Tag Archives: l’avenir

Stellenbosch: First Impressions Part I (lots of photos)

As I mentioned before, Nina and I have been spending last week in Stellenbosch as guests of Stellenbosch Wine Routes. Needless to say, we had a fantastic time and there will be plenty of posts coming up over the next weeks dealing with every aspect of it in more depth, but for now I just wanted to share first impressions by photos.

Stellenbosch is what appears to be the pinnacle of South Africa’s Cape Province’s wine growing (I only say appears because we haven’t had a chance to try any other wines…and what we tried was outstanding!). Situated gorgeously along a range of mountains, most notably the Simonsberg, Stellenbosch is a bustling university town that developed from a Dutch settlement in the 1700s. Even if you have seen photos of the landscape, nothing prepares you for how stunning the mountains are in real life.

We came to explore the wines of Stellenbosch, most notably its Pinotage, but we soon realized, as is all too often the case when it comes to wine regions, the true stars of Stellenbosch are its people: From the cellar aide to the venerated winery owner, from the hostess at restaurants to the bus boys, everyone was so friendly. I wrote why I love Southern Africa in my previous post, and Stellenbosch seemed to be on a mission to prove me right – and more.

We did our fair share of wine tastings, ate fantastic food, and stayed in beautiful hotels, we met interesting and warm people, and we were treated like family everywhere. How blessed (there, Tracy, I said it!) are we really?

But let’s not get too sentimental, so, without further ado, this is the first part of just some photo impressions of our time in Stellenbosch. Installment two will follow soon…also, I realized during this trip how insanely inadequate my photo taking skills truly are, so forgive my amateurism.

Our suite at Majeka House, a beautiful boutique hotel just south of town in the aptly named quarter Paradyskloof.

Majeka House

As we got back to our room from a swim, the sun was just setting.

Sunset at Majeka House

A 2001 Straw Wine made from Chenin blanc (yes, what looks like stale Coke was made from a white grape) served during dinner at the excellent Makaron Restaurant. My first of many seriously impressive Chenin blancs.

2001 Straw Wine

We were alone in the restaurant that night (it’s low season here), so we had lots of time to bond with the sommelier, Esme.

Nina and Esme at Majeka House

We woke up to this vista on Tuesday morning.

Sunrise at Majeka House

Breakfast at Majeka House with Annareth Bolton, the CEO of Stellenbosch Wine Routes, that set us off on our journey. Annareth immediately made us feel part of this awesome community.

With Annareth Bolton

We headed off to L’Avenir winery in the morning, where winemaker Dirk took us on a vineyard tour first.

In the vineyards at L'Avenir

More vineyards at L’Avenir.

Vineyards at L'Avenir

After that, Dirk took us on a barrel tasting in his cellars, where we tasted the different barrels and their influence on the batches that go into their Pinotage. This barrel, however, contains a Chenin blanc in Acacia wood. A freaky crazy pine needle and honey flavored batch.

Barrel tasting at L'Avenir

From L’Avenir we headed to Warwick, where winemaker Nic treated us to tapas, great wines, and we got to hang out with a beads Madiba.

Paying our respects to Madiba at Warwick

After Warwick, we did the few minutes drive to Kanonkop, where winemaker Aabrie was awaiting us with a vertical Pinotage tasting from 1999-2012 in their treasure chamber. Nina clearly was in awe. We hit it off and stayed way after the estate’s closing time.

Vertical at Kanonkop

From there, we checked in at Evergreen Manor and Spa, a wonderfully preserved Stellenbosch villa in the university area of town.

Evergreen Manor

Dinner was served at Tokara Restaurant which during daylight offers stunning views over Stellenbosch all the way to Cape Town. Try to be there for sunset. The chef serves outstanding, creative food. This is a “Baked Alaska” (a typical dessert, I am told) as a starter, with Alaskan salmon, ice cream and a citrus relish.

Dinner at Tokara

The next morning, we had a tasting at Stellekaya with the winemaker Ntsiki, who had been down with a flu the day before but she hurled herself out of bed to present her intriguing line of accessible wines, some of which contain Sangiovese which adds a cool twist to the standard Cape blends.

With winemaker at Stellekaya

More to follow soon…

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2007 L’Avenir Pinotage

Another anniversary companion

As I mentioned before, Nina and I met in Botswana, while she was interning for the National Museum and I was doing part of my legal training for the local human rights advocacy group DITSHWANELO. While there, we had the great fortune of trying a number of awesome South African wines (Botswana does not have a wine industry). The wines were super affordable and I liked a lot of them.

One particular grape we both grew fond of is Pinotage. It is native to South Africa and was first created in 1925 when Abraham Perold, a professor of viticulture at Stellenbosch University, crossed Pinot noir and Heritage vines (Heritage is better known as Cinsault). The first wines were made in 1941, and the legendary Kanonkop winery planted its first vines in the same year. The grape seems to be perfect for the South African climate and growing conditions, but has not really been adopted elsewhere.

Cork and cap top for this pinotage

When I first tried Pinotage in the early 2000s with South African friends in Germany, my friends were very upset. The wines were incredibly hot from alcohol, and they tasted rubbery. This was in line with what I had read prior to tasting the wines. One of our friends, an older Boer lady, was so upset, that she suggested shooting people that make bad Pinotage like this (she also advocated shooting wine columnists who say Pinotage tastes like burnt rubber). The problem back then was, and petty much still is: It is very difficult to get good Pinotage outside of South Africa. There are exports, for sure, but they tend to be not very good. And the ones that taste good, cost a fortune once they reach Europe or the US.

So being in Southern Africa allowed us to develop a taste for Pinotage, and to find wineries that we enjoy and want to drink more of. Nina’s favorite in Botswana came from Laroche’s L’Avenir winery, the L’Avenir Pinotage Reserve. I fancied Tukulu winery’s Pinotage more, but also enjoyed the L’Avenirs.

We acquired this bottle as ransom from a friend of ours who visited us in Germany on his way from Seattle to South Africa for the football World Cup 2010. He was staying with us on his way there and back. When we chatted with him while he was in South Africa, he asked what he could bring for us, and Nina did not hesitate to ask him for wine (always being the wine schemer that she is). And he did bring us back two bottles each of 2007 L’Avenir Pinotage and 2007 Tukulu Pinotage. We had a bottle each in Germany, and two came with us in our move from Germany to Ann Arbor.

It was still our anniversary, so to connect us back to Botswana, I had picked the 2007 L’Avenir Pinotage for consumption after dinner. The wine was decanted for 1 hour prior to tasting. It has 14% ABV.

In the glass, the wine was of dark red color with slight hints of browning. The nose showed berries, plums, leather and tobacco notes, as well as petrol. I detected some eucalyptus, but Nina didn’t find it, so I am not sure. The first thing that struck me when we tasted it, was that this pinotage was surprisingly light-bodied (more medium, but definitely lighter than expected). It had a bunch of acidity and strong tannins, with leather and noticeable bitter notes towards the end. It was low on fruit aromas. Over time, the wine mellowed out and the bitter notes disappeared. The heat of the alcohol was not disturbing its long, lingering, complex finish.

While writing this, I am realizing that this sensoric description does not do the wine justice. Seen as a whole, it was actually nicely smooth, and the tannins were never overpowering. I feel like it was a good member of Team Pinotage, especially because it shied away from the overbearing fruit that some show, and the burnt rubber taste that others espouse. The nose was gorgeous, and the wine definitely pleasing. It was as powerful as I remembered these wines. According to Cellar Tracker, this wine is nearing the end of its drinking window. What I can attest to is that it is still very drinkable!

These two made our anniversary a blast.

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