On Wednesday lunch at the site of the Battle of Muizenberg for the launch of HMS Rattlesnake Sauvignon Blanc 2010 and the HMS Sphynx Chardonnay 2010, two new wines from Constantia winery Steenberg.
In a world of twee wine names, two to conjure with: Rattlesnake and Sphynx, being part of the squadron of ten Royal Navy ships that took part in the battle between the British forces and the VOC (De Vereenigde Ost-Indische Compagne) on Sunday, 7 August 1795 that ultimately resulted in the First British Occupation of the Cape. The British easily took the rudimentary fort the Dutch had set up that day but fighting would continue over the next few weeks, some skirmishes in and around the area where the Steenberg vineyards now grow.
Rattlesnake Sauvignon Blanc joins three other examples of the grape from Steenberg, namely the Reserve, the standard-label and the Klein Steenberg. Steenberg has long had a reputation for quality Sauvignon, and this new wine is an attempt “to provide every style possible” according to winemaker JD Pretorius. The wine includes 80% Darling grapes, 10% Durbanville and 10% from Steenberg itself. A quarter of each portion was fermented in large-format barrels, 10% new done so as to add texture but still leaving the wine clean and crisp. Pretorius says that the wine is deliberately intended to be “showy and upfront” compared to the Steenberg Reserve, for instance, which tends to be more austere early on. He admits that it is a “big” wine (it has an abv of 14%) and he says that the Darling fruit was picked relatively late. “ Darling fruit can be very green if not ripe, which is great for winning trophies but can be difficult to drink”. The wine is rich and full with great fruit expression, the oak definitely adding heft without be obtrusive. Price per bottle: R80.
Sphynx Chardonnay (also R80) is intended to compliment food. Apparently there’s been significant demand for Chardonnay at Steenberg’s popular Bistro 1682, and the fact that Steenberg didn’t have its own version was an obvious omission. Grapes come from Robertson, termed the “bastion of Chardonnay in South Africa” by Pretorious. The wine underwent whole-bunch pressing to avoid excessive phenolics and spent 10 weeks in French oak, 100% new, this relatively short space of time in barrel to preserve the fruit and avoid something “big, fat and blousy”. It is not nearly as dramatic as the Rattlesnake Sauvignon Blanc but is arguably more approachable right now, pairing particularly well with seafood as we enjoyed while wondering what it must have felt like to be a Dutch soldier being bombarded by the might of the Royal navy.