Chris Keet, maker of greatness and Van Biljon Wines…

Everyone’s journey into wine involves specific people and / or wines that have an extra resonance and relevance, that helped guide and shape their future path of learning and wine appreciation. 

For me, this includes people like Glyn de Jager in Pretoria, South Africa, who lectured to me in my very first wine courses at the Cape Wine Academy. Glyn and husband Louis, shared many a fine bottle with me from their cellar including my first Chateau Lafite-Rothschild Bordeaux … a 1976 vintage, back in around 1996. I still remember wondering what I should score this fantastic, evocative, noble wine. In the end I think I settled on 19/20. A memorable experience for a novice. 

Another big influence on my wine journey was meeting Chris Keet, the then winemaker of Córdoba Winery in the Helderberg, near Stellenbosch. I remember Chris had just achieved Wine Magazine South Africa’s 12th or 13th 5 star award ever, for his 1995 Córdoba Crescendo, a blend of 70% Cabernet Franc, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Merlot, or in other words almost a mini Cheval Blanc lookalike!?

Here, the Crescendo 2000 label.

This wine, Chris’ maiden vintage, has now achieved near mythical status and I am fortunate to still have 2 or 3 bottles in my cellar, purchased on release, the last of which was served blind at a tasting in Cape Town perhaps 8 or 10 years ago with my brother and David Van Niekerk, owner of High Constantia winery. Every time I taste this wine, it leaves a definite impression on me.

Fast forward another 10 years to 2016, and again I am being wow’ed by tasting a wine from Chris Keet. No, not his own fantastic First Verse Stellenbosch Red Blend, but the Van Biljon Cinq 2013 that he makes for Julia and Anton Van Biljon in Polka Draai, Stellenbosch. 

This was a wine introduced to me last year when Julia came to London, after being referred to me by Neleen Strauss of Restaurant High Timber, as a potential client for her. We tasted the 2012 vintage and I was suitably impressed, enough to scrounge some stock from Neleen.

Today I tasted the 2013, with her newly appointed UK agent, and again, I was not disappointed. I remember Christian Eedes describing the maiden 2011 release (which I have never tasted) as a wine “with real grunt.” While the 2012 and now 2013 are both big, dense, opulent 14.5 degree Bordeaux blends, they never lose their seamless elegance, finesse, pin point textural precision and focused fruit purity with power (grunt?).

They are quite simply very impressive wines that are undoubtedly almost too young to drink now. In an ideal world I’d love to taste wines like this at 13.5 abv instead of their 14.5 abv… but fortunately, the wine never loses its balance. I certainly tip my hat, once again, to Chris Keet, Julia and Anton for following their dreams to produce a great Bordeaux-styled red in Stellenbosch. 

Van Biljon Cinq 2013 Red (Wine Safari Score: 93/100 Greg Sherwood MW) Available at Handford Wines at £35.00 per bottle.

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