What a fraught evening for writing! I’d almost finished my next Mail & Guardian column by late Sunday afternoon, and had planned a sober-ish evening hour or two for a blog I’ve been intending for a while, when suddenly Ingrid Motteux, as fanatic a devotee of Breaking Bad as I am, emails me to say that she’s dropped off Series 4 in my letter box! (Chris Williams of Meerlust is another – he’s in the middle of Series 3, I think.)
What am I meant to do? Be otherwise engaged?
A few hours later than that, wrung out by watching two brilliantly heartstopping espisodes edge to edge, here I am. At least I’d decided to be responsible and promised myself not to drink any post-prandial brandy tonight. So, me being an honourable person, grappa it had to be, and a few tiny-ish glasses of Wilderer Pinotage Barrique “Premium Husk Spirit” later, I have at least a vague idea of what it was I wanted to share with anyone who’s made it through the first few paras.
So. This is one way of getting to the point: I noted what David Clarke said, in his interesting blog, about will drinking “roughly twice as many Cape whites as … red”, and know what he means – I’ve been insisting for at least a decade on the superiority of Cape whites to Cape reds. Trouble is, I generally prefer red wine to white. That means that for my “house red” (ie a reasonably priced local) I need to be very careful. Like last year, this year I have bought 12 bottles of only two local reds (of any wine at all, in fact: I’d have been happy to buy some others, but couldn’t afford them by the case). My only “big” purchases have been Lammershoek Lam Syrah 2012 (it retails at hopefully just under R70); and Adi Badenhorst’s Secateurs Red 2012 (about R80). Both of them a bargain, frankly.
The point is actually this: When Lammershoek winemaker Craig Hawkins handed over my case of Lam Syrah, he also gave me a bottle of a new wine under his own label, Testalonga: the El Bandito King of Grapes 2013. The king in question is grenache, and the wine proved a thing of great delight, with the lovely, pure perfume that whole-bunch-fermentation can augment, and all the lightness and freshness and focus you might expect from a Hawkins wine of just 11.5% alcohol. Not an easy thing to carry off, perhaps, a wine combining such lightness with real presence and “seriousness”. Very easy to drink, as I believe the “natural wine” bars of London, for which this wine is largely intended, will discover.
One the second night of this bottle, it ran out a bit early, and I needed another glass of something, so opened a Rust en Vrede 1998. 14 years older, with an unutterably different philosophy and aesthetic of winemaking behind it.
Frankly I wasn’t expecting much of the Rust en Vrede, having recently been disappointed with a very big, oaky 2000 (here). Also my more recent experience of the 1998 vintage for Stellenbosch cabs and cab-based blends has not been encouraging: it was a hot year, with forward, showily attractive wines that, generally, have not proved ageworthy (unlike the less showy 1997s, from a cooler vintage, which are generally keeping better).
As often happens, prejudice was trumped by experience. The Rust en Vrede 1998 was drinking beautifully – a big wine in bizarre contrast to the Lam, of course, but much superior to the 2000 of a week or so previously: fresher, lighter, less oaky, less sweet on the finish, generally better balanced and more harmonious. Could this be simply because it was picked less ripe? 13.5% declared alcohol is at least a percentage point less than Coenie Snyman’s Rust en Vredes usually are. I wonder if he has tasted the 1998 recently and learnt the lesson. I’m afraid I doubt it. Not my lesson, anyway.
I must say that I still didn’t get to finish the bottle of Rust en Vrede, though I do insist that of its generous type of cab-based wines it is an excellent example. The El Bandito King of Grapes is intended to be a less impressively intense wine, and I wouldn’t bank on it being as delightful after 15 years – but I found it more drinkable at the time, and the bottle emptied relatively quickly. Not everyone would agree with me (even I might not, on some occasions); how good that we can find quality across a spectrum.