The sweetest grapes in South Africa, wrote Afrikaans short-story maestro Abraham de Vries, are found in Vermaaklikheid. And as a former resident of this rural community on the banks of the Duiwenhoks River some 300km east of Cape Town, the recent vinous ambitions shown here are being watched with interest.
I never miss an Amorim Recorking gig. Not that I want to indulge in the delicate opening of rare vintage wines with crumbly corks that need to be extricated with the skill of a brain surgeon and the patience of space-shuttle pilot in landing mode. But whenever the Amorim team sets-off to put new corks in old bottles, one gets to taste the contents that have been slumbering for three, four decades.
Despite the pressure placed on my physical and mental stamina, a marathon wine-appreciation session this week-end past has me beating the South African Chardonnay Drum with admirable vigour this Monday morning.
A Bordeaux-based psychologist and wine-lover, Maxine Engel, once wrote-up research showing that most male French wine critics had a greater fear of losing their senses of taste and smell than they did of erectile dysfunction. Well as they say in the classics, priorities aren’t what they used to be. But I do confess to having had a terrifying experience recently when some ’flu medicine rendered my delicate palate and keen olfactory ability just about useless.
Anybody doubting whether wine is art should be a fly on the wall when winemakers get together to ascertain the merits and the components for making up a certain blend. I always find this an enriching experience, validating my conviction that wine does and always should stand apart from all other alcoholic elixirs.
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.
· Emile Joubert
To check out the quality of Cape Harvest 2017, I was assisted by the friendly folk from Diemersdal, out Durbanville way. For here two new vintages, bottle, closed and already being sold are waiting for those like-minded vinous souls who want a sneak preview as to what this vintage holds.
Everyone needs a bit of yesteryear now and again. And whenever this feeling raises its head, Vriesenhof is my place.
Look, I’m all for progress. And having resided and worked in Stellenbosch for almost four decades I am stunned by the continuous evolution the wine industry has shown. Not only in its incomparable wine quality, but the imagination and initiative wine-farm owners have shown in turning the region into a haven for tourists and other visitors. Gourmet restaurants. Cavernous, shiny venues with gorgeous views offering detailed wine-tastings to rows of eager tour groups. Art collections and play-spaces for kids.
Think cigar and all that thick, aromatic heavenly smoke, and companions such as Cognac, Port and Single Malt Whisky automatically spring to mind. Frankly, with a good Cohiba Robustos or Partagas no 4 from Cuba (where else?) burning in the hand, any of those aforementioned beverages will serve to induce the sought-after transcendental state of the cigar-lover.
The nearest South Africa comes to Chablis has nothing to do with Chardonnay. That searing slash of steely minerality found in Chablis is amiss from unwooded South African Chardonnays. Whilst some wines do offer some of those features wine boffins refer to as tense, nervous, edgy or wired, the country’s southern sunshine and its eagerness to ripen Chardonnay prevent the stony and anguished structure of the fruit from penetrating the juice.