Cape Town without wine is not Cape Town. Wine farms spread out far throughout the Cape Winelands from Stellenbosch to Paarl, claiming the weekends of keen drinkers. One of the city’s most famous wineries, Nederburg, stands above the rest.
Nederburg has been producing top tier wines since 1791 and is one of South Africa’s most awarded wineries, with a prize-winning pedigree that stems from a culture of innovation and disciplined attention to detail. From exclusive, micro-edition offerings for the connoisseur to wines styled for everyday enjoyment, Nederburg has something for everyone.
Located in picturesque Paarl, Nederburg’s white gabled building flanked by vineyards and greenery is a beautiful sight. It’s a boiling hot December day and entering the winery’s air-conditioned lobby is made even sweeter when we’re met with a glass of their signature MCC.
A wine tasting at Nederburg is not just a day out, it’s an experience. Award-winning cellar master Lizelle Gerber is our host for the day. Her warmth and passion radiate from the jump and sitting down with her feels like drinking wine with an old friend.
Gerber is a decorated winemaker. With a degree in winemaking from the Elsenburg Agricultural Training Institute of Stellenbosch, (and a years experience in the South African National Defence Force), she began her career at Zevenwacht wine estate. She truly came into herself, however, at Avontuur, where she acted as winemaker for 10 years. Before starting at Nederburg, she served as Boschendal’s Méthode Cap Classique (MCC) and white-wine maker for a decade. We’re definitely in good hands here.
Gerber leads us to the old cellar, acting as our private tasting lounge for the day. Towering barrels surround us and the slight sharpness of fermenting grapes fill our nostrils. A true wine lovers paradise.
On the menu for today: a selection of Nederburg’s finest. We begin with the Heritage Heroes collection, crafted to honour Nederburg’s legends. Gerber tests us with different vintages of the same wine to see how they compare.
The Young Airhawk, a barrel-fermented sauvignon blanc with grapes sourced from Darling, is named after winemaker Arnold Graue who introduced various technical innovations at Nederburg. One sniff and you get layers of intense asparagus, green fig, lime and minerality very well integrated with wood. It leaves a fresh and crisp taste on your palate with notes of asparagus and lime and a creamy texture, although the 2018 bottle has a slightly more buttery texture than the 2017 one.
For something fruity, sip on The Anchorman, a chenin blanc named for Nederburg’s founder, Philippus Wolvaart. The wine features notes of apricots, pears and white peaches with floral hints and traces of spice, but the 2018 bottle has more prominent floral and citrus notes. This wine is well-balanced, fresh and fruity with an excellent structure.
The Motorcycle Marvel, a Rhône-style red blend, honours the legendary winemaker Günter Brӧzel, who was cellar-master at Nederburg from 1956 to 1989. With an abundance of sweet spice, berries, dates and a hint of tobacco leaf and pepper, this wine is a bold glass perfect for those wanting intense flavour. The 2010 is slightly stronger in intensity than the 2017.
For a classic Bordeaux-style red blend, try out The Brew Master, created to honour brew master and tea specialist Johann Graue who revolutionised winemaking in South Africa. This wine is made from a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (53%), Petit Verdot (20%), Cabernet Franc (19%), Merlot (6%) and Malbec (2%), and features concentrated aromas of dark fruit, cassis, peppadew, tobacco leaf and a hint of vanilla spice. She is full-bodied, classic and complex with juicy dark fruit flavours, hints of prunes and powerful ripe velvety tannins that will soften with further maturation.
A celebration of two centuries of skill, tradition and heritage, Nederburg’s Two Centuries cabernet sauvignon forms the apex of the multi-tiered range of wines produced by the winery. This collection is ‘the best of the best’, with hand-made wines produced from grapes sourced from the best vines within top-performing vineyards. The bouquet offers a wonderful concentration of dark fruit, berry and plum aromas and upon first sip you get a full bodied and richly textured wine with concentrated dark berry fruit flavours.
Pro tip: 2013 and 2015 were exceptional years for wine making and produced big flavours. If you’re looking to purchase a bottle, choose one from these two years.
The biggest takeaway of this tasting is an almost throwaway comment Gerber makes. Whilst speaking about her personal journey with wine, Gerber comments that wine shouldn’t be stressful or complicated: it’s personal. Wine is fun. For some it reminds of a quiet night in and for others, a boozy night out.
“Wine isn’t just something to drink, but an experience you can always go back to,” she says.
The beauty of wine is that it’s not static. Its ever changing, forever subjective. As tastes evolve, so do wines and our experiences of them. The act of drinking itself plays on different senses. One of our wine tasting companions experiences the wines visually. One sip of the 2017 Young Airhawk and he is transported to a log cabin, the fire softly glowing in the background. He felt warm, comfortable. Another companion rely’s on his sense of taste. Drinking the same wine he could detect notes of asparagus, the white kind to be exact.
We cannot speak of wine without discussing the intense work and craftmanship that goes into creating these bottled beauties. It takes talent, engenuity and quite a bit of smarts to produce a really good bottle because wine is alive, it is an art form.
“For me, winemaking is about making the best wine in the appropriate style,” Gerber explains. “To identify components that work well together is a challenge and very insightful. It’s great to be able to grow with your wine and to experience the dynamic of this living product.”
Every bottle is lovingly crafted by the winemaker, who leaves their own stamp on their creations. “We all have a unique style and personality – just like a painting.”