South Africa’s Eagles’ Nest: Flying High

Eagles' Nest Vyd copyEagles’ Nest is appropriately named with its vineyards high in the Constantia Mountains a short distance from the sea.  Constantia, of course, is the site of South Africa’s most historic vineyards, some of which were first planted when the Dutch settled in the Cape almost 400 years ago.  Exposure to cool sea breezes and predominantly East facing vineyards has led to many of the wineries of the area putting the focus on white wines, but the sheltered, high valley of Eagles’ Nest with more north facing slopes provides sufficient heat for red grape varieties to fully ripen, albeit considerably later and with more hang time than vineyards located further inland. We first tasted the Eagles’ Nest wines when writing Report # 30 The Wines of South Africa and were enthusiastic about them, especially the Shiraz. Recently, we had the opportunity to taste them again, after an exciting vineyard tour led by the very talented winemaker Stuart Botha. As our tasting notes below show, the wines are superb and among the very best of Constantia.

Eagles' Nest Vyd 2 copyThe story of Eagles’ Nest winery starts with a disaster—the January 2000 Cape Town fires that destroyed most of the old pine forest of the valley.  The owners decided to replant the area with vines, except for a plot near the peak that was planted to South Africa’s Silverleaf tree using seeds from the Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden; it is the only Silverleaf forest anywhere.  The planting of the vineyard was an immense undertaking—burned out stumps and roots had to be ripped out, terraces had to be created on the steep slopes, and the vines—mostly Merlot, Syrah, Viognier, and Petit Verdot—had to be planted.  The result is one of South Africa’s most dramatically beautiful vineyards.

Given the bowl-shaped lay of the land, the vineyard has exceptionally varied terroir. Most parcels are north or northeast facing with very old soils, mostly deep, granite based clay. However, the highest part of the vineyard, just below the Silverleaf forest, is comprised of thin, rocky, decomposed sandstone that once lay beneath the ocean.  Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Viognier are planted in the granitic soils, while the sandstone parcel is planted mostly to Syrah. The care of the vineyard is meticulous and must be mostly done by hand given the narrow row spacing and steepness of the terrain.

Winemaker Stuart Botha

Winemaker Stuart Botha

Stuart, a graduate of South Africa’s outstanding wine school, Elsenberg, has worked harvests in St. Emilion and, perhaps for that reason, is particularly fond of Merlot. We found his to be outstanding, but our favorite wine is the Shiraz, and the Viognier ranks right up there with the reds.  The wines are imported by South African Wine Specialists, Cape Ardor.  Both the US import prices and the cellar prices (in Rand) are given below.

Eagles’ Nest 2011 Sauvignon Blanc Western Cape (R75/US$20) 89 The only wine made from purchased fruit, the Sauvignon Blanc is sourced from the west coast and Durbanville. Stuart gives it eight hours on the skin and six months on the lees, resulting in fresh but not overly assertive acidity.  It’s a very good, easy drinking wine with notes of kiwi, Cape gooseberry, and grapefruit.

Eagles’ Nest 2013 Viognier Constantia (R145/US$26) 91 This is the only white wine to be made from estate fruit. Platinum yellow in color, it’s a delicious, exquisitely balanced wine showing a delicate perfume of pear, citrus blossom and dusty herbs with notes of jasmine flower, lemon grass, and white peach joining on the palate. Stuart uses a very gentle, Champagne-like press for prolonged periods to ensure delicacy and balance.

Eagles’ Nest 2012 The Little Eagle Constantia (R85) 89 This Merlot-based blend is a medium weight, bistro style wine matured, like the other reds, with 1/3 new French oak.  It’s a lovely wine for pizza or pasta with sweet, earthy dark red fruit and round tannins.  A fabulous wine for the price (the equivalent of US$ 8). A blend of 44% Merlot, 18% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Petit Verdot, and the rest Cabernet Franc.  Not imported to the US.

Eagles’ Nest 2009 Merlot Constantia  (R145/US$26) 91+ The Merlot emits scents of ripe plum, earth and spice. It’s velvet smooth with ripe, but still firm tannins. The finish is lone and fruit rich.  A beautifully refined wine. The 2010 vintage, which will be released shortly, has a bit more weight.

Eagles’ Nest 2011 Shiraz Constantia  (R225/US$50) 92+  South Africa does Syrah superbly, and this is an excellent example. The wine is extravagantly aromatic, deeply flavored, and delightfully balanced with velvet tannins. It’s elegant, layered and silky with notes of red fruit and underbrush complementing the core of earthy, darker fruit.

Don Winkler from Cape Town

December 2014















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