Conversations with wine

Mindful that at a time of forced solitary living, one should show solidarity with, not only friends, fellow countrymen and women, but people worldwide, I’ve been delving into the cellar for bottles from countries hit badly by the Corona virus.

It’s clear I’m not the only one; social media is awash with comments about and photos of special bottles offering solace and some bravado. Suddenly, we’re realizing that it’s better to enjoy what we have whilst we’re still able to, instead of keeping them for that indeterminate special occasion.

The added attraction of my international wine tour is that I have visited each area, so can picture the scenery as I sip each wine. So far travels have taken me to Barbaresco, Rioja, Chateauneuf-du-Pape and the Rheingau.

I hadn’t held out too much hope before pulling the cork on Abbona Vigna Faset Barbaresco 1997, only later I learnt it was described as ‘a year in which it was hard to produce grapes of less than very high quality.’ Even at 23 years old, the wine improved over the three nights it took me to finish the bottle (that’s an average drinking pace these days). Nebbiolo is resilient; it feels resilient, especially when young with its intricate web of energetic tannins. They were still supporting the mature truffle savouriness. Autumn and truffles are synonymous with Piedmont, but Nebbiolo (nebbia = fog) likely refers to a thick bloom that covers the berries rather than the fogs which do hang low at that time of year.

Another vintage, 2004, but also, top 5/5-rated in Rioja; ‘high alcohol and concentrated colour and aromas ideal for ageing’, fitted to a tee my Tondonia Reserva. This tempranillo-based wine tastes riper than the declared 13% alc with a little less freshness than I associate with red Riojas. Tondonia’s base of Haro is forever linked to a remarkable lamb meal we had there, not least through having to wait until 9pm when everyone has woken from the daily mid-afternoon siesta, finished work and – presumably – feels famished. Then, lamb and Rioja are worth the wait, as they say.

I’ve introduced Le Vieux Donjon to many knowledgeable, well-travelled wine-loving friends, familiar with many Chateauneuf properties; ‘that’s a new one on me’, ‘gosh, it’s good’, and other remarks in that vein are invariably voiced. It hasn’t been a secret everywhere; it became a favourite of Robert Parker and therefore the Americans in the early 2000s.

Unlike many other producers, just one red (and one white) wine is made, a typical blend of grenache, syrah, mourvèdre with a splash of cinsaut. It is wonderfully descriptive of such a blend and the appellation, in a quiet yet convincing manner; a comforting, soul-food wine that doesn’t need long ageing but can age with benefit. My 2000, described as a beautiful vintage, proved that.

Chateauneuf isn’t the prettiest area in the Southern Rhone (try Gigondas for picturesque); if the mistral wind is blowing, it can be positively miserable, but it’s an ill wind … the vines remain healthy.

Riesling is ingrained in my tastebuds, I can’t imagine life without readily available bottles in the cellar. German Riesling is first choice, though Aussie versions from Clare and Eden Valleys also thrill. My lasting memory of our first night in Germany at a hotel in Hattenheim on the Rhine, is of new-season white asparagus and a bottle of Karl Joh Molitor Hattenheimer Riesling Qualitatswein Feinherb 1996 (I had to check in the diary for that!), it’s slight sweetness and fruit was a perfect match for the asparagus.

Ten years on, 2006 produced a mixed bag, some classic, others dilute depending on when the grapes were harvested, but current advice is to drink soon. The Leitz is definitely at the classic end and was awarded a Decanter gold in 2007. It made a delicious aperitif, full of fleshy, juicy peach, possibly a hint of botrytis marshaled by necessary acid. I’m not in a hurry to drink the remaining bottles.

There had to be a home-grown special bottle. Kanonkop has been an annual winelands’ stop since the farm’s first bottling in 1973; when the Krige brothers started selling Wine Futures (en primeur), we bought both Cabernet and Paul Sauer. My 1991 Paul Sauer was the last bottle of 12 from one of those purchases. I know we bought 12, as I have the original application form with cost – R320 for ALL 12; six bottles of Cabernet, R145. Sigh! Bottle #12 of Paul Sauer 1991 was captivating, true to its origin, and full of life and sweet fruit, sustained long beyond that back-label drifting optimum drinking line.


Such a journey through winelands visited and wines a reflection of them.

A sound reason not to wait for times of Corona virus to open special bottles and stir happy memories.

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