Grumpy and sozzled late-night notes, number the umpteenth

Well, the latest in the alarmingly growing series of absurdly priced South African wines has just been announced. In fact this wine costs only R1500, much less than the R2300 for the G reported on not long ago, and even more less than The Bilton. But to make up for this modesty, if the name of G is pretentious in its very simplicity, this new one is pretentious in its grandiloquence and allusion.

The “new global collection of Boutique Icon Wines” (more are to come from Austria and France) is called “expression UNIQUE” with typography as illustrated alongside. The wine is called Book XVII – translatable for non-Latins as “Book 17” – referring to Book 17 of the Natural History of the Roman author Pliny, which apparently deals with matters vinous.

The producers are “confident to state that PLINY THE ELDER would have been proud to see this wine released under his name”, which is a very odd thought indeed. But not quite so odd as the suggestion that the wine “portray[s] the harmony of ancient flavours”. Ancient flavours? Huh? And they don’t even seem to mean it’s oxidised or otherwise past its best. It’s only from 2010, after all.

The producers are “De Toren Private Cellar and Gregor Drescher, a German expert in production techniques”. De Toren is, of course, a very good winery with a good track-record in effective winemaking, which makes the business rather more plausible than Bilton’s, for example.

And we’re told that Mr Drescher’s “research into what makes the great wines of the world” led to various “extreme wine making techniques” being adopted. These include such revolutionary practices as “Foot stomping (Pigeage)” and seriously over-oaking the wine (“Submitting to 200% new premium French oak for 18 months”). A rather more mysterious extreme technique is “Cold hand destemming”. I suppose you keep your hands in the fridge for a while and then destem a bunch or two before chilling them suitably once more.

The bottle, as you can see from the pic, is offered in a wooden cage thing, which is opened with “your own Allen key” (no need to go off to the toolbox), before “uncorking it with such grace in front of close friends”. (Funny how these expensive wines seem so often accompanied by notes of dubious grammatricality.)

So what is the wine like, you must be wondering. Me too. What are these “ancient flavours” released by “cold hand destemming” etc? Well, of course I haven’t tasted the stuff (only 600 bottles were, reportedly, produced). But they clearly gave an Allen key to Neal Martin of Robert Parker fame (they mis-spell his name as “Neil” but I’m sure that’s whom they mean). And, in the most bizarre element of their mailing about the wine (I didn’t receive that either, but a kind person knew I’d be fascinated and forwarded it to me), they quote his opinion in full. To wit:

It has a super-ripe crème de-cassis, fruitcake and fig scented bouquet with a palate that is ostentatious to the point of vulgarity. However, this full-bodied turbo-charged wine is so damn silky smooth and seductive in a super-Tuscan kind of way, that its charms will be near impossible to resist. I found this to be a big, powerful, quite alcoholic wine that is more reminiscent of some cult Napa Valley wines and they would certainly appeal to those who appreciate that style.

Which is surely pretty much what you’d expect, even if you don’t expect it to be quoted in full by someone trying to actually SELL the stuff! (Though I suppose it might even attract some people.) And even though Parker tasters don’t often suggest that a wine is too powerful, alcoholic or “ostentatious to the point of vulgarity” – they usually just rate such wines very high.

Which Neal Martin didn’t really do. The “expression UNIQUE” publicists don’t quote the score given, but I can reveal that it was 90-92 (out of 100, of course). Which is not exactly a great advance over the 90 points awarded to De Toren Fusion V (which Neal Martin refers to as a “bounder”).

Oh well. If you’re one of the lucky “De Toren clients” allowed to buy from the 300 bottles avalable to you (“Max 4 bottles per order”), and you taste it, do please let us know if you shared Neal Martin’s somewhat ambiguous response. As for me, I must stagger along without it. But at least the nice bottle of old-vine chenin I had with my supper tonight could never be accused of being vulgar and reminiscent of a cult Napa wine or a super-Tuscan. And I could have bought a lot of bottles of it for R1500.

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