Wine is not just art, but art in the very essence of the word’s meaning. Obviously, this would depend on one’s definition of art. But here I’ll take the cue from Lucius Annaeus Seneca the Younger, Roman philosopher and dramatist, who said “all art is but an imitation of nature”. I also like Picasso’s definition namely “the purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life from our souls”, a relevant and literally fitting explanation in matters liquid and vinous.
Wine is pure art. And nothing else. Unlike painting, literature, film and drama wine cannot be hijacked by political agendas, both in the expression thereof nor its interpretation. Although a winemaker purporting to make a “non-binary, equal-opportunity Chenin Blanc committed to democracy” or a wine-drinker finding “a right-winged, fascist and misogynist presence” in an oaked Syrah is surely just around the corner if one considers the increasing verbose state of wine communication and opinion.
It is the bottle, the glass and the wine. Nothing else. No theory, hidden motives or the subliminal expressing of a childhood affected by domestic abuse involving stale Rice Crispies, abusive and disorderly parents as well as the noisy assaults from a cruel Maltese Poodle named Cyrus.
In wine, all the drama is in the taste and presence, and currently I cannot think of a more dramatic and emotional wine-drinking experience to match the Chardonnay from Uva Mira Mountain Vineyards.
When they say “mountain”, they are not kidding. Uva Mira hangs high-up on the Helderberg Mountains of Stellenbosch, up to 620m above the sea, with the Chardonnay growing at 400m. Decomposed granite soils and south-west facing, the site draws the afternoon sun while the air constantly moves in ripples from the great pool of blue ocean at False Bay, nine kilometres yonder.
Uva Mira Chardonnay is the winery’s top offering out of the three wines from this variety, originating in an acutely disciplined vineyard which is honed and harvested in a complex web of tranches and ripeness levels.
Winemaker Christiaan Coetzee puts the wine into French oak for nine months, half of the wood being new. The result is a Chardonnay that speaks of mountains high and wide where broken and weathered pieces of rock have been worn down by African wind and climate over 100 million years. That wine symbolises the fact of Uva Mira’s patch of earth having been tamed, the vines bordering on edges of fynbos wilderness in which reptiles slither and rodents rustle.
A feral, untamed spoor bursts through Uva Mira Chardonnay 2017. There is a lot of grace, with all the blue-blood this noble white of Burgundy brings. White flowers, cool green almond and cut Packham pear. But the sensual swoop of taste is accompanied by a yellow set of talons, sharp and threatening, giving the wine an edge of danger. The calm, comfortable frame the Chardonnay grape has imprinted on the drinker’s mind is ripped and cut and torn. Once the nerves and flesh have reset the scar-tissue will provide stronger, firmer thought and more vivid a memory with which to approach this variety from now on. It is a stunning wine, nature’s raw offerings of rock, plant and ocean ground together with merciless power to be reborn as liquid magic, and pure art.
More amenable, sensual artistic offering of Chardonnay comes from cool-climate Elgin where Almenkerk is fast becoming one of the top addresses for the making of a diverse range of wines offering clarity, weight and flavour.
The Almenkerk 2017 places the drinker on more familiar ground than Uva Mira, oozing gently the white fruit, honey-comb and grated citrus-peel of classic Chardonnay. Joris van Almenkerk, owner and winemaker, allows for spontaneous fermentation, after which the wine is left in barrel on lees for 10 months. Older wood and natural yeasts provide a more burlesque wine, but with a fresh lean run of acid ensuring the absence of fruit-skirted blousiness.
It is all pleasing, this art that is Almenkerk Chardonnay. Pale gold to the eye, with a slight autumnal amber. A nose harnessing green apple, crushed between planks, and young fresh hay and freshly laundered linen, lying in bright morning sun. The flavours are wonderous. Quince and young Calvados distilling-wine meet with Portuguese green summer plum, cantaloupe and a wedge of salted, cured Moroccan lemon sprinkled with fresh spring water. It all lies firm on the palate, the lasting presence continuing the to nether regions of the finish.
If this imitates nature, the world’s looking great. So is the art.
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