The annual Riesling & Rarities Rock wine festival, set on the picturesque Hartenberg Wine Estate, is a showcase for some of the lesser-known white wine varietals such as Riesling, Viognier, Semillon and Gewürztraminer. If you think it’s much too hot for these ‘heavier’ whites, think again: wine, food, and music at a shaded garden party is just what you need to beat the heat.
Riesling is a modest but versatile wine. Depending on the terroir and a winemaker’s discretion, a Riesling can be as light and fruity as a Sauvignon Blanc, as acidic as a Chenin Blanc or as beautifully wooded as a Chardonnay.
If unwooded, then a Riesling is ready to drink almost immediately, and there were a number of 2015 vintages on offer. Ntida’s has a delightful litchi on the palate. If wooded, a Riesling can be left to lie for a number of years. The Hartenberg Weisser 2009 Riesling is a well-rounded, buttery wine with only a light touch of oak. However, their Tenacity stole the show for me with its more complex oak character.
Some interesting palates of the day included the Thelema 2013 Riesling, with its nose of freshly popped and buttered popcorn. Vrede en Lust is situated in the Elgin Valley and the cool climate is perfect for these rare varietals: their Artisan Range’s Semillon 2014 is crisp with asparagus on the palate, but the waxy texture makes it something special indeed. The Vrede en Lust 2015 Riesling is dry but refreshing with litchi prominent on the palate. The German Job 2013 from Meinart (also in the Elgin Valley’s wine district) favours green pepper, though is only very lightly acidic. If acidity is what you’re after, the Paul Cluver Close Encounter 2015, a very crisp white wine, might be just the thing.
A particularly pleasant surprise was the Groote Post 2015 Riesling. The farm is on the Cape West Coast and the cool climate shows itself in this vintage. With its light colour and 17g of sugar per litre, the wine is sweet but astoundingly soft textured and the is palate well-balanced.
Last, but not least, Riesling also makes for a delectable dessert wine. So, if you’re looking for something refreshing at the end of a hot day, try the Paul Cluver Noble Late Harvest Riesling 2014 over a scoop of vanilla ice cream; just thinking about it is enough to make your mouth water.
The cool breeze and live music made for a relaxed Saturday afternoon. There were a few tables with umbrellas, so if you got there early or kept a weather eye out you could claim one of these spots. However, there was plenty of space to recline in the shade of the trees between the wine and food stalls. While the wines were not specifically paired with the food on offer, the Lebanese-style food and flammküchen could be enjoyed with any one of your favourites.
These varietals might be rare in South Africa, but judging by the high quality of the wines on offer at this year’s Riesling & Rarities Rock, they are sure to find their way onto the awards lists and into our homes with increasing frequency.
The Riesling & Rarities Rock wine festival took place on 23 January 2016 at the Hartenberg Wine Estate.