Posted on 29 January 2012 by davidbiggs
As far as I can see, there are two main streams of thought when it comes to winemaking. The traditional way is to allow the grapes to develop into whatever Nature has in mind for them.
Then there’s the “scientific” route, in which the winemaker works to a formula, creating a wine to suit what he or she knows the market wants.
Most of the budget priced wines we make fall into the second category. The producers try, by clever cellar technology, to make the same wine year after year, altering the acidity and sweetness, the tannin structure and colour to match last year’s crop.
This has the advantage of consistency. Buyers of these wines like to know they’re getting the same wine they enjoyed last month and last year.
The famous wine producers of France claim to make wines by the first method, which is why they say certain vintages are greater than others – it all depends on the weather, the wind, the warmth and the time at which the rain fell – or didn’t fall.
Some might say this is a cop-out. When you produce a bad bunch of wines you blame it on the vintage. It’s the grapes’ fault.
Of course, whatever they may say, the vintners of France use all the modern technology they can lay their hands on to encourage the vintage to be closer to the perfection they aim for. Nobody can afford to be absolutely purist these days.
On the local front there are many winemakers who try to let the season dictate the wine’s character. The emphasis has moved from the laboratory to the vineyard. By the time the grapes reach the press they’ve already been guided toward that goal of perfection. Bunches have been removed to decrease the yield, leaves have been removed to allow sunlight to filter through, a little irrigation at exactly the right time encourages root – or foliage – growth.
One of the wineries where circumstances dictate the result is Waterkloof, high in the mountains near Somerset West.
In fact, they label one of their top wines Circumstance Sauvignon Blanc.
Owner Paul Boutinot says the 2009 vintage was then best ever for his grapes.
The grapes for the Circumstance were slow to ferment, but Boutinot was in no hurry. They were allowed to go their own way and eventually, after a marathon 12 months of waiting, the wine was ready for bottling.
The result is a crisp and clean wine with a core of minerality and some deliciously subtle notes of greengage plums and wafts of herbal fynbos.
This is a wine to enjoy with seafood (grilled rather than fried) or a rich asparagus quiche. Or simply on its own as an aperitif on a summer’s day.
It sells for around R90 a bottle at the cellar.
Talking of circumstances, I’ve been watching the vines at Cape Point Vineyards (just around the corner from my home) with great interest.
In normal years (if there is such a thing at the Cape) the vines are battered by violent winds and searing heat until only a small fraction of the grape crop survives.
This year conditions have been generous. The vines stand lush and green, with very few berries damaged by wind and sun.
Winemaker Duncan Savage has not seen a similar vintage in his years at Cape Point, and it will be interesting to see what these particular circumstance produce.
Posted on 18 January 2012 by davidbiggs
Every now and then – more frequently as I grow older – I experience a perfect day.
Let me share a recent one with you.
My friend Ethene, who is a Vespa scooter enthusiast like me, and lived for a few years in Italy, suggested we take advantage of fine weather and head out to the winelands to taste – and maybe buy – some wines.
We rolled along the coast road next to the False Bay shore, seagulls wheeling overhead and the two little motors buzzing away happily, as only a Vespa can do.
Inland we turned up the Stellenbosch Kloof road – the one that leads to – and arrived at De Waal Estate, where Ethene wanted to try their Young Vines Shiraz, which she’d enjoyed at a recent party.
De Waal is rather out of the way, but well worth the effort to visit. Their wines – and the reds in particular – are excellent.
The Young Vines Shiraz is a reasonably priced wine (about R55 a bottle) that’s definitely several steps better than your everyday braai plonk. It has warm smoky flavours of butterscotch and dark berry fruit and the tannins are soft and inviting.
We decided we could – at a push – fit six bottles into her scooter’s luggage box and another six into mine’s basket.
Then, just to treat ourselves, we worked our way critically through the rest of the De Waal reds. What a pleasure! Their Top of the Hill Pinotage (four and a half Platter stars) is just packed with rich Christmas cake flavours and warm, plummy notes. This is a wine that will last for decades. Sadly the scooters were fully loaded.
By now lunch seemed important, so I led the way back to Stellenbosch, turning off at the Oude Libertas exit and taking the road past the old cemetery to Bosman’s Crossing.
Here we ran into what could well be described as Stellenbosch’s Italian quarter. George dalla Cia runs the charming little Pane e Vino eatery, where we enjoyed bowls of good Italian food and carafes of Giorgio’s dalla Cia’s (George’s father) delicious Cabernet Sauvignon.
Soon the place filled with loud and hungry Italians and the mood became quite hectic.
Giorgio arrived and insisted we sample his latest vintages, which we did with great pleasure. They are worth looking for and will last for years and years, gracing special occasions year by year.
His flagship red, called simply Giorgio, is stunning!
Then we were invited to see George’s two beautifully restored Vespa scooters, gleaming in a corner of the distillery where he produces fine grappa. There’s no denying it, the Italians know about good design.
The day was slipping away, so we rather regretfully mounted our little steeds and headed back along the coast, smiling happily all the way.
A good strong espresso coffee from Ethene’s machine rounded off a perfect day.
Posted on 04 January 2012 by davidbiggs
And what could be more special than Christmas with family members who have been away from South Africa for 12 years?
My son arrived from England bearing a bottle of Veuve Clicquot Champagne and my daughter from Canada presented me with a bottle of Peller Estates Ice Wine.
Not wanting to be outdone, I unveiled the last bottle of Columella 2001 in our cellar.
With wines like those we were guaranteed an experience never to be forgotten.
For the occasion we roasted a leg of Karoo mutton and a turducken (a turkey stuffed with a duck stuffed with a smoked chicken – all deboned) and a suitable selection of roast vegetables and salads.
A friend arrived with a truly huge bowl of rather boozy trifle.
What a feast!
The Veuve Clicquot was the perfect starter – crisp and bouncy – to get everybody in the right mood for a festive evening.
At 10 years of age the C0lumella was at its perfect peak – spicy and smoky and packed with warm, inviting ripe flavours. God, that Eben Sadie can work miracles!
The Ice Wine, from the Niagra Peninsula, was a superb finale to a memorable meal. For those who have not experienced these Canadian gems, ice wine is produced from grapes that have been allowed to hang on the vines until the first winter freeze-up, when they are harvested frozen and pressed. This one was honey-sweet and silky and a perfect match for the trifle.
After such a meal we sat, mostly silently, smiling happily, with only the occasional sigh of perfect contentment.
Nobody wanted to leave. It seemed a pity to break the spell.
I hope all our readers had as good a Christmas dinner, accompanied by memorable wines.
However you celebrated your holiday, I wish you all a peaceful, safe and happy 2012.