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.
While there is more than enough action on the South African wine scene in terms of things new, alternative, fresh and different, it is the tried-and-trusted, classical stuff we do best. On the red wine side, this be the royal wine that is Cabernet Sauvignon which has always delivered and will always deliver the finest local reds. And when it comes to white grape varieties, South African Chardonnay is now recognised as the best in the so-called New World with many international critics reckoning the best Chardonnays outside of Burgundy – Ground Zero for this grape – are indeed from our land down south.
The sixth De Wetshof Celebration of Chardonnay was held last week on De Wetshof Estate in Robertson. Now one of the world’s leading Chardonnay events, this year’s occasion was addressed by American novelist and wine writer Jay McInerney. Herewith his complete speech on Chardonnay, terroir, Marilyn Monroe and Cape wine quality.
Chardonnay is the great chameleon of viticulture, or to put it in a slightly less flattering light, more than a bit of a trollop. It’s the world’s most famous and beloved white wine grape. It’s a superstar, beloved of drinkers and growers, famous all over the world. But it’s also an enigma wrapped in a mystery.
You are not the kind of guy who normally finds himself drinking four glasses of Chardonnay at 10.30 on a week-day morning. But here you are, seated in a crowd of people who, like you, have made the journey to De Wetshof in Robertson to partake in a collection of the Burgundian Jesus Juice.
Check out the explosion in restaurants offering patrons access to their “sommelier”. He/she is described as an “in-house wine-expert, especially trained to ensure your wine choice matches that of one’s culinary whims, ensuring an all-encompassing dining experience that you – our valued customer – deserves.”
When my hero died, I hit the freezer seeking a bag of dead sheep stomach. Jim Harrison, the last of the great red-blooded male American writers, passed over Easter. And with Jim having been a bit of a gourmand, I decided to make a big pot of something meaty, hearty and comforting, something the great man would have approved of. Remember, this is the guy who once wrote: “Men were not born to eat small portions.”
Leonardo DiCaprio does a lot of things in Alejandro González Iñárritu’s epic film The Revenant, currently on circuit. Besides wrestling grizzlies, shooting Indians, doing canoe-less white water rafting and self-medicating his wounded torso, there are some interesting foodie scenes involved. WineGoggle caught up with Chief Cloudy Lees, a sommelier in training and member of the Sioux tribe who is currently visiting South Africa as a guest of Cape Ethnic Wine Outreach, to talk about wines which can possibly be paired with the dishes shown in the Oscar-nominated masterpiece.
WineGoggle: What are your impressions of South African wine?
The Chief: Like most of my compatriots, I dig the big red stuff. Your Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon is the business and can give Napa a real run for its money. On the white side, your wines are, like, out there. I am taking cases of Chenin Blanc from the Breedekloof back for the tribe – after a stretch of scalping there is nothing like a cool, crisp dry white wine and I am going to convert my people to seeing Chenin Blanc as the go-to wine for scalping. Tastes pretty good after a bison hunt, too. Gets the horse-sweat out of your mouth.
I had always struggled to nail my precise feeling towards Pinot Noir when Danie de Wet did it for me. “You find three kinds of wine: red wine… white wine,” the Sage from De Wetshof said, “and then you have Pinot Noir.” This was over a decade ago when De Wet had been busy at playing pioneer again – not Chardonnay, but by making the first Pinot Noir in the Robertson Valley.
The deceptively simple and seemingly innocuous description stuck, and the more Pinots I drink the more on-the-button Danie’s words appear.
Public Holiday Nation, this has been South Africa over the past few weeks. Good Friday. Bad Friday. Workers Day. Freedom Day. Election. I am just waiting for a public holiday honouring the date on which Simon van der Stel stopped beating his first slave on 7 September 1689 after said slave, Pielkopius Witman, discovered how to make the original Vin de Constance.
In the good old days the boasting of gentlemen would mostly be confined to matters physical or material. Serious guy-stuff. Like who does the best air-guitar to “Stairway to Heaven”, which of you can consecutively inhale two Gauloise unfiltered and who can give the most graphically enthralling description of what it really was like getting to first base with the vampish Veronica Dimpelbosch.
But now everybody seems to spend time bragging about how cool the area is in which they make wine. Cool as in low temperature chilliness and not trendy.