Love in the Time of Crystallum

Florence, my charming Burgundian friend, joins me on a terrace looking out on the Place Madeleine in Beaune, the scent of fermenting grapes hanging over the town-square like heavy clouds ahead of a storm. It is harvest time in Burgundy, the greatest wine region in the world, and this normally be a joyous time, one alive with animated excitement and emotion you can feel. Not this year. The frosts of spring caused havoc among the vines, decimating the shoots and massacring 40% of the harvest. So, despair hangs in the air, infiltrating the aroma of grape-skin, fermenting juice and wild yeast.

“Our vineyards in Corton and Musigny are stuffed,” says Florence, “and the Chardonnay crop in Beaune is lighter than Mrs Macron’s underwear.” (French women do have a way with word, especially when referring to one another.)

I have a gift for Florence. A bottle of wine from South Africa. I place the glass vessel, crisply labelled in white, on the table. “God, I need that now. To take my mind away from Burgundy, for a while.” She gets up to go to the inside bar, returning with a cork-screw and two glasses. I am allowed to open the bottle. “You the gentleman, no?” she asks.

As I press the screw through the wax closure, she whispers the name of the label. “Crystallum…Pinot Noir.” I nod my head while sniffing the cork and then pour the wine. It slides into the glass like a Ferrari-driver slipping into his Formula One vehicle.

I tell her of the wine, made from grapes growing on the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, outside the town of Hermanus. “Where we saw the whales, no?” she asks. I nod, a bolt of nostalgia shooting through my memory. It was in Hermanus where Florence and I met. Met, before the encounter.

Also, what made me bring the wine Crystallum for her is because this Cuvée Cinema Pinot Noir has impressed me since the maiden 2008 vintage. And yes, we now have the young 2020 wine before us, but the winemaker, Peter-Allan Finlayson, is a genius when it comes to making great wines that are accessible in their youth.

“You were accessible in your youth,” Florence reminds me, sniffing the glass like a Siamese cat who has just seen the sushi bar open.

A few tourists in masks take selfies before us, and a Japanese couple in striped Brittany fisherman shirts and berets walk past, a baguette in each hand.

We focus on the wine.

Crystallum Cuvée Cinema Pinot Noir 2020. The vineyard is from shale, clay and granite soils, implying an immense structure. This would appear to be, looking at the dense colour of the wine. Although the fact that this vintage does not have the rather invigorating sluttish perfume that normally characterises Cuvée Cinema, implies a sterner wine than the ones I am used to from the Crystallum marque. The nose is brooding and ominous and stern, so much so that I wonder if the aroma will not make Florence pop one of her anti-anxiety tablets in preparation of the wine’s entry to the palate.

Into the mouth, and like Florence does, I want to close my eyes and allow the presence of the wine to overwhelm me. There are few things in the world as immensely reassuring of the planet’s beauty and of the greatness of civilisation as a mouth of weighty, juicy, succulent Pinot Noir. And this is what the Cuvée Cinema 2020 offers, a confident and dominating slug of satisfying excellence.

The usual Cuvée Cinema line of wild strawberries and blackcurrant are there, drifting on a tapestry of cunningly interwoven tannins. Some porcini powder is present, as well as a hit of dried sage and fresh bay-leaf. But the beauty is in the feel of the wine, the marvellous combination between a sinewy, flexible prod from the crisp acidity and the enthralling, complete voluptuous fleshiness within which the dense flavours are found. Confident, that is the word, this Pinot Noir is confident and expressive, without being pushy or opinionated. Yet, there is bit of arrogance in the ease and guile and assuredness with which this wine presents itself as a commanding force in South African Pinot Noir. Year-after-year.

A waiter brought some snails and cuts of baguette as Florence removed her shoes and slid her legs underneath her, shaking her head so that the soft sunlight rippled through her dark hair and I put the glass down and asked her if she remembers what happened after we saw the whales.

  • Lafras Huguenet

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