July 13th, 2010

Sarah Goes To Restaurant Christophe (Stellenbosch, SA).

Finding unique and excellent places to eat while traveling is a challenge. After inquiring at all our stops Restaurant Christophe came up more than once and each time with great enthusiasm. As the sun set on the wine lands we headed out to downtown Stellenbosch.

The restaurant is housed in a petite white building off a street that bisects Stellenbosch University. The rooms are decorated in muted hues of gray, lavender, and sky blue. Local art decorates the walls. Mirrors help to create the illusion of space. We were visiting the week the World Cup started, but shared the restaurant with only one other table of four. Granted, we chose to eat early and it was a Tuesday night. The autumn menu of classically French styled soups, gratins, stews, and roasted game was most welcome as the weather had turned cold in the afternoon. It was a decadent meal laden with delicious saucesand reductions. The expansive and reasonably priced wine list features local producers. All of the lists we encountered were an opportunity to try some excellent wines from smaller producers that do not make it into the US. We ordered a bottle of Graham Beck Blanc de Blanc to start the evening off and had a bottle of 2007 Raatz Family Cabernet Franc with us from our last tasting of the day. We were charged a negligible corkage fee. The service towards the end of the meal was spotty, but we were not really in a rush to get anywhere.

Bruwer Raatz, the owner and winemaker of Raatz Family Wines, focuses on Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc. He is passionate about making wines that tell a story of specific soil types in South Africa: granite and sandstone. The result is mineral laden wines of depth and complexity that do not struggle to demonstrate a sense of place. They are uniquely African expressions of two French grapes.

Bruwer is alsoinvolved in a joint venture with Mzo Mvemve. Together they make a Bordeaux blend, de Compostella. The blend varies year to year and focuses on the best juice from that vintage. The first vintage was 2004. The 2007 blend is dominated by Cabernet Franc (32%) with Cabernet Sauvignon (24%), Malbec (20%), Petit Verdot (16%), and Merlot (8%) playing supporting roles. All of the grapes are vinified separately and tasted blind. Only then is the blend created and aged for a further year in oak before bottling. And then, another year of waiting before being released. This is a big silky wine with lots of red fruits, cedar, a velvety texture and big structured tannins.

2009 Raatz Family 'Original' Chenin Blanc: This wine spends no time in oak. The zingy acidity testifies to that. It has flavors of guava, melon, yellow apple, pineapple, green almond, and tangerine zest with a long, complete finish.

2008 Raatz Family Chenin Blanc: This wine is naturally fermented. One portion of the juice is aged in large neutral French oak barrels; the other in stainless steel. They are blended after less than a year and left on the lees for a futher two months of aging. The result is a white wine with bright fruit, excellent acidity, and round texture. It smells distinctly of spices, wet stones, pear, quince, and cedar. These flavors are mirrored on the palate with further flavors of smoke, mandarin, ginger and a long citrus finish.

2007 Raatz Family Cabernet Franc: This wine has the structure of a Bordeaux with the texture of Burgundy. Its acidity provides a levity to powerful fruit flavors that are dominating the wine at the moment. The longer it was open the more the spice elements came forward (nutmeg, coriander). The nose and palate were delightful with flavors of red currant, raspberry, cherry pits, and black currant leaf.