One of the many wine events stalled by the current C-crisis was the annual Chefs’ Lunch hosted by De Wetshof Estate. The De Wet family shares the opinion that the chef community plays a profound role in promoting the wine industry, and therefore deserves all the acknowledgement it can get from those producing el vino. Thus, since 2011 De Wetshof has annually hosted a dining and wining event for between 30 and 40 chefs. It selects a different restaurant for each occasion, and it is just a kick-back, eat-and-drink affair, usually turning into an early-evening party.
by Lafras Huguenet
Situated en route to my fishing abode at Blombos, I have stopped off at De Wetshof in Robertson since the mid-1990s to stock-up for the coming days’ pulling galjoen, mussel-cracker and Steenbras from the droning white waters on South Africa’s most beautiful piece of coast-line.
Speaking on CapeTalk radio recently, one of the foreign judges flown out for the Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show said the quality of the Pinot Noir category surprised her. Especially as the Wine Show’s South African judges were, prior to the tasting, “almost apologetic” about the quality of local Pinot Noir.
When considering language to tag to the flamboyantly packaged Desiderius Cap Classique in the Pongrácz range, the word “brave” comes to mind. First and foremost, memories of the man Pongrácz himself, a pint-sized contrarian who’s opinionated cockiness was only matched by that of the yapping, peeing pack of miniature Dachshunds accompanying him around the Cape winelands. Here he was inspecting vines, initiating new plantings – Rhône varietals held a special allure – and baiting wine farmers into arguments about his opinion on their stubborn ways.
The second braveness of the Desiderius Cap Classique is the showy bottle. Ribbed and edged in gold, it is not at all modest in appearance, rather resembling a container one would expect to find at a Kardashian 21st bash or a Russian house of ill-repute.
But since hitting the market 15 years ago, the flamboyant packaging has proved to have been way ahead of its time. Currently, that bottle is right in line with what is deemed as branding desirability.
But at the end of the day, it is about the wine. And here, too, Desiderius is a courageous Cape Classique in terms of style.
The 2009, just released, is a classic partnership of 60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Noir, the cuvées pressed from Elgin, Robertson and Stellenbosch fruit. A slight percentage of the Chardonnay sees oak, evidence of which does show up in the final product. And with 72 months lees contact, cellar master Elunda Basson places the wine on a potentially precarious journey.
Nothing but the best base wine is going to complete the six year journey in a state of health, verve and pure Cap Classique expression. It is, thus, a brave quest, and once again the Desiderius gamble pays off.
Stylistically the Desiderius 2009 is in a Cap Classique class of its own. It resembles the Champagnes of Pommard, being more serious and sullen, with a bit of weight and moody depth one does not expect the bright image of sparkling wines to carry.
The Pinot Noir segment zips past the Chardonnay, offering plummy and kumquat notes. The Chardonnay presents an alluring grape-fruit element, with just a hint sorrel and buttercup.
But the wine’s prestige lies in the palate-weight and structure, the firm, succulent grip in the mouth, the commanding density on the senses and the finish which is longer than the legs of a Peruvian supermodel, just smoother.
Desiderius is no wine for frivolous downing at open-air hipster concerts, nor for splashing about at those noisy, uncouth MCC festivals. It is meant for food – live oysters spring to mind – or sipping with a spicy Havana cigar, such as Bolivar.
I am no fan of beauty shows where Champagnes and Cap Classiques are poured blind in an attempt to flummox critics into enthusing how close or better our sparkles are than Champagne. But if a Cap Classique is going to be taken seriously by a Champagne panel, Desiderius will step forward, proud as anything and brave as hell.
Everyone needs a bit of yesteryear now and again. And whenever this feeling raises its head, Vriesenhof is my place.
Look, I’m all for progress. And having resided and worked in Stellenbosch for almost four decades I am stunned by the continuous evolution the wine industry has shown. Not only in its incomparable wine quality, but the imagination and initiative wine-farm owners have shown in turning the region into a haven for tourists and other visitors. Gourmet restaurants. Cavernous, shiny venues with gorgeous views offering detailed wine-tastings to rows of eager tour groups. Art collections and play-spaces for kids.
If I am going to listen to one voice of authority concerning the merits of a vintage, it is going to be the soft drawl of Jan Boland Coetzee. And, says this Great Son of the Soil, 2015 is the best South African vintage of the past 50 years.
Pinot Noir deserves the reverence it commands, for at its best it is an indescribably beautiful wine. More has been worded about this variety’s elegance, charm, grace and seductive character than there has been about the Kennedy Assassination Conspiracy and the Spanish Inquisition – combined.
Image and premier status should be non-negotiables for Stellenbosch. But the manner in which the region’s wine authorities are allowing the prostituting of its integrity is placing an increasing amount of pressure on producers intent on marketing their wines as deriving from Stellenbosch grapes instead of the trucked-in versions sold by an increasing amount of wineries based in this area.
In a lingo filled with guttural sounding words to the tune of “achtung”, “mein Gott” and “Schweinehund”, the noun “Riesling” is one of the German language’s more joyous components. I have always found Riesling to be a precise, pure sounding word evoking images of brisk forest streams full of clear water foaming over clean white pebbles, a pristine green mountain forest lying beneath glaciers and a blond German damsel, straight from her fortnightly shower, picking daffodils next to a Gothic cathedral.
An invitation to lunch with an unacquainted lawyer is usually not an excitable prospect. But as long as there are no pending paternity issues or PC-fuelled lawsuits, there is scant reason to be afraid. Just make sure you meet the legal raptor in a place frequented by folk more likely to take your side in the event of verbal conflict or espetada-stick violence. And keep your wallet in sight.