Behind the label with Ataraxia and Constantia Glen

South African wine month is well underway at The Oxford Wine Company.  We were lucky enough this week to take part in a tasting of two fantastic South African producers: Ataraxia and Constantia Glen.

Ataraxia, based in the upper reaches of Hemel-en-Aarde, is the brainchild of winemaker Kevin Grant. The name Ataraxia is Greek for a state of calmness, and that calmness is just what Kevin is trying to show with his wines. As he puts it, these wines should whisper and not shout. The first of his two wines, we tasted was the Ataraxia Chardonnay. Or as the back label states, ‘black chardonnay’? No, the grape is not black. Kevin uses an uncommon method of vigorously working the fruit and instead of denying the juice oxygen, excessively aerating the wine almost to a point of complete saturation. The dark, ebony-coloured juice resulting from this process (hence the use of the word “black”) is transformed into a scintillating green-tinted yellow hue by the end of fermentation. This wine is the opposite of what you would expect from and overly oxidized wine. The nose is subtle with restrained notes of orchard fruit and oak. These notes continue to grow showing themselves beautifully on the tense and concentrated palate.

Next, we moved on to taste the Ataraxia Pinot Noir. After ten long years of supplementing grapes and waiting for his vines to age, 2016 was the first commercial vintage of this pinot noir. Kevin has kept true to his whisper-and-not-shout vision. This is not the intensely fruity new world wine you might expect. Aged in 20% new French oak, this wine is closer to Burgundy in style. It’s light in colour with notes of red fruit, oak, and a dried woodsy quality. I’m excited to see development in future vintages of this wine as Kevin’s vines continue to come of age.

Next up, we tasted two wines from Constantia Glen. Clustered around Constantia Neck, where Constantiaberg and Table Mountain meet, the Constantia Glen farm is dedicated largely to Bordeaux varieties. Wine maker Justin van Wyk names his wines for the number of grapes in the blend. We tasted Two and Five.

The first of the two wines, Constantia Glen Two (yes, this is confusing) is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Constantia’s best-known grape, and Sémillon. Aged in barrels, the searing acidity of this wine can hardly be contained. There are concentrated pineapple and stone fruit notes on the nose. This is a great wine to pair with a light summer’s meal.

Next up we sampled Constantia Glen Five, a blend of the five Bordeaux varieties – Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot. The 30% Cabernet Franc perhaps shows the most of its character bringing notes of raspberry and herbs to the nose. This is not your bruising Bordeaux blend, rather a polished relatively light wine with well-integrated tannins and a concise bright finish.

You can find all four of these wines at your local Oxford Wine Company shop!

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