Spending two days visiting producers in the Hemel-en-Aarde wine valley near Hermanus researching a magazine feature has its up side. My mud-splattered car and plenty of notebook scribbles are evidence of tasting plenty of good wines, including some zippy, flavour-packed just-released 2009 Sauvignon Blancs.

Arriving home in Cape Town to a stewed chicken-in-a-pot dinner cooked by my husband was a treat. His eyes lit up when I uncorked two part-bottles to drink alongside the meal, given to me by their winemakers to finish off. Although I didn’t say anything until after said husband had given an opinion on the wines, they were two Platter’s South African Wines 2010 five-star rankers.

I generally use Platter or other awards only as a quality indication, but I wholeheartedly agree with the panel about these two wines. Kevin Grant’s Ataraxia Chardonnay 2008 is sourced from two vineyards in Hemel-en-Aarde and one in Elgin. Grant’s own Chardonnay vineyards in the newly named Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge part of the valley weren’t old enough to go into this wine, but if vines are positively affected by good scenic views these chaps will definitely perform!

At R175 per bottle the Ataraxia Chardonnay 2008 is too rich for my tastes, but it was a treat to savour a barrel-fermented glass with nuttiness, creamy marzipan and mineral notes. It’s rare that we both enjoy a Chardonnay enough to refill the glass.
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The second five-star wine was Newton Johnson Domaine Pinot Noir 2008. R188 at cellar door from the winery’s new flagship range and sourced from the NJ “domaine” vineyards in Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, it’s different to their regular Newton Johnson Pinot Noir 2007 (R162) from Elgin fruit. It takes a while to warm up in the glass but like its humble winemaker Gordon Johnson, the Domaine Pinot 08 eases into the role with quiet confidence. This delicious SA Pinot doesn’t put a foot out of place. A pitter-patter of tannins, delicate length and sweet, squishy cherry fruit. Yum.