Grape Town, South Africa

A Real Gem: The Paarl Valley and Constantia's Steenberg
By Joanne Mills

On one of the hottest days of the late African summer (the temperature actually hit 40° C in the valley), we spent a lovely afternoon at Roggeland Country House tasting Radford Dale and Vinum wines under the cooling shade of two towering oak trees. (Note: neither Radford Dale or Vinum cellars are open to the public; another advantage of touring with Cape Wineland Tours.)

An Australian, two Brits (one heavily-influenced by Burgundian traditions), and two Frenchmen have crafted these two new brands, and the only South African involved in making these wines is the farmer who grows the grapes. Among this eclectic mix of nationalities (which has been said to have a "disproportionate amount of fun for the serious task at hand") is Edouard Labeye, one of the first winemakers to perfect the micro-oxygenation process (the art of injecting oxygen into the wine while it's fermenting in order to elongate the tannins and give the finished product more structure) and is busily teaching other South African winemakers how to do the same.

Vinum's Gus Dale was on hand to guide us through a selection of Merlots and Chardonnays. "This is not an in-your-face, juicy, frivolous Merlot," the winemaker wrote of the 2000 vintage. "So go away if that's what you're after! This is a serious Merlot that doesn't take itself too seriously."

Radford Dale is the primary label for Gus's brother, Alex, and partner Ben Radford, created to be drinkable three to four years after bottling, while Vinum (for which Gus is the assistant winemaker) is the wine for immediate consumption. "We believe that good wine is make in the vineyard, not in the cellar." And, evidently, so do a lot of consumers. In its short history Vinum has achieved international acclaim for being an affordable, quality wine and is served by Disney and on Carnival Cruises. Surprisingly, it's actually quite hard to get within South Africa.

The final tasting of the tour had been planned as the most decadent. At Steenberg Vineyards in Constantia, newcomer John Loubser and his interior-decorator-by-trade wife, Karen, presented the most visually stunning presentation any of us had ever been to. In the tasting room of this 1682 farm were five tables, each arranged with a sample of the aromas and tastes you would recognize in the wines chosen for that evening.

We began our tasting with three whites, first with a nip of the base wine and then moved on to a later vintage in order to experience the growth in the finished product. The Cape Classic had hints of apples and biscuits; the Sauvignon Blanc (a Steenberg specialty) was full of green peppers, asparagus, gooseberries, and green figs; and the absolutely outstanding Semillon offered essences of grapefruit, honey, green pepper, and vanilla.

Expectedly, the reds evoked more masculine tastes and aromas. The Merlot was displayed with incense, chocolate, eucalyptus, black cherries, blackberries, cassis, and coffee—clearly a terroir wine; and the final tasting of the evening, the Shiraz, exploded with green peppercorn, coriander, white pepper, coffee beans, violets, and tobacco.

Joanne Mills is a freelance writer focusing on the specialty travel industry. Whether its traipsing through the gardens of Britain, exploring the culinary traditions of Thailand, or drinking in the wines of South Africa, Joanne can often be found following her lifelong passions...wherever they may lead.

Published: 10 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 14 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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