Foiled again as Platter looms

I tend to equivocate (a fancy word for dither) when it comes to wine-closure preferences, except at Platter-tasting time when I’m firmly in favour of screwcaps. So much easier, when you’re opening – and then re-sealing – six or a dozen wines at a time…. (The rest of the time I veer between enthusiasm for screwcaps and the thought that, taking ecological considerations into account, the future should lie with “technical corks”, that is, fancy agglomerate ones; the thought of trillions of tinkly tops being extracted from the poor old earth and then littering it is not a happy one.)

But Platter time it is, and most of the wines I’ve had so far have had old-fashioned corks – and many have been in much more modern and environment-unfriendly ultra-heavyweight bottles, sadly – I thoroughly approve of Backsberg’s decision to take the marketing risk of moving back to lighter bottles). So I’ve been wearily wielding my foil-cutter and my waiter’s friend corkscrew.

Sometimes without paying sufficient attention.

Yesterday I absentmindedly used the foil-cutter on two shirazes, then took the cork from one, then noticed that the other had no cork to extract. Hah! I thought for a foolish moment, the wine’s been sealed without being corked, or else a wizened cork has fallen in. But no, in a tribute to its efficiency, my Screwpull cutter (not to be foiled) had sliced easily through the metal screwcap of the very good Eagles’ Nest Shiraz 2007.

The other wine (cork-closed and too-heavy-bottled) was the Quoin Rock Syrah, and it proved to be a particular joy. In fact, Quoin Rock is a winery, and Carl van der Merwe a winemaker, increasingly rising in my estimation. (And their website is one of the best around, if it is intelligent background information you’re wanting, rather than ultra-fancy, slow-to-load dissolving pretty pictures and vapid PR poeticising.)

Quoin Rock has two farms, one on Stellenbosch’s Simonsberg, one near Cape Agulhas. Last year my top sauvignon blanc was their Nicobar 2007, from the Agulhas property. They didn’t make one in 2008 to submit this year, but we did have a great white from the Simonsberg: Oculus 2006. How many wineries do you know of anywhere, let alone in South Africa, that release a white wine when it’s two or three years old?

The Oculus has benefited splendidly from that bit of maturation (and has time to go still). It is a most unusual blend – sauvignon blanc with 15% viognier (the previous edition was pure sauvignon, but this is the way Carl is going for the time being at least). He tells me that some people disapprove of the viognier idea – and I would also have raised an eyebrow or two before tasting it, especially as I tend to think that the world would not be a worse place if viognier were still unheard of outside of the northern Rhône valley). In fact you have to peer very closely into this wine, at this stage of maturity, to discern any varietal character, of either component. It is just a superb blend, lightly, effectively and unobtrusively oaked, harmonious and lovely, with the fine acidity that Carl seems to get (naturally) on all his wines (and I’m just mentioning two here: they’re all at least good).

Oculus is under R100 (from the farm at least); a bargain. An even better bargain is the Syrah, at R125. There’s a good deal of very justified whingeing about high prices for some Cape wines, and there are a lot of wannabe shirazes, many of them failing miserably, selling for lots of money. I recently pointed out that the excellent Lammershoek Syrah is R120 ex-farm (a bit more retail). So, with the Quoin Rock, that makes two of the best shirazes in the Cape available at what is actually a ridiculously low price, when you look around. I’m buying both of them for myself, but if I prefer one, it’s Quoin Rock, for its finer acidity. It is a lovely, lively wine, with perfumed fruit, sumptuous yet delicate in an almost pinot-like way. The bottle is not eco-friendly, but everything else at Quoin Rock is very much so, so I’ll easily forgive them for that.

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