Drunk, Wine Reviews

Eben Sadie’s Historic 2012 and 2011 Releases

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As I have taken a break from writing and thinking about wine – my mind has been in Namibia, writing scripts for an audio guide set in that arid country – I’ve realised I was beginning to take it, and as a consequence myself, far too seriously.

The role of taking a subject very seriously is important, and there are enough of those people around, despite the fact no one in this country cares to pay them much for their opinions. Taking yourself too seriously is a guaranteed road to humiliation, short-sightedness and drowning in a pool reflecting your own face.

There were signs I was on this road that I didn’t notice. Scoring wines. I started arguing for their importance and usefulness on this blog. Who did I think I was? Robert fucking Parker?

Silly of me.

There is more to write about than wine. And soon – I can just see it poking out in the misty future – a new site will emerge here where I will write generally, for my own amusement. Wine will of course remain, but this niche has got uncomfortable, so I am going to blow that popsicle stand.

That being said, I would like to make a self important pronouncement anyway.

Eben Sadie’s new releases mark a turning point in South African fine wine. 

Continue reading “Eben Sadie’s Historic 2012 and 2011 Releases”

Drunk, Visited

I revolted, felt revolting and revolted some more: The Swartland Revolution 2010

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*

p_1289565254I 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.

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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?

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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.

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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.

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Revolutionary Chris Mulineux getting in on the action

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The egg

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A fair question Eben

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The Revolutionaries

 

*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

Drunk, General, Opinion, Rants, and Stories

The Great South African Tasting Note

Alas, the last few weeks have been too quiet on this blog. Quiet and eerie, @’s (the digital tumbleweed) have been blowing through the pages with nary a new word in sight.

Let me explain.

It started when a hubbub ensued over another wine competition. One of Wine Magazine’s challenges had been completed and everyone was tittering about Obikwa winning Best Value Shiraz. A decision that drew as much interest from me as a toddler draws meaning from Finnegan’s Wake. I tried to put my mind off it and turn to the slowly growing pile of sample bottles in my kitchen.

how-to-stop-depression But even this grew tiring. Mediocrity abounds in the South African winelands – not to say there isn’t greatness, just that it lives in a forest of boring bottles. My heart goes out to Platter reviewers.

Vexed, and lacking all desire to blog about wine – despite the pleas from those whose lunches I have attended and have remained silent on – I paced around my apartment wishing for solace in Champagne that I neither had nor could afford.

You see, it is not only the wine that had me down but also the industry’s desire for new voices. Only having started this blog in earnest at the beginning of the year it troubled me to see my inbox starting to become littered by press releases and invitations from PR companies. Don’t they know I’m a novice? Surely they might be in risk of casting their pearls before swine? Have they not asked themselves that I might quaff their sample bottles and write a raging, alcohol-fuelled rant against their precious brands?

It seems not. Rather the industry so lacking in voices – especially those under 30 – wants to foster them and is willing do so by all means of handouts and lunches. Which is great – cooking for one’s a bitch.

It reached a point though – one that threw me deeper into my confused and frustrated melancholy from which no words emerged – when someone at a dinner table referred to me as a journalist. I shushed him quickly looking around to see if anyone had heard; I do have my reputation to look after. If I’m known as a journalist then taking free stuff throws up ethical dilemmas I’d rather pass over in favour of another glass.

Is everyone with a blog now a journalist? I dropped my journalism degree to finish an Honours Degree in English Lit instead, something far better suited to my temperament, I thought. Yet still people want to label me as one. Shocking. Quite shocking.

The next morning, more downcast than ever, I was invited to another tasting. This one, however, promised to lift my spirits. It was a tasting of Eben Sadie and Dirk Niepoort’s wines. Wines I knew to be of interest and delight.

The Wine Cellar was packed. Mr. Sadie has much pulling power, much to the chagrin of other wine makers and writers alike. The wines presented sparked my delight in wine once more. Among them was the Redoma Reserva Branco 2007; its rich nose had a touch of brandy about it. A palate dense and lithe all at once; like a rotund ballerina in silk and pearls swooping across the dance floor. I wondered at its weight and texture, voluptuous but skinny, the weight and acidity played out in a lengthy score of minerality.

lady in stream Also Sadie’s Palladius 2008: another wine of texture and substance. It cajoled me, flirted with me. I thought of pineapples and stone fruit, I thought of possible milkshakes, I considered wine again. A sensual wine, of that there is no doubt; it is slightly viscous but is lifted by refreshing acidity and a taught undertone of minerals. A sexy stream rushing over a pebble bed. In a flight of fancy and anthropomorphising I took the Palladius back to the Mount Nelson, ripped off her clothes and shared a smoke and a bottle of Krug after a lengthy and satisfying ravishing.

The good people at Wine Cellar (the place for wine tastings in the city if you ask me, but remember I’m no journalist) poured for us a glass of Niepoort and Sadie’s collaborative bottle: Cape Charme 2008. This is rich, finely tuned and very expressive wine that I would rather debate with than ravish. Light in colour but not intensity: remember my good friends, you cannot taste colour. It had a floral nose with some meat hiding in the rose bush. There was some sweet raspberry fruit with a beefy shirazzy element on the palate. Textured, long, and very satisfying.

The Columella also delighted. The Redoma Tinto 2007 had the most gravelly, chalky finish that I’ve tasted which, amongst the sour cherry and tobacco, got me all hot under the collar.

Let us not forget the odd ball of odd balls in South African wine. Mr. Sadie’s Mrs. Kirstens 2008. The oxidative Chenin that sells for eight times the price of the vineyard’s age, which’s apparently older than my octogenarian granny. Would I trade it for all the Obikwa in Distell’s cavernous belly? You decide.

It is difficult wine to describe, but what I loved as much as the wine was Eben’s quip that “it smells of a time that is before yesterday.”

The Batuta 2007 filled me with desire for long, smoky dinners with lusty women. The 2007 Vintage Port from Niepoort stamped again my desire for vinous escapades with a thick crimson wax seal on the envelope of my existence.

I drove away dizzy with ideas and passion. Composing in my head the blog post for this wonderful evening. “It can’t be the same!” I shouted at man at the traffic lights. I laughed hysterically before driving on. I had it. It would be written in the second person present tense. I would draw readers in. I would be them. They would be me. They would taste the wines I had. I would write the Great South African Tasting Note.

Arriving home at the industrial apartment I pulled out the laptop and began. Like Jack Kerouac I typed furiously and with speed deep into the night. I called in sick at work and carried on. Not eating or sleeping I carried on drinking. I ran out of wine but the words I felt were still there. I left the apartment in search of more; Coriolanus sounded in my head “Have we no wine here!”

From here on it becomes blurred. I couldn’t find wine at that hour and headed for the docks . I remember playing cards with a Taiwanese sailor, and arguing with his captain about the reality of Dan Brown’s novels. Then, if what is tattooed on my inner thigh is to be believed, I had a torrid affair with a beautiful navigator whose name my English keyboard cannot pronounce.

I awoke in an opium den just outside Kabul. Apparently I started aOpiumSFDen commotion, shouting about a velvet fist I had lost, and that I was sure I had left it in an iron glove. I was subdued by small draughts of arrack and sent on my way.

It took me a little while getting home, so you can understand the lack of posts recently.

I arrived back with a hangover that stretched three continents. I sat down at the laptop to see what I had written. Some of it was OK, some of it resembled: “kj sad slepeginsd dtyiere s fp0ps er s wine irnfc unbelieve ahsy aht diad pqw deport as frpe fjdfn a jfnqqwe Fruit!!!!”

So much for the new Jack Kerouac, more like Joyce on meth.

But what I did learn was that drinking wine is much more important that writing about it, more important than competitions. Also cemented upon my consciousness was that one should strive to find interesting wines that provide freshness and personality, wines that fill you with ‘Wahoo’ over pretty much anything else and damn the price. Finally, that you should celebrate opening wines rather than waiting for celebrations to open them.

It’s good to be back.