Right now is an opportune moment to think about life – as in ‘getting a life’; being alive – like to try defining a wine that is ‘alive’?, and giving a life – read further.

Getting a life is my current focus of attention, after the past nearly eight weeks of Platter tastings and indexing, oh and writing those sometimes pesky introductions. It’s a full day’s work for me for the entire eight weeks; things like writing this blog are fitted in as and when.

I’ve been lucky enough to taste some top-notch wines this year, to the point of nominating more than usual for the five star taste off (happening on 8th September). I find that rather scary, given my usual parsimonious tendencies when it comes to such nominations, but then this year I have gained some of South Africa’s recognised top producers and, as is generally acknowledged, quality is improving all round. So I’ll have to wait and see whether the five star judges agree with my enthusiasm.

This might seem extraordinary to some, but by the time the last wine has been sipped and spat, my whole mouth is humming and wants nothing more than plain water, which I gratified it with for two wine-free days.

If exhaustion is one post-Platter feeling, so is one of being in limbo; with the daily routine a thing of the past, I’m looking around for things to do. Daft, really, as I know in my head not only is there much to catch up with, but I have a commission to write Decanter’s travel feature on Franschhoek; deadline end September. So no rest this year; the brain and mind are immediately required to return to top gear.

Vieux Donjon 2005After those two days on the wagon and with the desire for wine safely returned, it was a bitterly cold Cape evening, one which cried out for Chateauneuf. Below is the bottle that was easiest to reach in a cellar still cluttered with Platter second bottles. Le Vieux Donjon is perhaps not as well known as it should be and won’t be here unless someone imports it. It’s a one red, one white producer, no fancy cuvées. The red is 75% grenache 10% syrah, 10% mourvèdre, 5% cinsault and counoise and white grapes include clairette. Of this 2005, Rhône expert, John Livingstone-Learmonth writes on his website ‘there is a good crackle in the red fruit’; that comment, recorded in 2008, is still very true. But what I find thrilling about this wine is that it’s so alive. It’s nothing to do with any individual component – well, not that I can identify – nor does it seem dependent on masking its size; the 14.5% alcohol is evident, if only for the doziness that came over me after drinking perhaps a little more than my share of the bottle! Of course, all wine is alive as it changes over time, but I often find our red wines lumpen, without spirit, even when there’s noticeable acidity and freshness. So, I battle to define this ‘aliveness’, but it certainly adds a thrill factor to the drinking experience.

I could hardly believe my luck when I enjoyed the same thrill the following evening, when I turned to the local shelves in the cellar, drawing out Eagles’ Nest 2008 Syrah. Like the Chateauneuf, it bears a generous 14.5% alcohol, but has the same spirit – perhaps that is the best term to describe the elusive aliveness. Both wines give much pleasure now but should continue to live a full life for many more years.

CheninBlancTop10The real winners in the resurrected Chenin Blanc Challenge are the workers and their families on the farms. Sponsors, Standard Bank gave R20 000 to each of the top ten, with the proviso that the money must be used to reinforce the economic and social benefits in the workplace to the workforce.

In alphabetical order, Bellingham will provide a travel learning centre servicing nine schools and 1400 children; Kleine Zalze worker’s committee will use it for their home grown projects; Pebbles will benefit from KWV’s R20 000 via educational needs; Crèches on Perdeberg members’ farms will be upgraded with the money; Remhoogte will donate the money to Pebbles for a geyser for the farm crèche, a jungle gym and development of vegetable gardens for the seven families who live on the farm; Rijks workers’ restroom and meeting room will be renovated; Workers on Simonsig will benefit from a crèche and after school facility, complete with computer and internet access; Spier’s winnings will be split between the Anna Foundation, Little Angels and Food Pods, the last teaching people to grow their own gardens; Stellenrust’s R20 000 will to the Stellenrust education trust, extending Fairtrade activities and computer literacy classes. Finally, Villiera, where Pebbles is based, will donate the money to a school leavers project, specifially a welding course for one young man who lives on the farm.

That’s what I call giving a life to all those who contributed to those ten very smart chenin blancs.


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