Late night sozzled thoughts

The winery list debate should be ever-renewed, just like the blind-vs-sighted tasting debate. But in my present state I don’t want to talk about the outrageous prices charged by some restaurants for their badly served, current vintage plonk. I want to firstly raise a toast to the amazingly deep and broad winelist at that fine Cape Town restaurant Aubergine. There are few like it in the country, as far as I know.

Perhaps I’m saying this to placate owner-chef Harald Bresselschmidt, who I know gets irritated by me, despite my lavish praise for his food. I was brought up in a certain English traditione which favours the simpler words for some things, which grates against a more florid European practice. So Harald has heard me refer to him as a cook rather than a chef, and to “pudding” rather than “dessert”, for example, and doesn’t like it. He says that I have also spoken of “gravy” (instead of “jus” or “pan juices”, perhaps), but I swear I haven’t.

Anyway, I admire his wine-list, as well as his cheffing. Last week I had the pleasure of dining at Aubergine with a Winery Owner, Another and a Viticulturist. The Winery Owner was, fortunately, paying. My contribution was two bottles of wine. It was going to be just one, but I couldn’t decide between lovely-and-low-alcohol (which is what I wanted), and interesting (which I thought Winery Owner would want), so I brought both. And both were very successful.

The lovely slot was filled by a Reinhold Haart Piesporter Goldtropfchen Spatlese 2004 – approaching its prime and much liked by everyone, though Another found it a little too sweet. It was indeed quite sweet – a little more acidity wouldn’t have done it harm. Just 8.5% alcohol.

The interesting wine was universally enjoyed, somewhat to my surprise, though I knew I would love it. The elaborately named and rather eccentrically made Testalonga El Bandito 2009, one of the own-label wines from Lammershoek winemaker Craig Hawkins (that’s him in the pic; I’ve written previously about the wines a few times, most recently here). I’d intended to bring the 2008, but made a mistake which didn’t matter.

Mostly because it is such a fresh wine, with a brilliant acidity, El Bandito worked very well with a variety of foods (another part of me that Harald Bresselschmidt finds irritating and contemptible is that I don’t share his exquisite appreciation of food and wine matching).

When it came to the reds, I had the pleasure of choosing something from the wine list. Again I tried for something interesting (and not too expensive, as I knew I wouldn’t be paying). And with what pleasure I saw a local wine that most people wouldn’t even recognise the name of, I suppose, and from a property which scarcely exists any more as far as i know: The Observatory. Moreover, it came from the same farm from which Craig Hawkins had sourced the chenin blanc for his El Bandito, and from whose winemaker he’d drawn some inspiration.

This bottle was The Observatory Syrah Carignan 2003. The winemaker was Tom Lubbe – an early assistant to Eben Sadie in his brief period at Spice Route, then another convert to the charms of the southern Swarttland, and now making brilliant wines in the Languedoc in the south of France. His Observatory wines were sourced from his own Perdeberg farm and from the vineyards which are now called Porseleinbeg and owned by Boekenhoutskloof (the maiden vintage of the new regime there, made by Marc Kent under the Boekenhoutskloof label, got the highest price at the CWG Auction).

Tom Lubbe’s thing, now picked up by Craig Hawkins at Lammershoek, was picking earlier than other Swartland producers, to get a fresher, nervier wine (but no-one ever accused them of greenness). New wood was only minimally used, cellar chemical wizardry never; the vineyards organic and biodynamic. This Syrah Carignan 2003 was just 12.5% alcohol.

I was a little nervous about it – there was quite a bit of bottle variation in these Observatory wines. But it was good. Still some pure, clean fruit, though the acidity was marked. I’ve just looked it up in Platter 2006, for which I had tasted it. I see I gave it 4.5 stars (up on the previous year; perhaps a bit generous) and described it as “definitely serious, even intellectual” but also spoke of “joyous aromas … a pure-fruited terror wine, as far from blockbusterism as possible…. light elegance – too light, perhaps, but harmonious, with smooth, subtle tannins.” A half-decade later, that’s still a reasonable description of the wine.

As a contrast, after that, we opted for a good bargain (not cheap, but scarcely more than the retail price) off the Aubergine list – a fine Barolo, Paolo Scavino Bric del Fasc. I’m ashamed to admit I can’t remember the vintage.

By the way, the cause of tonight’s fuzziness was a glass of gorgeous, intense Lustau Don Nuno Dry Oloroso Sherry (which you can buy from the Wine Cellar, which adventurously imports it), and then a few glasses of Capaia 2003. This was the maiden vintage of Capaia, a winery which seemed to have such a great future in front of it, but has had some bumpy times – hopefully now past. This rather handsome, burly 2003, off young vineyards, was still very much alive, with good fruit, well balanced and with some complexity and not too much sweetness, showing the potential of these Philadelphia vineyards.

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