The next time you are sitting at your favourite after work spot – sipping on something as the day ends while stress and worry take a backseat for the evening – let your gaze wonder to the other customers and observe how they sip their wines. As I am a frequent visitor to a number of bars/restaurants/pubs/wine-bars/shebeens/picnics/holes-in-the-walls/sidewalks/gutters/parks/etc I have observed how people drink my favourite tipple. And when stress and worry get out from the backseat entirely, kicked out by the third bottle, I find myself thinking about stereotypical wine drinkers based on how the wine gets from glass to belly. I present you with a few of my favourites and most observed.
Wine competitions. Born from the union of Satan and Lady Luck, I loathe them. And there a lot of them too. Just in SA there’s the Old Mutual Wine Awards, Michelangelo, Veritas, Top 100 wines, Young Wine Show, Classic Wine Awards, Diner’s Club Winemaker of the year, the various Top 10s, Nedbank Green Wine Awards, Terroir Awards, and more. There are also, of course, the plethora of international competitions. What are these providing other than extra weight to the competition owners’ wallets? Sod all if you ask me.
It is summer, and here in the Cape the long evenings nudge one in the direction of that most South African past time: the braai. Growing up, however, it was always beer around the braai and wine (white, nondescript, loaded with ice) in the kitchen. There was, of course, the exception in my French uncle for whom a glass of red wine is never far away. But beer was the norm. Beer dominates the braai. Is it some form of magnetic alliteration? Is beer that much better designed for smoke and charred meat? Do we still hold some outmoded idea that wine is for girls and beer is for boys? Or, possibly, is there some emasculation going on when a can is taken from the chief steak flipper and an elegant riedel glass subbed in?
This week I’ll be pairing some wines to three albums that have been occupying my earballs lately. It’s a tad facile. But then it has been shown that music can affect the way we taste wine. Drink, listen, be told a story.
Durban, the sweaty sticky place of my birth. Salty, thick air, slops, shorts, bananas and spice. If Capetonians are laid-back, it is because they’re stoned. In Durban people are simply mellow. It’s built in, climatic. It takes longer to walk through the weighty, humid air. As I was buffeted by this wall of jungle breath, and a filmy layer of sweat – that would remain with me for the next 10 days – formed, I wondered what wines would suit such a climate. And, more importantly, where could I get them?
In previous columns here I have gone on ad-nauseum about us needing to be more interested in wine. But I thought, maybe I can attack this from the reverse today. If I can get someone to consider the aesthetic of a wine, then maybe it will result in more of an interest. It’s a long shot. You may be thinking that I am being a pretentious wooly-hat-wearing hipster knob-end talking about the aesthetic of wine. I may have to give you the benefit of the doubt; although the wooly hat is very comfortable. Sod it, I’ll give it a go.
What’s the deal with South African Chenin? It has been a variety that I have espoused with vim and vigour since I became a wine consumer of serious proportions. I thought it offered excellent value for money, and offered a range of styles – “I’ll find one for you” I have cried to unbelievers. But had I been fooled by overt sweetness? Was my praise of this variety ill-founded? Had I been hood-winked by easy drinking cheap wines? Did my wallet guide my palate?
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.
It is common knowledge that human beings have a bizarre attachment to their personal cars that doesn’t extend to other pieces of engineering. Manufacturers cottoned onto this very long ago and changed the simple motor vehicle from being a tool for getting from one point to another conveniently into an expression of individuality and character.
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.
The other day I bought Icky Thump, almost begrudgingly. I didn’t think it would be that good. It didn’t get the commercial attention (by that I mean our radio stations only played the single Icky Thump off it) of albums like Elephant and Get Behind Me Satan, leading me to think that perhaps it was a bit of a dud. If you haven’t bought the last album – do. It really is that good.
The line to enter the Johnny Walker stand literally went around the block. Well, I say block: it was a few square metres long. But still, it had the biggest waiting line by a quite a measure. There were dozens of stalls to choose from, and yet the upper crust of Johannesburg’s upwardly mobile chose to line up for shots of Johnny Walker Blue. Didn’t they miss the point?
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.
From security guard, to dodgy taxi boss, to even dodgier mine boss – Khulubuse Zuma’s weight has exploded upwards recently. Nouveau riche, and all that. The connection isn’t very subtle – in large parts of South Africa, the way we choose to display wealth is by being overweight. Body fat is our bling.
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.
Information wants to be free, man! So says Julian Assange and his WikiLeaks geeks. Info wants to be free! The internet is free! Don’t police it! It’s a nice idea, isn’t it? The internet being the last place on earth that is unpoliced. Well, that may be about to go away.
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.
When I was handed Gareth Cliff’s book to read, I realised immediately what was going on. I’m not talking about the darkened underground chamber I was locked in, surrounded by sadistic publicists, or the hot coals that were being applied to my singed nipples. I refer to the words stuck between two sheets of stiff paperback.
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.
Now that we’ve recovered from the #MassiveFail that was the rugby and football over the weekend, I’d like to address something else that has been bothering me. I don’t want to let some stranger come into my house and ask me penetrating questions when there is absolutely no prospect of us hitting the sack later.So no, I would rather not invite Statistics SA’s census enumerators into my house. I’d rather not be counted.
My friends look at my work and the cars I get to drive and they are generally jealous. Sure, it is a privilege to drive so many cars from so many manufacturers and never have to worry about fuel or insurance or tyres or any of that bothersome nonsense that comes with car ownership. Typically, everybody remembers that time when I had the brand new Audi R8 for a week, but nobody remembers when I had to drive a bog-standard Chevy Spark for 9 days. Yeesh.
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:
We journalists like to complain about PRs. I didn’t study journalism, so never got the opportunity to pick up some of the bad habits of the industry. It’s always cute to note how many scribes enjoy hating PRs. I think the hatred is reciprocal (an explanation for their general foul attitudes when I call?). I appreciate that they have a job to do. So, a kindly word to PR practitioners out there: I wouldn’t know how to do your job. But I know mine, and it sometimes means that we have to cooperate.
“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?”
Look, it’s absolutely insane that up to 14 000 people are killed on our roads per annum. Those figures are from 2009, and are apparently the last reliable statistics available. That, according to Bob Geldof logic, would mean that about 38 people are killed on the roads every day. I can’t stress enough how appalling that is. But saying that the road deaths are due to a speed limit that is too high is a bit of a silly statement for a transport minister to make. But that is what S’bu Ndebele wants to do.
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.
This column is really a tribute to Durban’s Number One, East Coast Radio. Thanks to those DJs and their music selection committee, I got the joke when Jay-Z and Mr. Hudson sang Forever Young. I was belting out the tunes like all the white 30-somethings when the Wedding DJs played at Oppikoppi this year. I threw out the question of the greatest one-hit wonders of all time on Twitter yesterday afternoon, and the responses were varied and colourful. This is not a compilation of the five most chosen songs. This is not a democracy. This is my list.
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.