Catching up

I cannot believe the disruption caused by a corrupted Outlook, leading to the purchase of a new laptop (due anyway), and all the associated brain scratching when pressing a button fails the automatic recognition of the old machine.

Hence the somewhat prolonged silence here.

In the meantime, the Hemel and Aarde Pinot Noir Celebration has come and gone and I’ve enjoyed some wines totally new to me.

A few comments on the Pinot celebration. The lasting overall memory is one of quality, especially the food – or at least that served at events I managed to attend. It made such an impression because at many wine events, the food is not given the same attention as the wine. As Pinot is so food friendly, doing duty with dishes that can partner white wine as well as red, the Hemel en Aarde producers’ efforts was much appreciated and should pay positive dividends.

Martinborough Pinot Noirs presented by La Vierge winemaker Gerhard Smith
Martinborough Pinot Noirs presented by La Vierge winemaker Gerhard Smith

If I have one complaint it was that the programme was finalised far too late; this saw a rush for some individual events with winelovers often unable to get in or having to re-jig their programme. Indeed, the biggest problem was deciding which of the Saturday events to attend. I opted for La Vierge, where winemaker, Gerhard Smith presented all three vintages of the farm’s Pinot, followed by six Pinots from the Martinborough region of New Zealand, where he worked for nine years. With these we were given ‘breakfast’ – tasting-size bacon and mushroom bites, smoked salmon and even scrambled egg. I was more interested in the Martinborough wines themselves, so they went down solo, but the home grown wines seemed happy to be partnered with breakfast.

Martinborough is the northernmost area in New Zealand recognised for Pinot Noir (it’s just north-west of Wellington at the south of the North Island) with the majority of producers making make one or more versions. Although styles vary – none could have been at more extreme ends of the spectrum than the ethereal Kusuda 2011 and more rustic, extracted Cambridge Road 2011 (though it did enjoy recognisable pinot flavours) – I believe the area has been able to establish its reputation for quality pinot, at least in part, through it being the focus for the majority of producers.

The Hemel en Aarders might have less experience and still young vines, but I don’t think their communal goal of making great pinot noir should be underestimated. They might not see eye to eye over everything, but that doesn’t include the Holy Grail of pinot!

It is more difficult to pinpoint differences between the three Wards than I imagined; on the day, the five wines from Hemel en Aarde Ridge appeared the most homogenous, though Hannes Storm, winemaker at Hamilton Russell, as well as his own, rather impressive pinots under the Storm label, did talk about structure as a common feature in the lowest Ward of Hemel en Aarde Valley.

Looking down Hemel en Aarde valley towards Walker Bay
Looking down Hemel en Aarde valley towards Walker Bay

Unfortunately, many couldn’t make it to this, most valuable of tastings, due to the early Friday afternoon start. Perhaps next year, a re-arrangement of the programme would allow many more to attend. The idea is even to change the time of year. Whatever, this, like the Swartland Revolution, seems destined to become an annual event. In many ways, the Hemel en Aarders more structured approach yields the better value with so many possibilities of tastings, wine and food pairings at individual wineries. I say this without having attended the Revolution. Both have their place.

Overall verdict – book early for the next one; a stimulating and happy event.

I love Italy and its wines, so it was a great pleasure to taste the Bastianich range, a name that’s new to me (though I understand it’s well known on Masterchef); the family produce wines in the Friuli district of north-east Italy, a region I don’t know that well, apart from its close and arguably derided association with pinot grigio.

There is a pinot grigio in the range, which is pleasant if unremarkable. For the same price, R159.99, Vigne Orsone Friulano 2012 enjoys more persuasive character. Originally known as Tocai Friulano, that descriptor had to be dropped as it did in Alsace Tokay Pinot Gris due to pressure from Hungary.  The Bastianich example has subtle vinosity rather than obvious fruit, refreshing acidity and overall elegance. Typically good with food, I noted – the usual comment about Italian wines. More rustic, but none the worse for that is the Refosco 2011; at the same price, this offers excellent value because it’s individual and unpretentious. Long associated with Friuli, the wine – or this one anyway – was characterised by solid dark, sour cherry and earthy tones, chunky but unintimidating tannins which gave it an unpretentious, easy drinking profile.

For those who enjoy Amarone, and have a deeper pocket (though you shouldn’t begrudge the R565.50 outlay), there’s the Bastianich Calabrone 2009, a blend with refosco. It has authentic dried grape character but is not overly raisiny, which can destroy individuality. Rich and silky, it’s also seamless and elegant.

The wines are imported by Fratelli Foods or contact julie@fratellifoods.co.za to find out where they are available.

With the way the Rand has disappeared off the radar, anyone even vaguely interested in experiencing flavours beyond South African borders should not miss this opportunity; imports are going to be like hen’s teeth very soon.

Enough for now, some more local finds shortly – promise!

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