FOR a story about wine, there’s a dearth of wine pics here. Plenty of food though, which I’ve sprinkled throughout the copy. Somehow, during the extended tasting with owner, wine director and cellar master Takuan von Arnim, and the wide ranging conversation about other things too, like music and squirrels, they just didn’t happen. And that’s just how it is.
We met in the terrace bistro with its incredible view and which would later be full and buzzing, along with sister Tania, who has been at Haute Cabrière since September, in a marketing role. “I’m extremely excited Tania has joined,” said Takuan. It’s a dynamic family pairing for this family estate, which specialises in the two noble grape varieties, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, from those making more than a dozen wines, still and bubbly. At one point, Takuan started counting them off on his fingers but then we gave up and settled on “a lot”.
The Haute Cabrière clientele are a wonderful demographic mix, “simply because we focus on wine,” said Takuan. “We haven’t tried to understand, or confuse, or mix up the cultures. Our wine is about sharing. Chardonnay Pinot Noir allows YOU to have fun, it doesn’t tell you to sit down in black tie with sushi or steak or pasta with white truffle. It allows you to be you, which is why it has a place in so many hearts and homes. There have been tough times but our brand is extremely strong. When there’s a crisis people go to wines and brands they can trust.”
Takuan describes the wines as simplistic, good value for money, accessible, and not too technical. “The technical things are for geeks and myself,” he said, as we began with Pierre Jourdan Blanc de Blancs, Chardonnay which comes from an east-facing vineyard which gets morning sun and cooler afternoons. “We’re getting some amazing wines from there,” said Takuan.
Then there’s the premium Haute Collection, a project which Takuan describes as one of those geeky things upon which he embarked. When considering a block planted in ’83, a mere half a hectare, Takuan realised something was missing from the range: a classic barrel-matured Chardonnay. “I played around with amphoras…it’s not an orange wine; I enjoy working clean, fresh and with precision, and the identity of the grape variety, but it lends an amazing austerity to the wine. It keeps it back almost like at the Durban July when you let the horse go for the last stretch and it wins. The amphoras play around more with minerality and terroir, and give the wine longevity.”
Takuan is joined the cellar by wine maker Tim Hoek, who has been there since 2014. “We see eye to eye. He could be my twin brother… no, he’s not as wild and he cycles more,” joked Takuan. ” He’s a great gentleman.”
In the Haute Cabrière range are an unwooded Chardonnay and a Rosé which expresses what their grapes are about, he continued. “The Chardonnay expresses elegance, and the Pinot Noir, even though it’s also elegant, has a little more substance to it.”
While the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are the Haute heroes, also from the amphoras is a Semillon, with grapes from Robertsvlei across the valley, just 500 bottles. “This wine needs its time to open up. If you try to find something immediately in this wine you won’t, there’s a mineral kind of…it’s called petrichor, when it’s just rained…when drop hits the dry earth,” explained Takuan.
It’s one of my favourite smells in the world. It happens when certain compounds like ozone, geosmin, and plant oils are released into the air, to which human noses are highly sensitive. They say we can detect it at concentrations as low as 400 parts per trillion, and we’re more sensitive to it than sharks are to blood in the water.
“This is the excitement of sharing,” said Takuan. “It needs food, something spicy. You’ll detect a bit of oiliness, like if you’ve just squeezed an orange, and a hint of pith – grapefruit.”
All the wines are amazing, obviously, but the highlight for me was the Arnim Family Réserve, a blend of predominantly Syrah, with Pinot Noir, which softens the white pepper nose. We tasted the 2019 and the 2020 vintages, and even though the former has incredible ageing potential, it’s velvety soft and smooth now; as it slides over your tongue, before you even register the taste, you already know it’s quite wonderful. I made sure I bought a couple of bottles which are now taunting me: drink me…no, wait…but waiting for what? Drink me now…
We did eventually get to some food. From the starters we had a selection of steak tartare, tempura prawns, smoked duck breast salad, and chicken liver parfait. Of the many things watching MasterChef has taught me is that “parfait” is French for perfect and if you’re going to advertise as such, then it darn well better be exactly that. In this case, it’s an outright winner.
We shared main courses: sirloin with béarnaise and the most outrageously fabulous pommes Anna, which are paper thin layers of potato, soft with a buttery golden crispy outside. I have suggested they include this as a starter on its own because I’d happily eat a bucketload of them. I absolutely love it when one simple ingredient, and a simple recipe, is elevated to this level.
We also had the pan-fried trout with sauce verge, Nicola potatoes and roasted baby leeks, as well as a healthy bowl of green vegetables, but I’m sorry trout; you were beautifully cooked but I was blind to everything else after those pommes Anna. A meal costs R290 for two courses, R350 for three. Desserts include cinnamon crème brûlée, nougat with honeycomb and Ratafia-poached pears, chouxmaca with dark chocolate ice cream, and apple tart tartin.
Inside the tasting room, where you’ll go to buy all your lovely wine, there’s a bakery, and a history wall which tells the Haute Cabrière story. At some point you might like to sit in the pretty spot overlooking the dam for a bit, and contemplate your good fortune. For more information and the full range of wines, with pictures, click here.
PHOTO CREDIT: Bianca Coleman ©