Lanzerac and the Lady

With typical American efficiency, a new wine tourism book Exploring the Cape Winelands of South Africa: scenic day routes to the 101 best wineries by Dr. Doris Jansen and Dr. Kay Muir-Leresche dispenses with the traditional mountain-based wards of Stellenbosch and adopts instead the compass points North, South, East and West to carve up the red heart of SA wine. Which flies in the face of what Checkers is trying to do with their annual Battle of die Berge competition, the first round of which pitted the Simonsberg against the Helderberg in September.

A blind tasting chaired by Danie de Wet identified a golden thread running through the wines of the two wards. On the subject of battles, a farm named after an heroic WWI French General Lanzerac, is obviously on message. So yesterday, I whiled away a pleasant hour with Lanzerac winemaker Wynand Lategan and director of wine Boets Nel (below left).

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Three wines stood out: the 2012 Lanzerac Pinotage which takes the wild red grape of SA, born the year the general died, onto a new popular plateau. This will be a benchmark against which all other accessible Pinotages will be measured. Which is quite fitting, seeing as though a 1959 Lanzerac Pinotage was the first bottled expression of the grape when it was launched in 1961.

But the big surprise was the 2011 Lanzerac Merlot which confirms Jonkershoek as a potential Petrus for South Africa. No mint. Spicey with an explosive mouth feel. A real Fifth Army stunner. The final wine was the Mrs. English 2011 Chardonnay (with 15% Pinot Blanc) which commemorates the lady who bought the farm back in 1914, the year war was declared and who promptly renamed the farm Lanzerac in honour of her friend the General.

Stellenbosch is thick with generals. Lanzerac’s frenemy was Field Marshal John French whose descendants now make wine at Natte Valleij while Glenelly, whose Syrah won one of the battles of die berge, is owned by Madame May-Eliane who was married to General De Lencquesaing.

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The final surprise of the day was the outstanding lunch prepared by chef Stephan Fraser (above). The three oysters were the best I’ve had this year while the steak was perfectly cooked and of excellent quality from Bill Riley in Cape Town. The ambiance takes you back to that doomed summer a century ago when the juggernauts of war collided in Belgium and destroyed European civilization. And they call us the Dark Continent!

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