While doing some exhaustive research so as to be of service to the informed readers of this publication, it was quite amazing to see how little has been written, spoken and sung about South African Merlot wine. There are reams of missives on Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon and Chenin Blanc and little-known, trendy bottles made from weird grapes like Verdelho and Palomino, but the Merlot voices are largely silent.
Merlot outsells all other single red wine varieties in South Africa, yet it is given a wide berth by the pundits. For popularity among the general public and commercial success are not deemed being critically hip, nor trendy. To misquote the late great Yogi Berra: who wants to encourage people to drink something everybody else is drinking?
The situation of South African Sauvignon Blanc reminds me of one of the great verbal curve-balls thrown by American baseball coach Yogi Berra. When asked if he wants to have dinner at a particular New York restaurant, Yogi answered: “No-one goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”
The trick to attending a wine fundi’s party is to arrive early. Just as I did last week when attending a birthday soirée thrown by a vinous vixen. Her fridge was heaving with bottles of wine waiting for the 40-odd guests expected to arrive an hour later. But with these wino types you have to know that they are going to kick-off their party with some really good stuff. So it was music to my ears when she said: “Let’s crack a special bottle before the hordes arrive.”
A fine warm-to-hot Boland day, a light and airy space, a collection of pleasant South African wine people. Add a bit of a morning-after thirst raging in a mouth drier than the adjectives in nun’s love-letter. And this was a good day to drink white wine, which is exactly what I did with 20 Sauvignon Blancs at Friday’s FNB Sauvignon Blanc Top 10.
Being an unrepentant classicist, I was not going to drink just anything after watching the St Petersburg Ballet dance Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake at Montecasino in Johannesburg last week. All those prancing Russian swans made me work-up quite a thirst and appetite, and I needed a wine about as big as that thing ballet-dancer Dmitry Grotzdik was hiding under his tights.
?+¦-+?+¡Having smuggled the Chardonnay vine-cuttings into the country with which the industry was founded, we Jouberts have always been partial to South Africa’s interpretation of the royal Burgundian white. From the smoky sweet clunkers of the 80’s, the high-alcoholic 90’s and the experiments with malolactic fermentation in the early 2000’s, the advent of South African Chardonnay has been well-documented and discussed during family gatherings. Not to mention consumed. In fact, all the grand-children of Fritz Joubert, the mule who clandestinely carted the cuttings from the Clos des Mouches to Robertson, were Christened with a thumb-print of Louis-Jadot Meursault on the forehead.
We were all tuxed-up, man. For this was Veritas, South African’s premier part of the wine events schedule. So a tuxedo was donned for?+¦-+?+¡the most?+¦-+?+¡important show of the year.
Despite the calls to duty asking us to embrace Chenin Blanc as the National South African White Grape and the reactionary colourful spats generated by the Sauvignon Blanc fraternity, there is only one real South African white wine worth taking to an international gun-fight, and he be Chardonnay.
LIKE,a hard man, a good Shiraz is not all that easy to find. I think the sentiments expressed in this article by Eric Asimov apply to South African wine lovers as much as they do to the Yanks.
But taste is in the mouth of the beholder, so I am not against those consumers who like their Shiraz wines full of sweet fruit, chunks of tooth-rattling wood and enough alcohol to drop a rhino at ten yards. When it comes to Shiraz, I prefer less to more. Like other Rh?+¦???+¦?+¦????ne varieties, the grape has enough inherent power and concentration of flavour of its own to deliver an elegant drop of varietal character without having to be dollied-up.
Locally I have always liked the austerity of the Muratie Shiraz with its classic earthy and leathery flavours. The Jordan 2003 is still one of my favourites ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ lean and un-showy, but with a very sexy perfume character.
One of the new greats is, to my mind, the Aeon from the much-trumped Haskell Vineyards in Stellenbosch’s Helderberg region. Haskell gives good Shiraz. It has done so with the Pillars, which caused a simultaneous wet-dream among the three blokes involved with a navel-gazing competition called the Tri Nations where wines from New Zealand, Australia and South Africa are pitted together.
In any event, with Rianie Strydom at the helm, Haskell has proven it is not just a pretty face with just about the right amount of money to burn that is required for those wishing to embark on a vinous adventure in Stellenbosch. Besides the Shiraz there is some cute Chardonnay and vibey Sauvignon Blanc, with an agreeable Bordeaux blend on the way.
As far as the Aeon 2007 is concerned, everything about it says “Monster”. The bottle is heavy enough to fog-up the windows of the World Wildlife Fund’s South African headquarters which are located just down the road from Haskell. Mucho carbon penalties for this one. (By the way, does anyone remember the carbon footprint anymore or is it just me thinking the whole greenie thing is as pass+¬ as the Platter Guide’s excuses for judging wines sighted?)
In any event, inside this heavy bottle is a very classy example of Shiraz. In the glass the wine is the colour of a freshly henna’d Nepalese virgin. The nose is like a drowning blonde: shy and quiet, until it gets some air. Then it really whacks you with dense potpourri, quince paste and freshly crushed cloves. Man, if this is foreplay?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-+?-+..
Down the glug-hole, this wine goes down like a homesick mole. It is so gorgeously, awesomely delicious you want to drink the whole bottle from unfashionably fully-topped glasses.
The wooding is 65% new French which harnesses the tannins, combing out the harsh bits. Mouthfeel is complete and leaves one with a feeling of inner-sanctity. Flavours are graceful, elegant on the front palate but a rip-roaring rush as the wine gushes down the funnel.
Sage-brush. Prunes. Tapenade. Fresh bread. Cured meat. These are some of the riveting flavours I tasted. They took me to far-flung places. The flower market in Orange, Provence. Lucio’s bakery in downtown Portland. The prosciutto market in Florence. I saw and smelt and tasted colour and heard music that was too complex and exciting for an instrument to play.
Okay, so one bottle of Haskell Aeon is going to set you back around R300. But the smart, freshly laundered Russian money says this wine is going to be a keeper, and five years from now it should be a South African classic of well-deserved international status.
The terrain is right. The winemaker is right. More to say? Nothing left.