Magical Mooiplaas

The quickest way to Mooiplaas, jewel of the Bottelary Hills, is exit 32 off the N1 from Cape Town, through Kraaifontein (where the roads are so bad, you’d swear you were in Johannesburg) and then right on the Bottelary Road swinging you back towards Kuilsriver. The Kuilsriver itself is a bit of a joke, a muddy track easily missed. But the mountains are magnificent and the malevolent crows add a macabre Alfred Hitchcock touch as they wheel menacingly in the thermals above the vineyards and rubbish dumps from the squatter camps.

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It’s the rubbish that makes crows the endemic species of birdlife in the area. Things are now so bad, packs of marauding crows attack jackal buzzards in flight and indigenous bird species are in serious decline as crows devour both eggs and chicks of competing avians.

Rather like its crows, Bottelary Hills is an appellation whose time has come. Pit stopping at Vaughan Johnson for a chat between lunch with some old farts on a yacht at the Cape Grace Marina on the Waterfront and a two-hander with Emile Joubert at the Woordfees in Stellenbosch, ace retailer VJ maintains that volumes are constant while value is down as punters down shift for the recession.

R100 is the ceiling for recessionary reds and the big name producer of whom VJ would annually sell R1 million is down to R10 000 while Dalla Cia Cabernet Sauvignon at R85 and Bilton Merlot and Shiraz (both under R100) are the new Stellenbosch stars. Bottelary Hills must be the best value for money in the appellation, so stand-by for a realignment of stars in the gastronomic galaxy.

Mooiplaas Cabernet Franc 05 is a good place to start. At all of R75 a bottle, it is elegant without being effete. Wonderfully clean and intense perfumed fruit flavours makes you realize that Franc is the Robert Downey Junior of Cape Wine – such exotic potential that once tasted makes you wonder why it is not universally acclaimed. Like those wonderful Crescendos Chris Keet used to make on Cordoba that are only now starting to be appreciated when there is no more.

The prospect of a mini-langtafel lunch in Mooiplaas’s atmospheric 1833 Herenhuis had brought us to the Bottelary Hills and the crows and Dirk Roos’s komfort kos did not disappoint. Peach soup with Asian spice and pomegranate seeds, a selection of roasts from Joostenberg to make a vegetarian reconsider, cheese from Bosman’s Crossing.

And a line-up of stellar wines, kicked off by a Pinot Noir/Chardonnay bubbly called Duel. Appropriately opened by Dirk à la sabrage using the sword of a Boer War British officer picked up on a Roos farm in the Free State. Not all the Pinot Noir ended up as fizz and winemaker Louis showcased a light and delicate still interpretation that was voted a better match with Dirk’s yellowtail that the 2008 Sauvignon Blanc.

Excellent food and sympathetic wines. Bird-lovers and bibulists both should make a beeline for Bottelary. To paraphrase the description of Altydgedacht, if you want to see what wine tasting was like in Stellenbosch fifty years ago, visit Bottelary Hills in ten years time.

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