The Durbanville wine route is home to a wonderful constellation of wineries, some of which are so commercial and well-known that they have become synonymous with the region (think: Durbanville Hills), while others remain small and boutique in size, yet are lasting in impression. The Hillcrest Wine & Olive Estate belongs in the latter category. Tucked away into the undulating, vineyard-clad Tygerberg Hills of the Durbanville winelands, Hillcrest is a popular destination, particularly for locals who flock here for casual al fresco lunches, summertime concerts in the “quarry”, or to purchase a bottle of wine, olives, or extra-virgin olive oil.
Today, however, we headed to Hillcrest with a slightly different agenda. A year ago, the estate launched a range of single vineyard selection wines, which winemaker Arno Smith christened “Saartjie” after his beloved Jack Russell fur baby. Now, the 2018 vintage is ready to be launched and it was our sublime joy to be amongst the first to taste it!
The Saartjie Range
The Saartjie range consists of four single vineyard, single cultivar wines that are a powerful expression of the region’s unique terroir and Arno Smith’s winemaking prowess. Hillcrest Estate’s altitude and aspect in the Tygerberg hills leave its vineyards caressed by the afternoon sea breezes that flow inland from the Atlantic Ocean, creating the perfect foundation for structured, yet elegant cool climate influenced wines.
The choice in cultivars for the Saartjie range lies somewhat outside the well-trodden path of this region, which we were most excited about. They are Sémillon, Malbec, Petit Verdot, and Cabernet Franc and, for the launch, each had been married to a carefully crafted food course.
Wine and food pairing
Our large group sat down at an immense harvest table, handsomely decked with flower arrangements and bottles of the Saartjie range wine for us to stare at longingly while we waited for the evening’s proceedings to commence. Saartjie herself – winemaker Arno Smith’s little Jack Russell – happily trotted about lapping up the love and affection showered upon her by the guests, and seemingly quite unaware of her new celebrity status.
Saartjie Sémillon 2018
Then, with the polite tinkle of fork against wineglass, Arno introduced the first wine of the range: the Sémillon 2018, which was brilliantly paired with a dish of seared tuna, grapefruit, crunchy green beans, and wasabi hollandaise. To us, the Saartjie Sémillon brought to mind an unwooded Chardonnay, robust in character and complexity and dominated by citrus, owing to the high altitude of its origin vineyards. Its complexity – a product of wild yeast fermentation – was softened by the wine’s peachy and floral notes.
Saartjie Cabernet Franc 2017
Next in the Saartjie range was the Cabernet Franc 2017, which was a gorgeous deep garnet in colour and bursting with syrupy dark berry and prune flavours, underscored by subtle wild fynbos. This was paired with a ball of deep-fried goat’s cheese on beetroot purée, blushed cherry tomatoes, avocado, and basil. On paper, I found the match-up a surprising one but on the palate, the dark fruits of the wine and its savouriness were an exquisite pairing with the earthy goat’s cheese.
Saartjie Malbec 2017
The third wine of our Herculean food-and-wine feast was the 2017 Malbec, which was paired with a melt-in-your-mouth beef fillet seasoned with rosemary and coriander and served with a delicious and indulgent bone marrow custard, seared shimeji (edible mushrooms native to East Asia) and crispy onions. A beautiful deep purple in colour, the Malbec was a full and rich red wine with a good tannic backbone and juicy plums, red berry fruits, and vanilla on the nose.
Saartjie Petit Verdot 2016
All evening, I had been most excited to try the Petit Verdot, a varietal that all too often finds itself as one of several wines in a red blend – the frustrated back-up singer in the band. The Saartjie Petit Verdot is the biggest and fiercest wine of the range and its gorgeous, voluptuous nature made me question why more wine estates don’t produce single varietal bottles of this cultivar. Intense and full-bodied, the wine’s robust tannins were beautifully balanced with flavours and aromas of dark berries, dark chocolate, and violets. The food pairing was pan-fried duck breast with confit leg of croquette, a fondant potato, pea purée, and cherry jus.
By the time dessert hit the table, we were all groaning with the volume of food and wine we had enjoyed throughout the night. But, of course, the dessert stomach kicked in and we were able to do the chocolate fudge pecan brownie with vanilla bean crème, pistachio crumb, and berry sorbet full justice.
Few better places to watch the summer sunset
Our experience at Hillcrest Wine & Olive Estate served as a reminder that one need not mission out to far-flung Franschhoek or Stellenbosch to enjoy the fruits of the winelands. Right here in the gently undulating Tygerberg Hills, there are beautiful gems like Hillcrest that are serving up exquisite food and wine with breath-taking views of the Atlantic from its lofty vantage point.
There wasn’t a single negative comment about the Saartjie range to be heard around that table and it wasn’t because Saartjie herself was on patrol but rather because every wine was delicious, beautifully paired with the food, and will only become exponentially better with age. Even better news than the release of this sterling range’s new vintage is that Hillcrest will now be opening its doors on Friday and Saturday evenings; and you’ll be hard pressed to find a better place to watch the sun set!
Hillcrest Wine & Olive Estate is open Sunday to Thursday, 09:00 to 16:00 and, on Fridays and Saturdays, 09:00 to 21:00.
For bookings and enquiries, check out the website at www.hillcrestfarm.co.za or call 021 007 2818.