Natte Valleij wines land in Vancouver

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      One of the things that impressed me most during my recent South African wine travels was the smaller producers with a quality focus on just a few grape varieties, as opposed to larger producers with a vast catalogue, trying to be all things to all people.

      One producer I hadn’t experienced in the past totally knocked my socks off, and I practically jumped for joy when I learned that their first shipment of wines was on the water, making its way to Vancouver.

      I’m thrilled that the wines of Natte Valleij have now landed and are on store shelves around town.

      The Simonsberg mountain farm in Stellenbosch where the winery is located was established in 1715. For many years, the property was under vine, with most of the fruit going to brandy production. When the current proprietor, the Milner family, purchased the land in the late 1960s, most vines were pulled and the property was used to raise thoroughbred racehorses. The winery cellar and equipment had lain dormant for a half-century, until 2005, when Alex Milner decided to return the family property to its roots and begin producing wine again.

      His focus is site-specific wine from the Cinsault grape. For a while, until the 1990s, it was South Africa’s most planted variety, and it also comes up when discussing Pinotage, as it shares parentage of the grape with Pinot Noir. Although it has fallen out of favour compared to red grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz, there are producers like Milner who have a renewed affinity for it. Aromatic and fruity, it makes for buoyant, mouthwatering wines, with a knack for growing well under drought conditions; with climate change, it’s quite possible we’ll see it rise in the rankings once again.

      Here’s a look at Natte Valleij’s offerings in our market, and they are some of the most exciting wines I encountered in all of my South African travels. The entire lineup is available at Kitsilano Wine Cellar at prices listed below, but smatterings can also be found at places like Liberty Wine Merchants on Commercial Drive and Marquis Wine Cellars on Davie Street at similar prices.

      Natte Valleij Axle Chenin Blanc 2018

      $34.99, private wine stores

      Okay, before we get into the Cinsaults, a quick taste of the country’s most planted white variety. This Chenin Blanc blooms with jasmine and citrus on the nose, then the palate is awash with yellow plum, key lime, Meyer lemon, and some juicy salinity on the finish. I’m thinking fresh oysters, spaghetti alle vongole, or fish and chips.

      Natte Valleij Cinsault 2017

      $29.99, private wine stores

      This is a multiregion Cinsault blend that gets hand-sorted and then fermented, a portion of it whole-cluster. Turkish delight and nougat are quite intoxicating aromas, with pink grapefruit, raspberries, and dark cherries studded with pink peppercorns carrying the palate. The flavour profile is quite bright, with spot-on acidity keeping things lifted, and just enough French-oak aging to give it a medium weight, well positioned for poultry, beef, or wild game.

      Natte Valleij Stellenbosch Cinsault 2017

      $48.99, private wine stores

      Such a pretty nose on this one, all peony flowers and grapefruit zest. The juicy palate is full of pink lemonade, blood orange, red plum, and Redhaven peaches. Forty-five-year-old bush vines offer dazzling fruit that only gets minimal punch-downs in the winery, so it’s not overly extracted before going to the concrete egg for aging. Frankly, if this were served to me blind, it’s quite possible I’d think it was a rosé or a heavier white. A fascinating wine that can tackle the what-red-to-pair-with-curry conundrum.

      Natte Valleij Swartland Cinsault 2017

      $48.99, private wine stores

      How the same grape can have such different aromatic and palate profiles is just so darn cool! These bush vines were planted in 1986, and once the grapes are harvested and destalked, Milner leaves 20 percent of the stems to dry out in the sun for a day, before adding them to the tank fermentation. There’s hibiscus in spades here, with Rainier cherry, red currants, raspberries, huckleberries, and fresh thyme, then just a pinch of white pepper on the finish. Aging in oak barrels frames everything well.

      Natte Valleij Simonsberg Paarl Cinsault 2017

      $48.99, private wine stores

      Bush vines planted in decomposed granite in 1993 produce the fruit that composes this Cinsault, which is a little more generous and riper on the palate, but made in a similar style to the Swartland version. The large oak barrel brings a handful of baking spices to the profile, well-integrated into gobs of purple fruit. Although this is drinking just fine now, it’ll certainly go the distance in the cellar.

      Natte Valleij Darling Cinsault 2017

      $48.99, private wine stores

      The Darling version from 40-year-old bush vines is my favourite of the bunch. There are some wild elements of leather and musk on the nose, while the palate is loaded with blackberries and Italian plums, with umami notes of sun-dried tomato on the edges. Aging in concrete eggs keeps all those flavours concentrated and precise.