If you think about it, the term ‘wine tasting’ is rather limiting, after all the experience is much more than taste – or it should be. I often wonder how many bother to actually look at a wine and try to glean some information from its colour or smell beyond fruits, vegetation or oak detected on the nose.
The diagnosis goes pretty much via the same flavour route once the wine’s in the mouth; rarely is texture – what impression it has on the tongue, lips and cheeks – given the attention it deserves.
Some wines are fruity juicy with a bouncy liveliness, leaving the mouth feeling zingy and fresh. High alcohol wines, especially when the alcohol is out of balance, can feel heavy and lifeless with a residual alcoholic glow. And so it goes.
In recent years, new classes of wine have been developed and met with the success that has led to formal recognition. Last August, amendments to regulations of the Liquor Products Act added six new classes, including Skin-macerated white, Extended Barrel-aged white/gris, Méthode Ancestrale and Sun wine. I’ve already written about Méthode Ancestrale and skin-macerated whites but last week I experienced my first skin-macerated sauvignon blanc, not the usual grape selected for this style; what made the experience even more interesting was trying it alongside other, very different sauvignons from the same producer.
Thys Louw is one of the brightest stars in the sauvignon blanc galaxy, and one of the most productive; at the launch of his latest Diemersdal take on the variety, we worked out he’s currently responsible for 10 wines from this grape!
Working up to the Wild Horseshoe 2015, we started with the regular Sauvignon Blanc 2016, which carries its pure, ripe flavours with poise but no aggression; one of those wines which just feels comfortable and right if without great dimension. Those extra layers of texture and complexity but still with the focus on fruit, comes with the Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2015 which also reflects all that’s great about the vintage. Next step up the ladder of richness and viscosity arrives with top of the range M M Louw Sauvignon Blanc; there’s a sense of ripeness rather than fruit in 2015 (and still an oaky note which will assimilate with time) but also a keen and driving line of acid which culminates in a mouth-tinglingly clean, up-beat finish.
Now, clear your mind – and palate – of what’s gone before; Wild Horseshoe 2015 (named for all the horseshoes found on Diemersdal) provides a completely different experience. It was inspired by a trip to New Zealand, where Louw found so many skin-fermented sauvignons in that sauvignon-crazy country. Many wouldn’t even guess the variety after natural fermentation on the skins over four days, followed by 11 months in oak barrels; a vinification that hardly follows the usual sauvignon route. Having expected fireworks after the unusual vinification, Louw admits it ‘Did very little for six months and I was ready to give up on it.’ Thank goodness he didn’t.
Forget fruit as you know it in sauvignon here, this wine is all about texture with a chalky, grainy feel, good presence but not over-heavy and a light grip in its dry finish. This is a style that demands food to show at its best; the pork belly served at lunch set it off perfectly. It’ll be fascinating to see how it develops with age.
I can’t think of a better exercise to learn about texture than taste the above Diemersdal sauvignons side by side (and maybe throw in the 8 Rows as well for a tighter, more flinty experience).
Coincidentally, a few days’ later, a couple of reds presented an equally informative textural difference: the newly-released 2012 Estate wine and Lourens River Valley from Morgenster are completely different from each other, much more so than in previous vintages.
The blends themselves should give an idea how much: Lourens River Valley is 71% cabernet franc, 24% merlot with 5% cabernet sauvignon; Morgenster blends 72% merlot, 16% petit verdot and 12% cabernet sauvignon. The former’s franc flourishes its spicy, leafy fragrance but the leaf is more spring green than ripe autumnal gold, leaving the wine dissonant, the fruit dropping abruptly, exposing a bit of an alcohol afterglow. To me it feels unharmoniously edgy but it is controversial; my colleague, Christian Eedes agrees with me, while Wine Cellar’s Roland Peens doesn’t. Let’s see what effect a few years’ ageing achieves.
On the other hand, Eedes and I much preferred Morgenster, reckoning it has a much better future; Peens disagreed! Can this be the best Morgenster to date? I think so; it’s a complete wine, sophisticated in its subtle, complex flavours, plush yet perfectly reined in body and the sort of tannins that allow for current enjoyment but indicate the worth of ageing. This is merlot at its best and given all the right backing, aromatic lift and freshness from petit verdot. Morgenster 2012 feels expansive and grand – but do feel free to disagree and side with Peens!
Sadly, I didn’t find Ken Forrester’s new baby, Dirty Little Secret (I wonder who would want to pay R950 for a wine with that name?) felt as grand. It’s chenin, of course, (Forrester’s passion with this grape easily matches Louw’s with sauvignon blanc!), from a Piekernierskloof bushvine vineyard planted in 1965. It went through the whole ‘natural’ process (which means different things to different people) plus two weeks as whole bunches prior to wild ferment in old 400 litre French oak and malo-lactic; this latter has brought about a soft buttery texture and an accented sweetness from just 4 grams of residual sugar.
If the texture at present doesn’t appeal – and who knows what’ll happen in future (it is from 2015, though labelled ‘One’, so is backed by that excellent vintage) – the concentration of old-vine chenin shines through with radiance. I’m hoping it all comes together with time.