It’s all gone a bit pink for winemaker/viticulturist André Rousseau at the tasting room at Constantia Uitsig – Valentine’s Day come early, I ask myself? Nope, it’s a proud listing of all the awards this estate has won for their wines in recent years, spread out on huge banner posters adorning the tasting room and small shop. André’s aim is to make wines that match the level of food at Constantia Uitsig's flagship restaurant, La Colombe and, since La Colombe has just been voted Restaurant of the Year in Eat Out magazine for the second year running and ranks in the Top 50 restaurants in the world, it’s quite a big ask.
But André, along with neighbouring winemakers and advisors John Loubscher and JD Pretorius from Steenberg feels more than up to the challenge. Checking out their entry in the Platter Guide, reveals 4 star plus red text all the way for Constantia Uitsig suggesting that the winery is more than holding its own in such stellar company, and on the basis of our tasting, I would have to agree as well.
The wines are made at Steenberg where André rents cellar-space, but all the grapes come from the estate itself. André’s background is actually as a viticulturist and much of his time is spent nurturing his vineyards and trying to intervene as little and as naturally as possible. Food24 was out there in force, tempted by a delish winetasting followed by lunch at the River Café, and Cath Shone, Chef Caro and I sipped and chortled our way through the range of wines as André told us about his shopping lists.
It never occurred to me that you could buy ladybirds by the kilo, but that is what Constantia Uitsig does in order to release them into the vineyards to clean up any pests attacking the vines. One of those pests is the mealy bug - an annoying little insect which contributes significantly to the spread of the leafroll virus, something which is becoming a major problem here in SA. The best way to get rid of them is by luring the males into traps baited with deliciously seductive lady mealy bug hormones. As they are only able to breed for 3 days, this completely disrupts their cycle and they die ‘unspent’ as it were! They are then counted, so the viticulturists know how many females there are likely to be and can then work out how many ladybirds they need to release to clean them up. A fantastic high-tech/low tech solution to an ancient problem!
We tasted all the current releases as well as a few pre-release specials as well. These were our favourites:
Constantia Uitsig Sauvignon Blanc 2008 & 2009 – the 08 was soft and elegant with green peppers and marzipan notes. 09 showing more tropical, spicy fruit with perfume and litchis.
Constantia Uitsig Unwooded Chardonnay 2009 – one of the best vintages of this wine I’ve tasted. André has been trying a number of different things and has come up with a multi-layered wine with lemons, hazelnuts and soft cheesy hints. Lower alcohol makes for a hugely food-friendly wine.
Constantia Uitsig Semillon 2008 & 2009 – both wines feature incredibly subtle oak – only 7 months and none of it new. Soft and spicy with lemons, limes and hints of fynbos honey.
Constantia Uitsig White Blend 2008 – slightly more Semillon in the 08 makes for the perfect partner for Asian food – honey, ginger, litchis and spice. This is rich and satisfying with an endless almond finish.