The last time Charles Hopkins impressed me was when he told me about the 3kg galjoen he ate all by himself. Those who are familiar with the unctuous, rich flesh of this fish will know that for one person to eat 3kg of it, said person must be a true connoisseur. Not to mention a hungry one.
The fish, grilled over the fire, posed no problem for Charles and his healthy appetite. “But man, I woke up in the middle of the night with a moer of a thirst. And in the fridge of the beach cottage where we were staying there was a jug of farm milk, fresh from the cow. Ice cold. I love milk, so I drank the whole jug. And jirre, did that milk now make me sick!”
Charles is someone I can relate to. Not a man of small appetites and half portions. A lover of flavours, aromas and textures. Those who’ve experienced his wines can vouch for this. Whether they are the inky Shiraz titans he made at Graham Beck or the intensely aromatic Sauvignon Blancs at De Grendel, Charles has a reputation. For quality varietal expression, something he coerces from the grape rather than sitting back and going through the motions of accepting what the vineyard has given him.
So I don’t know why I was so surprised to be blown apart by Charles’s Pinot Noir from De Grendel. Maybe it was just unexpected, as Charles had always seemed like a big, bold red wine and flinty Sauvignon Blanc kind of guy. He had a style for doing certain things well and eschewing others.
I mean, you don’t expect Victor Matfield to slot a drop-kick?
And Pinot Noir was just not something I expected to be in Charles’s repertoire. Well, the Big Guy blew me away with the De Grendel Op die Berg 2009.
Upon opening the bottle I was still in Pinot Noir mode after a quirky lunch with Paf (Peter-Allan Finlayson), the Pat Lambie of the local Pinot Noir industry. Paf had brought along a bottle of Crystallum Cuv+¬e Cinema 2008. And eating Etienne Bonthuys’s oxtail and calamari at Casparus while glugging Crystallum and conversing with Paf on Hemel en Aarde, harvesting in Pommard, the films of the Coen brothers and marriage, I was once again convinced Cuv+¬e Cinema 2008 is one of the best South African Pinot Noirs I have had.
It is still as gorgeously heady and perfume-filled as the first time it wooed me. The tannins are keeping the wine at brilliant freshness. And the wine is ever so slightly beginning to take on an animalistic bit of sexy funk. Mega-grrrrrrrr.
The very next day my wine club order arrives, and there is De Grendel Pinot Noir. I thought of Charles, our fishing trip to Blombos and that gorgeous Boere-French accent he uses when speaking English.
But I was not thinking Pinot Noir. I mean, Durbanville fruit? Charles the Bordeaux Brut? Come on.
However, as the monks say in the monastery when they glimpse the neighbouring convent’s new intake of nuns: Fuck me sideways.
This De Grendel Pinot Noir is serious stuff.
Dig the ruby red-lipped colour, something any Volnay producer would give his grandmother’s coq au vin recipe for. On the nose it would appear as if all the best Pinot features have been cornered by the Charles the Alchemist. What we are left with is chunky, mouth-watering smells of wet spring flowers crushed by a six foot model (female) wearing Jimmy Choos on feet fresh from the spa. There is a whiff of raspberry confit, a splash of organic soya sauce.
If a Pinot aims to hit all the spots, this De Grendel is shooting with a pump-over shotgun.
The taste is seriously good and delicious, eye-wateringly so. A rim of candy, outer layers of mulberry, sliced beetroot and cured duck heart, with a brush of forest floor. Massive varietal expression.
What I love about this wine is its South Africanness. Yes, it is Pinot Noir, but with a 100% South African interpretation. There is sun and clarity and cosy warmth in the wine. A smooth, silky texture in the mouth and a finish longer than the farewell kiss of a character in a Russian novel.
Since the case arrived I have whacked three bottles, so doubt whether I am going to see this wine age. However, let it be known that with this addition South Africa is moving towards the status of a reckoned Pinot Noir producer at a rate of knots.
Those who have not realised this, well, I am sure Charles and few other chaps I know will nudge you the right direction.
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