Away with dreary winter! Hooray for the advent of spring and its dynamic of rejuvenation and relaxation – perfectly encapsulated by the annual Franschhoek Uncorked wine festival.
Thanks to some superb planning by the festival organisers, all of the participating wine farms were indicated with bright red signs, with Noble Hill Wine Estate as #1 and Boekenhoutskloof as #19. Any planning by visitors is of course subject to spontaneity, as it is all too easy in any individual vineyard to bump into friends, or to get distracted by a particularly appealing wine, or simply to get caught up with the atmosphere and lose track of time. We did what we could of course, but there was no way we were going to manage all 19 farms!
With its lively persona and bubbly sommeliers, Vrede and Lust proved a good starting point into the festival. Feather boas, top hats, fishnet stockings and tango music made for an unmistakably Moulin Rouge meets vintage Buenos Aires vibe at the point of entrance, getting everyone into a great festival vibe.
Vrede and Lust’s 2012 dry rosé, Jess – easy on the palate with hints of berries and even watermelon – proved a great offering and one to look out for this coming season. Paired with fresh strawberries it perfectly sets the mood for an idyllic summer day. The floral accents are evident from the first sniff – enough to make me hurl my emasculation theory to the winds as I fully relished this pink drink.
White Mischief 2011 has an interesting background, though one swathed in a great sense of mystique. Winemaker Susan Erasmus, with the help of Ansoné Fourie, has been very secretive during the process of making the blend – not disclosing any details, even to the vineyard owners. The result is a tour-de-force blend of five cultivars – Semillon, Viognier (I’m in already!), Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio, and the result is a crisp, fresh and versatile offering, little short of spectacular.
Le Plaisir de Merle is undeniably one of the most prestigious vineyards along the strip. Its tranquil ambience and fascinating views over the vineyard were, for the festival, accompanied by some live accordion music, transporting visitors to a romantic Provençal mood – in true French style.
Regarded as one of the most impressive brands in Western Cape, the Plaisir de Merle showstopper, its 2010 Merlot, was sold out by noon on the first day. But there was still the rich ripe red blend of the Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 which, paired either with savoury crêpes or simply with some plain crusty fresh bread, was more than enough to console us.
In ‘La Foule’ Edith Piaf sings about being surrounded by lots of people, drinking and dancing the Farandole at a fête – an overall joyful mood. That was exactly the atmosphere we found at Allée Bleue, sans the masses. In its huge high-ceilinged hall, stacks of hay were interspersed with food stalls offering homemade treats, and ribbons of bunting gaily decorated the whole place.
The highlight here was undoubtedly the Chenin Blanc 2013, with its profound citrus and rich summer fruity nuances. I also enjoyed the Starlette Rouge 2012, a red blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Shiraz, which proffered an instant nutmeg/clove combination, finishing off with light tones of vanilla and dark chocolate.
Antonij Rupert Wines was a surprising and welcome stop. Modern and sophisticated in personality it blends contemporary minimalist Italian architecture with a hint of Africa, with accents of slated stone, dark wood, an imposing cove with vintage lanterns, and a massive interactive tablet with access to the vineyard’s website. A clear glass wall provides a provocative vantage point into their modernized winemaking process. This is really a vineyard to behold.
I instantly fell for Terra Del Capo’s Sangiovese 2009 – the perfect accompaniment for tomato-based pasta sauces, so I’m biased. Sangiovese offers heavy accents of berries and plums, with a faint note of tobacco. This wine also rounds it off a slight hint of spiciness; cinnamon, and perhaps also nutmeg. Their snack platter, a variety of grilled vegetables and cold meats, is the perfect option for a light lunch underneath one of the huge open tents.
Franschhoek Uncorked is a shining example of all a wine event should be. As mentioned, it was easy to navigate, but just as important was the pricing. All of the participating wine farms ran special promotions on a selection of the wines up for taste, some of them offering up to 45% discount. Taking this into consideration, it seems viable to invest in at least 2-3 (or more in my case) bottles of your favourite at each vineyard.
The service was remarkably friendly and efficient. At all the vineyards we visited, sommeliers engaged with their audience in a profoundly patient, almost informal tone, yet to-the-point, without any condescension – comprehensive to both novice and connoisseur. Passionate and admirably proud of their profession, the sommeliers could be found quizzing the attendees for various wine accents during the tasting process, encouraging them to relax and trust their senses.
Each venue shone with a strong sense of personality accentuated with live music. Allée Bleue’s country fête vibe, Vrede and Lust’s razzmatazz, Plaisir De Merle’s romantic mood and Antonij Rupert’s ultra-modern minimalist aura each had their appeal.
Franschhoek Uncorked should be on the to-do list of all wine enthusiasts looking to spend an effortless weekend exploring one of our most prestigious wine routes.
Franschhoek Uncorked 2013 was held on 7 & 8 September.
by Benn van der Westhuizen