Bay audience gets taste of iconic wines

TWELVE years of making iconic Rupert & Rothschild wines hasn't dimmed head wine-maker Yvonne Lester's love of her job, and her passion was contagious as she introduced the boutique cellar's range of show-stopping wines to local audiences this week.

With a home on a historic French Huguenot farm in Franschhoek, the estate unites an illustrious South African family with an equally legendary French lineage, with the aim of making world-class wines. Half the annual production of Rupert & Rothschild wines is exported to 54 countries, with the Chinese particular fans of the brand.

These are wines for celebrations, special occasions and very special gifts. Yes, you are most likely paying a premium for the name, but what's inside the bottle more than lives up to its promise.

The Baroness Nadine Chardonnay 2010 (R175 from the cellar) is made in small volumes with close attention to detail and matured on the lees for 11 months.

This is just a beautiful wine, perfectly balancing the vanilla-burnt caramel-toasted almonds you'd expect from a chardonnay, with zesty lime and grapefruit, and a lingering, zingy finish. It's a delicate, complex mouthful, a must for sushi or oysters, and made to mature – Lester says the 2006 and 2009 vintages are particularly good right now.

Merlot-Cab blend Classique is the big seller worldwide and its maker reckons it's one of the best value reds around (R115). Deep, jewel red, full-bodied and smooth, with hints of chocolate and red berries, it is a classic red wine, made to stand the test of time.

Very drinkable now, and Lester says it can age for at least five years, while she puts a 20-year range on the flagship Baron Edmund. This, she says, is not a wine for playing safe – "If you want to make exceptional wine, you have to take risks."

Those risks are certainly paying off in the 2010 vintage (R299), an outstanding Bordeaux blend that delivers layer upon layer of taste sensations. From wood and pepper on the nose, to dark chocolate, cherries, pepper and mocha, it blends the signature tastes of its component wines into a harmonious whole.

A range of the Rothschild's French champagnes are also available exclusively from the cellar and in very select restaurants. Previously open for tasting by appointment only, a new and "friendlier" tasting room opens in February and promises a decadent tasting experience in line with the brand's luxury appeal.