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.
No wood, no good. This phrase was not coined by Elizabeth Taylor or Lady Gaga, rather by the late Graham Beck who abruptly dismissed any Chardonnay that had avoided some face-time with a maturation barrel.
There are wine brands that I grow into trusting. Others delicately instil trust through providing impressionable bits of joy and genius. Then, one or three grab me by the throat and force me to trust them through their sheer power of conviction and unbridled brilliance.
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 most unique wine-tasting venue in South Africa is the enclosed, cavernous space where Lomond-headman Wayne Gabb and I are spitting Sauvignon Blanc on the floor. Sheltering our fragile and frail physiques from Africa’s southern elements is a wild, cool wall of leaved branches growing out from the gnarled trunk of a 650 year-old milkwood tree.
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.
Despite efforts to deny it, Afrikaans is the lingua franca of the South African wine industry. Without a cursory idiomatic knowledge of the language and an appreciation for its nuances, much of what wine people wish to convey from their souls is lost upon the ears unfamiliar to the language’s expressive depth.
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.
There is an assumption that dog-owners begin to look like their hounds after a while. While I am not hung like a dachshund nor have attempts to housetrain me been unsuccessful, I do share some similarities with Friedl. A keen sense of smell and on-cue drooling upon seeing a slice of beef biltong – as well as a knack for getting on with bitches – are shared similarities of the uncanny kind.
One of the rules about imbibing states one should never drink alcohol when thirsty. I never got the memo.
Thirst, real throat-scorching, spleen-drying thirst can for me only be quenched by a few healthy slurps of cold booze. Beer, icy and foamy, is an obvious candidate. Novelist Jay McInerney even used beer when reviewing a particularly good batch of cocaine in Bright Lights, Big City. Something about the snort of Bolivian marching powder being as gorgeously satisfying as a “sip of cold beer on a hot summer’s day”.