Wine bars in Cape Town are scarcer than a gold hen’s tooth. And when you do find one, you realise it’s not a hen’s tooth at all, just a shitty piece of yellow dirt. Caveau? hah. Harold’s? Please. Oblivion? Pull the other one. ‘Wine-bar’ in Cape Town is something to add to the title of your restaurant to make it sound better. It is an empty, hollow phrase. As long as I have a few glasses and a couple of boxes of Overmeer, I can happily change my name from “Harry’s Bistro” to “Harry’s Bistro and Wine Bar”. Continue reading “Publik Wine Bar”
I have been saying this for a little while, and now the eminent MW Tim Atkin has agreed: now is the most exciting time to be involved in the South African wine scene.
If you are into new and sparkly things, however, the local craft beer scene may be even more exciting. It is burgeoning. Nowadays it feels like you can’t open a garage door in Cape Town without finding some bearded, skinny-jeaned chap messing about with barley, hops and water.
The one producer who for me is leading the charge in scale, quality, and intent is Devil’s Peak Brewery. I first head about them when I tasted my first Indian Pale Ale, the King’s Blockhouse IPA. It’s a super hoppy, fruit bomb of a beer. On that day I woke up to a different beer drinking life. The insipid, fizzy, flavourless larger scales fell from my eyes. No longer was I a Black Label sipping Saul, but an IPA guzzling Paul. Continue reading “Beer is Good, Wine is Excellent, What About Wine in Beer?”
Presidents and pilgrims, wine makers and drinkers, wine writers and merchants all come to the Douro Valley to meet Dirk Van der Niepoort, and he greets them all equally in his shorts, shirt, and Crocs. And despite being an incredibly famous wine maker – one of the few who, according to a British wine merchant, is asked for autographs – Dirk is a friendly, humble man with a knack for making wines of intensity, balance, power and elegance. A pioneer in making table wine in the Douro Valley – an area famous for its Port production – Dirk is a deeply passionate wine maker and an equally passionate wine drinker.
He was born in 1964 to a Dutch family of Port shippers, Niepoort Vinhos and studied economics in Switzerland before he started making wine in 1987, the first in his family to do so. He now must be one of the world’s most well-known wine makers and continues to experiment making wines in different vineyards, collaborating with other winemakers, always looking to push the envelope and carry on making what he calls “wines with extremes”.
The first conversation I had with Dirk was in his car on a drive from Porto to the Douro. I was struck by how intently he listened to me, a wine amateur by all accounts, and though he probably has forgotten more about wine than I’ll ever learn, he asked questions and spoke to me as an equal. What also stood out for me in that car ride was the conviction with which he spoke about wine. Whether it was about picking earlier, using less new oak, or the temperature at which you should serve Port, I always found it almost impossible to disagree.
We arrived at Quinta de Nápoles winery on the Rio Tedo in the Douro Valley where Dirk makes his table wines; it is here that you can see a physical manifestation of Dirk’s character and thought.
Completed in 2007, it was built according to three rules: firstly it had to fit in with the environment, secondly the temperature had to be low, consistent and controlled as naturally as possible, and thirdly you had to be able to drive a forklift anywhere. He achieved all three beautifully.
The curved lines of the exterior mirror the terraces of the Douro, and the building – despite its impressive size – seems to merge into its surroundings: the schist of the building blending into the schist of the soil. It is also environmentally efficient. For example, in the two rooms that are air-conditioned (the rest are naturally cool) instead of drawing in the hot, dry air of the Douro Valley and having that be cooled by the conditioners, the air first enters a cavernous room which has been built around a massive piece of rock. Water continually dribbles down the rock face cooling the surrounding air dramatically, and this cooled air is then drawn into and further cooled by the air conditioners, vastly lowering the energy costs. This attention to the environment is also apparent in his wine making philosophy which, he said, is non-interventionist. He uses no enzymes, cultured yeasts or added acid, only sulphur, resulting in wines of freshness, character and wonderful drinkability.
The winery seems like an extension of Dirk. I was there during the middle of harvest and despite the tons of grapes continually arriving and the massive amount of work that had to be done there was always an air of calm about the place. This for me is just like Dirk; he exists with a purposeful quietude despite his manically busy schedule. So busy that when trying to plan a trip with his friend and fellow winemaker Telmo Rodriguez, he could only find time about six months down the line.
At the meals he hosts he doesn’t hold forth from the head of the table dominating conversation, but quietly chats to those around him shifting easily from one language to another. He jokes often. I remember during one meal Dirk announcing, “I like Merlot”. Eyebrows rose and heads turned to look quizzically at him, “it’s good for my health,” he continued, pausing for effect, “I don’t drink it.”
Behind this affability, charm and gentleness there is a ruthless belief in what wine should be like. Dirk has no time for over-extracted, over-oaked, spoofy wines which he believes most wines today are, and dismisses them outright as “shit”. He wants to make wines that are elegant but with forcefulness, wines that are like elephants doing ballet; rich, bold and tannic wines that are in balance. He is currently achieving just that with the 2008 Redoma (the first commercially released Niepoort table wine was the Redoma 1991), a large wild wine which at the same time is tight and structured. It’s full of fruit without a hint of jaminess and majestically balanced; a brilliant wine that will age excellently.
Dirk continually looks for new places to make wines, seeking out areas that will produce the wines he envisions. Apart from his core range of wines there are so many side projects going on I lost count: there is Riesling and Pinot Noir from the Douro, a wine he made with Telmo, another one for a high profile Spanish magazine, another from Ribeira Sacra, and while I was there he was planning even more. There will always be another bottle to drink, just as there are always different vineyards able to produce new and exciting wines, and Dirk works tirelessly finding both.
In an interview he was asked how he would describe himself. His response was, “stubborn and naive,” which might be perhaps as good a description of the man as you will find. Belligerently sure of himself and his wines, but open enough to know that there is always more to learn.
This article was first written for G&W Magazine
Here’s the slightly wobbly video from the Swartland Revolution. I went around asking everyone the question, “Why is the Swartland revolting?” There is also a gratuitous braai shot.
I apologise for the sound quality, all the footage is from my tiny Sony Ericsson X10 mini. If it gets a little shaky it’s probably because I was trying not to spill my wine, which I had in the other hand at all times.
I can confidently say that the Swartland Revolution was by far the most enjoyable wine event I have been to. It was run with Germanic efficiency but full of South African gees. There was a balance between formal tastings and lounging on the grass sipping Bollinger. We ate till we were fit to burst, and drank till we were dancing (read: falling off) hay bales, we chatted & laughed, sipped and smiled; this was a revolution against boring wines, against boring events; this was a revolt against the plain and the sad, the straight and the narrow; it was simply a benchmarking of joie de vivre.
OK. I’ve gushed enough now I can get on with my story.
On Friday (a week and a bit ago – I never said I was into current affairs) I packed my bag with essentials (extra tobacco, bottle opener, hat, waistcoat, rizla, headache pills, pen and notebook) and headed out in what would also turn out to be my accommodation: The four star Chez Citi Golf*
I arrived early and popped in at the Royal Hotel for a quick glass at the bar. Soon the other attendees began to arrive and register. Bottles were bought and consumed in the sun as we waited for things to get under way. I spotted one of my partners in crime Jörg Pfützner and we headed out for a crafty G&T and a sneak preview of the following day’s lunch at Bar Bar Black Sheep.
“Cancel all my appointments, I’m revolting” The deep fried baby marrow flowers were orgasmic
Ready to revolt we made our way back to the Royal Hotel for the first tasting: Quality First eight wines from Michael & Stephane Ogier of the Northern Rhone.
We started with the Saint Joseph Blanc 2008 made from 100% Marsanne. I found it quite grapey with pineapple and spice, nutmeg perhaps. A very satisfying wine, although I found the palate to be boxy, structured around the sides but not much weight in the middle. The decidedly mineral finish was very tasty.
The 100% Viognier Condrieu "La combe de Malleval" 2009 was not quite as good for me and seemed a touch clingy on the palate. But I enjoyed the richness with dollops of white fig. What can I say, I battle with 100% Viogniers.
Then there was a series of Syrah’s from Côte-Rôtie starting with the L’Ame Sœur 2007 from vineyards in Seyssuel that provide schist soils. I thought this an excellent wine, with tomato leaf, black cherries and cedar dominating for me. The tannins were fine and the wine was quite accessible.
My favourite was the Côte-Rôtie "Belle Hélène" 2007 which was gritty with serious weight. Muscle weight, not weigh-watchers weight. And although quite powerful, showed excellent balance. Very young and tight, this will be a brilliant wine.
The ‘99, and I have to agree with Mr. Pendock here, was quite stinky, but I kinda liked it. Just like your own farts smell like roses, here the stink was charming rather than nasty.
I loved the 2005 Roussanne, so rich and textured with touch of veggies, but also some spice. There was some debate as to whether more than a glass would be too much. I finished all my absent neighbours’ glasses to find out. I can confidently report that two are fine, but a bottle without food could become a little tiring.
After the tasting we all trooped up the hill for a braai at The Ou Pastorie prepared by Rueben Riffel. Oh what joyous delights were presented to my mouth. Slabs of pork belly, chops, steaks, hamburgers and sausages, salads and potatoes and more that I have forgotten were liberally piled onto plates, and glasses were filled with mystery Swartland Wines. I wandered about video camera in one hand, glass in the other. I found this snapshot from late in the evening.
Gulping and lurching from one bottle to the next we left the braai and headed into town. A bar was found. One G&T later and I did a bit of a runner. When I saw springboks lining the bar being made with Patrón Tequlia, I decided I would preserve myself. A tad too revolting for me.
Hazily I made my way to my accommodation. I was staying by the Royal Hotel; well, to be a little more precise just outside the Hotel, in my car. I realised the next morning that I should perhaps have parked a little further away when people I had never met before started asking how I slept and if my neck was stiff. You see, as the early risers left the hotel they all stopped to peer in at this wino nestled in his sleeping bag.
Stepping from my car I was promptly handed a crate of ice and set to work – always happy to help I joined in with gusto assisting the revolutionaries polish glasses and pour the wines for the next session. But before that started it was Babelaas Breakfast Burgers for everyone. Adi Badenhorst, wine-maker, parrot breeder and mutton-chop grower, was of the opinion that the whole weekend was setup around these burgers. Quite possible, as without the revolution there would be no Babelaas, and who wants plain old breakfast burgers anyway?
Burgers in our bellies we all filed into the tasting venue for the Eben & Adi Show moderated by Dr. Tim James. Dr. James lamented that he always has to get stuck with a Dr. in front of his name when another wine writer also has a Doctorate in an irrelevant subject. Is it perhaps the striking resemblance he bears to another Doctor of Journalism?
The tasting was kicked off in true showman-like fashion by Eben Sadie doing a cartwheel in front of the crowd as a result of a lost bet. Eben’s tasting was focused around the importance of having an in-depth knowledge of the soils vines are planted in. He spoke of how in the Côte de Nuits and the Mosel they know their land intimately. They’ve spent years mapping their soils and it is something we’ve got to start doing. He said there are two ways to map the soil: one is by drilling holes and testing the soil, and the other is by tasting the soil in the glass. It is when these two maps start to correlate that you have the truth. But the most important thing is to start.
To illustrate he poured four wines from the 2010 vintage. The first three were Syrahs from single vineyards and the third a blend of the three. They were from some of the vineyards that go into making the Columella. Eben described how he had intended to make three Syrahs from three different vineyards but found that the blend was always a better wine than any of the individual ones. Also, he quipped, it is cheaper to produce a single label.
All the wines came from 3 year old casks. What is the point, Eben argued, of spending a year trying to get wines to taste of the soil and then putting it in new wood to taste like a tree from France. An interesting point here was that in his earlier Columella’s Eben admitted to using more new wood, and it is from these wines that he scored higher points from the yanks.
The first wine was from granite soils, which according to Eben have a great affinity with Syrah. It offered loads of spice and bright purple fruits, with some serious intensity. There was a weighty feel to the mid palate, but still a linear wine. I found it stern, but not without attraction, like a sexy librarian.
Wine number two was made from vineyards planted in schist or slate soil. He explained how there are not many wine growing areas with slate soils but wherever they are they produce “some of the most extraordinary wines in the world.” For example Cote Rotie, the Mosel, and Priorat. If we were to take a scale of red wines with Gamay on the one side and Cabernet on the other, Eben says that the Syrah coming from slate leans more to the Gamay side. It is leaner, “like having two safety belts on”, and provides the element in the Columella that makes it approachable younger.
I found it offered floral notes instead of spice, a violet wine. There was an interesting combination of creaminess and leanness. I could drink this on its own easily.
The third wine was from clay rich soil. In Malmsbury there are slivers of clay ridges, and Eben claimed that everyone who makes wine in the Swartland has at least one parcel of vines in this soil. The reason is that it provides such remarkable structure. “Clay soils make big big wines.” This one was no different. It was the one wine of the tasting that I would not want to drink by itself. Or at least not for the next ten years. It was bold, with massive body and mouth rape-ish tannins. A swashbuckling, hide your daughters wine, a wine that doesn’t beat around the bush, it simply beats the bush into mulch.
Finally there was the blend of the three in equal parts. Eben was right, I thought this was the better wine, although for me the granite one was a very close second. Eben said to be a serious blender you have to start blending with the vineyards. For example he has vineyards he includes just for acidity, some for purity etc.; he says he blends what he gets given from the vineyards. And I think this is a point central to the revolution. If your acidity is poked, adding something from a bag on a shelf is counterrevolutionary. The revolution is about purity.
Following Eben was Adi Badenhorst who started off in his usual self-depreciating manner by saying that “Eben’s wines are linear well made wines, mine are anything but that.” Nonsense. But that’s why we love Adi, he makes winemaking sound as easy as making mud-pies, gooi something there, chuck some of that, wait for 8 months and you have a wine. We all know he is bullshitting.
He presented seven interesting white wines from younger vineyards. He described how he wanted substance in wines, not just showy wines with nothing behind them. “It’s like when you have Meryl Streep in a movie,” he explained “you know you will get substance, maybe not sexy but you will get substance.” And substance can come from originality, which he admits is a challenge: “It is very difficult to come up with original stuff. You have to stand back.” This seems almost counterintuitive, but his point seems to be that we have incredible vineyards that are able to produce wonderful original wines, if we simply don’t fuck up the process.
Adi beautifully compared terroir to bees: you have thousands of bees that go out to collect pollen from many many different flowers, and the result is exquisite honey. Terroir is a combination of a multiplicity of elements that go into wine. Another revolutionary point I took away from this (and I am saying this not Adi) is that man is not terroir, by standing back and letting nature do her thing you are able to express the terroir through interesting, original wines of substance.
I enjoyed all of Adi’s whites; the Chenin was round and fresh with mineral chunks and stone fruit flavours. The Grenache Gris was weird (well to me a grenache gris virgin) but wonderful, lots of litchi skin on the nose that followed to the palate, quite oxidative but still fresh and a long finish with a little tannin grip. An exciting interesting wine that makes you think. 10 points (not wine scoring points mind you, more like a high five).
The colombard was funky, fighting fresh and rad. The Verdelho had lovely lines, a very pretty wine that I have dreamt of since. Racy, almost salty with some oily limeyness. “Fan-bloody-tastic” to quote Jörg. There was also the blend which I would have bought a case of given half a chance. I really hope we start to see some of these single varieties being bottled and adding a bit of spice to the local offerings at wine shops.
All happy and bouncy we left the tasting venue and collected a complimentary Riedel flute at the exit. Flutes in hand everyone’s eyes darted this way and that looking for what was going to fill them. Happily the revolutionaries appeared, Bollinger in hand, to fill everyone’s glasses.
Revolutionary Chris Mulineux getting in on the action
Mr. Bubbles himself
I spotted one revolutionary who seemed to be enjoying the Bolly as much as me, wine maker Callie Louw. This proved biblically positive as my cup did runneth over.
Michael Fridjon was up next after an introduction by Marc Kent. The speech he gave served two purposes, one was to launch Swartland Independent, the central committee if you will, to the revolution which aims to carry on the good fight and promote the Swartland’s interests; the second was the launching of South African Sommelier of the Year. I found the speech level headed and necessary, although when the ANC was mentioned (as how not to carry through with a revolution) I cringed as bolly, sunshine and lounging on the grass seemed to be the antithesis of politics. But the points were important and well made, to read the speech see here.
Bolly finished and stomachs grumbling the revolutionary mob made their way to the best restaurant in the known universe** Bar Bar Black Sheep. I, as usual, followed the wine and, also as usual, Jörg Pfützner with his travelling Riesling cellar provided.
The Bucket ‘O Riesling
After drinking and eating steadily for an hour or so an auction was held where amongst other items a Nomblot concrete egg fermenter was sold for R40 000. But that’s not all, thrown in at no extra cost was 600 litres of Chenin donated by Eben and Adi. But more on that later, all I will say for now is watch out for the Silwer Vis.
From this point things got a little wild and woolly. The Real men Wild Ferment walk around tasting began, although there was no word from the host Neil Pendock. Apparently the sound system had disappeared, a bit of a poor excuse I thought, but it did give him something to blog about.
I loped merrily from one stand to the next gulping wines with what some may have considered reckless abandon, but I just thumbed my nose at them and called them counterrevolutionary. A stand out was from a buddy of mine Bryan MacRobert (thus I am obviously biased) the Tobias Chenin. It stood out for its ludicrously mineral finish that made me think immediately of all the Rieslings I had just had. Another style of Chenin which I hope we will see more of.
The day wore on as comfortably as a silk pair of drawers. Before I knew it the sun had disappeared along with the majority of attendees and I found myself performing interpretive dance to Florence and the Machine on top of hay-bales with Tessa Miles. This ended when I managed to fall arse-over-kettle-over-pot and landed rather heavily on the pavement; though I must add not a drop of wine was spilt.
The hangers on went for more dinner at Bar Bar Black sheep (this time the best T-bone this side of anywhere***). During dinner a couple sitting in the corner decided this was an appropriate time to get engaged. We all felt this was fitting and we joined in the celebrations loudly and vehemently. I trust we will make a story at their wedding.
Memories now become patchy. Some of us then kidnapped a waitress, a few bottles of Mullineux White and headed for a lookout point. Then a vineyard.
We all awoke in a car with a farmer shouting at us.
“Shir thish ish private property, you musht leave now.”
Groggily, “OK, but we were just having a kip.”
Opening his car door menacingly “Lishen hear, thish ish private property and you must go right now. Pleash sir, go now!”
“Ok but who do you sell your grapes to? Because we’re never buying it again.”
We then sped off back into town for a few breakfast G&T’s.
Being chased off a vineyard seemed the perfect punctuation mark to end the weekend. We revolted, felt revolting and revolted some more. We drank wines of substance, of personality; they were of the soil, from the heart and fresh as daisies. We also made friends, companions in wine, lovers of complexity fine food and a helluva party.
As I made the long trek to Steenberg to pick up some 2005 Sauvignon Blanc for a old white wine tasting that Sunday afternoon, I reflected that this was the way of the future. Outside of the technical aspects of winemaking the Swartland Revolutionaries had made sure their weekend was fun, an aspect of wine drinking that is oft forgotten. They provided style in swathes and I will be back next year. Maybe it will not be a revolution then, but I can promise you one thing, on Sunday morning I’ll be feeling just as revolting.
A fair question Eben
*According to the HRH accommodation when you have no accomodation review.
**according to the HRH Restaurant Review – it is biased, and impossible, but more than likely true.
***According to the HRH T-bone review – Also biased and ridiculous, but probably true as well
I have packed my bags and am counting the hours till I shove off from work early to take a leisurely drive to Riebeek Kasteel. Mischief may be had, wines will be drunk, and I am not sure were I’ll end up sleeping.
The Swartland Revolution is going to be a cracker of a weekend because there is a wonderful aura of cheerfulness that comes from everyone involved. The guys/girls from the Swartland smile, they joke, they make silly posters, they love wine and make it brilliantly. They don’t just make wine, they make it with style. Which reminded me of this quote from Tom Robbins:
It is content, or rather the consciousness of content, that fills the void. But the mere presence of content is not enough. It is style that gives content the capacity to absorb us, to move us; it is style that makes us care.
So while the verbose bilious bow tie wearing critics argue about the quality of the wine, who discovered them, and who has got what interest and does it conflict; while they moan and groan, bitch and snipe, I’ll be having a party. And by god I’ll be having it in style.
Over the next two days I will be finding out with video, stills, voice recordings and the written word why this lot are revolting. I shall drink, eat, and smoke my to an answer which shall be dutifully reported to you next week.
As I sit here wistfully waiting for the time for me to leave, my imagination cranks into third gear and I wonder whether we’ll end up with one of these for people who continue to make sweet, over the top oak monsters? If we will end up storming the offices of Distell and stringing up those bribing restaurants to have boring wine lists. I doubt it, but it would be fun.
So if you want to find me this weekend head for Riebeek Kasteel and look for the thick of it.
If you don’t have the time or the money to come for the whole event, I seriously recommend the Real Men Ferment Wild tasting on Saturday. It’s only 50 bucks.
I attended a launch of a new natural sweet Mourvedre from Adoro on Monday night. The launch was held at L’Aperitivo on Loop St., an Italian styled wine bar and restaurant run by the brothers Gargiulo.
The Natural Sweet Mourvedre 2009 from Swartland fruit is a bit of an odd ball. It was made specifically to be paired with cheese after a head Sommelier in London asked Ian Naudé for such a thing. He has produced a wine with a residual sugar level of 55 g/l, and a total acid of 8 g/l. It starts off with intense fruit and thickish texture, bright red mulberries, cherries and raspberries. Then comes a whack of acidity that keeps the wine drinkable. I could probably drink a bottle, but after that I think my palate would be a trifle knackered.
Thinking back on the wine I am not sure if I like it or not. It managed the cheeses well, but if I had to choose I would go for a Port. I don’t think it would be much fun to consume glass after glass of this wine without cheese, but I do think that many people will like it, and that it will be an asset to restaurants creating interesting food/wine combos. But I can’t shake the feeling that it’s a bit spoofy. I might misusing the term a tad, (as I understand spoofulated wines refers to wines that have been overly manipulated. The opposite would be artisanal, or natural wines) but the wine doesn’t feel right. The best comparison I can think of is a child dressing up in their parent’s clothes trying to be smart, but ends up looking slightly ridiculous; or a child wearing make-up; ill-fitting, it is an ill-fitting wine.
The wine doesn’t taste bad, it just doesn’t taste right.
So this what happened on the night: 25 people from the trade were served the sweet Mourvedre alongside six cheeses: a Gouda, the Fairview Roydon Camembert, an Asiago, a Tallegio, a Gruyere and a Gorgonzola. The attendees were then to tweet the experiences as the night went along.
These wine ‘tweetups’ seem to be gaining popularity, and this one worked very well. A screen with a twitter fall would have been good to get those not on twitter involved.
A slightly dodgy take on social media from Winemaker Ian. No one seemed to bothered, but then again, I haven’t read anything bad about the wines and cheeses yet. If this blog goes quiet, you’ll know I’ve been hunted down for my ‘spoofy’ comment.
This was the second favourite pairing of the evening. A solid start, but not very exciting.
So far, nothing had really excited me. Nothing had fancied my tickle. Until the Asiago was brought out. Asiago is produced in the province of Vicenza, in the Veneto region and for me this was the best paring.
I was so excited I forgot to mention what the pairing was killing, (it).
I found this pairing made me think the most, going back to the cheese and wine until I ran out of both. So much complexity, a burst of mulberry leaves, then some nuttiness with the acidity quickly kicking in, elevating the fruit flavours. The cheese seemed to give the wine a more persistent, angular finish. I gave that pairing a big “hell yeah.”
Obviously I wasn’t a big fan of this pairing. It didn’t feel balanced. However, our wine loving Balkan friend Dusan did enjoy the pairing.
I responded with
But as most people were not reading the tweets, just this failed to elicit much of a response.
This was a fun pairing although not my favourite. It was fun for the burst of mushrooms that appeared in my mouth after the wine had been swallowed. It was kind of like a burp after eating a handful of porcini mushrooms.
Jan was excited and it seems he was spot on. This pairing was unanimously voted the favourite among the attendees. I however, was less impressed.
The launch was a success, the wine went down well, the pairings were all enjoyed and many positive tweets were sent. And although I was not completely won over by the sweet Mourvedre, the Naudé White 2009 had me at the first sip. It’s a blend of Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chenin Blanc. The blend offers a glimpse of each variety while still presenting a singular wine. There is intense tropical fruit at the start which flows into a slightly flinty citrus flecked finish. I think it offers pretty good value at around R110, which is the recommended retail price.
The Whiskey tasting was held at the Westin Grand with Bruce Campbell of the Scotland from Home campaign. A funny guy who tries to convince the world that he can make as good a whiskey as the pro’s in 5 minutes. Obviously this is impossible, and as such the time honoured tradition of making whiskey is seen as the only way. A smart, tongue in cheek campaign.
We tasted through a bunch of whiskey’s and some ‘lucky’ attendees got to taste some of Bruce’s special brew. On the left here you can see Gentleman Chris Rawlinson taking a glass. His reaction to this ‘instant whiskey’. *cough* *splutter"* “Jaysus!”. I am not sure if the 20 mini burgers he went on to eat was an effect of the Campbell Classic.
It was a fun little event, and the comedy from Bruce helped break up the tasting and kept everyone from nodding off. There was some swag as well. Although most of mine was hijacked by the restaurant staff when I got back to work. I managed to hold on to the bottle of Johnny Walker. Whoring FTW.
From my barstool
I like the place. It offers 100+ wines by the glass, which are dominated by local wines with a few international offerings. It’s not exactly a bargain spot, but the selection is good. I will write up a proper review next week with a tasting of some of the wines along with prices.
With a glass of Mullineux White 2009 in me I was off to Anatoli in Greenpoint for a dinner served with some Nederburg wines. I hadn’t tasted through Nederburg’s wines in awhile so I was looking forward to giving them a swallow. Anatoli is a Turkish restaurant run by Tayfun Aras who has become good friends with Nederburg wine maker Razvan Macici of Romania. They found that they had many national dishes in common, so the idea of having a dinner prepared by Tayfun paired with wines by Razvan came about.
We started with the Nederburg Winemaster’s Chenin Blanc 2009 which was made from Durbanville and Darling fruit, with a portion barrel fermented. It started off a little sweaty but this soon blew off. The nose gave some rich pear notes with a touch of toasty oak. The palate was full of tropical fruit and some buttery flavours underneath. The oak gave a creamy edge but the acidity was fresh and bright which balanced the wine nicely. I was slightly disappointed when the wine warmed up a little as the alcohol started to rear its head a little aggressively. The wine was paired with meatballs in a walnut sauce which was spot on; the food enhanced the fruit flavours of the Chenin and the nuttiness of the sauce worked with the creamy texture of the wine.
Next up was the Winemaster’s Reserve Riesling 2010 with a mezze platter. This wine is very young and rather tight and shy. The residual sugar of 7.2 g/l is mopped up by the puckering acidity. This created a light footed sweet/sour experience on the palate. Despite its youth and lack of complexity (at the moment) this the acid sweetness aspect makes for a scrumptious little number.
The main course, riblets served with courgettes stuffed with burghul and tomato, was served with wines I have been wanting to try for some time; the Ingenuity White 09 and Red 07. The white is a blend of 8 different varieties. You ready? Here they are: Sauvignon blanc (30%) from Groenekloof and Durbanville; Chardonnay (25%) from Durbanville and Paarl; Semillon (15%) from the Philadelphia area; Chenin Blanc (15%) from Darling and Stellenbosch vineyards, Nouvelle (6%) from Paarl; Riesling (5%), and a splash of Viognier (2%) and Gewürztraminer (2%) from Durbanville and Paarl. All are vinified separately and then blended.
Whoah! four and a half lines of components. The reason I went through the painstaking task of copying and pasting them here is that you can feel the wine is made from all of this. I am not saying I could have picked all 8 blind, but the wine has a ‘this-way-and-that’ character. It is fresh and rich, floral and grassy, tropical and taught. I found a slight nittiness, with some sweet apple on the palate as well as floral peachy flavours and a wonderfully refreshing acidity. I really liked this wine. It wears it’s tutu with stripy leggings, Doc Martins and a tweed blazer , but still manages to be cool, sexy even. My wine of the evening.
The red impressed me less. Nicknamed the Italian it’s a blend of Sangiovese (45,5%), Barbera (45,5%) and Nebbiolo (9%) grapes. I enjoyed it, but it just seemed less characterful than the white, a touch flat. There was some sour cherry and leather on the nose which followed through to the palate. The tannins were fine and the acidity refreshing. This all sounds good. I’m not sure what it was that didn’t sit right with me. I tasted and re-tasted, and was simply underwhelmed. It packed a punch, but a somewhat sluggish one, it needs to do some skipping, get lighter on its feet, but still be as big and bold.
Finally there was the Wine Maker’s Reserve Noble Late Harvest 2009 which was poured generously, and drank even more so by me. I love sweet sticky wines. This one has all the dried apricot, apple and honey goodness that makes NLH’s so decadent and dastardly delicious. It’s not shy with 220 g/l of residual sugar but is well balanced by the acidity. Young, tasty and sticky. A vinous Lolita perhaps. Come to think of it I have the right initials for that comparison.
I finished off the evening back at French Toast with a glass of LBV 2005 Port from Dirk Niepoort whom I shall be writing about in the next instalment of “Harry drinks through Europe” as I spent a week with him in the Douro.
The evening was finished by trying to tell my fortune from the grounds left over in my cup of Turkish coffee. The cup is turned upside down onto the saucer and left for a minute before being righted, and the patterns on the side are supposed to give you a glimpse into your future. I got a man with a beard. Hmmmm, it is Movember.
So here I sit at 11887m up in the air, flying at a speed of 885 Km/hr with only 5431km between the plane and Milan. I am busting this post out old-school, with pen on paper. You see I have chosen to leave my trusty Lenovo SL510 at home for this trip. So most of my posts will be written like this: into a journal first and then later, when the opportunity presents itself, onto the blog.
But wait, you say, where are you, what are doing and where are you going? If you are asking this you are obviously not on twitter. Let me bring you up to speed:
Around this time last year I decided that I needed to see a bit of the world again. I could feel my universe getting smaller – as it tends to do when you spend too long in one place, a sort of loss of perspective. But as my bank account was in the same state as modern pop music – gut-wrenchingly empty – it took a bit of scrimping and saving to get going.
Once the idea was in my head I started thinking of all the places I could visit: Peru to Azerbaijan my mind wandered, Aberdeen or Mongolia, could I afford Antarctica, what about China, Japan! And so I saved and dreamed, scrimped and considered. Then my wine gland (I have one and it allows me to function normally if I maintain a steady consumption of interesting and varied wines) kicked in and I was of course drawn to Europe. To France, to Italy, to Spain, Portuagal and Germany my gland pulled. I eventually decided on the south of France because of a wonderful bottle of Hermitage I had during the time of deciding. I now had a plan.
As we all know “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft agley,” but do we know why?
I met one and she is amazing. She already had plans to travel. To Italy. I said I would join her. She wasn’t sure if I was serious. I booked a ticket. We broke up.
So now I am bound for Milan with as many plans as I have cash.
I’ll be spending a few days in Milan before hopefully heading out to visit Dirk Niepoort in Portugal, and I will end up back in Italy to find some classic Barolo and hunt for some truffles, but between Porto and then? Not a bloody clue.
So updates on this blog will more than likely be sporadic, badly edited and, until I buy a cable for my camera, without images.
I plan to drink ridiculous wines, visit extreme vineyards, learn from winemakers and read as many books as possible. This is my task, and by Bacchus I shall keep true to it.
This was supposed to be finished last week. But planning trips to Europe, dealing with hungry tourists and catching up on the practical side of wine blogging (drinking) got in the way. I will try to get the last two parts of my weekend of wine done before I leave for foreign vineyards. (I too late I am already here)
If you cast your mind down the page a little you will remember I left you just as we were leaving Waterford. Eamon had a little heart to heart with the driver which seemed to calm him down and left my thighs very much relieved.
Glenelly was the next stop. Bought in 2003 by May-Eliane de Lencquesaing from the Garlicks – who owned the Stellenbosch property for the previous 138 years – it is a rather grand place. The cellar, opened in 2009, is a four floored, 600 m² gravity-fed beomoth, housing (our estimate) around 10 million Rands worth of barrels.
The wines were very good. Tight and refined. My impulse is to say that Madame de Lencquesaing’s Bordeaux influence is obvious, but I feel that would be slightly disingenuous, as my knowledge of Bordeaux’s wine is limited at best, and have only tasted a little and none from Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande. The wines were well balanced with the oak and fruit not at odds. The Chardonnay was precise with great balance between limey zing, and texture giving oak influence. These wines, in my very young and very ‘umble opinion are made to be drunk a few years after purchase. But thankfully this opinion was not arrived at by having by jaw beaten to a pulp by a 2×4 dipped in wine. The service was impeccable, the staff having an in-depth knowledge of the history, wines and workings of estate.
Since the place was quite quiet and we were charming, a little cellar tour was allowed. The place is amazing. Spotlessly clean, with nothing seeming out of place. Check out the website here for some of the features of the cellar or here for more details on its construction. Pretty freaking cool.
All impressed by Glenelly we got into the car gagging for a bite to eat. OK, well I was gagging. The driver obligingly drove us to our lunch destination the restaurant at Guardian Peak.
A very pleasant lunch despite the fact I chipped my tooth chomping down too vigorously on my grilled lamb loin with samp & beans and green peppercorn jus. I thought it was a fine plate of food, good lamb, and a lovely play of textures and flavours with the meat and samp & beans. But I was greeted with a big “oh come ‘ere, you must be fekking jokin” from Clare Mack who had the same meal. She said it was a little disappointing with the meat not being cooked evenly. We agreed that our differing opinions stemmed from me being too nice and far too hungry.
Bellies full, teeth somewhat altered and ready for our next farm we trundled just up the road to Ernie Els Wines.
I didn’t like any of the three wines I tasted. I found each one showed the alcohol too much resulting in a warm tingle in my throat and chest. They all seemed out of balance. I have described wines before as being like elephants doing ballet, a picture of how their force and weight are able to still be poised and balanced. Well these were like elephants with four left feet trying to do ballet on Ketamine.
When I find wines that I feel are poor, I know I need to taste them again, to make sure that it was the wines and not me. I’ll give the Ernie Els wines another go, but until then what comes to mind when thinking back on these wines is oak, alcohol, ripe, oak and alcohol. Burn baby, burn.
The most amusing part of the visit was an older local lady coming up to the counter to return her tasting glass and telling us loudly, with a slight grimace, that these wines were not very good and we should try somewhere else. The tasting assistant didn’t know where to look. Giggles all round.
Our final stop of the day was all the way out toward Somerset West at Waterkloof. The second visually impressive cellar of the day. This one juts out lording itself over the valley and False Bay below. Service was excellent here, with apprentice winemaker Alex McFarlane presenting the tasting. All of the wines we tasted were good. I was most taken with their 2009 Sauvignon Blanc its gentle oaking (40% was fermented in old 400l barrels) and extended lees contact gave the wine a luxurious texture that is stopped from being foppish (sorry, from my notes) by its zippy acidity and flinty core. Serious and poised. *tips hat*.
The Syrah was also good – quite young and still in its shell – it had a lovely intense black cherry flavour on the palate with a gravelly texture. Not quite elegant, but definitely refined. Guess I need to qualify that: the fruit is still quite upfront and robust but the silky tannins give it a tailored feel. Kind of like me in a good suit.
The restaurant was closed, but it is somewhere I could have lunch at very easily. The views over false bay are immense, I can imagine a long lazy lunch with a few bottles of the Sauvignon Blanc being decidedly ball-ticklingly pleasurable.
That was it for our GWC Bloggers Tour. Conclusions? There were too many overdone wines, the word spoofalated comes to mind, but on the whole the service was good, and there were no major issues. Good times were had by all, but I can’t give all the credit to the farms for that, we would of had a good day if all we had to drink was Obikwa Shiraz and fed salt biscuit; that’s just the type of people we are.
I have to apologise for any glaring editing errors here. I have edited this on a phone. The briliant Sony Ericsson Xperia Mini (more on that later) is not the problem, I just don’t have the patience for it. Also This was a tad rushed to get out, not a very good excuse for a drop in quality, but there it is.
Nachdurst is a German phrase describing the insatiable thirst one wakes with after a long night out. You wake up in the early hours of the morning, stumble to the bathroom, stick your head under the cold water tap and gulp mouthful after life-giving mouthful until you think you are sated. But straightening up you realise the thirst is still there in a bizarre contrast to your bloated belly – that my friends is nachdurst.
*Update: Please check the comments to see the correct use of ‘nachdurst’. It seems I got a little lost in translating.
Even from an early age I have suffered from Nachdurst
This is exactly what I woke with this past Saturday morning after a long night out with Mark Kaigwa – Kenyan child star and digital whizz – after the 27 Dinner on Friday night. Hazily I realised that in 30min I was supposed to be boarding a bus for a bloggers tour of Stellenbosch to promote the Great Wine Capitals’ 2011 Best of Wine Tourism competition.
We visited seven farms and asked to take note of the service levels, selling points, and branding during the time we were there. I am not going to go into detail in each category for each farm; I would rather gauge my eyeballs out with a rusty corkscrew. I will instead give a short (I’ll try) paragraph on each farm and comment on anything positive or negative that stood out.
First stop was at Simonsig and to combat the nacht durst I headed straight for the bubblies. I am a big fan of Simonsig’s MCCs. I think the Kaapse Vonkel (SA’s first) offers great value, and the Cuvee Royale offers more complexity with not too much added cost. I sipped the bubblies and spat the rest, it was very early. The service was veexcellent; attentive and informed. The only problem for us was that Simonsig had been entered into the Restaurant category for the awards, but was closed. Our visit went off hassle free, and the bubbly had worked wonders for moral. Well mine anyway. Piling into the bus we drove off to Neethlingshof.
We arrived at Neethlingshof just as the rain started to gain some weight and fall with purpose. The six of us trotted across the cobble stoned forecourt and into the tasting room. We were surprisingly greeted with a sigh by the tasting room assistant. We learnt that just minutes before a large group had arrived claiming they had made a booking for something and had none. It was strange as I didn’t think you needed a booking. It seems you do for a food and wine pairing, which makes sense, but the server huffed and puffed when she saw us as if we were guilty of the same crime.
Oddly flustered she began the tasting. As Neethlingshof has put itself forward for Sustainable Wine Tourism Practices Eamon’s question as to what these practices are seemed an obvious one. For our server, however, it was as if she had been asked what the PH levels in their Malbec have been for the last four vintages. She didn’t have a clue, so Jan from Spit or Swallow had to step in and give the spiel.
Things got worse on the service front when before pouring a wine she read – not simply repeated, held up to her face and read – the tasting notes off the back of the bottle. Not so great. The wines were OK, I found the reds a little over-oaked, but the Malbec will have mass appeal and is quite affordable (oh balls, I’m starting to sound like a platter guide). The standout was the Maria Weisser Riesling Noble Late Harvest 2009 my wine of the day. It showed a spicy apricot nose with a rich fruity palate that’s chock-full of Christmas cake a dried apricot. The acidity is precise and balances out the sugar beautifully. Freaking scrumptious.
In our absence the rain seemed to have lost interest and we boarded the bus in pale sunlight, giggling at the tasting room attendant who had asked the others whether it was appropriate to serve me as I was wearing an Alcoholics Anonymous badge. The next stop was Waterford who have entered themselves in the architecture category as well as Innovative Wine Tourism experiences, and Wine Tourism Services (I am not sure why all the farms don’t enter this category it seems to apply to them all).
Before we could reach the place, however, we had to reach it. The driver seemed intent on getting in the way of this. Careening around corners at breakneck speed, we at one point wondered if he was taking part in some tastings of his own. When we jokingly mentioned doing this in a helicopter next time he took it as a personal affront and tried to destroy the bus over the next speed bump. During each wayward manoeuvre Claire would grab onto to someone as if death itself was approaching. I have bruises on my thigh to prove this.
But survive we did and all piled into Waterford. The building, according to their website, “was styled along the engaging terracotta design of the classic Bordeaux chateaus of France.” We weren’t buying it, and thought the building was decidedly Romexotuscan – you have to ask Jan about that, he’s the architect.
The service was outstanding. We were at this point a little pressed for time, and when we asked the lady serving us (I apologise for not taking down her name) to speed it up a little, we recieved quite probably the fastest tasting Waterford has ever given.
Waterford’s wines are of very good quality with their Pecan stream delivering on the value side very well. My one gripe is with their entry level Chenin. The last time I tasted it was unoaked and it was a clean fresh easy going Chenin. Now 40% is barrel fermented in French oak. It is still balanced, but I didn’t like the vanilla character that is now quite obvious. What used to be a fun wine has now got all serious, I guess you could say it now frowns instead of flirts. A personal preference, but one I thought I’d share.
Another plus was as we were leaving I asked if there was any of The Jem open. There wasn’t but one of the guys behind the counter was happy to open one for me. Claire says it was because she told him I was South Africa’s Robert Parker, I thought it was because he was after my AA badge.
The 2006 is gorgeous. A blend of the estate’s best Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, Mourvèdre, Sangiovese, and Barbera, it showed dark cherries on the nose along with some spicy cedar notes. The palate is tight and fresh with with some spicy cassis played out on a dusty texture. This was easily the most elegant and restrained wine of the day which made it stand out against the rather bombastic reds we mainly tasted.
So all in all Waterford ‘scored’ well. Excellent service, smart wines and a willingness to open up a R700 bottle wine for a AA badge wearing youth. They get my vote (which I don’t have you understand).
In the next instalment: The grand and ridiculously fancy and handsome cellar of Glenelly, lunch at Guardian Peak where a tooth is chipped, wines at Ernie Els where I spit with vigour, and more wine at Waterkloof where I find a rather ball tickling Sauvignon Blanc.
Last Saturday I took part in a bloggers tour of some farms that have entered into the Best of Wine Tourism Contest run by Great Wine Capitals (GWC) . The tour was organised by WOSA and its purpose was for us to be better informed about the contest, and to communicate this to our readers so there can hopefully be more public participation in the future.
So what is GWC? Let me quote from their website:
“It is the only . . . network to encompass the so-called ‘Old’ and ‘New’ worlds of wine, and exists to encourage travel, education and business exchange between the internationally-renowned centres of Bilbao | Rioja, Bordeaux, Cape Town, Christchurch | South Island, Firenze, Mainz | Rheinhessen, Mendoza, Porto, and San Francisco-Napa Valley.”
They basically promote the wine regions around these cities and the farms within them. I find that the promotion is aimed at international travellers rather than locals. So if I was planning a trip to Rioja, I would check their website and find out about wine places to visit there and other things to to in Bilbao.
Chatting to a friend about GWC he raised a good point that it is a little strange that Cape Town is South Africa’s city when Stellenbosch (sorry Paarl) is, I guess, the centre of the SA wine industry. But then again, grapes were first planted in Cape Town, we have Table Mountain, Robben Island, the Waterfront, and me. So one can understand why Cape Town was chosen, as GWC is about more than just wine.
Now the places that are in this network (and those that win the competition) do not appear to be the most boutique. I worry that the more commercial and better funded operations will always be higher achievers in the competition than the smaller guys. Again, this is about tourism and not just the wine, which is pretty much the only reason I visit the farms. The design, art galleries, petting zoos, fountains and sustainable-green-uplifting-development-bio-diversity projects are really just side-shows for me.
So that is CWG: a tourism network of cities that have strong connections to wine. Great. Now CWG runs Best of Wine Tourism each year looking for the best wine tourist venues in seven categories which are: Accommodation, Architecture, Art & Culture, Innovative Wine Tourism Practices, Innovative Wine Tourism Experiences, Wine Tourism Restaurants, and Wine Tourism Services. Each city works out winners for each category then they all meet up to decide on overall winners. See last years winners here.
Sheesh that was a little boring, sorry. I am not a fan of competitions so it’s very hard to get excited about them. I worry a little about the overall winners being judged by people who have not actually visited them (I have been told the local winners are all visited by the judges) and rather voted through by the strength of presentations. But on the whole I see nothing wrong with this Best of Wine Tourism thing. If we can get more people to visit our winelands that’s great.
So what do a bunch of bloggers have to do with all this? Well WOSA wants more public participation in the judging process. We were not judges this year, let me repeat that WE WERE NOT JUDGES, so don’t get in a hissy fit when you read we did not visit all the farms entered. We were just the first step towards a more inclusive judging process, and to get the word out that this competition even exists.
OK so that was all just to set the scene, a tad mundane, but I had to explain what it was all about. The next post is all about our trip; the highs, the lows, the chipped teeth, a driver with a death wish and a tasting assistant who deserves a dunce hat.
I did not have time to worry about not being in attendance as I saw that Cape Town Girl had a Jack Daniels tasting on:
This chick. So you, like me, will be impressed by my lovely hosts’ similitude.
First off, I am no whiskey taster, I hardly even drink the stuff. But this is what we had to drink last night. We tasted three different version of Jack starting with Gentleman’s Jack. This was the lightest of the three in both colour and body. Not anyone’s favourite at the tasting finding it a little sharp and lacking in something. The Gentleman Jack sets itself apart from the others by it being filtered a second time after barrel ageing
The next whiskey was the Single Barrel offering. This was the darkest whiskey of the bunch and I found it dominated by caramel, spice, banana, and oak. It is aged for six to seven years in the barrel and, for me, was the biggest tipple of the night.
Finally good ‘ol Jack, with that unmistakable oily caramel and sweet spices. I found this the smoothest of the three, and most in balance. I set about the bottle and took pictures while the ladies posed:
By this point Cabernet Franc was the furthest thing from my mind.
An interesting evening. I am still no whiskey taster and will probably not be one for awhile. I find the effect wine has on my being is of jollity as opposed to the more dour ruminative effect of whiskey. I quite prefer the former, but the ladies provided enough jollity and fun to make up for a hundred bottles of Jack.
I’m attending a Jack Daniel’s tasting tonight as Cape Town Girl’s superemo palate, advisor on all alcoholic beverages, and general wine guy.
You can follow the tasting on twitter between 19:30 and 20:30; use #jdtasting or follow @JD_Tasting. There are a bunch of people taking part, so you won’t just have a stream of me blathering on about the oily smokiness of Jack
Thought I would do a bit of reading up before I went, and apparently:
Jack Daniel’s is not a bourbon. It is a categorised as a Tennessee Whiskey whose production method – filtering the whiskey through a layer of maple charcoal before being aged in casks – sets it apart.
Jack died after kicking his safe – he apparently always forgot the combination. The resulting injury became infected. This story may not be true, but a good warning to those who smoke too much weed.
According to Neatorama Jack Daniel’s started a 10-piece Silver Cornet Band. He then got the band to travel the country playing and promoting the whiskey.
This was the band. What does a cornet band sound like? The very question I asked myself. So to save you the hassle of copying and pasting my text into Google, I present the Blue Marble Silver Cornet Band:
I am not really one for dispensing advice. Well not yet anyway. Too young, not enough white hair, and I don’t yet smoke a pipe. One day I will hand out wisdom in the form of long rambling tales from the comfort of a rocking chair. But until then I will hold my tongue. Well, most of the time.
Today, however, you can imagine me as a wizened old man with a staff and a pipe – a non-magical Gandalf who knows his Pinotage from his Ricoffy if you will – offering you some sound advice that, if heeded, will improve your life.
This weekend I re-found the joys of drinking bubbly straight from the bottle. I love bubbly and Champagne. I love it in flutes, in cups, and in hubcaps; I’ll drink it out of gourds, monkey skulls or Riedel flutes; but there is something simple, sensible and slightly visceral about a long draught of bubbly from a freshly un-corked bottle.
We were at the Stellenbosch Wine Festival. Now I generally shy away from these types of outings, preferring intimate dinners to the swelling masses. I do not trust crowds; their swarming rationale bothers me. So maybe that was the reason I tossed the tasting glass aside and raised a bottle of Villiera Brut Natural 2007 to my lips, drinking deeply and happily.
Oh yeah, we can all be friends. Villiera @ Simonsig.
So here is my advice: next time you raise your eyebrows at people like me who start getting carried away by structure, residual sugar, terroir, phenolics, lead pencil, sweaty saddle, and the faintest aroma of angles breath in the morning followed by grapefruit skin that has been caressed by a uni-cycling dolphin; when you feel the fun being sucked out of drinking wine by blind tastings, medal stickers, competitions, politics and ratings; slowly raise your bottle in one hand and your middle finger in the other and say “sod it” to all the nancy pancy wine bollocks we sometimes get stuck in, and revel in the fresh joyous pleasure of drinking bubbles straight from the bottle.