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Tasting notes from South Africa

text and photographs © 2010 Tom Cannavan

These notes accompany our in-depth feature on South Africa 2010.


It's a game-winning score at Scrabble, but if you think the name of the estate is a mouthful, wait until you see a lable, where iconoclast winemaker Bartho Eksteen (below) has insisted in using only Afrikaans. His logic, however, is impeccable: "Nobody has a problem with the top estates in France or Italy using their native language on the lablel."

Eksteen and his business partners started HermanusPietersfontein in 2005 with a small cellar, but 2006 was the first vintage made in their winery on the outskirts of the town of Hermanus. The farm is remote - at the end of a 20 kilometre gravel road - so a visitor centre and winery that was more accessible has grown to become a foodie tourist attraction in its own right. Apart from a tasting room, there's a food and wine market in the winery courtyard every Saturday where people come and sit under the umbrellas eating breakfasts, oysters, cheeses, homemade preserves and tasting local wines. "We can have 1000 people through on a Saturday," says Eksteen.

Hermanus Pieters was a Dutch teacher in the area, who started a sheep farm and discovered a spring where he would camp. In 1855 the town of was named Hermanus Pieter Fontein after him, and later shortened to Hermanus, so Eksteen's label is a hommage to the town's original name.
   sa-bartho (31K)

They have 64 hectares under vine. "I am a Sauvignon Blanc Freak," says Eksteen, and that is the focus of the farm, with Rhône blends and some Bordeaux blends too. The company now has two farms, one owned and one leased, with different soils that suit the different varieties.

the wines

UK Agents are OW Loeb, but see all stockists on wine-searcher.

Die Bartho 2009
71% Sauvignon Blanc with 20% Semillon (five months in new and 2nd fill French oak), 9% Nouvelle. Fascinating nose, with big, grassy, punchy passionfruit and elderflower character and some creamy, lemon rind qualities with Granny Smith notes. The palate has delightful weight on the palate, with lovely citrus freshness, but also a waxy, mouth-coating weight. There's a lovely zestiness to this, the grassy cut still there adding a vitality and new-mown freshness. 91/100. From next year the whole blend will go back into a foudre to marry together.

Die Martha 2006
A blend of fruit, mostly from Elgin and Walker Bay, dominated by 90% Shiraz with 8% Mourvedre and 2% Viognier. 20 months in new and second fill French oak. Lovely nose, tinged with coffee and spicy clove and herbal, thyme notes. Black cherries and a plummy quality, and plenty of oak here, but quite a balanced, cool style. The palate has very nice ripe cherry flavours, the oak very spicy and tannins very grippy, even a touch dry. It is not quite leathery, but has a fairly forceful, spicy finish where the quality and depth of fruit just about holds its own. Could be improved by a touch less oak I feel. 91/100.

Die Arnoldus 2006
A blend of around half Cabernet Sauvignon with smaller amounts of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec, and a small percentage of Petit Verdot. 24 months in new and second fill French oak. Unusual nose in some ways, with a slightly resinous, almost olive-like note quality that is fascinating but unexpected quality of oak I think. That quality comes through on the palate. Nice palate, with lots of smooth chocolaty fruit and lovely tannins. Long and delicious. 91/100.

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