A pair of cannon, a few remnants of a stone fort and an information sign on a mountain slope above Muizenberg in Cape Town are all that mark the site of a brief but significant battle that in 1795 changed the course of South African history.
To cut a long story short, the Cape had been a Dutch colony since Jan van Riebeeck’s arrival in 1652, providing a strategically important supply station for both the Dutch and their allies, Great Britain, on the lucrative shipping route to between Europe and the colonies of the Far East.
When France’s capture of the Dutch Republic during the French Revolutionary Wars of the 1790s threatened to cut off the British East India Company’s access to this vital re-supply port, the British government dispatched a military force to secure control of the Cape.
A fleet of nine Royal Navy ships anchored in Simon’s Bay in June 1795 and, having failed to persuade the Dutch to surrender, a small army was landed to march on Cape Town. On August 7, as they marched on the Dutch fort at Muizenberg, they were supported by four warships firing broadsides over the beach at the Dutch.
The Dutch retreated, and after several more weeks of fighting and the arrival of a larger British force, they surrendered the Cape – and the rest, as they say, is history. (For the detail-oriented, yes, the Cape did go back to the Dutch in 1802 and was reclaimed by the British in 1806.)
Overlooking all this action from the slopes of the Constantiaberg was a farm called Swaaneweide, where the Russow family had been making wine for a century, and hosting travellers between the colony’s two official ports of Simon’s Bay and Table Bay.
That today is Steenberg farm, where they’ve recently released three new wines named for three of those British warships – the Sphynx, the Stately and the Ruby.
With distinctive packaging, the wines are intended to fill a gap in the Steenberg portfolio and offer “more choice at an attractive price point”.
Sphynx is a gently elegant barrel- fermented chardonnay with subtle vanilla and spice rounding out the wine’s typical citrus and limestone notes, all well integrated for a really enjoyable wine (R135 cellar door).
The Ruby rosé (R86) is a syrah-cinsault blend, zingy and fresh with lots of red berry fruit, a nice crispy edge and some creamy-spicy complexity.
A super summer wine with depth – and, lesson learnt, not to be over-chilled as the fruit disappears if it’s ice-ice-cold.
Stately really is “stately” – a full-bodied, elegant 2015 cabernet sauvignon-shiraz blend with dark, juicy fruit and some leathery spiciness.
Dense, opulent and silky – easy enough to drink on its own and great with rich, meaty dishes – it punches well above its weight at a price of R135 from the cellar.
The Steenberg “Fleet Range” is fairly widely available in local retail outlets.