Posted on 26 July 2012 by davidbiggs
It’s sometimes hard to keep up with the constant changes in the Cape winemaking scene. Winemakers tend to move from cellar to cellar as they gain experience.
It’s interesting then to find that one winemaker at least, Neil Bester of Plaisir de Merle, has been in charge of that winery since it was started 20 years ago.
Apart from winemakers who own their properties, I can’t think of any other vintner with as long an unbroken track record as Bester.
After graduating as a winemaker at the University of Stellenbosch, he worked at Nederburg for two years. During this time he did a stint at the famous Margaux estate in Bordeaux, where he worked a harvest under the guidance of Paul Pontallier, who became his guide and mentor.
When the newly established Plaisir de Merle was opened in 1992, Bester was appointed winemaker, and he has been in charge ever since.
“There are always opportunities to improve quality,” he says. “There’s no time for complacency.”
In his quest for quality and innovation he has undertaken study tours of Australia, California, France, New Zealand and Washington State.
The wines of Plaisir de Merle almost always earn at least four star ratings in the annual John Platter Guide, and the brand has gained an enthusiastic following. One of the characteristics that’s so pleasing about these fine wines is they are drinkable quite early, but all have the legs to last and mature gracefully for many years. They are big, full-flavoured wines, but always accessible and never harsh or over tannic.
If you’re looking for special wines to lay down, Plaisir de Merle is always a safe bet.
Photograph: Plaisir de Merle
Posted on 12 July 2012 by davidbiggs
The moon is believed to play an important part in our lives, affecting everything from our moods to our tastebuds.
Many farmers and gardeners believe the welfare and success of their plants depends on the phase of the moon in which they are planted.
A recent experiment showed that the moon even influence the way we taste our wines.
Those who know about these things say there are four specific cycles in the lunar month: fruit, root, flower and leaf days. Wines are said to taste different, depending on the phase in which they are tasted.
In an attempt to test this the Luna Taste Test project was set up by Avondale wine estate in conjunction with the Platter’s South African Wine Guide.
The last of their tasting was held on May 24.
The biodynamic calendar was developed in the 1950s by Maria Thun.
A panel of experienced wine tasters was offered a selection of Avondale wines at various phases of the lunar cycle. Theoretically wine should taste best during the fruit and flower cycles.
Only after this final tasting did Avondale proprietor Johnathan Grieve enlighten the team as to the order of the test cycles, the first being the Fruit (14th May), the second the Leaf (16th May), the third the Root (22nd May) and the final tasting being held in the Flower cycle (24th May).
At the end of the trial it was unanimously agreed that the cycles did affect the quality of the wines tasted.
In the fruit cycle the panelists found the wines to be at their most overpowering – full bodied and rich.
At the leaf phase tasting the wines appeared less sweet, with a dominant minerality. Apparently the panel were amazed at how different the wines tasted.
The third tasting was during the root phase and panelists found the wines to be less assertive, they described the wines as “subdued” and said they tasted as if they had “gone to sleep”.
The panel all agreed that the flower day was the best tasting day overall for the wines. The wines were described as “expressive”, “elegant” and “more structured with a fresh, fuller-bodied character”. The biodynamic lunar calendar can be found on Johnathan Grieve’s blog.
Sellers of wines might like to make a note of good days.
Posted on 05 July 2012 by davidbiggs
I have some serious wine friends who keep cellar books and meticulously record each wine they take from their stock and write a description of it once they’ve tasted it.
This, they say, enables them to make decisions about what to buy in future.
I tried that at one time, but soon became bored with it for the same reason I gave up writing restaurant reviews – I like to enjoy myself without strings attached.
I found I couldn’t relax and enjoy a good meal if I was constantly thinking of the right words to describe each dish. Is the duck crisp enough? Should there be a little more paprika in the sauce?
And of course I could never order what my dinner partner had ordered. “I’d like to have the fish, but if you’re having it I’ll try the roast gemsbok instead.”
Then there was the furtive note-taking between courses.
No, it was rather too businesslike, I felt like a prostitute glancing furtively at the bedside clock while serving a client.
The same with wine.
I spend a considerable amount of time tasting wines professionally and concentrating on colour, aroma, tannin, residual sugar, typicity, mouthfeel – does it get a gold or a silver award? Will it age well?
I enjoy doing it and get to experience all sorts of wine I would not otherwise encounter. But it’s still work.
When I drink wine for my own pleasure I prefer to limit my comments to a simple “Yum” or “Yuk” and get on with enjoying the evening.
Occasionally I do try to remember a wine I enjoyed. “What was the name of that rather nice Chenin we had last week at the Joneses?”
If I do go back to keeping a cellar book it will be a simple little notebook in which I will try to scribble the names of those wines I think I may want to buy again.
Comments on quality will be limited to my usual; “Yum” or “Yuk.”
No, there won’t be any “Yuks.” I’ll simply leave them out. Life’s too short for recording Yuks.
Photograph: Wendy Michaels