VINE TIME

Take flight with Paserene wines

Franschhoek estate pays attention to detail to make its high-end vintages

Winemakers are well known for naming wines after their faithful hounds but friends of the feathered variety are a less common choice.
Martin Smith’s Paserene in Franschhoek takes its name from the Passeriformes order of “travelling and free” birds that includes swifts, swallows and, aptly, martins.
Perhaps also a quirky take on his own name, the name symbolises the freedom to pursue winemaking as an art form and his career as a travelling winemaker – having spread his wings and explored the globe, coming home to nest.
Following a decade in California wineries, Smith returned home as winemaker for Vilafonté for six years, and then came to Paserene about three years ago, a partnership with passionate South African wine lover Ndabe Mareda to pursue his singular vision for the art of making high-end luxury wines.
Art and birds are a theme running through all of Paserene – starting with the striking architecture of the tasting lounge, that somehow stands out and blends into the imposing mountain backdrop at the same time, the design and the natural materials creating a “martin’s nest” of twigs and mud (and it looks a bit like a wine barrel too).
The concept really comes home inside, where interior merges with exterior as you survey the dam and the mountain view through the wooden “staves” of the nest.
Here resident sommelier Billet Magara takes you through the three wines currently produced – each with a unique look and artwork by a different artist, rather than the sameness of a corporate brand.
The grapes are sourced from Tulbagh and Elgin, with vines on the Franschhoek property itself destined for a yet-to-be-released second range.
The Chardonnay 2016, from Elgin grapes, is brilliant – golden and elegant, buttery smooth with notes of vanilla and lemon, and seamlessly integrated subtle oak that showcases the typical Elgin freshness and fruit purity.
Magara explains the rather different approach to wine-making – the oak barrels are seasoned in a temperature-controlled warehouse for five years before their first use.
“So they are first-fill barrels but time has worked its magic and removed any greenness. The barrels aren’t toasted at all, so there are no nutty flavours, but a parmesan-savouriness,” he says.
All of this attention to detail – together with the wine being aged in bottle for 16 months before release – reflects Smith’s precision winemaking style, a balance of technical and intuitive, and endless tinkering to achieve harmony and balance.
Marathon 2016, its swallow harking back to Smith’ travels, is a big, deep-coloured blend of cabernet sauvignon, petit verdot and carmenere, destined to “run a marathon” with 30-year ageing potential, says Magara.
The wine has deep black berries, fynbos and herbaceous notes, spice and leatheriness, all unfolding in layers of intense flavour – beautifully drinkable now but will definitely reward cellaring.
The “easier” red is the Union, a fragrant and savoury blend of carignan (“a graceless grape”, says Billet, that adds colour, tannin and aromas), syrah and mourvedre from Tulbagh – streamlined, elegant and delicious.
“There’s very little oak here so as not to decapitate the brilliance of the grapes. She is elegant like a ballet dancer,” says Magara.
It’s this level of engaging and informative interaction over a wine-tasting – and outstanding wines, of course – that makes booking a visit to Paserene a must next time you visit Franschhoek...

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