They fell into 3 rough categories ÔÇô the sniffers, the swillers and the guzzlers. The sniffers are the professionals or the would-be professionals, the winies as opposed to the winos. They’re the ones who talk about the ‘nose’ or the ‘bouquet’, the subtle aromas that wines develop in the ageing process. That’s the magic of grapes, you see. They can become all manner of things when crushed up with sugar and left to their own devices in a wooden barrel for a few months. The reds can take on the flavour of pretty much any red berry you can name ÔÇô cherry, mulberry, blackberry, blueberry ÔÇô as well as tantalising hints of other pudding flavours ÔÇô chocolate, vanilla, almond, coffee mocha ÔÇô subtly sweet yet undeniably dry. And since taste is 90 percent smell, the real wine buff can taste all that before they’ve even taken a sip.
Then the first delicate swirl around the mouth merely confirms all that but adds the last unutterable pleasure of full taste and enjoyment. White wines, too, run their own gamut of subtle, fruity aromas but they tend to mimic the citrus fruits ÔÇô lemons and limes, bergamot oil, even naartjies, or else the soft fruit varieties ÔÇô peaches, pears, mangoes and paw paws. And the smart sniffers could taste all that and more.
The swillers catch a bit of it but when the brain hasn’t got so much time to run the bouquet through the computer it has to work that much harder to try and sift through the files to identify what’s hiding underneath.
And the guzzlers miss all that completely. Their main aim is to empty their glass as quickly as possible so they can fill it up again.
All three were out in force at the GICC this week for the first-ever Kalahari Wine Festival, organised by local wine importers, Fine Wines and sponsored by Stanbic Bank and Metropolitan Life.
Twenty-four South African estates were represented, from the supermarket specials, such as Kanu and Angel’s Tears, to the seeerious wineries with names I couldn’t pronounce, such as Nabygelegen, established 1712 and that’s a hundred years before the Brits and the Frogs battled it out at Trafalgar. Each estate had anything up to a dozen wines on display so for the sniffers and the swillers there were far too many wines to sample in one go, though a few greedy guzzlers did their best. Some only sampled their personal preferences, red or white, single cultivars but in the interests of balanced reporting and fairness I tried a few of each on the recommendations of the estate representatives. I tasted some superb wines, talked to some very passionate people and learned some interesting new facts about wine making and drinking, debunking some of my personal myths.
The first one was that I’ve always shied away from wines with names. Just tell me what grapes are in it, don’t give it a cute nickname please. But after tasting a red called Scarmanga (Spanish for skellum!) from the aforementioned and unpronounceable Nabygelegen, Faithful Hound from Mulderbosch and Barnet Barnato from Landzicht, all of which were utterly delicious, that rule has gone right out of the window.
The second was that a single cultivar wine is always preferable to a blend. From almost every estate the flagship wine was a blend and there were some truly excellent ones on offer. The different grapes are blended in different proportions according to their own characteristics to produce just the right combination of softness, dryness and that all-essential ‘nose’. And as grapes will each taste slightly different depending on where it grows ÔÇô soil, position, climate etc. ÔÇô different estates will produce vastly different tastes, even from blends of the same grapes.
The third was that there are only a few grapes grown in South Africa, producing a very few choices of wines. We all know about cabernet, merlot, shiraz, pinot, chardonnay and chenin blanc but what about malbec, petit verdot and temperanillo? Over the years South African viniculturalists have been experimenting with these and other grape varietals from all over Europe and the rest of the world and introducing them into their wines, hence the exceptional blends on offer at the Festival.
And fourthly, that you can buy a decent wine for 25-35 bucks, which is my usual price range. Wrong! What you can buy for that price is an acceptable bottle but if you fork out a bit more the difference in taste is incalculable. Of course I’m not talking here about pricey marked-up wines in restaurants where you just pay double what you pay in the liquor store for the same indifferent stuff. A hundred bucks in one of those places is just a waste, whereas if you hand over the same amount to a trusted vintner you’ll be in for a serious treat. If, like me, that’s beyond your reach on a daily basis, maybe just buy one decent bottle every week-end to remind yourself of just how good good wine can be.
If you missed the Festival this year, organisers say they hope it will become an annual event. In the meantime al the wines on offer are available from Fine Wines and some of them can also be purchased from Pick n Pay and Payless.