Google “wine club south africa” and you’ll get around 1 970 000 hits. I know, because I’ve just done so. Does that mean there are 1 970 000 wine clubs in South Africa? I sincerely hope not, because if there were, they’d have really tiny memberships. Having said that, page one of the Google search result mentions 13 wine clubs, of which two are producer specific. The balance are either corporate or privately run.
But what does this information have to do with anything? Well, I have to say that I’ve tended to view wine clubs with some degree of suspicion, particularly those which are set up by producers. I mean to how many can you reasonably belong, in order to cater to your range of tastes in wine? The corporate and private initiatives would therefore seem to be a better bet, as they’re more likely to cater to a wider range of interest and tastes. As a wine writer it would be inappropriate to actually join any sort of wine club, producer, corporate or private, so I’ve tended to steer clear of all blandishments, and that’s the way it will stay.
So when the opportunity to spend an evening at Anthonij Rupert Wines in Franschhoek arose recently, as a guest of the Anthonij Rupert Wine Club, I accepted the invitation with alacrity. We were welcomed at the recently acquired (well, a year or two ago) Anthonij Rupert Cellar by Melissa du Toit who looks after the wine club, and after some convivial chit-chat, we boarded a bus and were driven high up onto the mountainside where tables, waitrons, canapés and a glass of chilled Protea Sauvignon Blanc awaited us, and we were welcomed by our congenial host for the evening, Anthonij Rupert Wines MD Gary Baumgarten and cellar master Mark van Buuren who tore himself away from his busy cellar – we could see the hive of activity around the delivery dock immediately below where we stood – to dine with the wine club.
Mark recently returned from five years in the Hunter Valley in Western Australia, and his not inconsiderable talent as a winemaker is now focussed on the Anthonij Rupert cellar and what comes out of it. Watch this space.
We tucked in while Gary regaled us with a potted history of the farm, current activities in the vineyards, and progress with the harvest underway, with frequent contributions by Mark. We got to taste grapes picked from the farm, and other properties further afield: Merlot for Rooderust near Darling, Marsanne, Shiraz and Mourvedre from Riebeeksrivier in the Swartland, and Chenin Blanc from Skurfberg Mountain northwest of Clanwilliam.
Back to the tasting room complex as the sun crept below the western rim of the valley. A sumptuous repast awaited us, prepared by exec chef Hendrik Potgieter and sous chef Nico Voster, so we got down to it right away, and in short order the first wines were poured, and the starter served. And what followed was a treat. Gary Baumgarten entertained the diners with a running commentary of the origins and making of each wine, where the grapes originated from, the conditions that prevailed during harvest, what happened in the cellar, how each wine turned out, and how they pair with the dish before us. We got to taste the as yet unreleased 2013 Cape of Good Hope Rhone White Blend and the 2012 release of the wellknown Cape of Good Hope Serruria Chardonnay, paired with a salmon gravadlax.
The main course was a tender rack of lamb with fava bean and mint puree with black berry jus, paired with a vertical flight – 2005, 2006, 2007 – of Anthonij Rupert Petit Verdot. All paired perfectly, from the big and bold Parker-like 05, to the leaner, elegant and perfumed 07, the only one of the three wines that are available for purchase, and in limited quantities, from the tasting room. Dessert was a vanilla pannacotta to die for, prepared by Nico Voster, and arguably the finest I’ve ever eaten, with poached apricot, vanilla bean syrup and dulcey chocolate shard, paired with an unlabelled, never released 1984 Bukketraube noble late harvest.
The wine was made by the late Anthonij Rupert, and for reasons best known to him, never released to market, despite having won best wine of show on the 1984 SA Young Wine Show. It is reserved for special occasions such as this.
And the piece de resistance was the opportunity to sample an amazing litchi eau de vie, distilled on the property in an Armagnac still. Two others will follow, one distilled from apples (a Calvados) and one from pears. What we didn’t get to taste, was the Armagnac which has been distilled every year since 2007 in that same still, each vintage slumbering in a dim cool cellar, in anticipation of release sometime this year, under a name as yet undisclosed, which was registered way back in 1956, by the late Dr Anton Rupert.
And so the evening drew to a close, and the dinner guests experienced something that in the normal course of wandering around the winelands visiting tasting rooms, you’re just never going to enjoy.
Maybe there is some merit in joining a wine club after all. ● Membership of the Anthonij Rupert Wine Club is free. See www.rupertwines.com/wine_club. php for details