Yesterday a tasting of various wines put together to showcase the district of Darling. The stand-out wine for me was the Darling Cellars Lime Kilns 2010, a blend of Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay and Viognier in the ratio of 4:3:2. The wine was barrel fermented in 300-litre French oak, 40% new and was left on the lees for two months to add complexity and then racked and returned to barrel for a further five months. The wine shows intense citrus and peach flavour, great freshness before an almost saline finish. Priced at R90 a bottle, it should make the Swartland boys nervous.
Darling Cellars processes approximately 8 000 tons a year and while this operation has always produced sound enough wines under cellarmaster Abé Beukes who has been there since December 1997, quality does seem to have gone up a notch in recent years. The Bush Vine Sauvignon Blanc 2010 placed among the winners in last year’s Wine magazine Top 10 competition for instance and the 2011 is again a cracker with great purity of fruit and freshness. So what’s changed in recent times? CEO Riaan De Waal points to the appointment of Jaco Engelbrecht as fulltime viticulturist as key. “He’s a youngster but he knows exactly what he wants. He gives the growers a hard time.”
I also liked the Ormonde Ondine Sauvignon Blanc 2010, a dramatic wine with stacks of peppery flavour and bracing acidity (R45) while Tukulu Chenin Blanc 2009 shows far more complexity than its R35 a bottle price would suggest with a pleasant waxiness on the nose before peach flavour and gentle acidity on the palate.
The biggest factor affecting how the wines of Darling taste is proximity to the Atlantic Ocean (the vineyards closest to the sea no more than 12 km away). Cool growing conditions mean high methoxypyrazine counts in and it is curious to me that while I really appreciate this character on the Sauvignon Blanc coming out of the area, I don’t care for it nearly as much on the reds, or at least those featuring varieties traditionally associated with Bordeaux. The Darling Cellars Sir Charles Henry Darling 2008 (37% Petit Verdot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc) and Ormonde Vernon Basson 2007 (55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 45% Cabernet Franc) are both ambitious efforts (the former selling for R120 a bottle, the latter for R180) but are way too green for me. There’s a lot of Cab planted in Darling and Theo Basson of Ormonde knows he’s got a challenge on his hands: “We need more sunlight in the canopy and more oxidative fermentations”.
Some “green-ness” is more appropriate when it comes to Shiraz, pepper and garrigue/fynbos not only expected but desirable and I did find the wines featuring this variety much more successful. The Darling Cellars Premium Kroon 2007 (50% Shiraz, 20% Pinotage, 12% Mourvèdre, 9% Barbera and 9% Grenache) is medium bodied with red fruit and a herbal character that is appealing rather than overwhelming – a wine of individuality (R80).
Groote Post winemaker Lukas Wentzel admits to be a bit bemused that the farm’s owners Peter and Nicholas Pentz ever planted Pinot Noir and reckons he’s only ever going to make three or four good examples out of every 10 vintages. He’s on the money in the case of the Reserve 2009, relatively rich and full but not unbalanced and shows dark cherry fruit, fresh acidity and firm but fine tannins. Selling for R117 a bottle, it represents good value in a category where many producers are increasingly introducing a fashion surcharge.
Finally mention must be made of Cloof The Very Sexy Shiraz 2009. This wine is from vineyards planted between 1998 and 1999 and spent 16 months in French oak, 50% new. It shows ultra-ripe dark fruit on nose and palate and comes across as rich and smooth textured, a good line of acidity stopping it from all becoming too much. Well done in a modern style – those who think the name is hip will like it, while those who think the name is twee, probably won’t.