If you have been wondering where all my posts have been recently let me explain. The boys over at Under the Influence saw that I was blogging about their tastings, and said “Shiiiiiiiit (A la Senator Clay Davis from The Wire) we need to get that guy on our blog.” So after plying me with many bottles of wine I agreed to become “Regular Harry; wine writer, wine drinker, wine pervert”. This is what they have decided to call me. I’m not sure about being called “Regular Harry” sounds like a character from a laxative advert.
Anyway that’s where all the fruits of my key tapping have gone. Find it all here: http://undertheinfluence.co.za/blog/
Here is the one from the last week:
As summer slowly shuffles off the stage and winter impatiently waits for the autumnal interval to finish so she can break into her first icy number; it is a good time to make the most of our afternoons before they disappear into darkness. There are few better ways to do this than to join Under the Influence for one of their tastings on the lawns in front of The Roundhouse.
This week’s tasting was titled: Under the Influence of Soil. This reminded me of an incident at university where a student was so under the influence he soiled…I think we’ll leave that one for another day. We were talking clay, granite, and shale; finding out about water retention, drainage and mineral content to see if we could identify any of these variables in the different wines we tasted.
Allister started things off by giving us a few common sense tips to think about when considering soil when tasting wine. What really stood out for me was how, as South African wine drinkers, we are very comfortable saying whether a wine is either cool or warm climate, but less confident in trying to identify different soil types. These, of course, are not so easily separated. Think about clay soils that have poor drainage but good water retention. These soils in areas that have lower rainfall and higher temperatures are beneficial as the vines have a source of water when there isn’t any being provided from the heavens. Conversely in an area that has more rain, soils that are able to drain the excess water are preferred.
In the brave new world we do not think as much about place as the old schoolers up North. The hope was that after this tasting we would start thinking more about where the vines are grown and what influence the earth has on the wines produced by them.
We tasted three flights of wines: The first was three Rieslings, the second three Sauvignon Blancs, and the third a mix of three reds. The wines, as usual these days, were tasted blind.
Allister chose Rieslings and Sauvignon Blancs as they are good varieties to taste when looking for an expression of the soil. One of the reasons for this is that there are less secondary flavours at work, with oak not being used, or if so taking a back seat in proceedings.
First up was the 2008 Sutherland Riesling from Thelema that had a rather shy nose, with quiet notes of straw and pineapples. The palate was fresh and clean with tropical fruit flavours following through. The high granitic content of the soil in Elgin gave the wine its mineral finish. A fair wine, very youthful, and really deserves time to open up.
Number two brought out the typical responses to those who aren’t familiar with Riesling. My favourite from the evening was, “this smells like starting up a diesel engine when the injectors are blocked.” In any case Riesling number two, the Thelema Rhine Riesling 2008, exhibited far more of the turpene character, or maybe I should say, blocked injector notes than the previous wine. It was taught and creamy at the same time, with a little touch of sweetness.
The third Riesling, my favourite, was the Hartenberg Weisser Riesling 2008 which illustrated how strange we wine drinkers are. My first thought when I smelled it, without a hint of disgust, was of garbage in black bags that have been left out in the sun. It was rich and aromatic with notes of dried flowers, apricots, and that most important of hiking provisions – the dried fruit roll.
The three Sauvignon Blancs again showed how quick we were to shout “Cool climate!” and then work backwards to work out the soil types most found at cooler sites. We tasted the 2009 Iona from Elgin that was fresh, herbaceous, with granadilla and grapefruit peel. A cracking So-van-yong blonk, as some of us saffas like to call it rather than the correct pronunciation: so-vee-nyo(n) blah(n). It seems the last ‘Blac(n)’ gives us the most trouble, but not as much trouble as the lovely young Dutch lady got when everyone heard her speak the word as well as Jacques from Normandy; “Say it again. Wait, like this ‘blonk’, no that’s not right. Say it one time for us deary.” Poor girl.
The Steenberg was top notch but it needed some time in the glass. Like a grumpy teenager who has been roused earlier than 1pm, it needs a little extra time to wake up. When it was first opened there were a few grumbles and a shout of, “It’s like a one night stand.” I think he meant short and sweet. Some idiot (me) found that a tautology was the best way to describe the wine shouting, “Ooh, ooh, Granadilla, and ummm Passion fruit!” It’s probably because I have learnt all my fruit flavours from wine, and not the other way round.
The wine did open up and there was a big bouquet of tropical fruits, green peppers and a steely mineral edge. The flavours in this wine were very concentrated which may have something to do with the soils being made up of decomposed granite that offer very good drainage, which would lead to less vigour in the vines. You see, I’m learning.
The final Savvy (that is the first time I have used this abbreviation and it’s crap. I have left it in so you can see how crap it is and so, like me, will never use it again) was the Lismore 2008 from Greyton. It has a bit of oak action going on which gives it a wonderful texture and weight. This wine too needed some time to open up. Which meant I had to steal sips from those around me because I couldn’t manage to leave any in the glass. This stuff is freaking ridiculous. Imagine your normal Sauvignon Blanc. It is green, fresh, spritely, and full of pyrazines (green pepper essence) but it’s about as common as an Essex girl in Essex, and sometimes just as common. Now take that orange faced, pony-tailed, hoop earringed, tracksuit pants wearing, ‘lady’, and send her to Swiss finishing school. After a few months (it is a very good school) she will emerge with character, hopefully finesse, and be far easier on the eye. Basically an all round better person – even though deep down she will always be an Essex girl. This, my friends, is what a little oak does for Sauvignon Blanc.
Finally we tasted three reds: Grangehurst Nikela 2002, the Klein Constantia Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, and the Metzer Syrah 2006. The Grangehurst was a really lovely Cape Blend being led by Cabernet Sauvignon and backed up by Pinotage, Shiraz and Merlot. It was quite lean and fresh, with the Cabernet characters of lead pencil, tobacco and cedar wood dominating.
I was too busy chatting and I forgot to write notes for the KC, if you want to know call Allister and order a case.
Finally there was the one wine whose terroir I can identify quite easily. As soon as I feel like I am eating sour cherries on a dusty road I know I am in the Swartland. And bam! That’s where we were. The Metzer Syrah was all red dust and cherries. This is an excellent wine and one of my favourites of the evening. Its grainy textures working well with the dusty notes. Thanks waiter, I mean Allister, I’ll have another glass.
Dust anyone? Dust?
As the tasting drew to a close, night having put on its dark cloak hours ago, I thought a little about soil as I sipped on the bonus Rioja Allister threw in at the end, a reward for being such good students. Soil is a tough one to pinpoint, especially in our wines from the brave new world that tend to focus on type rather than place. If I didn’t leave the tasting with ability to identify Tukulu soils at sniff, I did come away with the resolve to start paying more attention to characters in the wine that can be linked to different soils.