhams, or PNA. His Malbec 2004 is the reason I began writing this, it’s a taut wine, with great juicy but never bland fruit, sappy in the right refreshing way with ample tannins, again supple and not big oak driven. On the other side of the river, and just when you thought pinotage was regaining its image (or at least being allowed to be a legitimate wine) comes the Durbanville Hills Pinotage 2004. A master class in all that one doesn’t want in this variety, I couldn’t finish a glass. And while I am in the land of the corporates, also sampled Nederburg’s Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 which is a decent wine and priced right. It should come as no surprise that these big wineries do get it right from time to time; they have access to so much juice. I guess it’s just the pomposity that often comes with these wines that makes them look less noble.

Saxenburg Shiraz 2003

Matured only in American oak and still a good wine, this latest Saxenburg comes in their new bottles and screen-print labels. It’s got lovely dark flavours and at the same time an intriguing layer of scrubby garrique – the scrubby, fynbos character that gives a shiraz a gear beyond luscious fruit. But it’s the tannic elegance that really impresses, retaining Saxenburg’s position as a pre-eminent shiraz producer.


I increasingly enjoy the experience of leaving a half bottle for the next day or two having reached the conclusion that this tells you how a wine is likely to age and by corollary more about the integrity with which it is made. This rests on the assumption that wine is meant to age, an assumption which is debatable in modern wine-making practise. But let’s leave that sleeping dog. Continue reading “Wallflowers”

Remhoogte Bonne Nouvelle 2003

Michel Rolland’s Cape flagship, this wine is interesting even before you uncork it. Firstly for it’s idiosyncratic label (a postage stamp) that makes it look like a cheap and cheerful nouveau-style wine rather than a serious red, and secondly for its near 20% pinotage component.

Famous for his technique of softening wines by micro-oxygenation, Rolland is also accused of flattening the wine world by advocating and helping to make wines that would appeal to his personal friend, Robert Parker. In other words, big, bold and ripe wines. He would defend by saying that he wants to make sound and age-able wines from properly ripe grapes with full soft tannins. Wines in a modern style.

The Bonne Nouvelle is certainly plush, with bold fruits and a full, rich body. It also has quite noticeable tannins, almost dusty, that suggest the wine spent a good sojourn in new French oak. Not my style of wine, it’s chunky form blunders rather than cajoles, though it may improve with age. Having said this, at least all the parts are equally powerful, so lovers of heady wines will consider it in balance. Of the pinotage, no evil can be said.


I am still perplexed at the popularity of this poser called viognier in the Cape. Just today I tried it again in the guise of the Graham Beck and am continually disappointed. Sure, it’s bold and fruity, sure it has big florals, but what else? It’s a real tease, and I am even more opposed to it in all its shiraz marriages. It’s a cheap frillip, used to lift the red fruit in the face of what must be a lack of good shiraz. It dilutes the primal flavours, replacing with soft, peachy, easy notes. Part of the problem is that we seem to use it at full and pretty alcoholic ripeness, winemakers tell me this is when it’s at its best. I say it’s at its best as a minute part of a blend, or not at all. (Try Joostenberg’s Fairhead, or the new Scali White.)

Overgaauw Sylvaner 2002

Lunch at Emily’s in the Cape Town Waterfront. That most Boere-baroque of places (“Boere” being the Afrikaans farmer, this term referring to an ornate and florid taste in décor as practised by certain Afrikaners). So many textures and colours fighting to co-exist. It’s like a Roman bath fantasy in decline, huge urns sprouting in most corners. The music is soothing, and the waiter was eccentric but friendly and efficient, and the food was good – plated with flagrant flair. The wine we drank was a 2002 Overgaauw Sylvaner. A winelands curiosity (which seemed to fit the occasion), sylvaner is only made by Overgaauw locally, and it’s a great wine to drink with some rollmops and pickled calamari, bobotie with date sambal and yellowtail fish with pomegranate and saffron. With its oxidised nose, it’s not going to impress the modern sniffer, but there’s lovely spice and lemon there too. It’s the palate that counts, however, a lovely dusty endurance here, with the most remarkable ability to fit in with diverse dishes. And low in alcohol. On this restaurant’s very pricy wine list, a soothing R90.

Jordan Merlot 2003

I am a fan of the wines of Jordan, in Stellenbosch. For a few reasons, one being the palpable conviction and intelligence of the owners. Another being the fact that they introduced me to the fact that machine harvesting can be a reasonble thing (when you use a very expensive and intuitive machine – one that costs more than the farm in some cases).

I loved drinking their Merlot 2002, a dry and tantalising wine. It was not the biggest or the boldest, and it had a vegetative streak that I enjoyed in the face of that vintage’s monster extracted, sweet wines. The 2003 is the current vintage and initially I was enjoying it less – it’s ramped up a few notches from 02, now bigger in structure and with more bold fruits. I also found it a little clumsy on release. The other day I had a few glasses over lunch and I am again falling for its charms. Many pundits slam Cape merlot, I often find it a more accurate reflection of the skill the cellar has. It’s a variety that doesn’t really react well to the blandishments of big oak and extraction. You’ll get a drinkable wine, but very obviously confected. Merlot, more than Cab, doesn’t hide the truth.


With so many places trying the wine and food match as a form of entertainment, it’s great that Joostenberg have got it right with their six course menu – food matched to the wines of the farm. And what a lovely collection they are, with the white blend, the Fairhead 2005 a very lovely wine indeed. Mostly chenin but with a good dollop of viognier and some chardonnay, it’s a wine that challenges my personal dislike for viognier – a blatant sugar-puff that’s used to sex-up shiraz and makes overblown single variety wines. Here it adds a lovely spice and fruit to a tangy and very food-friendly wine.

crumbling fortress

Yes, the hint of flab in the Fortress Hill Chenin deteriorated into a full-on lack of intensity within a day. For me, one of the signs of a quality wine is when it remains intact over three days (left recorked in the fridge). Classy wines, wines with backbone and complexity, tend to undergo positive development in this time, poor wines simply fade away. This was one of those faders.

Fortress Hill Chenin Blanc Reserve 2005

An unusual wine to get the first of my (hopefully regular) wine reviews, this Chenin is from a winery that I have not come across before. It’s a wooded wine, and carries a little weight around the jowls (a residual sugar approaching five g/l). Tropical fruits, vanilla and a mild demeanour. What it lacks in intensity it makes up for in round richness, its a plush baby allright and I tried it with some light Thai-curry chicken – worked a charm. So quite a beguiling wine, but carries a mild “Dolly Parton” warning: it’s a crowd pleaser.