De Wetshof Limestone Hill Chardonnay portrays excellence of 2017 vintage

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ALMOST a year ago to the day of the launch of the previous vintage of De Wetshof Limestone Hill unwooded Chardonnay, we were invited to celebrate the 2017 vintage.

The venue was La Tête, over which foodies have been in a froth since it opened late last year, raving about the food. Apparently the octopus is THE thing to have. Shamefully, it was my first time there but certainly not my last. Chef Giles Edwards has a nose-to-tail philosophy, and he’s partial to a bit of foraging. Seated at a (very) long table, our shared starters were platters  of crispy pig cheek with chicory and apple, and grilled green beans with pickled pine rings from Newlands forest.

Crispy pig cheek with apple and chicory

The pig cheeks were phenomenal, and we fell upon them with gusto. The pine rings were amazing too; I love trying new tastes. The star of the show, however, was the 2017 Limestone Hill, which was called upon to pair with the whole meal. That can be a big ask of a wine, but it cut through that fatty pork with ease, revealing lovely fruity characteristics.

When the main course of fish pie, with Brussels sprouts as a side dish, the wine did a flavour profile about turn and once again, paired beautifully with the meal. Served in La Tête’s signature short-stemmed wine glasses, the Limestone Hill flowed freely into the dessert course of Floating Islands – meringue swimming in crème anglaise – and even the madeleines, fresh from the oven and still warm, loved the wine as much as we did.

Warm madeleines

The new release is perfect to drink right now, but it has the potential to lie down for a good few years. Considering how it is at the moment, I can only imagine how wonderful it will be later.

Now for the technical stuff:

According to De Wetshof CEO Johann de Wet, 2017 yielded grapes of superb chemical composition, structure and balance, aspects that are definitely evident in the Limestone Hill, one of the five Chardonnays from De Wetshof.

“Despite the dry winter of 2016 and the hot, windy spring and early summer, this year’s harvest was completed in mild weather conditions which saw the grapes reaching even and optimal ripeness,” says De Wet. “With more than 70% of De Wetshof’s harvest being Chardonnay, even ripening is key and initial predictions pertaining to grape quality due to the dry weather were exceeded.”

De Wetshof is particularly precise about their daily harvesting schedule. “We begin working in the vineyards at around 3am, and as soon as the mercury reaches 27°C the pickers stop,” he says. “As it gets warmer, the grapes’ structure changes. The bunches therefore are allowed to rest during the heat of day, and cool down at night – leaving them revitalised and fresh to be harvested the next morning. ”

The grapes are thus picked in the coolness of morning, with the emphasis on capturing the natural complexities of the Chardonnay grape immediately for the making of this unwooded wine. After de-stemming, pressing and overnight settling the juice is racked-off from the sediment and pumped into stainless steel tanks. After fermentation, the wine is left on the lees under controlled temperatures. Weekly stirring of the lees ensures maximum flavours are released into the wine until the wines are ready for bottling.

“Like all our Chardonnays, the Limestone Hill is made from vineyards growing on selected patches of terroir that influence the individual style of each wine,” says De Wet. “The key to Robertson is the high limestone content of the soils, limestone being an element ensuring chemical balance and ageability in the wines.”

Heavy clay soils rich in limestone allow the Limestone Hill to emit optimum varietal expression in a cloak of rich complexity. An un-wooded wine, Limestone Hill has notes of grapefruit and nuts, with the complexity balanced by a nuanced elegance ending with a delicate ripeness.

What is important in making an unwooded Chardonnay, says De Wet, is that it is not just a matter of keeping the juice and the wine away from oak. “The chemistry of the grapes and the vineyard conditions have to be conducive to producing a Chardonnay that shows its best features in an unwooded environment,” he says.

The American critic Robert Parker describes the wine as such: “The De Wetshof Limestone Hill Chardonnay never sees oak, and offers impeccably pure, refreshing apple, peach and lemon fruit, a lovely leesy richness of texture, and a nutty, chalky, fruit-filled finish of imposing length. Understated and less tropical than some of the better un-oaked Australian Chardonnays, this wine possesses far better balance and sheer drink-ability – not to mention more finesse – than 99% of the world’s Chardonnay I have experienced at its price.”

The wine is superb with oysters, cream-based pasta dishes and light curries, as well as roast pork and veal dishes. Recommended retail price: R85

PHOTO CREDIT: BIANCA COLEMAN

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