The natural relationship between clay and wine extends beyond the water-retention abilities and agreeable pH levels that make clay soils conducive to viticulture. For close on 2 700 years clay has been used to make vessels for the fermentation and holding of wine. Since those first dubious drops of grape juice were poured into clay pots by the winemakers of ancient Greece, Georgia and Rome, the containers have hardly changed in shape and size. Amphorae, as they are known, are today not only eye-catching aesthetic complements to wineries the world over, but represent a modern vinous movement aimed at capturing the natural purity of fermenting and fermented wine.
To go tasting Madeira wine, you stop in downtown Funchal, capital of this magical volcanic island in the Atlantic and closer to Africa than it is to Portugal. Jacaranda trees are in full mauve bloom, and grassy public spaces show bright with red and yellow and pink flowers which add to the realisation that Madeira is a garden island where nature, soil, sea and growth are vital, and the earth is looked on by the inhabitants with pride.
We had just stopped to see the waterfalls of Madeira when appetite struck. All that oxygen-rich air spilling in from the dense green plant growth and flowing out of the Atlantic Ocean had made us hungry like wolves, and the bowl of peanuts with the granadilla rum punch back in Funchal was not helping.
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.
Besides both having their respective important uses, Dias Tavern is like a prostate gland: you have to check-up on it regularly. Dias sees me about twice a week, and after a recent clock-in, the decision was made to place this eatery under a bit of media scrutiny.
There’s been a lot of talk about the recorking of old South African wines currently being undertaken by Joaquim Sá of Amorim Cork, but for me the real revelation was the contents of those bottles. It was, indeed, rivetingly exciting watching Jean Vincent Ridon, a world-leader in cork-extraction, prying open the dust-covered antiquities with surgical-like precision and refined expertise.
With nothing eventful in sight for the rest of the year, herewith some of my highlights.
On the local front I am going Grenache, and I am going Neil Ellis 2011. Made from old vines on the Piekenierskoof, this is the kind of wine that will urge an Iranian camel-jockey to start drinking. Garnet in colour, brooding tones of fennel and soil, the wine dances a fruit-laced medley comprising berries, quince and ripe fig. Everything is fresh as a showered pom-pom girl and the palate-weight is graceful, while the wine’s length lasts longer than a Julius Malema court appearance.
Growing up with one parent employed by the KWV, I can attest that visitors to this auspicious vinous institution do not easily leave the joint empty-handed. KWV hospitality has always been legendary, whether you were hanging out with the Board at a formal lunch or attending one of the riotous product launches organised by the KWV PR department.
So far, it has been a good year for Port drinking. And if things continue in this vein, my Douro resident permit should surely be in the mail. What’s more, since committing to dropping two bottles orfPort a week three months ago, my GP reckons I am in far better shape than ever. Blood pressure is temperate. The pulse is as calm and regular enough to manage a Formula One pit stop. And a painful stabbing check produced the verdict of my liver being is as unblemished and pure as a nun’s thigh.
It was a light, airy space, but we were feeling dark. We looked each other in the eye. Slipped our hands to our trousers, fondling. I took mine out first. Then he was holding his in his hand. And his was bigger.
“Nice Laguiole,” Anthony said, stroking his much more deadly looking pocket-knife. “Mine’s got 22 notches on it. One for every country visited.”
I slipped my modestly-sized Laguiole knife back into my pocket, cursing. If you are going to play knifey-knifey with Anthony Hamilton Russell, make sure you don’t bring a toothpick to an axe battle.