Posted on 28 June 2012 by davidbiggs
I find it interesting that our modern wines are, generally speaking, far higher in alcohol than the wines of 50 years ago.
I was privileged to taste a line-up of wines dating back more than 30 years and many of those older ones had lasted amazingly well, in spite of having an alcohol content of 10% or, in some cases, only 9%.
Today we consider a 14% alcohol content nothing unusual, and many of our table wines go as high as 15%.
This is partly because winemakers now allow their grapes to reach their full potential ripeness before harvesting them. And the riper the berries are the more sugar they contain, and that translates into a higher alcohol content. (Not to mention a fuller, richer flavour.)
At the same time some of our muscadel and jerepigo producers are lowering the alcohol levels in their delicious sweet wines.
Badsberg’s 2011 Red Muscadel, for example, has an alcohol level of 15.5%.
They can do this because the sugar in those grape is not allowed to ferment dry. The alcohol is added to sweet juice to create the wines. All they need do is add a little less.
This is very good news for those of us who appreciate these wonderful sweet treasures.
I no longer feel obliged to pour a teensy little glass of Muscadel for myself when I settle down to watch 7de Laan.
I can pour a great big glass full and not feel at all guilty. “Look, it’s no more alcoholic than Klein Constantia’s 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, which comes in at 15% and nobody suggests pouring that into a sherry glass.”
So let’s stop pretending we don’t enjoy our glasses of bottled sunshine. They’re South Africa’s best kept wine secret. Make them your standard winter drink. You’ll be warmer and happier for the change.
Posted on 11 November 2010 by davidbiggs
My wine friends know I’m rather partial to the great sweet wines we make in the Cape. I love a good Muscadel or Hanepoot Jerepigo, and of course our noble late harvest wines are just superb. But people often say: “Yes, I like them too, but when does one actually drink them? After a meal? With pudding? When?” I find this rather sad, really. It reminds me of the old story about the African tribesman many years ago, telling his children about the amazing oddities of the white man. “They are strange people,” he says. “They wear shiny little bangles on their wrists, that tell them when they are hungry.” We’re still obsessed with the “right” time for everything. We must have a time to eat and a time to drink white wine and a time for red wine and a time for love-making and a time for sleeping… No wonder the old tribesman was fascinated. How much more sensible to eat when we are hungry and drink when we are thirsty and make love when we are in a loving mood. Once we surround ourselves with rules we take away the joy of spontaneity. It used to be very acceptable to have a glass of sherry with a biscuit in the afternoon. Very few people do that now. So when to drink sweet wines? I sometimes enjoy a glass of red Muscadel with plenty of crushed ice at midday on a hot day. On a cool evening I often pour myself a glass of Jerepigo and sip it as I watch the news on TV, accompanied by my two cats. After a good meal I usually offer guests a Muscadel to round off the evening. Most of them are soon looking wistfully at the bottle, and gladly accept a second glass. The wonderful world of wine offers an infinite variety of styles and flavours – deep, serious reds, fruity whites, crisp bubblies, sweet noble late harvests, easy-drinking quaffers and elegant aristocrats. If we limit ourselves to the world of tight-arsed rules – red with the meat, white with the fish, champagne with an anniversary — we miss half the fun. Set your taste-buds free. You enjoy meringues? Créme brulée? Chocolate truffles? Tipsy tart? Then don’t pretend you don’t enjoy sweet things. Avoiding our sweet wine delights is like having a guitar with only three strings, or a piano with half a keyboard. In life we should play all the notes available to us.
Posted on 26 August 2010 by davidbiggs
When I arrived in the Cape from the Karoo, more than 35 years ago, I knew nothing about wine and wasn’t particularly interested in it. Then I met a fascinating character called Laurie the Fish.
The Fish was not like anybody I had ever encountered in the dry old Karoo. He lived on – and from – the sea. Worldly stuff meant little to him.
Laurie was, as his nickname implied, a fisherman. He was also a great lover of wine in the best possible way. He cared nothing about wood maturation, skin contact, or elegance, or tannin or acid balance or pH. He just knew what he liked and drank plenty of it.
Winemakers wish there were more like him.
As far as he was concerned, there were only two kinds of wine – soetes and vrottes (the sweet ones and the rotten ones).
He enjoyed muscadels and jerepigos and sweet hanepoot. When he went fishing he took along a bottle of Old Brown sherry as an essential part of his equipment.
Laurie the Fish introduced me to the delights of sweet wines, and although my palate has changed over the years, I still enjoy an occasional glass of rich, sweet fortified wine. Indeed, I’ve developed something of a reputation as a soetes lover.
My professed love of sweet fortified wines landed me on the panel of the annual Muscadel Competition and it has become one of my aims to get more people aware of these wonderful sweet delights that we make so well in South Africa. They deserve far more recognition than they get. I believe they reflect the warmhearted sweet spirit of South Africa’s people.
Divine dessert wines
And, talking of sweet wines, I was delighted to taste the Fort Simon Viognier Noble Late Harvest recently. One doesn’t often get a NLH made of viognier, and Fort Simon is not usually associated with sweet wines, but this one is a treat, full of luscious fruit and floral flavours with an added hint of vanilla from some time in French oak.
The world of wine is full of delightful surprises.
Another very charming sweet wine recently enjoyed was the Opstal Chardonnay Barrel Dessert. Here again, one doesn’t often find a sweet fortified version of Chardonnay, but this is really pleasant and packed with layers of complex flavour – a fine example of imaginative winemaking.
From Robertson we expect fine muscadels, so it was no surprise that the Rooiberg 2006 Red Muscadel proved a sweet delight. It has all the warming, raisiny flavours that make a good muscadel so special, and it comes in an elegantly tall and slender bottle that tells you this is not just a casual sweet plonk. It’s made to grace the finest dinner table and should provide the perfect end to a memorable meal.
When the weather turns warmer I shall probably find myself switching easily to cooler, dry white wines, like chardonnay, chenin blanc and sauvignon blanc.
In the meantime, it’s still “soetes” time, so let’s raise a glass of warming bottled sunshine in a toast to life.
Karoo photo: Courtesy of Martin Heigan on Flickr.com