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.
Burgundy breaks you, and I am broken. Slowly, though, just beginning to pick-up the pieces after a head-on collision with the power and the beauty, totally seduced by the devilish-angelic allure of one of the greatest producers from the world’s most revered wine region.
Nothing seems quite the same anymore.
Despite being in the profession of having to write copious tasting notes and other wine marketing material, I have always considered wine and food recommendations to be patronisingly prepared with just a hint of arrogance. For who am I, or a winery or a food and wine writer to suggest that a certain dish should be “paired” (Christ, I hate that word) with a glass of something that apparently forms a perfect match?
The Barraida region of Portugal is rugged in its desolate greenness, knots of pine-trees perched on hill-tops overlooking vineyards snaking down the slopes. During the wet winters and warm summers hardy, broad-faced people farm the vines and the cabbages, the beans and the pigs – the latter generating Barraida’s status as suckling-pig capital of the world. Offering crispy-skinned and sweet-fleshed sustenance to the hungry and tired travellers crossing the province during the long trip north from Lisbon.