Posted on 23 June 2011 by davidbiggs
We all look at life from a different viewpoint.
Take the grapevine, for example.
You and I probably regard it as a source of sweet juice from which wine can be made.
From the point of view of the vine, however, the most important thing it produces is the grape pip. The juice is incidental – a mere by-product. Like all living things, the vine’s most important function is to reproduce itself. It does this by planting a seed.
The grapevine wants to spread its seeds as widely as possible, so it uses birds to do so. Birds eat the fruit, including the seeds, and then fly off somewhere and deposit their droppings, including the seeds.
By now the seeds are neatly wrapped in a little parcel of excellent fertilizer, so their chances of germinating are pretty good.
But seeds have to be mature and ripe if they are to germinate. To achieve this the vine makes sure the grape berry is unpleasantly sour until it is ripe.
Birds don’t eat grapes before they are ripe.
This is not arranged for the benefit of the birds, it is for the benefit of the grape pip.
Modern grape farmers have all sorts of scientific tests and measurements to determine whether their grapes are ready for picking.
But I’ve heard several old-timers say scientific tests are unnecessary.
All you do is watch the birds.
When they start eating the grapes, you can be sure the pips are ready for planting.
At that stage you may as well harvest the juice.
The vine doesn’t need it any more. It was only there to attract a few birds.
Isn’t it nice to know we wine drinkers are looking after the environment by using up a waste product?
Posted on 15 June 2011 by davidbiggs
I always enjoy the Pinotage Producers’ Association’s annual vintage review.
Winemakers from all the Cape’s regions gather in Stellenbosch to report on their new vintages and explain how and why they produced the wines they present. It’s chatty and informal while being very informative.
After hearing the various reports, I think Pinotage lovers can look forward to a season of fresh, lighter-bodied, easy-drinking Pinotage wines from the 2011 vintage.
Pinotage producers from 14 different wine areas presented samples of their new pressings at the tasting session last week.
Most agreed the extremely hot weather in December 2010 had resulted in high sugars in the grapes, leading to higher alcohol levels which required careful management in the cellar.
Fortunately for some regions, the harvest had been completed by the time the worst of the heat-wave struck. Pinotage is an early ripening cultivar.
With careful management, however, most winemakers produced a vintage of elegant wines with plenty of finesse, rather than aiming for big, full-bodied block-busters.
The new wines will be perfect for summer dining and should be ready for drinking quite young.
With lighter style wines, most cellar masters tended to use alternate forms of oaking, rather than relying on long maturation in new wood, which could have overpowered the delicate fruit flavours.
Several winemakers reported they’d used oak chips, staves or oak dust to achieve an easy balance of flavours.
Chatting after the tasting, Professor Joel van Wyk remarked to me that the standard of the Cape’s Pinotage wines had improved beyond belief in the past few years, thanks largely to the efforts of the Pinotage Association.
All the wines tasted had been elegant and attractive, he said.
The Pinotage Vintage Tasting offers winemakers the opportunity of comparing the vintage in their area with those of other regions and to exchange winemaking knowledge.
I wish the producers of Merlot wines would do something similar.
We really do have some awful Merlots out there.
Photograph: The Pinotage Club
Posted on 09 June 2011 by davidbiggs
In farming no two years are the same. There are dry years and wet years, cool years and not ones, windy years and calm years and farmers – no matter what branch of agriculture they’re in — have to adapt to all these changes.
This is particularly true of wine farming. Each vintage brings its surprises. Each vintage is stamped with the changes of that particular year.
This is what makes a “vertical tasting” of wines so interesting.
(For those who are new to wine tasting, a vertical tasting is one in which several vintages of the same wine are tasted and compared. A horizontal tasting consists of tasting several similar wines from different cellars, but from the same vintage.)
I was privileged to attend a vertical tasting of the Galpin Peak Pinot Noirs from the Bouchard Finlayson cellar in Hemel-en-Aarde Valley recently.
The selection ranged back to the 2003 vintage and all the wines showed the elegant earthiness and dark berry fruit we expect from Pinot Noirs from that area.
The earlier vintages showed that these wines just keep on improving year after year. The tannins soften, the mouth-feel becomes increasingly silky and the wine develops harmony and elegance.
If the line-up is anything to go by, the great vintages like the ’07 will be quite stunning in another five or six years’ time.
Winemakers tell me Pinot Noir is a tricky grape that needs careful attention to bring out its full potential.
Peter Finlayson has had more experience of pinot than most South African winemakers, and obviously knows how to get the very best from the grape.
It’s no wonder the Galpin Peak Pinot Noir regularly comes among the very top scoring wines reviewed in the Platter Wine Guide.
GOOD PORT IS FOREVER … WELL NEARLY
Still on the subject of vertical tastings, it was a delight to attend a tasting of a whole line-up of Boplaas’s Vintage Reserve ports.
Port, it seems, just lasts and lasts forever. After 10 years and more, they’re as warm and inviting as ever.
Interestingly some of the older Boplaas ports were bottled with screw-caps as well as corks, so we could compare their ageing.
I found very little difference in the quality of the two, although I am a screw-cap enthusiast. Both were delicious. I am told, however, that wines sealed with screw-caps tend to be more consistent after a few years, while cork-sealed wines may vary from bottle to bottle.
It’s interesting to note that the sugar content of our best ports has been steadily reduced over the years and at around 90g/l they’re almost dry in character, without sacrificing any of the richness and warmth for which port is famous.
My advice is to stock up with a selection of Cape ports for winter. It could be a long, chilly one.
Posted on 02 June 2011 by davidbiggs
I had to restrain myself from leaping up and cheering at the awards ceremony of the Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show in Cape Town this week, when the convenor, Michael Fridjhon announced the trophy for the ”Discovery of the Show.”
It went to the Nuy White Muscadel 2005, which also won the trophy for the Best Fortified Dessert Wine.
The Trophy Wine Show has been running for 10 years and is regarded as one of the most prestigious competitions in South Africa, with a judging panel that includes several respected foreign wine experts.
It gave me enormous pleasure to see a muscadel being selected as the “discovery of the show”. About time, too! Some of us muscadel enthusiasts discovered it many years ago. I’ve always said our muscadels are underrated and deserve far more attention. Nobody in the world comes anywhere close.
Our winemakers spend endless time and trouble trying to create wines that are the equal of the great wines of France, California or New Zealand. “This comes pretty close to a good Chablis,” you hear them say proudly when they’ve made a good Chenin Blanc. Isn’t that an admission they’re trying to copy somebody else’s style? If we told the world about our great muscadels we might hear a French winemaker say with reverence: “This comes pretty close to the great muscadels of the Robertson valley.”
The trophy for the best fortified wine in the “Museum Class” went to a KWV White Muscadel from 1933. Good grief! That’s even older than I am. It just goes to show these great sweet wines of ours can last and last. Let’s treasure them. Let’s publicise them. Let’s tell the world about them at every opportunity.
We have bottled sunshine for sale here. We don’t have to copy anybody else.
* * * *
Other trophies presented at the event included the Fairbairn Trophy for the most successful producer on show, which went to Spier Private Cellar, the trophy for the best red wine on show – Thelema Shiraz 2007 and best white wine – Paul Cluver Chardonnay 2009.
The Paul Cluver Chardonnay also won the trophy for the best wine in the opinion of the international judges on the panel.
A full list of medals and awards is published in the latest edition of Wine magazine.
But remember, winter is the time to drink those delicious muscadels. Go for them! Try them with Indian food for a sublime taste combination.