Once you start considering yourself a wine expert, it’s time to take up bridge, croquet or experimenting with wearing woman’s underwear. Every wine lover needs mentors for life, people whose opinions he or she will always regard as superior to his or her own and who can assist you on your life long quest towards vinous Nirvana.
When it comes to Bordeaux, Boela Gerber, wine-maker at Groot Constantia, can expect phone-calls at strange hours from me asking about vintages, regions, labels, blends. Neil Pendock is my personal Champagne adviser: being such a prolific writer on vast spectrum of wine-related topics, many do not know that he is a real expert on French bubbles as well as possibly the most extensive knowledge of local MCC’s. For Burgundy there is Jan Boland Coetzee and on Sauvignon Blanc the expert know-how of Nicolette Waterford.
My Port adviser is, however, causing me a large amount of grief. His name is Alwyn Liebenberg, and just popping around to his abode in Montagu for a question ends with the barbecuing of a whole suckling pig and the imbibing of copious amounts of Portuguese red and white wines ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ before we get around to draining about a bottle of Port each.
Mentors can be damn tiring.
Alwyn was on good form this week after his maiden solo-effort Quinta do Sul 2008 Vintage Port recently won Double Gold at the Michelangelo Wine Awards and a Diamond at the Winemaker’s Choice. To taste the stuff, I went out to Montagu where his charming wife Beulah fed us salads and a wonderful tomato soup avec poached egg while the pig was being cooked in a Weber.
The reason for us being in Montagu is due to the fact that Alwyn is currently the winemaker at the local Uitvlucht Winery. Quinta do Sul is a private family affair: a piece of land on the rugged slopes outside Calitzdorp planted to Tinta Barocca, Touriga National, Roriz, Tinta Amarella, Souzo and Shiraz. After harvesting, the grapes are brought to the Uitvlucht cellar, where Alwyn begins his magic.
Or should I say obsession?
Alwyn began a Port club whilst studying at the University of Stellenbosch. Making a pilgrimage to Port’s Holy Grail in the Douro Valley, Alwyn worked with Jos+¬ Serpa Primentel at Quinta de Pacheca where he made his first certified Vintage Port was released.
After four vintages in Portugal, Alwyn returned to make wine at Boplaas, perfecting his technique and further immersing himself in the magic of board varietals and fortification techniques.
And it is his technique of fortification that sets Quinta do Sul apart.
“Taste this, sniff it,” says Alwyn after pouring me glugful. “A 2008 vintage Port. Detect any harshness from the spirits Port needs to stop the fermentation?”
No I do not. The Port is silky and fresh, and not overtly treacly. I find the fact that the wine has not needed time to bring the spirits in harmony with the fruit amazing.
“I made it the other way around,” explains Alwyn. “When making Port, the usual practise is to add the spirits after the grapes have started to ferment so as to arrest the fermentation and contain the sweet fruit. Well, I immediately added spirits after crushing. A lower dosage, just enough to allow fermentation to take place but enough to cause the fermentation to stop at the required level alcohol of 19%.”
No, he does not know of any other winery using this practise anywhere else in the world. So why did he attempt this? Especially on a maiden project?’
“I don’t know!” he says. “I just got a plan in my head, thought it could work and did it. How else are you going to learn?”
Furthermore, the Port has no wood contact at all. “In Portugal I learnt that it is all about the fruit. If you have the right grapes, all you need is your guidance in expressing themselves.”
The Quinta do Sul 2008 is obviously going to age magnificently, but at the moment it is wonderfully vibrant with hints of black fruit, butterscotch and freshly baked pastry.
He is to be trusted.
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