To Hell and Back with Dry January

The concept of Dry January falls strange and incoherent, rings hollow and is met with churlish nonchalance and – despite my respecting the wonts and motives of each and every one – a tad of the absurd. No partaking in the glorious offering of the vine for a month? It just seems incomprehensible in my world, but I suppose it depends on what one’s relationship is with wine.

If it is a physical thing, Dry January can perhaps find purchase among those wishing to cleanse livers, purify colons and align urinary tracts for 31 days, before again exposing them to alcohol for the next 11 months. Only to then repeat the guilt-assuaging, monastic sanitising process. The mind, too, is replenished by the dry-spell with that feeling of having done the right and the good, like ordering Coke Zero with a cheesy carb-heavy sourdough pizza, green salad on the side.

But in my world, eschewing wine means the crass, heartless shunning of culture and beauty; the voluntary rejection of art and the poetic rhythms of daily life.

Tertius Boshoff, Stellenrust.

Just as I will frown upon any fad, trend, or mode that wills me to forgo rock or jazz, films, literature, and art exhibitions for a month, so too can I not partake in this thing of a Dry, wine-less month.

Like art and other elements of culture, wine evokes fascination and curiosity. It inspires and makes me wonder about soils and plants, and about the people driven to transform a derivative of nature into something offering pleasure and light and something which is sensorially uplifting. It makes my world a better place, this partaking of a creation that is the result of so much and so broadly a constituted giving. From the land and from the hand that partakes in all the varying chapters of wine’s making. No, I am not going to deny myself this wonder for a day, never mind a whole month.

Thus, I am upending Dry January by going big and looking for wines offering pleasure that is unbridled in their decadence, almost sluttish in that visceral overpowering of the senses.

An example of this is from the Bottelary producer that is Stellenrust which – by the way – had a formidable run in 2023. Four Chenin Blancs in the Standard Bank Top 10. And Diners Club Winemaker of the Year for Stellenrust padron Tertius Boshoff – not with a Chenin, but a Shiraz.

But it is to a Chenin Blanc I go to poke holes in the rarefied Dry January veneer, namely Stellenrust Barrel Fermented 2022. The bottle bears a gilded “58” which refers to the age – in years – of the Chenin Blanc vines offering their firm, palm-filling grape-bunches for creating vintage 2022.

This fruit originates from Bottelary, always a wonderous and enchanting part of Stellenbosch for its authentic ruralness and undisturbed pastoral rythmns. Grapes bleed from vines that have been rooted in the iron-rich decomposed granite and clay soils for almost six decades, now responsible for classic, regal Chenin Blanc wines instead of the run-of-the mill, unimaginative co-operative juice they were destined for in their first 35 years of life.

Before getting them to the winery, Boshoff gives these grapes extended hang-time, allowing the sun to cure the sap and, when it becomes cooler in March, to develop just a prickle of botrytis to broaden the curves, extend dimension, stir drama.

The juice is fermented and aged for nine months in French oak, 16% of which is new and the rest split equally among barrels up to sixth fill.

Once opened and splashed into the glass, I have even fewer doubts about my aversion to Dry January or any other month of dryness. It is all gorgeous, and it is wine. The colour is of pale gold reflecting a stained-glass window in which emerald is the dominant colour. On the nose, the aromas are lush and rich and decadent, exuding pickled pumpkin, clove and a ripe pear cut into paper-thin wafers with a samurai sword.

O hell, the presence in the mouth is a beautiful thing. And it is presence and structure and texture that cement initial impressions onto the mind like a coiled snake tattoo on the lower back of a Brazilian samba dancer. The wine is unctuous and glides around the mouth, drawing impressions from the tasting machinery with a confident charm and alerting flirtatiousness.

Then comes the taste, commanding and regal and almost vocal in its expression. Yellow quince left to confect sugar in the quiet confines of a sunny wooded loft. Honeycomb plastered by wild bees in the hollow stumps of ancient dead trees. A slight note of lime zest to move the palate along with a sense-alerting energy and briskness. The finish is longer than a Russian ballerina’s quadriceps and as memorable as the last line in a Chekov short story.

I fill the glass again, and drink deeper this time, the only dry thing being my sweatless and refreshed brow and the cuff of the dress-shirt I deemed necessary for donning to experience another piece of never-ending wonder. Day in, day out.

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5 thoughts on “To Hell and Back with Dry January

  1. …one of your very best ÉVER, this one Emile ‼️⁉️

    How you manage to be so eloquent and magnificently expressive on the unspoken dimensions, the sensory, the deepest sensuality of taste, whiff and the feel by tongue, eye, nose, as in the complete bodily experience, only YOU will éver know

    And then, the ‘dry month of Jan’ annually ⁉️⁉️
    After this writ
    it is FORÉVER DOOMED
    (‘fucked’ would sound SO much better as in ‘madly, wildly destroyed’, as your case against ‘a dry January’ is solid and self evident like that of an SC of note in St Georges Ctn ~ the High Courts of this troubled ZA Land, in the company of this chenin, the human hand, hands, mind, minds, at careful bay (the terroir, the cellar the fiesty canvas there unto) ~ these magnificent Bottelary heuwels, a terroir most suited (undiscovered!) for this particular nectar of our magical Kaapse Keldermeesters en Mooiste Kaapse (somtyds StormKaapse) Wynlande…your ode of this writ in particular exposé of joie…)

    Thank you kindly
    A work of Art, one of most pleasing beauty this one
    I think Tertius and Stellenrust can thank their lucky stars that you sculpted such great descriptions of joie on their own magical journeys of creativity, discovery thus far under written (BY FAR❗️) into the viticultural history books, this here painting of vinified beauty, marble sculpture (as in Rodin?) created from these ancient soils and deeply hidden treasures of Bottelary ~ now exceeding 58 Summers, Winters and Seasons of wildness…captured in a bottle and corked, awaiting golden moments of infinite pleasure in select company ~ the carefully chosen monent

    Thank you kindly
    A most esteemed pleasure this one

    beste
    bos
    stb, die vallei blaauw
    (17Januarie2024)
    👊🔥

    🪖

  2. Unbelievably well written Emile – I wish I could have penned it myself!
    Where can I buy some??
    Christo B

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