Christmas: a time of drunkenness, praise, and popped shirt buttons. There’s revelry and excess, angels and shepherds, and of course, the fat man in the fur-trimmed getup with a hankering for cookies, milk, and having children on his lap. A weird and wonderful time it is. It is also the time of year that wine columnists all over the world trot out their terribly banal “Top 10 Wines for Christmas” piece. I hate those.
What is needed is for wine to start appearing in South African popular culture. (Do we have one of those?) Remember that rather kak film, Sideways? That changed how Merlot and Pinot Noir were sold in the States. Just because that snivelly little prick Miles told everyone to “Fuck Merlot”, they did, running to quaff cheap Californian Pinot Noir by the bucket load.
I think we pay too little for our wine. These thoughts have clouded my brain like a Joburg smog – discussions about money always leave a dirty taste – since I heard a few different pronouncements about wine and money. The first was at the Swartland Revolution – the constitutionally testing wine event I attended this weekend, whose schedule ran daily from august conversations about fine wine to hangovers that would bring a tear to your eye and a lump to your throat.
Who would want this book? It appears to me the perfect book for Capetonians living far away from home. They will page through and go, “oh ya, check this, I used to live there.” “There’s my house.” ‘I use to go running right there.” It’s perfect for an expat’s coffee-table; they can say to their dinner guests, “While I go and baste the chicken, take a look at that book, it’s where I used to live.” And then wonder why they are basting a chicken in a small London flat instead of living in Cape Town.
I remember growing up with this notion that things were always better “over the seas”. Finding myself amongst winos later in life, there is still a remnant of that idea. There’s almost a measure of disbelief when a South African wine is preferred to a French wine of similar style. It feels as though there is a lack of confidence in our own wines, one that’s only bolstered briefly when a foreign critic gives us a high score. The point – which is quickly becoming a bush around which I am beating – is that South African Sauvignon Blanc is world class.
I love tawny port. The flavours of sweet raisin, black tea and earth make we want to shout and dance around singing, “I’m Tawny, Tawny Tawny Tawny tonight.” I finished half a bottle last night in preparation for this column. It made me happy. But not as happy as I was the last time I drank it – and that’s the rub.
As the temperature warms, the days grow longer, the skirts get shorter, skinny jeans are replaced with skinny denim shorts, and all and sundry converge on Camps Bay, Llandudno and the Cliftons after work to tan, swim, and pat themselves on the back for living in such an awesome city. We know summer is here.
It was quite fortuitous how I became hooked on wine. I wish I could say it was something dramatic: being bullied into a corner by two boisterous sommeliers and forced to taste Corton, but it was all quite simple, and it came down to difference. A friend called to say that her stationary-selling buddy could not make it back from Genadendal – or wherever he was flogging staplers – in time for a wine course. Being a spontaneous chap and always happy for a chance to imbibe in good company, I agreed to this little excursion without question.
Yesterday the wines that scored 5 stars in Platter – South Africa’s foremost wine reference guide – were released. At this year’s launch, 18 tasters worked their way through the 7 000 submitted wines. Every now and then they came across one that astounded and delighted, a wine that made them smile and smirk, and hopefully, finish the bottle. Here’s my take on the affair.
There are some fantastic wine lists out there, please don’t get me wrong, but there is a disease of boring, careless, drek as well. Wine lists composed with the imagination of a brain bathed in tepid-water, whose purpose is more to nab bucks out your wallet than make your meal memorable. Considering restaurant wine lists in South Africa reminded me immediately of a recent South Park episode where Cartman’s mom doesn’t get him an iPad. His response:
“The wines of Constantia became famous in Europe at the same time (mid 1700 s) as the red wines of Chateau Lafite. Makes you think.” Su Birch, the head of Wines of South Africa, tweeted this week. Lafite is a famous French first growth – the 2009’s are selling for around 14 000 bucks a bottle. Yes Su, it does make me think. It makes me think, “Where the fuck did we go wrong?”
Recently I was knocking back Meerlust’s new releases at a lunch. Drinking these rather scrumptious wines, we began to discuss some incredibly important issues. The things one discusses at a wine lunch – among other winos – are, of course of world importance. They solve world hunger, the middle-east issues, America’s debt, Malema, Greece, and hint toward what 42 actually means. To be honest, if it wasn’t for conversations such as these, the world would be in a worse place than it is. So on this blustery day in Stellenbosch, the question that arose was, “Can wine be art?” As I said, vital stuff.
I have been a bit airy-faery of late, mouthing off about elegance, the nature of language, bonhomie, and the like. Which, I must say, I prefer talking about at dinner where there is plenty room to bang my fists on the table. And as the banging of digital fists becomes slightly tiresome, I thought I would veer off in a more practical direction. So here are a few tips to making your wine drinking life more pleasurable.
Drugs are great. Don’t listen to those naysayers who offer hugs instead. Silly. Whoever heard of a hug that produced art, ideas, conversation and discovery? Some may have led to sex, sure, but then I reckon ecstasy wins on that count. Of course, drugs kill people and ruin lives. So do guns, politicians, earthquakes, religion, airline food, ignorance, baseball-bats, well timed punches, badly timed racing drivers, and a host of animals. But none of these things gives us the sheer pleasure while hastening our demise that drugs do. Wine is my drug of choice.
Every now and again I’ll post a column on a certain word that wine people – myself included – use to describe wines that can be slightly troubling. I am going to try and make it a little bit clearer as to how the word is being used in reference to wine. Because as much fun as it is pairing wine with death, one must try to be of some use. Slight disclaimer: This is a column that imagines its readers enjoy thinking about wine a little. If you are happy with the “Ja, not battery acid I’ll drink it. Fuck that it’ll kill you” approach to drinking wine, this may annoy you.
I’d really hoped that coffee-tasting wines had been put to bed in this column. I had had my rant and the comments were made; I had purged myself from the nastiness, hoping never again to have to speak of these wines here. But it reared its vile little head recently when I read that caffeine had been found in one of the coffee styled Pinotages. I diluted my Chianti Classico with bitter tears, as I knew once again I would write something.
Forget history lessons, interesting facts, supermarket choices, hints of vanilla, toasted oak or residual sugar;. Let’s be honest, for most people the only reason they want to learn anything about wine – past the operation of a corkscrew – is so they don’t look like a tit.
Last week I told you a bit about Champagne’s history, and left you at around the 16th/17th century. I was going to try and take you all the way up to the present in this column. I then realised that this would not be possible in 100 words. So I shelved the pot-holed history of [...]
I love bubbly. I can drink it first thing in the morning, just before I sleep, and at every intervening moment. Its racy freshness and cleansing bubbles inspire celebration, comfort the sad and refresh the weary. I have another name for Champagne: joie de vivre.
At dinner the other night I was paging through a rather limpid looking wine list. Safe wines, boring wines; not one of which inspired in me even a trace of “Wahoo!” I saw one from a producer I have enjoyed before – a Shiraz that I thought may offer something of interest. Boy, was I wrong. It was as interesting as watching paint dry on a black and white television, showing curling. The reason for it’s complete drabness was that it had fallen into the trap that many South African reds are succumbing to. The wine maker was forcing the wine to strongly exhibit flavours and aromas of coffee and chocolate.
One of the things that makes wine stand out in the world of beverages is its ability to age and develop. It is a miraculous thing, tasting something older than you are (frustratingly, this gets more difficulty and expensive as you shuffle along the mortal coil). To taste a living thing formed by the elements [...]
In last week’s column I asked what kind of wine content you would like to see me write about. The comment that popped up more than most was about supermarkets, that is, how to deal with a wall of wines, all staring at you from the shelf. Which to buy? How do I know I won’t end up with battery acid? Oh god, the decisions. Too. Many. Wines. Fuck it, I’ll just get that coffee-flavoured Pinotage. Well, you are not alone.
Introducing the first of Harry Reginald Haddon’s weekly columns, discussing wine, and the life that flows from it. Enjoy – it is the sort of read that ages well. – As this is the first wine column I am writing here, I thought I would ask the question: why wine? Why dedicate these 600 or [...]