Bordeaux wines are in many respects the most famous and celebrated on earth, naturally with price tags to match. What is it about these wines that command such power, and is there anything comparable in style and quality in South Africa? We figured there was no better place to find out than French-owned, French-styled and French-run Marianne in Stellenbosch. So on a hazy Tuesday evening after hours, we popped into the gracious Marianne tasting room to sample their tight range of Bordeaux-style reds and signature Sauvignon Blanc.
Upon arriving at Marianne you immediately feel the French influence. This has less to do with the estate’s name or any obvious design elements and more with the fact that everyone seems to be speaking French – which makes sense when you find out that most of the staff are in fact French. Even the South African winemaker, Jos Van Wyk, has a beautiful command of the language after spending a fair amount of time managing both vineyards and cellar at a winery in Bordeaux.
Beyond the atmosphere at the winery, this ubiquitous French savoir-faire is at the heart of Marianne’s wines. With a commitment to bringing out the most typical varietal characteristics of Bordeaux cultivars like Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc, there’s a real sense of French precision. As if they didn’t already have enough French expertise, the help of world-famous wine consultant Michel Rolland has been enlisted in assembling Marianne’s dense and savoury Bordeaux-style red blends.
After an extensive blind tasting session with Marianne’s delightful (non-French, ironically British from Suffolk) sales manager Tom Prior, we’re of the opinion that Marianne’s reds are Bordeaux-style at their best (think sultry layers of dark fruit flavours coupled with some more unusual vegetal elements like mint and fynbos). That said, there’s a modernity and freshness to the wines that we found distinctly South African which extends beyond their decision to include Pinotage, the only truly South African grape variety in their range. Without sounding sentimental, we really do believe that the unique soils and climate in Stellenbosch lend their own flavour to the wines and this is only really made possible by strict care in the vineyard that ultimately let’s the grapes be the French-South African dual nationals that they are.
Because Bordeaux grape varieties are so popular we can maybe get a little au fait (been there, done that) but Marianne manages to harness the traditional with the result being something simultaneously classic and unconventional. Our pick? Surprisingly, the barrel-fermented Sauvignon Blanc (and this is huge coming from two girls who aren’t exactly wild about this grape). So if, like us, you don’t see a trip to Bordeaux on the cards any time soon, Marianne is a great way to sample something of the tradition and quality of great Bordeaux wines, yet at the same time be delighted by how different and exciting these wines can be.