Mention ‘Haute Cabrière’ and most South Africans will rave about one of two things – their great bubbly, made under the Pierre Jourdan label or that restaurant winelist favourite, the Chardonnay/Pinot Noir. Foodie fans might go on to talk about Matthew Gordon’s exquisite food, offered in two different sized portions to please inveterate nibblers such as myself, and not a few will mention sabrage – of which more later. So I was a little surprised on my recent visit to get to the end of my tour – and be offered a tasting of Pinot Noir.
Takuan von Arnim can talk for his country, but there is no doubting his passion and enthusiasm for Cabrière estate and his family’s wines. The whole cellar is steeped in family stuff from the crests on the tiles, the champagne chandelier commemorating Takuan’s birth, the art on the walls and the sharp arrows pointing into the government-controlled brandy cellar above (which prompted several eye-watering tales of inebriated escapades from us all) yet Takuan’s father, Achim, started Cabrière from scratch less than 30 years ago. Originally famous for his fizzes at Boschendal, where he was cellarmaster, he has continued working with the classic Champagne varieties making a whole range from just Chardonnay and Pinot Noir although in recent years, a typically off-the-wall red wine, the Sauvignon Rouge, has also been added.
We tasted 3 Pinots starting with the 1998, then the 2003 and finishing with the 2006 – see my notes below for the faves – and then we moved onto lunch with a bottle or two of fizz to accompany us. Takuan was prevailed on to perform his party piece for a visiting camera crew, but afterwards happily gave me the lowdown on sabraging and why they do it. ‘It’s all about personal contact’ he claims. ‘Any Saturday, any week of the year, people come here and they get to meet, chill out and chat with either me or my Dad. There’s no front, no hiding behind marketing rubbish – it’s just us and I think that’s why people like Cabrière so much. We’re fun and we’re personal.’
Personal is the understatement of the year. Both Takuan and his father have personalities way larger than life and throughout our whole convivial, scurrilous, story-swapping lunch I could feel Julia the PR lady and Jeff the marketing supremo wincing in turn as Takuan held forth on anything and everything. Outrageous, opinionated, but hugely enjoyable and very endearing, he insisted on finishing our lunch with his favourite combo of ripe Gorgonzola and Fine de Jourdan brandy. Julia’s dessert of little pastry turnovers stuffed with ‘boerejongens’ (raisins soaked in the brandy) seemed to me to be the perfect partner for the cheese – as indeed proved to be the case, with Takuan lapping them up and ordering more . I must say I was quite pleased he liked it - it’s not every day you meet a man who wields a sabre with such precision, passion and aplomb, and when you do, it’s best to keep on their good side!
Haute Cabrière Pinot Noir 1998
Still amazingly fresh with plenty of youthful berries, lots of spice and tobacco and a good length. Excellent match for Julia’s fillet.
Haute Cabrière Pinot Noir 2006
Shy nose initially warming up to a rounder, fatter, smoother, almost sweeter wine than the two previous vintages tasted. Gritty tannins and good length – needs time and will definitely reward patience.
Haute Cabriere Chardonnay/Pinot Noir 2009
Yes I know it’s everywhere, but there is a reason for this – it’s really, really good! Fantastic food wine with the richness of the chardonnay balanced by the acidity from the pinot. Definitely the best match for my crayfish lunch.
Pierre Jourdan Cuvee Belle Rose MCC
Made from 100% Pinot Noir with a dry fruity palate, hints of strawberry shortcake and fine, elegant bubbles. Great with prawns.