Waterkloof – “hands off nearly” wines on which I recommend you get your hands!
If there’s a wine style which, more often than not, tends towards the confected it’s rosés. So I’m always excited to find wines that cock a snook at the stereo type like Waterkloof Circumstance Cape Coral Mourvedre Rosé 2010 from Stellenbosch, South Africa.
Fermented naturally over 13 weeks, it’s dry, delicate, subtly savoury and textured. With a clean, fresh finish it’s no cloy boy and, I reckon, well suited to food – oysters or any coral pink crustacea.
Even more excitingly, Waterkloof’s entire portfolio (whether made from estate grown or bought in fruit) is made adopting, as they put it, “a hands (nearly) off approach. We monitor, we do not dictate.” And for estate fruit, it makes lots of sense when you consider that Waterkloof’s founder, UK wine merchant Paul Boutinot, spent the best part of a decade seeking out the perfect site. Why mess with the wines or, for that matter, the site (which he farms biodynamically) once you’ve found it?
For Boutinot, Waterkloof’s attraction lies in a growing season which is uncommonly long in the southern hemisphere, averaging around 100 days from flowering to picking. Why so long? Located just four kilometres from False Bay at between 250-300m on the Schaapenberg Hill in Stellenbosch’s Helderberg sub-region, elevation and latitude play their part, but it’s the wind chill factor that’s key. Anatartic winds off False Bay gather pace as they funnel up a ravine towards the vineyard, while the south easterly Cape Doctor has reached speeds up to 150km. The temperature can drop 5-10 degrees centigrade in just half an hour.
Small in size and number and, with thicker skins, acidity levels of the resulting grapes are naturally high and flavours concentrated yet well defined. This combined with the nearly hands off approach makes for individual, introspective wines. Though I’ve yet to be convinced by the reds and, to be fair, it’s early days, the whites and rosé are well worth seeking out. Here are my notes on my pick of the bunch:
Waterkloof Sauvignon Blanc 2010 (Stellenbosch)
A tight but bright fresh nose leads onto an intense, balanced palate with surprising “richness” of texture with ripe citrus notes and just a hint of white chocolate, something I often pick up in wines naturally fermented in barrel even if, as here, the barrels are old and large (600l). Very juicy and mouthwatering through the finish, there’s plenty of interest here. It’s quite different from the more linear, methoxypyrazene accented 2009 vintage. 13.5% abv.
Waterkloof Circumstance Chenin Blanc 2009
This wine, which was sourced from neighbouring vineyards, picked up a trophy at Decanter World Wine Awards. It has a ripe citrus, toasty nose and palate with honey and nut undertones. Long, layered and persistent it’s very good.
Waterkloof Circle of Life White 2010 (Stellenbosch)
With lingering layers of minerality to its subtle citrus and stone fruit notes, this fresh and persistent blend of Sauvignon, Chenin and Semillon is all about structure and texture as opposed to mere fruit.
Waterkloof Circumstance Viognier 2009 (Stellenbosch)
Eben Sadie has memorably described Viognier as have “rocket fuel” tendencies and, while this weighs in at 14.5% abv, it wears the alcohol very lightly so sprightly is the palate. Great nip and tuck here to its sweet citrus and stone fruits thanks to lively acidity. Love the chalky texture too. An unusually intense Viognier with innner glow.
Waterkloof Circumstance Cape Coral Mourvedre Rosé 2010 (Stellenbosch)
Boutinot has planted lots of Mourvedre at Waterkloof since he sees similarities between his site a stone’s throw from False Bay and Bandol. It’s yet to come on stream so the grapes for this wine are bought in. Though it’s delicate and pretty, there’s something of Bandol about this wine in its pale salmon hue and, dry, savoury palate. Lovely minerality and freshness to the finish – a great aperitif or oyster wine.