With gritted teeth and a gulp, and eyebrows raised aghast at my own action (you try doing all that at the same time, especially while reaching for your credit card) I paid a hefty sum for a bottle of … Cape rosé! It’s not even a category of wine I much enjoy. For those bucks I could have bought, say, Badenhorst Family Red. But this was work. When I wrote about rosé on this website a few weeks ago, primarily the Domaines Ott wines from Provence, I hadn’t heard of the launch of Jean Roi Cap Provincial Rosé 2016 from L’Ormarins, undoubtedly the most ambitiously priced local rosé without bubbles.
My thoughts had returned to pink stuff last Wednesday, when I was elegantly entertained to lunch at the Mount Nelson by Edo Heyns, former editor of WineLand and now the grandly titled Strategic Development and Communications Manager in South Africa for French wine company AdVini (owner of L’Avenir and Le Bonheur, and part owner of the Ken Forrester brand). We drank L’Avenir’s entry to the expensive rosé market with an eye cocked to Provençal styling. It’s called GlenRosé, from a pinotage single vineyard on glenrosa soil (hence the punning but hardly thrilling name), and stylishly packaged in a tall bottle with an unusual cut-glass effect in the punt (like a protea, says Edo).
We had the second vintage produced, 2016, selling at around R200. It’s a good wine, salmon-coloured, with a quiet intensity of flavour (more obvious and forceful, I’d say, than in the smart Provencal rosés that are its model) and a pleasingly silky texture; closer to seriousness than triviality. Around the top end of local examples, but not particularly outstanding in South African terms.
So then I had to try the L’Ormarins Jean Roi. It also fits neatly into another recent theme of mine – the dramatic rise in prices of many ambitious local wines. The recommended retail price is R300; it’s going for R350 at Caroline’s in Cape Town, R280 at La Cotte in Franschhoek (in a case of six), and R310 at Wine Cellar in Cape Town – which is where I gritted my teeth, etc, and paid up. Such is devotion to journalistic duty. (I’d had a fleeting thought of asking L’Ormarins for a tasting sample, but I guess the fatwa against me is still in force and I remain banned from Johann Rupert properties, so a freebie bottle didn’t seem a likely prospect.)
Jean Roi Cap Provincial is largely from cinsaut off the magnificent Rupert farm on the Swartland’s Riebeekberg (presumably the same vineyard from which Eben Sadie gets grapes for his Pofadder), with some grenache and syrah. It is unquestionably excellent of its type, a rosé that could bravely stand alongside the likes of Château de Selle on a sunny linen tablecloth in Cap d’Antibes or Camps Bay. It’s all pale salmon-coloured carressive cashmere and velvet and silk, exquisitely tailored, exuding luxury. There’s the gentlest tannic bite to the lovely subtle flavour and enough acidity for freshness. The packaging is commensurately imposing.
I do wonder about the name, though – not the Jean Roi bit, which alludes to the Huguenot founder of L’Ormarins in Franschhoek. But the linguistically bastard and pretty meaningless “Cap Provincial”? Presumably they wanted to culturally cringe to Provence but couldn’t suggest the French origin or bear the idea of an e on “Cap”, and thought it insufficient to just call it rosé – but it’s an unsatisfactory solution. No matter, the wine is very fine. Do I like it more than Van Loggerenberg Break a Leg, also from cinsaut, that I mentioned before as a favourite? I suspect the latter has more soul and less luxurious gloss, but that might be prejudice speaking, or inadequate memory.
At this point, however, things started getting sensible. I tried the Jean Roi on my pal Wesley, who’s more of a rosé fan than I. He liked it very much but suggested opening a bottle he had of Klein Constantia’s KC Cabernet Franc Rosé 2015. We easily agreed it was good, though not up there with Jean Roi in subtlety or finesse. But – and it’s a big but for most people – it goes for about R70.
Bottom line then – if you’ve got R300+ that you’re happy to spend on rosé, you surely won’t be disappointed with the L’Ormarins. It’s gorgeous, and a grand occasion in itself. But if you’re counting, and would rather have four or five bottles for the same money, well, yes, KC will do the job very respectably.
- Tim James is founder of Grape.co.za and contributes to various local and international wine publications. He is a taster (and associate editor) for Platter’s. His book Wines of South Africa – Tradition and Revolution appeared in 2013.