Travels of Power and Seduction on the High Road

From coke-head to wine boffin, Jay McInerney.
From coke-head to wine boffin, Jay McInerney.

Jay McInerney, the American novelist who proved that one can become a competent wine writer after years of heavy cocaine snorting, says he can smell a Haut-Brion Bordeaux wine from across the room. Whether this says something about that wine or Jay’s perceptive olfactory sense is not clear, but after all the Bolivian marching powder the Dude did, my money is on the wine.

Haut-Brion I cannot, being more of Homo Sapiens Burgundius, but I’ll out-sniff Jay any day when it comes to Stellenbsoch red.

Heavens, but I do love that aroma.

On their own Stellenbosch-cultivated Cabernet Sauvignons, Merlots or Cabernet Franc are pleasant but not over-exuberant in the smell department. But a Bordeaux-style blend brings out a heady pungency one can pick-out a good 15 metres away – against the wind. It’s like one part chopped cherry tree, one part just-killed bloody red meat and one part freshly showered ballerina groin sweat.

And I do like those wine people who take extra effort to grind this exuberance from the grapes. The aroma is just the beginning, of course. The taste experience is also heady and powerful and operatic, somewhere between heavy Bordeaux, Wagner and GangNam style.

One of my favourite in-your-face Stellenbosch wines is made by The High Road, the small winery based in Bosman’s Crossing. Co-owner Les Sweiden seems to have been at every eatery I frequented over the past two weeks, and with him normally plonking a glass before me I would have been forced to become a High Road disciple if my propensity for this kind of wine had not been the right of my Mum’s first-born.

high road

The wines are red Bordeaux-style blends and the common features are stern wooding in new French oak, unashamed ripeness without sacrificing a brisk freshy zing and fruit-forwardness in overdrive. They are made by Mark Carmichael-Green, like Les an interesting and affable man’s-man with a self-deprecating approach to wine and life. And this is embodied in the wines which are full of vitality and noise, but with an underlying classical broodiness.

The High Road’s current killer wine is the Director’s Reserve from the stratospheric 2009 vintage, the result of successive cold winters and bright, crisp Spring-days perfect for bud-break and flowering. A Cabernet Sauvignon-led (50%) wine, Merlot and Cabernet Franc are harnessed in to respectively add voluptuousness and austerity.

The grapes were obviously not spared anything in the extraction process, and if one were to use Les- speak you could say “they were moered to a pulp”. After which maturation took place in new French oak – the powerful young wine would have sucked any other kind of wood dry with enough force to make Linda Lovelace look like a suffocating guppy fish.

When I first tasted The High Road Director’s Reserve 2009 a year-and-a-half ago, wood and wine were still in argumentative mood. But now they have settled their differences for the good of the greater cause, and the result is a spectacularly succulent and delicious red wine that has your gills watering before the cork is halfway pulled. (Note to Stelvin and their prophet Michael Fridjhon: this wine would make your piece of tin disintegrate like a Riedel crystal glass under the foot of an All Black prop, as real wine flavours are just too persuasive.)

The Director’s Reserve is as dark as Keith Richards eye-bags after a big night out, but once the aroma hits you it is a thing of style, grace and beauty. That unadulterated fleshy and fruity aroma, finished with a hint of exotic spice. The way the wine lies on the palate and, much like a St. Estèphe, immediately rattles all regions of the palate. A rush of vivid and lively flavours and polished finish, as lasting and never-ending as the final riff from a Gibson Nash Paul guitar played in the Grand Canyon.

I love this wine, and have a suspicious feeling that I always will. For the road is not only high, it is never-ending.

The High Road Director’s Reserve 2009: 954/1000.




Enjoyed this article?

Subscribe and never miss a post again.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *