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Tasting notes from South Africa

text and photographs © 2013 Tom Cannavan

These notes accompany our in-depth feature on South Africa 2013.


de wet Neetlingshof has one of the most beautiful estates in the Cape, its famous kilometre-long avenue of stone pines leads to the Cape Dutch Manor House, which is now home to excellent visitor facilities. Behind sits a massive and modern winery. This is the contemporary face of a company that is now a core part of the giant Distell Group, and in particular its 'Cape Legends' fine wine division which extends to 21 individual wine brands, most based around estate wineries.

I was met here by winemaker De Wet Viljoen who explained that the 120 hectares of vineyard was divided 50/50 for the production of red and white wines, but that the bulk of the 400ha estate was given over to biodiversity - restoration of the Renosterveld and Fynbos - the Cape's famous floral kingdom of Proteas and other indigenous species, now being actively reinvigorated on many wine estates through clearing of invasive foreign species like eucalyptus and black wattle.

Neetlingshof is situated in the Bottelary Hills, and some Gewürztraminer vineyards from the early 80s are the oldest on the estate and dry farmed. Now 40% of the estate is planted to Sauvignon Blanc, the estate's land being mostly formed by one huge slope that runs from 80 to 300 metres above sea level, just 15k from the Atlantic coast at False Bay.

Clearly this is winemaking some of which is on an industrial scale, but on this visit I tasted only wines from the upper tiers of the extensive Neetlingshof range.

the wines

Neetlingshof's wines are imported by Crush Wines. See all stockists on wine-searcher.

Neetlingshof, Sauvignon Blanc 2013 , South Africa
Bottled two weeks ago this is the primary, pear drop aromas of ferment, but working through those a hint of ripe tropical fruit and a touch of elderflower comes through, a lemony directness too. The palate has lovely bite and acidity, with plenty of punch. 87/100.

Neetlingshof, Sauvignon Blanc Single Vineyard 2013, South Africa
Tank sample. Lovely greener notes with fine herbs and a grapefruit character, plenty of subtle zip. The palate has a lovely concentration, terrific punch and pithy, lemon and grapefruit verve. Lots of tight, racy concentration here as well as showing a little of the guava ripeness. Grippy, young but promising. 89/100.

Neetlingshof, Chenin Blanc 2012, South Africa
Nice smoky notes, a touch of racy, slatey character, with hints of melon and ripe, exotic fruit, but there is a citrus core, and it is lean and racy on the palate too, with a real endive and citrus bite. 87/100.

Neetlingshof, Gewürztraminer 2012, South Africa
With 7.5g/l residual sugar, this has geranium and leafiness, and very floral and herb character, suggesting dill and Turkish delight. The palate has a touch of very nice sweetness, but it really just softens the edges, staying focused and dry on the finish, with plenty of punchy herb flavour. 88/100.

Neetlingshof, The Six Flowers 2012, South Africa
Barrel aged blend of six white varieties, based on Chardonnay, Chenin and Sauvignon with 5% of Riesling and Gewurz, 10% Viognier. Nice, soft, lanolin and toast nose, bright and focused fruit, a touch of peach and of fresh apple. Really nice palate, lots of richness and weight, lots of fresh orchard fruit and some grapefruit and orange acid tang. 90/100.

Neetlingshof, Malbec 2011, South Africa
Around 70% matured in barrel. A little reduced, but with airing shows some meaty but good black fruit aromas, a touch of earthiness and just showing a little touch of floral character. The palate has lovely creamy fruit, drinks well with good texture and a touch of chocolate. Easy to drink stuff and a nice, gluggable Malbec but with some depth. 87/100.

Neetlingshof, Merlot 2009, South Africa
12 months in oak, 10% new. Has a little greenness about it, a little tomato leaf and some resinous character. Not entirely convincing on the nose at first, but it begins to open quite nicely, with some chocolate and toast and some plum fruit coming through. Quite chewy in the finish, the fruit staying bright and plum and cherry-focused, with a nice rounding of oak and spice to bolster the finish. 88/100.

Neetlingshof, Owl Post Pinotage 2011, South Africa
Single vineyard reserve wine. All Hungarian oak, all new oak. Big, perfumed nose, plenty of creamy and exotic, incense oak, a touch of leather and chocolate, a certain meatiness and has a lovely fruit ripeness and raspberry and cherry fruit, with plenty of chocolate and spice. A lovely, chewy and flavoursome Pinotage. 89/100.

Neetlingshof, Caracal 2010, South Africa
Cabernet Sauvignon dominated, with Merlot, and Petit Verdot. Plenty of cedar and incense after 16 months in barrel, but all French. Lovely burgeoning sense of chocolate and deep black berry fruit. The palate has a fine dry character, a nice touch of game and leather and lots of herbal freshness too, with a lovely bite of firm tannin and fresh tang of acidity and fine, sandy tannin finish. 90/100. In Majestic.

Neetlingshof, Maria Noble Late Harvest 2012, South Africa
9.5% alcohol, 170g/l RS. 80% Riesling, 20% Sauvignon Blanc in this vintage, but will be all Riesling in future (Botrytis permitting). Deep, toffee colour, huge botrytis nose with dried fruits, marmalade and tea, with fresh and herby notes and a touch of barley sugar too. Deliciously rich on the palate, this has wonderful nuances of walnut and orange marmalade, with immense sweetness, and lovely balancing acid, the tea and tobacco nuances are delicious. 92-93/100.

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