There is an assumption that dog-owners begin to look like their hounds after a while. While I am not hung like a dachshund nor have attempts to housetrain me been unsuccessful, I do share some similarities with Friedl. A keen sense of smell and on-cue drooling upon seeing a slice of beef biltong – as well as a knack for getting on with bitches – are shared similarities of the uncanny kind.
The same sharing of DNA happens between a winemaker and a wine-style or grape variety. After 20 or something years of making a certain wine for which the winemaker has a love, respect and a connection, he or she ends up expressing the relevant characteristics.
The longer Beyers Truter, for example, works with Pinotage, the more his lean, effete appearance resembles a perfectly ripe Pinotage grape. André van Rensburg from Vergelegen is as big, loud and brash as what his Shiraz is known for, but like his wines, the man also has a side exuding a brooding power.
Jan Boland Coetzee is so bloody attached to Pinot Noir that he speaks Afrikaans with a French accent and his hands are beginning to look like the stones surrounding the Clos des Mouches vineyard outside Beaune.
That is why I’ll never say there is a wine I don’t like. Sure, I like some more than others. But if the wine is made by a true disciple, a crusader for a signature of individualistic vinous perfection, chances are it will be good.
Take Sauvignon Blanc. Compared to Chardonnay, most Sauvignon Blanc is Miley Cyrus walking alongside Helen Mirren. One dimensional common sluttiness opposed to layers of inner and outer complexity made for the long-haul.
But, put the grape in the hands of a Sauvignon Blanc artist and prophet – like Thys Louw from Diemersdal or Charles Hopkins from De Grendel – and you have to look again. The level, the heights… they are new, driven by the soul of man.
Is wine not made in the vineyard? Sure. However, the artist is not going to select substandard material. Part of his gift is in choosing the perfect material. Michelangelo and Carrara marble being a case in point.
Hopkins’ De Grendel Koetshuis Sauvignon Blanc 2015 almost leads me to believe that this variety can be a world great. This specific wine has personality, it is layered in textures falling between opulent and fragile. On the one hand the wine is stern with serious complexity, and on the other hand it calls for gulping down with a smile on our face and your hand on the heart.
Made from meticulously selected sites in Darling and Durbanville, the grapes were picked riper at the end of a windy, dry growing season. Hopkins is one of the most technical winemakers around and this chunk of Sauvignon Blanc received the full Monty aimed at creating a wine whose presence is just as formidable as the winemaker’s.
Extended skin and lees contact. Frequent battonage. Intensive coaxing of every micro-organism of dead yeast, every morsel of sipped skin to pump character, life and deliciousness into the wine.
The result is one hell of a pretty thing. Ripped Italian parsley, pulped quince and sage on the nose. It enters the palate with a zing, like the first riff of Clapton’s “Layla” and from there the world gushes forth, along with all its oceans.
There’s salty sea-spray falling on the oyster beds of Arcachon. I tasted a green custard apple that had been crushed by a cockatoo in the Queensland rain forests. Sour green plums from Northern Portugal made an appearance, and did I detect the faintest prickle of wet pimento powder?
The wine is cool, and it is long. The work of a craftsmen whose heart beats to the tune of the Sauvignon Blanc he believes in. This is why it is great. And can only be.
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