If good wine is, as Ernest Hemingway said, the most civilised thing on earth, then Waterford is a wine estate for whom the bell tolls. One of those clanging Catholic bells hammering out a celebratory christening or festivity in a summery European village, the air smelling of coffee, sawdust and lavender.
Look, I’ll go to Waterford for a vertical Old Brown Sherry tasting and leave the place feeling like somebody who has just sipped a line-up of Madeira wines from the 18th century. The hacienda-like quad, leather furniture, easy-going charm and air of confidence does it for me.
Okay, I have expressed my thoughts on Waterford before, so won’t hamper on the peripherals. Recently I scored an invitation to go and taste some vino, which including the latest release of The Jem. This is Waterford’s flagship, best-of-the-best, although those wishing to trivialise will immediately choose to focus on the R700 price before anything else has been whispered.
So let’s get this out of the way, shall we?
Asking if any South African wine is “worth” R700 is displaying a lack of comprehension about the wine industry I find pitying.
We all know that, at tops, the cost of producing the most super-duperest wine from the lowest yields harvested by sushi-eating virgins in moonlight is going to run at R120 a bottle, max.
This discrepancy in input versus end-price is not unique to the wine industry. Think Cuban cigars. Rolex. Petrus and Roman+¬e Conti. Vuitton leather jock-straps. Organic goats’ milk cheese. The list goes on and on.
The question should rather be does the quality meet brand expectation, and if so, is this what you’d be prepared to pay?
In the case of The Jem I’d say yes. In fact, I have paid more when ordering it whilst dining at a mark-up obsessed establishment with foreign clients wishing to be impressed on the local vinous spectrum.
Why? Because the Waterford brand has impressed me. It is not a brand of great history and tradition, but the lack of this has been made up for with integrity. I have trust and faith in this brand due to the winemakers, the taste of place and in the commitment to and passion for excellence.
Okay, back to The Jem. The third release is the 2006, and like its predecessors ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ the 2004 and 2005 ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ it is a motley blend of the best-of-the-best Waterford has to offer. As Kevin Arnold said at the tasting, there is no recipe. The Jem is an ultimate expression of the Estate, and something that will never be replicated ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ “not even by our neighbours”.
The blend is led by Cabernet Sauvignon (60%) followed by 15% Shiraz. Then you drop down to Malbec and Cabernet Franc, a bit of Mourv?+¦???+¦?+¦-+?+¦+ëdre and finished with splashes of Sangiovese and Barbera.
It is an enormously exciting wine, because you don’t know what next it’s going to through at you. Cabernet Sauvignon and Francs ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ my personal favourites and preferences in the blend ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ give the wine a huge muscularity and brushy, dusty flavours. Shiraz, that tart from the south, brings a bit hot juice to the party, while the Mourv?+¦???+¦?+¦-+?+¦+ëdre adds an intriguing hint of spice. The Italians’ marble minerality is there, and the whole blend is weighty, gorgeous and enticing.
After 20 months in oak ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ 1/3 new, 2nd and 3rd there is still a bit of wood around, although by no means obtrusive. Tannins are not silky and there is a bit of grip. But by opening The Jem 2004 and 2005, Kevin gave me an insight into what awaits one who invests in this wine.
The 2004 was lean and elegant with a delicious punt of developed Cabernet Franc. In the 2005 version, Merlot was introduced, giving the wine a silky berry spectrum.
How cool is this going to be, when you someday have five, ten vintages of one wine ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ The Jem ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ each displaying a variety of different nuances. One wine, an array of personalities through the years?
If its all good, such an experience is priceless.