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.

Continue reading “Big Bottle Party Debrief Part Two (the last, phew)”

Exploring, General, Visited

Dirk Niepoort: A humble, Croc wearing maverick.

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

Opinion, Rants, and Stories, Visited

The Goodbye Post I Ended Up Writing On the Plane

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 do.


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.

Unitl I get my camera sorted I can provide you with stolen pics that are much better than I can do. Lovely spot that, passed by it before lunch.

Thankfully however I am incredibly lucky to have been given the use of the new Sony Ericcson Xperia Mini to use for my trip. So from tomorrow you will able to follow my goings on via twitter.

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.

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.


For the Love of Great Wines Workshop at the One&Only

Like a paedophile attending the premiere of Teletubbies – The Movie I can barely contain my excitement. You see the One&Only Cape Town is having its first birthday next month and they’ve decided what better way to celebrate than having lots of fine wine and a couple slap up dinners.

I’ll be going to the tutored tasting. Jorg, (the go to guy for fine wine events) has brought out four winemakers to show their wines along with a 90 minute presentation.

In the Portuguese corner:

Dirk van der Niepoort - Copy This is Dirk Niepoort of the Douro Valley. I tasted some of his wines last year, a port and a Riesling, I have heard so much about him since I’m really looking forward to these wines. A glowing description of him and his achievements can be found here.

The wines we’ll be tasting:

  • 2005 Late Bottle Vintage Port
  • 2007 Vintage Port
  • 1998 Colheita
  • 2007 Ubunto
  • 2007 Redoma Tinto
  • 2008 Tiara

Representing the Germans:

Egon Müller - Copy Egon Müller of Scharzhof Estate on the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer will be pouring us some of his well known and respected Rieslings. It is rumoured that he will be showing a wine that – if you find someone willing to sell it– costs around R15 000 –R20 000 a bottle.

The wines:

  • 2008 Kanta
  • 2008 Belá
  • 2008 Scharzhof
  • 2007 Scharzhofberger Kabinett
  • 1995 Wiltinger braune Kupp Spätlese
  • 1999 Scharzhofberger Auslese
  • 1983 Scharzhofberger Beerenauslese

The Austrian connection:

Michael Moosbrugger - Copy

Michael Moosbrugger of Schloss Gobelsburg in the Kamptal, Austria makes outstading Grüner Veltliners, I am especially looking forward to tasting the 2007 Schloss Gobelsburg  Tradition, which is an attempt to make the wine as it was made on hundred years ago. Here is Jamie Goode’s take on it.

Sipping on his:

  • 2009 Gobelsburger Grüner Veltliner*
  • 2008 Schloss Gobelsburg GV* Kammerner Renner
  • 2008 Schloss Gobelsburg GV* Kammerner Grub
  • 2007 Schloss Gobelsburg GV* Tradition
  • 2007 Schloss Gobelsburg GV* Auslese
  • 2007 Schloss Gobelsburg GV* Beerenausles

Keeping it real for the Frenchies:

Nicolas Potel - Copy

Nicolas Potel of Domaine de Bellene in Burgundy, France sources his grapes from all over Burgundy. The vines are aged between 50-100 years old and are all farmed bio0dynamically.

The French tipples will be:

  • 2008 Montagny 1° Cru
  • 2007 Meursault Vieilles Vignes
  • 2007 Puligny Montrachet 1° Cru refert
  • 2008 Volnay Vieilles Vignes
  • 2007 Vosne Romanée 1° Cru Chaumes
  • 2006 Charmes Chambertin Grand Cru

So that’s what I will be doing on the 15th of April. If you’re keen, contact Claire Lockey at info@finewineevents.co.za.