Pigs and Pinot of Civilization at Paul Cluver

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Members of the Wine Swines Wine Club know that opting not to attend one of the monthly tastings rates as big a crime as suggesting that a female be allowed to join this old and hallowed wine club. Friday past, however, I did a runner when an invitation came around for lunch and wine from Paul Cluver jnr.

Why opt out of Swines? Because a leisurely afternoon at the Cluvers joint in Elgin is one of the South African wine scene’s more civilised offerings and always leaves me with a tremendous feeling of appreciation and gratitude to be involved in the wine industry.

The reason for being invited to the Cluvers was to check out the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc and assist in consuming some of the fresh crayfish that have been pestering divers and netters off the Overberg coast of late.

Now, pioneering Elgin estate Paul Cluver has always made wines that are hard not to like. Most educated palates currently raving about South Africa’s cool climate wines were initiated to said characteristics by Paul Cluver’s Sauvignon Blancs from the 1990’s. This cool climate Sauvignon Blanc obsession also led to the creation of an (incorrect) South African perception that good Sauvignon Blanc and a cool site were as inseparable as Pamela Anderson and her plastic surgeon. But that Cluver has showed it works at Elgin, is non-negotiable.

Those partaking in the joys of Paul Cluver also soon discovered that things in Elgin were not going to be limited to Sauvignon Blanc. Pinot Noir quickly became a revered addition to the portfolio, where winemaker Andries Burger set about making elegantly clean and finely fruited Pinots with an almost cheeky confidence and undoubted skill. Andries’s penchant for all things Burgundian ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ shared with brother-in-law Paul Cluver jnr ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ has also resulted in local and international accolades for the Paul Cluver Chardonnay.

With the recent interest in varieties of Germanic origin, Weisser Riesling and Gew?+¦???+¦?+¦???+ærztraminer from Cluver have gained an added following. The Paul Cluver Gew?+¦???+¦?+¦???+ærztraminer 2009 is a current personal favourite, and if there is a vinous term for the poncy gastronomic word “umami”, the this wine has got it. The floral freshness is complemented with a limey zing and zippy mouth-feel making it very hard not to finish off a bottle by yourself, something I have been doing quite regularly of late.

All five aforementioned varieties were on show during this crayfish lunch on Cluver Estate where Paul jnr, and Burger had gathered a few wine hacks in a kind of “let’s see where we are going” exercise. This was ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ praise be to God ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ no horizontal line-up with explanations and lyrically waxed philosophies. The wines were brought out during an al fresco meal, and in between a few chirps, stories and jokes we drinkers were given the opportunity for deciding ourselves.

Is there a common characteristic in the Cluver portfolio?

My money is on spot-on expression of varietal character. I have always been convinced that a good wine is one where its identity is revealed in an upfront, cleanly confident manner. This all Cluver’s wines do.

The Sauvignon Blanc 2009 does not jump out flashy pyrazine pyrotechnics, but has an austere depth with the accent on clean mineral flavours and a hint of green fig. The Chardonnay 2008 is subtly wooded with a lot of clean fruit, but none of the overtly sticky botrytis syrup many South African Chardonnays show to tone down any potential showy oak.

Another characteristic of Cluver wines is a meticulous clean clarity that is overall quite gorgeous.

Together with some Weisser Riesling, including the Close Encounter (8% alc; over 40gm residual sugar), Burger’s crayfish were going down very nicely indeed. Andries grilled them on hot coals, with a hint of sweet chilli and things were good. The boy can cook on a fire, that’s for sure.

Despite the great time and good wine, I was missing my fellow Wine Swines immensely, but Paul jnr soon helped me out. A whole Serrano-styled, air-cured ham, made on neighbouring Oak Valley, was brought out and Paul jnr set about creating wafer-thin slices of pig meat.

By now we were on the Pinot Noirs, including the grand 7 Flags made from specially selected vines and given the full Monty in the cellar.

The ham was superb, but it was too harsh for the sensitive sensibilities of the silky 7 Flags. The sweet-salt-meat-fat flavours were, however, terrifically complemented by the standard Paul Cluver Pinot Noir 2007.

Unfortunately for Cluver, the combination was such that myself and wine-writing machine Neil Pendock had consumed about half the whole ham before Paul had a chance of putting it back in its resting place.

I think it was Walt Whitman who sang the praises of men who were “big, hairy and good feeders”.

We sure are glad to oblige.

Walt, a good feeder who never got to the Cluvers.
Walt, a good feeder who never got to the Cluvers.

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