In Rossouw’s Restaurants 2010, Jean-Pierre Rossouw sums Pinelands establishment Joe Fish up perfectly as an “unexpected gem off an ugly shopping centre parking lot”. Ideal for a quick lunch of fish and chips and so that’s where Bernard le Roux, previously understudy to Zelma Long at Vilafonté and now winemaker at Noble Hill in Paarl, Jonathan Steyn of Waterfront restaurants Balducci’s and Belthazar and myself headed after day one of a two-day tasting of Bordeaux-style red blends for the September issue of WINE magazine.
A glass or two of white was essential and I grabbed a bottle of Vondeling Babiana 2006 from WINE magazine stocks. This is blend of 60% Chenin Blanc, 22% Viognier and 18% Chardonnay and is made in an oxidative style. It hasn’t enjoyed the same fanfare to date as some of the other wines made along these lines (Sadie Family Wine Palladius the best known) but it was rated 4½ Stars in the November 2009 issue of WINE magazine and is currently drinking better than ever.
Le Roux thinks Noble Hill should be well suited to a wine in such a style and is considering planting Marsanne and Roussanne, two varieties associated with the Rhône, often blended together and responsible for wines of weight and richness.
Does the addition of Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay dilute the proposition of a so-called Rhône blend, he wondered? You could argue that being true to a foreign region is academic if the addition of other varieties makes for a better wine. Conversely, the fact the Chenin-driven blends which have sprung up locally have so little international frame of reference is at least partly why they have yet to really catch on.