Big Bottle Party Debrief Part Two (the last, phew)

**Warning. This is long, slightly rambling, and is mainly about me drinking.***

I left you last time as made my way from the Rare Blanc de Blancs tasting toward dinner. Not quite tottering yet, by jolly enough to high-five whomever crossed my path. The dinner was held in The Conservatory and on my way there I thought I would try a quick blog post. The idea I had – and oh how naive was I – was to fire off a quick post at various stages of the weekend. I managed two. Anyway, I grabbed a quick glass of Joh Jos Prum 2007, sat, and banged away at the keyboard for 10 minutes ignoring one and all. Having posted those 500 words I took my seat at the dinner table.

My poor table buddies. Or at least I feel sorry for them. Put a bit of fine wine in me, surround me with smart people and it is very for me to stop talking. I banged my fist, I shot my mouth, I solved many world issues – and this was before the first course of blackened Yellowtail sashimi had been served.

I hate rattling off a whole dinner menu. I’m not a foodie, I’m a wino. But the food by Peter Templehoff was sublime. If there is one problem with these long and sumptuous dinners where many many fine wines are poured, it is that one cannot give each one its proper due.

What were they? Well, there were two youthful Grand Cru Chablis from the Le clos vineyard. Quite brilliant, but tight and not yet unfolded.

The Highlight of the evening – wine wise – was the 2007 Weingut Müller Scharzhofberger Auslese from the Mosel. It was sweet, fresh, long, unctuous. I felt rich drinking it (although, of course, the privilege was making me all the poorer). It could only have got better if I had drunk it on a throne with minions at my feet, maidens waving foliage in my direction and a brother plotting my death behind a screen. It was that sort of wine.

Red highlights? I thought the 2006 Château Gruaud-Larose 2nd Growth, was very good. A fine wine with a gravelly texture, ripe tannins and good length. A grown up wine. A wine in a suit; angled, experienced, with a firm handshake.

The Columella 2005 didn’t show as well as some I have had (like a 2000 I had this weekend that blew the bloody doors off), notes are blurred and rather useless at this point. It seemed to lack the big, dense side accompanied by a surprising elegance that I normally find.  Or maybe it was its company that outshone it. The 1995 Domaine du Pegau Cuvée Laurence, Chateauneuf du Pape was brilliant. Poured out of the biggest bottle of the night (a 9 litre Salamanzar), it was broad, with loads of dried fruits and some earthiness on the nose. The palate was deep but with a light touch. There was a wild element to the wine. Gamey, I guess, is the descriptor, but it doesn’t seem right. Let me try and explain. I am outside. This sentence could describe me in being in a manicured garden, or a vast rambling wilderness. This wine’s flavour was the wilderness.

Some of the night's casualties

As the dinner carried on I – shamefully – found it harder to give enough serious thought to the wines, but far more to tirades about my disdain for Paulo Coelholove for 17th century poetry, more high-fiving and hugging, sneaking more Chateauneuf , and proclaiming that genius is condition best served with Champagne. In short the dinner was going along as it should.

It slowly crawled to an end, as the best dinners are want to do. The final flourish was a 1983 Niepoort Vintage Port. Rich and powerful with great complexity. I had completely given up with notes at this stage. There were also macaroons.

As always I was one of the last to leave, and with Jorg and a few others we valiantly tried to finish the Imperial of Gruaud-Larose Did I say tried? Ha! We nailed that bad boy. Spilling out of The Conservatory there were cries of “To Town!” which thankfully were quashed by the more responsible of our party. Unfazed two of us tried to storm the bar demanding beers, women and song. To call the looks the staff gave us as quizzical would be like calling the Salon Le Mensil everyday drinking wine. With eyebrows set around the back of their heads the staff politely told us the bar was closed. Equal parts relieved and disappointed we retired for the night.

The three big cheeses, Rene, Claire and Jorg

Despite it being a no-rooms-at-the-inn scenario I managed to find a place to lay my head for the night, and with the Cellars-Hohenort reverberating with my contented snores the night passed without event.

Of course I wasn’t just at the Big Bottle Festival to drink; no sir, I was there to assist. The next morning, after a good breakfast, “ah yes, room 212 good sir,” I was helping setup tables and other paraphernalia for the walk around tasting that afternoon. The tasting would see SA’s finest pouring their wares from large format bottles. From the stand-up-comic-cum-winemaker Adie Badenhorst (who had to be convinced to change into jean pant), to the altogether more fancy-pants Constantia producers. They were all arriving at 15:00 and we had a lot of work to do.

On a personal note: it was rather gratifying to think that only a short two years ago I was selling my soul to bacchus to attend a Riesling festival knowing not a soul, to this weekend being on the other side of the table with people asking me where they had to go. Who says a hardy constitution and a hankering for the finer things can’t get you anywhere?

So we carried and we moved – with a little help from a quarter decanter’s worth of the 95 Pegau – we instructed and we set things up. As with all of these events everything came together at the last moment, and as we were directing the last few producers to their tables so the guests began to arrive.

I felt as though the day was done. Ready to retire with a decanter of port and a back-rub. Oh, how I was mistaken. I called to Aeolus for my second chance, and started slowly at the Champagne tables. The 15 litre Guy Charbaut NV was a treat, and gave Hendrick’s arms a good work out. Then a little bit of Pol Roger to enliven the tired bones.

Hendrick working out.

In the swing of things I began to bounce from one producer to the other. The brilliant Syrah from Mullineux, the 1ively white blend from Adi Badenhorst, the consistently fancy, straight-laced pencilly Mount Bullet from Shannon. But for me these walk around tastings are all about atmosphere, joie de vivre, back-slapping, high-fiving, laughing, joking with conversations as diverse as the existence of Bacchus, is it immoral to love chocolate Pinotage, and will yoga make wine taste better (It didn’t, but my balancing ability was better than I thought). I met people I was convinced were in a band, but weren’t. So I explained they should start one and what each of them should play.

A band, right?

The setup of the walkaround tasting was ingenious, with different groups of producers in different areas of the hotel. So it felt less like a wine show and far more like a party spilling from room to room; each one taking on its own character, diffusing the crowds, and demanding that you had a good time.

I found my dinner companions from the night before; I apologised and immediately began to rant once more. Arm in arm we made our way to the auction. There was an auction. I didn’t bid. I drank more champagne.

Sold! (But whimsically, I like to think he is saying "To Town!"

Things become patchy form here on out. I tried to pour a double (triple?) magnum over my shoulder, ended up bathing in wine. I remember someone dousing me with water. It turns out I doused myself. Dripping wet I made new friends, tried more yoga, and drank more bubbly. I walked out one of the rooms glass full and took a deep contented breath; as I was exhaling a taxi filled with the best bits of wine, women and song pulled up in front of me and the doors flew open. “To town!” was the cry from within. I took one look back at the hotel and jumped in.

***Intermission – involving Assembly, gin and tonics, and a DJ called gas-stove, or was it lamp? Or possibly just tro?***

Arriving back at the hotel the next morning I was, as Bilbo Baggins brilliantly describes, feeling like too little butter spread over too much bread. There was a Champagne brunch on the go which I didn’t have a ticket for. I ordered a coffee which, owing to my circumstances, was one of the best things I have ever tasted. That was, of course, until the rest of the group found me, laughed at the state I was in and shoved a glass of 1999 Pierre Moncuit Cuvée Nicole Vieilles Vigne Grand Cru into my slightly grubby, but welcoming paws. Again, no notes, but I remember a clean clean line of acidity, and layers of flavours that seemed to say, “don’t worry Harry, everything is going to be alright.” And by jove they were right.

Once the brunch had concluded the jovial party spilled out into the bright end-of-winter sunshine and proceeded to order Sauvignon blanc with such gay abandon that the party began all over again. Pour it again Sam. Or, more correctly: You poured it for her, you can pour it for me . . If she can stand it, I can! Pour it!

It was, perhaps, the most enjoyable aspect of the weekend, everyone tired but happy, swapping stories of rhinos, lions and other wildlife exploits, debating identity, and doing cartwheels on the lawns. A delightful end to a long, hedonistic, and satisfying weekend. Did we give all the great wines there enough time? Did our noses spend enough time in the glass? Perhaps not, but did we consume them in the right spirit? Of that there is no doubt. A spirit of friends, new and old, breaking bread and sharing glasses of fine wines with conversations peppered with guffaws, chuckles, and the odd rant. A more perfect weekend one could not ask for.

All photos stolen from the Fine Wine Events Facebook Page. They are taken by the excellent Jurie Senekal 


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