I was jolted this last week by a paragraph in a book I was re-reading – certainly one of my favourite wine books, and I welcomed the challenge or, rather, reminder.
The author had been talking about how wine generally is becoming more “kiddy-friendly” (fruity flavours, simplicity, sweetness, “fun-and-funky” labels including the critter ones). And then he mentioned screwcaps: “Even more ominously than feral labels”, he suggested:
“this latest device taking the wine business by storm is intended to make wine more appealingly infantile…. I suggested …. that what was most appealing about corks was that they were difficult to extract, and therefore beyond the ken of children. There was effort, the risk of failure – a little ritual in other words. It was as if wine was divided into two camps, the corks and the screws. The corks represented the tastes of adults, the imagination of the past; the screws, on the other hand, served the needs of childish taste, the gratifications of the present moment.”
The book is The Accidental Connoisseur, by Lawrence Osborne, and it is funny and rather wise and deeply committed to wine. If you tend to think happily that we’re living in the Golden Age of wine and that Robert Parker, Robert Mondavi and sundry Australians (etc) represent progress, then perhaps you wouldn’t like it. But I recommend it heartily to anyone who is troubled by such phenomena and thinks that just maybe an Italian peasant might have more to offer than Angelo Gaja. They would probably love it.
Well, I love it, which is why I’d sneakily never returned it to the person I borrowed it from a few years back and was now re-reading it, as I was growing closer and closer to becoming just a bit tired of wine, as the Platter-tasting season was reaching its peak.
The reason for the jolt is that always during Platter time I get more and more exasperated with corks (though I’ve had only three or four cork-tainted wines this year) and become immensely grateful to producers who use a lot of screwcaps. They are just so much easier to open and close! When you’re doing a lot of it, it’s as simple a reason as that….
This year I’ve also been getting exasperated by all those fancy producers who feel obliged to wrap each bottle carefully in tissue paper. Which has to be laboriously – or more often viciously, when I’m involved – removed before anything else. I can’t see any point to this wrapping. Why do they do it?
But perhaps Lawrence Osborne would point out that it is just the tiredness and needs of “the present moment” that make me so irritated, and impatient of the rituals. Well, that’s true in relation to screwcaps – normally I also rather enjoy the little ritual of removing the cork (and of the little silent prayer that it hasn’t stuffed up the wine). But not in relation to all this wasted wrapping paper.
Anyway, the Platter tasting rituals and anxieties and labours and great pleasures and interests are coming to an end (though the editing and writing side of it continues for a few of us for another few weeks still). The big tasting climax, the line-up of the five-star candidates, to be tasted blind by more or less the whole panel of tasters, happens this coming Thursday – though probably we won’t know the result for some time.
Some random thoughts
I have only a half-dozen other wines left to taste and try to write adequate notes about. Right now, my impressions of the work of the last month or two are still randomly haphazard and unsystematic.
I think, for example, about how few really good 2010 chardonnays I’ve tasted, and how many rather disappointing ones. And how I haven’t come closer to relishing the charms of most sauvignon blancs. I have tried hard.
There have been random surprises as always. I’m not a great fan of bubbly, but perhaps because it is so refreshing I more often finish off nearly a whole bottle of it (over a few days, NB) than of other wines (most of the serious ones are too raw and young for my tastes). This year it was the Pinot Noir Rosé that Simonsig makes for Woolworths, with no added sulphur, that fulfilled that role. A good wine at a very fair price.
And fresh in my mind is the great pleasure of realising anew how fine a producer is the Newton Johnson winery of the Hemel-en-Aarde – not only for their excellent and increasingly renowned Domaine Pinot Noir, but for other wines too, including a few made from grenache, shiraz and mourvedre (you must wait a little for these 3-way blends, from 2008 and 2010 respectively, to be released – but they are full of delight: who’d have thought that these varieties would be so happy in the Hemel-en-Aarde – at least when Gordy and Nadia Newton-Johnson are guiding them into bottle?).
Another happy surprise was thoroughly enjoying the Cederberg CWG Auction Reserve Teen die Hoog Shiraz 2009. Previously I’ve found it impossibly oaky, but this year, while the oak influence is undeniable, the great vintage, and David Nieuwoudt’s skill, produced much more balance between fruit and oak. Sadly there’s no CWG semillon from Cederberg, as clearly the 2010 vintage down on the southern coast was not kind to the variety.
Etc, etc, etc.
I’m reminded by my own previous paragraph that there’s another great line-up to work at this week, apart from the Platter five-star candidates. On Tuesday, a small group of journalists will be tasting, blind, the wines on the forthcoming CWG Auction. The equivalent tasting last year was really interesting, and the debate around it even more so. And we tasters, at both of these events, will neither have to unwrap bottles nor wield corkscrews over their heads. What a treat in itself.