Late night thoughts

I find myself increasingly reluctant to drink impressive wines. Too often they give me some intellectual interest and I can exercise my palate on them – but real delight? Not much. Tonight was a comparative case in point.

Wine Cellar in Observatory – South Africa’s best wine importer – has been selling off Ubuntu!, the Portuguese wine made by the great Dirk Niepoort’s outfit, and brilliantly labelled with the World Cup in mind (I wrote about it here). I bought half a dozen bottles at R50 each, which is very decent value, and opened one last night and drank plenty of it, with plenty of modest pleasure. Tonight I thought there wouldn’t be enough remaining in the bottle for me, so I opened a bottle of Hartenberg’s famous Gravel Hill Shiraz – the 2006 vintage, which the estate had kindly sent me.

Actually – I’ve just been sipping further – the Gravel Hill is developing very well with some air, a few hours after opening. I should have splashily decanted it well in advance. But when I had it with the second half of my dinner, it simply hit me with its bigness: the alcohol (given as 14.5%) stood out alarmingly (after the Ubuntu’s declared 13%), and although the all-new oaking is not imbalanced, it is undoubtedly present, and just adds to the power of the whole thing.

And power is precisely what I’m not wanting any more as an accompaniment to my dinner. If I had to score these wines (an exercise I perform increasingly reluctantly) I’d objectively rate the Gravel Hill quite a bit above the Ubuntu. But it’s not the wine I would choose to drink.

I shall try the Hartenberg again tomorrow evening though, and am confident that it will be easier-going with more exposure to air. Even now, I must backtrack just a little and say how good it is: not too fruity, but rich and full of succulent vinous flavour, promising complexity, and with an intensity that leaves echoes on the palate for a long time. Just too big, showy and powerful! And much too young and rather raw: opened in five or more years, this wine will give everyone, I’m sure, greater satisfaction – perhaps I’ll be out of my present mood and will fully appreciate it. It is certainly in the top league of Cape shiraz.

What does after all irritate me about the Ubuntu’s attractive packaging is that the wrap-around label doesn’t allow you to see how far down the bottle you’ve drunk! The same applies, incidentally, to the two Circle of Life wines from Waterkloof. Wrapping a label all the way around the bottle, in such a way that it looks seamless, is not technically easy, and while it looks good (and in the case of Circle of Life nicely reflects the name concept), not being able to monitor the level is a drawback.

Quite the opposite approach, of course, from that taken by Adi Badenhorst in his Badenhorst Family Wines and Secateur bottlings, where there’s a specific indicator on the label purporting to show when you’ve reached half way down the bottle. (I’ve written about Adi’s labels previously, too – here.)

In fact I’ve just pulled out a bottle of the Badenhorst 2007 red, and I’m seriously wondering if the marker is accurate. Short of opening the bottle and measuring volumes (which I ain’t going to do right now) I can’t swear to it, but I do have a ruler handy. The burgundy-shaped bottle starts tapering very gradually at a height of about 125 mm. The marker is at a height of 75mm. But there’s a lot of wine in the part of the bottle that is tapering, and (because Adi wants his bottles to weigh quite a lot) there’s a deep punt at the bottom. I am pretty confident that whoever had the top half of the bottle (above the marker, that is) would be the one who’s smiling more.


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