South Africa Emerges

It’s almost 30 years since Nelson Mandela was released from prison and South Africa began to emerge from the bleak days of apartheid. Many things have changed since then, not least their wine industry, which was in a sorry state. By contrast, today, that country is producing some really high quality bottles.

So, I was particularly pleased when the Bristol Tasting Circle invited Duncan Pilbeam, from the historic Babylonstoren Estate north of Stellenbosch, to talk to us and show us some of the estate’s wines.

We began with Sprankel (£31.99), a soft, fresh traditional-method sparkling wine made from Chardonnay grown at altitude. More than 4 years on its lees gave it a savoury, biscuity character.

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A quartet of whites followed – a Chenin Blanc, a Viognier and a ‘farm blend’, all well-made and pleasant easy drinking, but, for me, the standout white was the Chardonnay (£19.99). Almost Burgundian in nature with well-judged, subtle oak and lovely rounded tropical fruit flavours; this would be even better with food – something rich and creamy making a perfect partner.

I expected the reds to be better than the whites and so it proved. The Cabernet Sauvignon (£15.99) had a pure eucalyptus nose and rich black fruits on the palate while the Shiraz (£16.99) was a chunky mouthful with an attractive smoky edge. Both were food wines and both would improve for a further couple of years in bottle at least.

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The evening’s final wine, the Estate’s flagship, Nebukadnesar (£27.99), is a blend of the 5 main Bordeaux grapes, aged in new French oak barrels for 2 years. This is a big wine that, again, is still very young – even decanted 3 hours before tasting, the tannins were still really prominent. Like so much in South Africa, it’s a wine for the future, but you will need to be patient.

For more information about any of the wines mentioned or to buy, contact the Wine Shop at Winscombe (www.thewinetastingco.com)

What’s in a Name?

Naming is vital. Get it right, and your product is on everyone’s lips; on the other hand, failing to check what your wonderful name means in other languages can be disastrous. Take the car company Vauxhall, for example. They named a car ‘Nova’; that’s great in English but, in a number of European languages, No va means ‘it doesn’t go’ – hardly the basis for a good marketing strategy!

In wine, too, names have been used to good effect: to my mind, one of the best is the South African producer who mocked Côtes du Rhône and Côtes du Rhône-Villages perfectly with Goats do Roam and Goats do Roam in Villages, although I also like the style of an American grower, annoyed that he wasn’t allowed to use the name ‘port’ for his fortified port-style wine, called it Starboard!

And then there are the attempts to attract buyers with particular interests: some friends of ours, knowing that I love cricket, shared a bottle called ‘Men in White Coats’ with us recently.

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(For non cricket-lovers among you, I should explain that cricket umpires traditionally wear white coats and the raised finger gesture on the label is the umpire’s signal that the batsman is out and his innings is over). The wine itself – a clean, crisp, easy-drinking Viognier from South Africa – was, however, less of a talking point during the evening than the name, which, to all of us, had another, less flattering, meaning.

Back in our youth, when someone was behaving strangely, it was often said that the men in white coats would soon be coming to get that person – the men in question being the nursing staff at a local facility for the mentally ill.

So, did our friends’ bottle really refer to the cricket or were they thinking of the current state of the country here in England?

 

A Wine Worth Keeping

How long should you keep a bottle of wine before drinking it?  That’s one of those ‘how long is a piece of string?’ questions!  Of course, it depends on the wine – most whites are probably best within a year of purchase, most reds within 2 years – but also on your personal taste.  A friend of ours thinks we drink our wine too young, whereas I think that many of the bottles he opens are passed their peak.  We’ll never agree, but that’s the beauty of wine.

And, although I said that most wines are best within a year or two, there are definitely some – mainly reds, but also quite a few whites – that will only improve for keeping.  Which ones?  Try looking at the back label which may recommend drinking dates.  Otherwise ask a reliable wine merchant or you may be able to check on-line (but always bear in mind what I said above about personal preferences).

I’ve had a bottle of Meerlust Red 2011 from Stellenbosch in South Africa sitting quietly in a wine rack under the stairs for at least a couple of years and, as the label recommended drinking within 8 years of the vintage, I decided recently that now was the time to uncork it – especially as we were having some good friends to dinner who I knew would appreciate it (another important consideration when thinking when to open a bottle!)meerlust-red

This lovely, rich and flavoursome blend of 4 of the Bordeaux varieties (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot) was, most definitely, drinking well now.  Even so, I took the precaution of decanting a couple of hours in advance to let a little air finish the process.  The ripe, red fruit flavours were beautifully vibrant and, despite the warmth of Stellenbosch being reflected in 14% alcohol, there was no burn to the wine, all was nicely in balance.

My one regret: it’s the only bottle of this wine I bought and I can see it still drinking well five or more years from now – for my taste, that target of 2019 shown on the back label looks a bit conservative.