Shortly after Nelson Mandela was inaugurated, his office had a request from within the South African wine industry. The asking was that consideration be given to a national department of wine affairs overseen by a Minister of Wine. Today just the thought of a ministry with broad statutory powers sends shivers down the spine of the local wine arena – as it would have 23 years ago.
When considering language to tag to the flamboyantly packaged Desiderius Cap Classique in the Pongrácz range, the word “brave” comes to mind. First and foremost, memories of the man Pongrácz himself, a pint-sized contrarian who’s opinionated cockiness was only matched by that of the yapping, peeing pack of miniature Dachshunds accompanying him around the Cape winelands. Here he was inspecting vines, initiating new plantings – Rhône varietals held a special allure – and baiting wine farmers into arguments about his opinion on their stubborn ways.
The second braveness of the Desiderius Cap Classique is the showy bottle. Ribbed and edged in gold, it is not at all modest in appearance, rather resembling a container one would expect to find at a Kardashian 21st bash or a Russian house of ill-repute.
But since hitting the market 15 years ago, the flamboyant packaging has proved to have been way ahead of its time. Currently, that bottle is right in line with what is deemed as branding desirability.
But at the end of the day, it is about the wine. And here, too, Desiderius is a courageous Cape Classique in terms of style.
The 2009, just released, is a classic partnership of 60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Noir, the cuvées pressed from Elgin, Robertson and Stellenbosch fruit. A slight percentage of the Chardonnay sees oak, evidence of which does show up in the final product. And with 72 months lees contact, cellar master Elunda Basson places the wine on a potentially precarious journey.
Nothing but the best base wine is going to complete the six year journey in a state of health, verve and pure Cap Classique expression. It is, thus, a brave quest, and once again the Desiderius gamble pays off.
Stylistically the Desiderius 2009 is in a Cap Classique class of its own. It resembles the Champagnes of Pommard, being more serious and sullen, with a bit of weight and moody depth one does not expect the bright image of sparkling wines to carry.
The Pinot Noir segment zips past the Chardonnay, offering plummy and kumquat notes. The Chardonnay presents an alluring grape-fruit element, with just a hint sorrel and buttercup.
But the wine’s prestige lies in the palate-weight and structure, the firm, succulent grip in the mouth, the commanding density on the senses and the finish which is longer than the legs of a Peruvian supermodel, just smoother.
Desiderius is no wine for frivolous downing at open-air hipster concerts, nor for splashing about at those noisy, uncouth MCC festivals. It is meant for food – live oysters spring to mind – or sipping with a spicy Havana cigar, such as Bolivar.
I am no fan of beauty shows where Champagnes and Cap Classiques are poured blind in an attempt to flummox critics into enthusing how close or better our sparkles are than Champagne. But if a Cap Classique is going to be taken seriously by a Champagne panel, Desiderius will step forward, proud as anything and brave as hell.
If I were to throw one cork into the advocating of the brilliance of Cap Classique, it would be this wine’s remarkable ability to age and develop. Of the many examples I have had of late, I’d say an attentive Cap Classique ages far better than a non-vintage Champagne and a lot better than Jane Fonda – but without the plastic face work and lentil-water intestinal flushes.
Spontaneous wine moments always turn-out the most memorable. Like an unexpected glimpse of a vividly hued wild flower growing next to a crumbling farm wall, the surprisingly pungent scent of baked croissants as you pass a non-descript down-town bakery or the sudden scream of a fish-eagle slicing the early-morning air of central Stellenbosch, an unplanned sip turns an amicable wine experience into one great and memorable.
When finding it difficult to explain my preferences, I always refer to the great works of classical culture. Take my love of pink, rosé sparkling wines. In their epic song “Hotel California”, The Eagles did not sing “Mirrors on the ceiling/the lees-matured Champagne on ice”. Nor …”the vintage Blanc de Blancs on ice”. No, it was “pink” Champagne they roped in to colour one of the most magnificent seven minutes of rock music in history.
I had never noticed Org de Rac until a friend made a very good sparkling Cap Classique from grapes growing on this wine farm. For few things alert the senses quite like a beaded glass of bottle-fermented fizz, and it was this that woke me up to this wine estate in the Swartland.
Unlike Gerard Depardieu, I have not quite hit the 14 bottles-a-day mark. My rebuilt wrist simply clams-up on the cork-screw upon opening the ninth, whence I am forced to call it quits.
The woman with the floppy hat and yellow facial sunscreen looked at me as if I’d asked her to perform the Gangnam Style in her second-hand underwear. ?+¦?+º?+¦Don’t make such a noise,?+¦?+º?+æ she whispered. ?+¦?+º?+¦We think we’ve got a Levaillant’s Cisticola.?+¦?+º?+æ
I peered over at the other members in her group. Most had the same floppy-hats and were donning binoculars of different sizes, coloured black or military green. ?+¦?+º?+¦You might have a Levaillant’s Cisticola, but I’ve got a date with a cold bottle of sparkling wine,?+¦?+º?+æ I said, flooring the Citro?+¦-ú??n and sending a few Cisticolas, Furry Bummed Cisterians and Blue Hardened Tits – or whatever it is that bird-watchers find intriguing – flapping into the mountains above Plaisir de Merle.