Can you also smell sweat?

The idea that there can be a “single truth” about a wine crumbles as science uncovers the complexities of taste and smell and of individual biology. Jamie Goode has written most interestingly about this in an article in the latest issue of The World of Fine Wine – he starts off by pointing out that the “black pepper” aroma commonly noted on shiraz wines is simply inaccessible to one fifth of the human race because of specific mutation in an olfactory receptor gene. Can one hope that this sort of revelation might stop that (mostly American) genre of wine description which consists of listing as many aromas and flavours as possible (or impossible)? I doubt it.

We’ve more or less known this individual bias at an anecdotal level for some time, really. Difference in perception, and possibly in our olfactory receptors, was pretty obvious in at least one wine tasted when four Grapistas got together recently to taste some recent releases sent to us. The most controversial was Flagstone’s Free Run Sauvignon Blanc 2009. I rather disliked it for what seemed to me guava characters that had definitely reached the point of being better described as “sweaty armpit”. While I’m not immune to the charms of sweat and its odour in the right place and the right time, I don’t like it in my glass and I scored the wine 12.5, also finding it rather tart, and the mix of green and ripe characters unharmonious. But all the others liked it more, though all scored it differently. Cathy van Zyl criticised a piercing acidity but gave it 14, while it most pleased Ingrid Motteux (not always a generous scorer), who  gave it 15. It costs a whopping R77, by the way. The collection of largely obscure international judges at the Michelangelo Awards liked the wine immensely. As to the look of the bottle – we agreed with the people in Wine magazine’s interesting series looking at packaging that it was pretty awful, a mishmash of too much.

With another Flagstone wine, the Chenin Blanc Viognier Sauvignon Blanc 2009 (one of the most sensible names Bruce Jack has ever given a wine), we were more in agreement, scoring it 14. A popularly styled, perfumed, exuberant wine, selling for R36, with toasty wood showing, some acidity saving it from flabbiness, and sweet fruit. Reasonable value these days.

There was also good value, as one might expect, in two wines from Riebeek Cellars. Chenin Blanc Limited Release 2009 (R38.50; 13/20) has plenty of flavour, decent length and texture, and a good dry finish. The non-vintage Peter Cruythoff Brut is a very adequate, dry sparkling wine from pinot and chardonnay at a very good price – just R35 (13.5/20). Dusty, appley flavours, fresh and fruity enough – it’s not going to have Champagne quaking in its boots, but is very drinkable and much more respectable and refreshing for weddings and suchlike than the ghastly sweet stuff that is often served by money-saving hosts.

Presumably Woolworths Chenin Blanc-Pinotage 2009, made by Simonsig, is an idea wine: the idea being to combine the two SA flagship varieties in one white wine. It doesn’t achieve anything more than a good idea, in fact – a much less attractive wine than Simonsig’s straight Chenin at a lower price (this is R45, we scored it 13/20). Nothing wrong, really, though a bit insipid, but you can do much better at Woolworths and at Simonsig for your money.

Morgenster, which used to be one of the few wineries with a proper focus – on a few Bordeaux-styled reds, has in recent years been unable to resist branching out into the Italian repertoire suggested by the origins of its owner, Giulio Bertrand. The Caruso 2009 is a rosé offshoot of the serious Italian-variety reds (which also have names with operatic suggestiveness), from pure sangiovese, the great grape of Tuscany. It’s pretty pricey (R65 ex-farm, a bit more elsewhere).  I love the 1960s lipstick-pink-for-blowsy-blondes they’ve used in the packaging, but I was pretty alone in that in our little group. It’s a fairly serious wine, as rosé goes, and pleasantly unusual, almost austere in its fruitiness, with a slightly smoky, savoury quality too. A notably soft texture – like slippery wet velvet (I think!). We agreed to score it 14.5.

Best and most interesting of those allocated to me to write up were the two wines from Post House, the boutique winery in the Helderberg area where Nick Gebers has been doing his thing in a small way since 1966. Regarding the name, the website says, “As the homestead on the farm had originally operated as a post office, serving the local missionary community of Raithby, it was a logical step to associate the wine with its postal origin. The wines were thus named Post House.”

The barrel-fermented Chenin Blanc 2008 scores high on grounds of a lovely texture and interestingness (lots of flavours that no doubt some people’s receptors won’t pick up – I found biltong among them, strangely enough); but the score goes down on the grounds of there being just too much wood involved, making for obvious toastiness and a touch of hard abrasiveness on the finish. It might sort itself out a bit in a year or two with a bit of luck; we scored it 14.5.

Fitting in with the postal theme, the red blend is called Penny Black – an inky-dark wine it is too, though most unusually, there’s has a little chenin blanc blended in with Bordeaux varieties and shiraz. In fact there’s no varietal obviousness at all on Penny Black 2006 (generously priced at R120, we happily rated it 16.5) –  a most attractive wine, rich full and flavoursome, though not too fruity, with lovely ripe aromas of cassis and tobacco and a pleasing almost floral fragrance to it. Well worth looking out for. I didn’t pick up any pepper notes, but that might just be because i can’t.

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