Weird (and other, much duller) wine notes

The absurdity of many American tasting notes continues to bewilder me, with their piled-up “organoleptic” adjectives. As it does a local winemaker, who forwarded me the latest tasting note from the commercially very important Wine Spectator for Kanonkop Paul Sauer 2006:

“Rich but racy, with tangy minerality coursing through the core of loganberry, plum and fig fruit flavours. There’s also roasted mesquite and iron, adding length to the finish, where a maduro tobacco note lingers.”

The score is a very handsome 92 points, incidentally – but in my provincial ignorance I confess I have no idea of what mesquite is (presumably we’re not talking about roasted Mexican mosquito?) or if it tastes different if roasted or boiled; nor yet how maduro tobacco differs from just ordinary old tobacco. I don’t think (but can one be sure?) that the iron is roasted too…

And I recently came across the tasting note from David Schildnecht, a taster for Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, on a French wine made by a sort-of South African that I recently mentioned myself, the 2007 Matassa Blanc. Unlike my feelings for Wine Speculator, my respect for David Schildknecht is unbounded; he’s undoubtedly the great intellect of the international wine world, a deeply experienced taster, with invariably fascinating and profound opinions, frequently and lengthily expressed, on just about everything vinous. (My only problem with him is that he has been the Parker person responsible for South Africa for many years and hasn’t yet shown signs of bothering to visit the country.) Anyway his note for Matassa goes thus:

“…salt-spray, exotic, musky flowers, red currant, pomegranate, and mysteriously animal scents in the nose. A striking, shimmering, exchange of saline, alkaline, iodine and crustacean minerality with white peach, tart red fruits, citrus zest, and flowers on the palate, leads to a finish that positively sizzles with mineral, berry, and citrus intensity.”

Now what impression can one possibly get from all that? And what has happened to those musky flowers and animal scents by the time one gets to that sizzling finish?

I presume that the point of this sadly common sort of note is to provide the punter with such an array of possibilities that there’s bound to be something that he or she can identify with, and feel good about having agreed with the experts. “Ohmigod, yeah – I also get crustacean minerality and pomegranate!”

Just to point up the difference between my little world and theirs, while sticking to the Wine Speculator‘s Bordeaux blend category, I offer a few no doubt inadequate remarks on some recently released wines our Grape group tasted recently, and which I revisited alone once the bottles had been opened a day or two.

Morgenster, that Italian-owned Helderberg estate with a famous gable, where Bordeaux eminence Pierre Lurton consults, continues to delight and perplex. The former because of the sheer quality of the wines, the latter because we can still not be sure what sort of style they’re aiming at with the flagship Morgenster. It does seem certain (sadly for me!) that the cab franc-driven austerity of the maiden 2000 is definitely giving way to the more opulent splendours of a wine oriented to merlot (though merlot is in equal proportion to cabs franc and cabernet). Which is not to say that the latest release, 2006, is not elegant: it is, just more softly plush in its appeal. It’s ripe, with a soft gracefulness, and an intensity that is insidiously subtle (like the tannin structure) rather than aggressive. Fairly accessible now, but a few years in bottle will do it good, and it should happily keep a decade at least. Two days later, the wine was still impressive and quietly insistent, though its structure was more apparent.

Cathy van Zyl and Ingrid Motteux and I agreed on 18/20. Angela Lloyd demurred somewhat, finding it less interesting than we did. In fact she preferred the Morgenster Lourens River Valley, the very serious “second label”. It has, indeed, a more cabernet character, with a little more dark sombreness than the more expensive label; well balanced and lingering, with a savoury freshness; richly flavourful with firm tannins and acidity; certainly a modern wine, but very far from fruity flashiness. We settled on 17/20. The LRV is something of a bargain at  R128 from the cellar, the Morgenster not overpriced at all at R290.

Zonnebloem Lauréat 2007 was stripped of its gold medal at the Trophy Wine Show once it was discovered to have a little shiraz in the blend, disqualifying it from the tightly-described category. The publicity it subsequently received did it enormously more good than a mere gold medal, and apparently it is all sold out – which maybe made our sampling of it particularly un-useful. A score around 16 seemed appropriate to us. Rather too much oak, perhaps, but it was pretty well balanced, with good fruit and a reasonably savoury intensity, the tannins ripely firm – though a little drying on the finish, no doubt thanks to the winemaker’s overzealousness with wood.

Now I’m riven with doubts: did I miss out some roasted mesquite on the Morgenster? I’ve subsequently discovered, as you no doubt already knew along with the Wine Speculator taster, that mesquite is a leguminous plant of the Prosopis genus found in northern Mexico. Sounds irresistibly delicious, especially when roasted, though I’m not sure how it got into Paul Sauer.

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