An evening of the classics & the unusual

Yesterday evening a tasting that proved both interesting and satisfying was enjoyed by six of our group of 11. Normally we meet once a month to taste international wines only. For a change we held a bring-your-own wine and food (normally one member chooses the theme, sources the wines and provides something to eat afterwards). There was happy equilibrium in choice: three whites and three reds and compatibility in the order we tasted (blind, of course) given the diversity in each bottle.

First up was David Clarke’s offering. With a peachy, slightly smoky fragrance, rich texture balanced by fine freshness, I guessed an Austrian gruner veltliner. Someone might have murmured ‘Loire’ – more in hope than confidence – but Guy Allion’s Sauvignon Blanc 2010 from Touraine is hardly your typical Loire sauvignon. This is one natural wine – Allion is an adherent – that won’t intimidate and will knock your preconceptions of sauvignon sideways. It is (or might be was) available from Craig Hawkins and Carla Kreztel at Lammershoek.

‘Hunter Valley Semillon’ said David Clarke, our now SA-resident Australian sommelier, with speedy conviction of my wine. ‘Low alcohol, fresh acidity with some toasty notes.’ His logic was perfect, which Master of Wine, Cathy van Zyl, confirmed is all important when writing the tasting section of that impossible exam. I could see what David meant, even Tahbilkmarsanne03though it was Chateau Tahbilk Marsanne 2003 from Victoria. This is a famously long-lived wine from vines planted in 1927, so at 11 years old, it’s still quite a youngster. As is marsanne in South Africa, which is on the brink of being authorised for winemaking. It was encouraging to hear Chris Williams say he’s making some this year for his The Foundry label. It makes lovely and underrated wines in the Rhône, usually blended with roussanne; I can’t wait to see how it performs here.

After two unusual wines, it was a relief to taste Chris Williams’ classic; no problem identifying it as a chenin from the Loire, even if, with its bright, old gold colour, we were still way out on age. This is a perennial difficulty for wine-loving folk in countries, including South Africa, where the wines develop more quickly. A ten year old wine from cooler climates can easily appear half its age. The Huet Clos du Bourg was in fact a 1970 and showing no signs of slowing up in old age.

Wine Cellar offers this in a slightly younger vintage, 1996 for R995 and the Demi-Sec 2001 for R595. Those with deep pockets and a few years younger than me shouldn’t hesitate; I hate to think what future shipments will cost given the way the Rand has plummeted.

Before any of us hazarded a guess as to Tim James’ wine, he did warn that he doubted any of us would have tried it before. Bang went my guess of Dolcetto, with a little too much tannin! Domaine Daniel Dugois Trousseau 2010 from the Arbois region in the Jura comes from vines planted in 1950. A palish blood ruby colour, its herbal, earthy aromas with sour cherries took me immediately to Northern Italy. Light textured with good freshness and very fine, dense tannin, the flavours resurged pleasantly on the finish; this pretty well reflects how the Dugois’ describe the wine on their website. According to Jancis Robinson et al Grapes, trousseau is the same variety as the Portuguese bastardo, although the Jura is its native home. It’s unfortunately not available locally but if you find this distinctive wine, it’s well worth a try. Meryl Weaver’s Hacienda Grimon Criansa 2006 put us back in more familiar territory, Rioja, albeit modern style; deep and dark, rich and ripe, well- but not over-oaked (and it certainly didn’t show time spent in 60% American oak), its viscosity was off-set by typical fresh Spanish acid.

Perhaps it was age, but Cathy van Zyl’s  Az Agric Tiberini Podere Le Caggiole Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2004 didn’t shout ‘sangiovese’ as loudly for me as some of my colleagues. Its garnet glow was a give away that it was no youngster. Initially rather earthy and savoury with a slight stink that blew off, it seemed quite austere after the Rioja. I was at a complete loss, mainly because it just didn’t taste like a vino nobile, to me at least.

For adventurous winelovers, like members of our group, this sort of tasting makes one realise the limited imports we do have access too. Caroline Rillema at Caroline’s Fine Wines, Roland Peens at Wine Cellar and Derek Kilpin at, the rather more rarefied (in quality and price) Great Domaines, do succeed to an extent to bring in interesting and some affordable wines, but as Peens admitted to me recently, there’s so little interest in foreign wines generally and out-of-the ordinary in particular. And no, the winemakers (not those in our group!), who should be broadening their experience through tasting international wines, also don’t buy.

With the Rand going the way it is, importing mainstream wines such as Bordeaux and, even more so, Burgundy is becoming prohibitive. There’s a world of interesting wines beyond their borders that are more affordable but unless more so-called winelovers show interest, imports could well diminish or even dry up. That would be a very sad day.


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