A pub lunch can be a thing of true beauty. Simple, tasty and sustenance-giving, pub food is undoubtedly Britain’s finest contribution to international cuisine. Bangers and mash. Fish and chips. Hearty pies. Liver and onions. Steak and egg. Syrupy, spongy puddings. All served quickly without fuss or show just as you suck the froth from the second pint of keg beer.
Just as the belief that certain wines are best paired with specific dishes is a fake-news device designed by sommeliers and chefs to make their professions marketable, so too is the doctrine assuming that specific beverages are more suited for enjoying with cigars than others.
When lighting a dense, hot Cuban cigar, current wisdom would have it that this mouthful of exotic smoky residue gains an extra dimension when flushed over with a Cognac, Single Malt Whisky or fine glass of Port. Don’t get me wrong: a Partagas Series D No. 4 draws deliciously into a mouth still reminiscing about the flavour of a Graham’s 1963 Vintage Port or a pre-War Frapin Cognac.
Having recently flown half-way around the world – literally – it was astounding to see the presence of one specific South African wine label at every stop. From Cape Town International, the frenetic bazaar-like space of Dubai Airport all the way to Auckland, New Zealand a bottle bearing a white label with the words The Chocolate Block was encountered in nearly every wine store.
It has been a derogatory term bandied about for some time now. I am referring, of course, to “wine wanker”, two words referring to the type of person inhabiting the wine world who has a penchant for being snobbish, opinionated, sensitive, obsessive, manic and hysterical, as well as general holding a higher-than-thou’ attitude on the subject of wine. There is even a website – www.winewankers.com – to assist in communicating the attributes and contributions of such a type of wine-orientated individual.
During a recent road-trip through the majestic open spaces of the South African Karoo, I was once again exposed to the fact that as a nation we have an alcohol problem that needs dealing with. It was Friday afternoon, and from the town of Laingsburg through Beaufort-West and onto the quaint historical hamlet of Richmond in the Karoo’s icy heart, a fair amount of drinking was being done – or had been committed – by the time I hit town.
In their song “Here at the Western World”, the greatest rock band ever – Steely Dan – are welcomed “with sausage and beer”. But in the real west wine world, chances are you’ll be greeted with chouriço and Portuguese Colares wine.
Colares is the most westerly wine region in Europe. Just ocean-side of Lisbon, this is the kind of place that makes you wonder what the early wine pioneers were snorting when deciding to lay-down vines in this here godforsaken patch of earth.
Anybody asking “where Douglas Green” will be pleased to know that he is alive and well, and living in a retirement village in Somerset West. Douglas Green Jnr, son of the man who in 1942 founded one of South Africa’s most famous wine brands, is himself one of the true living legends of the industry.
“I’ll always see it being an industry of relationships, good people, deals done with a hand-shake, that sort of thing,” says Mr Green sitting on the veranda of his home over-looking an expanse of well-kept gardens. He turns 90 in December this year, and has been around for most of the modern South African wine industry where he has seen it all.
As in all art, nothing can ever be perfect in the wine world. But Alto Estate does come impossibly close.
Location, yes. Alto lies on the slopes of Stellenbosch’s Helderberg, one of the patches of God’s earth that manages to combine spine-tinglingly magnificent scenery with geography and geology that is ideal for the growing of grapevines. It is mountain granite from the Cape’s Fold belt that has been ground down over the past 1,5 million years, iron-rich and red and rocky, and lovely soil for wine vines to get stuck in.
A startling statistic was stashed away in the recent Vinpro State of the Industry report for 2018. With regards to the South African wine market, 85% of all wine sold in the country – retail – was flogged at price-tags of below R48 a litre. Sure, here in the ivory tower of wine writing, competitions, shows, twitter-missives and reams of informed opining there are howls of collective laughter at any wine daring to command below R45 a bottle. Showing just how out of touch industry commentators are with what is actually happening in the market.
For it gets worse.
Just in time for the revived focus on Stellenbosch’s deserved reputation as one of the world’s great addresses for Cabernet Sauvignon, that formidable piece of wineland real estate Vergelegen comes-up with two wines underscoring the region’s status as Cabernet Kingdom in the industry’s Game of Thrones. And vying for the ultimate throne, along with Abrie “Jon Snow” Beeslaar from Kanonkop and Neil “Jaime Lannister” Ellis, must surely be the Night King, also known as André van Rensburg of Vergelegen. He’s just released a new range of single vineyard wines, led by two Cabernet Sauvignons, and they are truly worth taming dragons, tossing dwarfs and beheading neighbours for.