Regionality is a strong theme at Idiom and the aim is to give local expression to the great wine varieties of the world, writes Sebastian Bartlett.
All great wines have a story and the remarkable tale of Idiom begins back in 1950, when eight-year-old Alberto Bottega emigrated with his parents from northern Italy to South Africa. Though he dreamed of a football career, his mother encouraged him to study and, after graduating from the University of Cape Town, he forged a successful career in the world of finance. “My father was fortunate to travel extensively and to taste top wines from around the world,” explains his son Roberto, who is at the helm of the family business today. “He was always fascinated by how these grapes would feature in a Cape idiom. It’s about the Cape’s expression of these great wine regions of the world.”
It’s a captivating idea and one that would finally come to life in 1997, when Alberto purchased a tract of mountainside above Somerset West. After extensive soil mapping, the first vines on the property were planted between 1999 and 2001. Alberto’s dream was a new beginning. He was starting from scratch. Or, as you’d say in Italian, da capo. And so the new vineyards had their name.
“We have windswept mountainside vineyards,” says Roberto. “We’ve got decomposed granite soils under these incredible peaks, which also act as the catchment area for the rain. So we end up with low-yielding vines that deliver small berries of concentrated flavours. And those are our building blocks.”
In the cellar, those building blocks are vinified into a remarkable array of wines that celebrate both noble and niche varieties, bottled as both complex blends and enigmatic single-varietal expressions. Happily, there’s an equal diversity of tasting experiences to match. Visitors to the estate can choose between bespoke tastings across the Idiom White Wines, Single Varietals, Italian Varietals and Idiom Blends.
“Regionality is a strong theme of Idiom and education is a strong theme of any visit to the tasting room,” adds Roberto. “In a tasting here, visitors enjoy a history lesson as well as a geography lesson… And they have fun tasting the wines!”
The ‘900 Series’ of wines is another Idiom flavour journey to discover. Produced only in exceptional vintages, this single-variety series is a selection of the three best barrels of a particular variety. Three barrels, or 900 bottles. If you’re after something special for your cellar, look no further.
“These are our benchmark components,” says Roberto proudly. “And these are the moments where the marriage of wine and wood is just magical.”
The alchemy of pairing
While the Idiom restaurant offers a contemporary culinary experience, with wonderful views to match, a fine way to delve into both the wine and food of Idiom is with a canapé tasting, where bite-sized creations are paired with specific wines from the estate. A trio of canapé experiences is offered, from a single-variety discovery to macaron pairings. But the standout is surely the pairing with the Idiom blends that perfectly encapsulate the history and philosophy of the estate.
Here the Idiom Rodanico Blend, built on Shiraz alongside Mourvèdre and Viognier, is poured alongside a plate of seared kudu served atop chocolate ganache and coffee chutney. With the Bordeaux-style Bordicon blend, a succulent kebab of beef arrives with a flavoursome peppercorn cream and crispy kale.
“It’s about ensuring that the dish and the wines are perfectly matched and this plate really expresses the earthy characters you get in a Bordeaux-style blend,” explains Johan Rossouw, sommelier and tasting room manager at Idiom.
The Idiom Cape Blend, on the other hand, showcases the versatility of South Africa’s sig- nature grape. The subtle mint and herbaceous character of Pinotage – courtesy of the eucalyptus trees that shelter the vineyard – is neatly echoed in the lamb roulade plated with delicious mint jus. And no surprise that this wine is regularly judged in the top five at the annual Absa Perold Cape Blend Competition.
Although Idiom already offers a diverse selection of wines, an eye is kept on continual refinement, honing the portfolio to ensure there’s an opportunity for every palate – and
pocket – to enjoy a taste of the estate. Building on the success of the accessible Heritage Series, an exciting development is the expansion of the range to include a new Idiom Cape Red, based on Pinotage.
“And further down the line we are looking to grow the range to include a single-variety Shiraz, Merlot and Pinotage, all in this more accessible format,” adds Roberto. At the other end of the scale, the cellar will also soon launch a new super-premium Idiom release dubbed ‘The Works’. Blending all 15 red varieties grown on the estate “it will be a journey through the Idiom vineyards, in a single bottle,” adds Roberto with a smile.
And the labelling? A tribute to the mathematical background of Alberto, the man who started it all. In a very real way, it’s the story of a family-owned winery coming full circle. With a new flagship, going back to the very beginning. Or, put another way, da capo.