Meditating on and with wine, alone

Solitary drinking, I suppose they would call it disapprovingly, is what I’ve been doing this evening (hardly for the first time). For some reason, society seems to have taken the collective decision that one is not supposed to drink by oneself. It’s not clear why this particular solitary pleasure (like some others that are or have been disapproved of by various authorities) should lead to madness, hairy palms, suicide or whatever.

Perhaps any assertion that one can manage without others is some sort of social threat. The wine I finished up with this evening (my third – I was enjoying and varying the process, you see) was called “Vin de Méditation”, and came from the extreme south of France, on the lovely coastline near Collioure, just north of the border with Spain. Banyuls is the appellation for such wines from there, and they’re mostly from grenache. My one was from the Domaine la Tour Vielle, the top of their range, and about 40 years old – a light tawny colour, with a rim hinting at olive green, like the edges of old wines should! (The pic alongside is from elsewhere in Banyuls, as I don’t seem to have had my camera at La Tour Vieille.)

The name hardly needs a translation from the French. “Vino di meditazione” is what it is in Italian, and its often applied to the magnificent dessert wines from the Veneto region in Italy, Recioto and Amarone. A thoughtful wine, then,  a wine provoking meditation; thought and contemplation. Something to be done in a party? I don’t think so. A perfect wine for solitary imbibing.

I confess that I wasn’t sitting there, as I drank, one finger to my chin, contemplating deep and world-shattering things. Partly I was playing a silly computer game, partly I was listening to music (firstly a Schubert string trio, then some Wagner sung by the wonderful Jonas Kaufmann, on a CD recently recommended to me by a similarly solitary friend of mine who lives in northern Spain). Maybe I was thinking about this and that too.

But I was much enjoying the wine and, despite a lack of inhibitions about drinking alone, feeling a bit guilty. I’d bought this bottle on a trip a few years back, travelling with my friend, the viticulturist Rosa Kruger, and as it was the only one I had, I thought I should be sharing it with her (but there’s plenty left, and it will keep a while, Rosa!).

The problem was that I’d felt this deep need for proper after-dinner sweetish fortified wine. I looked at what I had available in the house, and there was nothing else; plenty of noble late harvest stuff, but that’s not what I wanted. I have a good selection of mature Cape ports elsewhere (much of my wine is cellared at Wine Cellar in Observatory) and I must remember to get some of them. But tonight, this great (and expensive – I remember paying about 50 euros for the 500ml bottle at the farm) bottle was all I had.

Oh, and my few small glasses – I may be a solitary drinker but I’m not a drunkard – were wonderful, and a perfect conclusion to the meal and the evening. Rich, nutty, a definite hint of volatile acidity, with a complex dry lingering finish. Gorgeous, in fact.

I suppose I should mention what else I’d drunk alone. While making my supper (venison, basically), I’d had a glass of Sequillo White 2007, which I’d opened last night. Still drinking well, though some would think I’d made a mistake in leaving it five years, as it was definitely ageing, and had lost the freshness it had in its youth. I like old wines, however, and rolled those mature flavours around my mouth with pleasure.

Then, with food, I decided to stick with the Swartland and had a few glasses of Mullineux Kloof Street Rouge 2009. Amazingly rich and sweet-fruited it was for a wine with just 13.5% alcohol. Pretty delicious and very good, but I’ve decided I’ll stick to the brilliant Syrah from this fine producer, and look elsewhere in the Swartland for the cheaper (if not cheap) bottlings. To my palate, Badenhorst Secateurs and Lammershoek Lam Syrah offer more of the fresh grip that I like with my shiraz, as well as smooth suavity.


Before being sidetracked by meditating on these pleasures, I’d intended to write this evening about some recent tastings, made with Angela Lloyd. So, to prove that I’m not too far gone after my evening of solitary drinking, let me dutifully mention just two wines, 2012 pinot grigios both, respectively from Hill & Dale and Two Oceans. That’s pinot gris if you prefer the French – there is no English available. I saw recently that Christian Eedes had also tried these two wines, and preferred the Hill & Dale. Well, we preferred the Two Oceans (which, at R30 is about 25% cheaper than the other).

Both of them, frankly, the world could well manage without. You can get much more interesting local chenin blancs for less money, and should. The Hill& Dale Pinot Grigio has forward, attractively fruity aromas; much the same character on the palate, but it seemed rather coarse in its boisterous, and flourishing a little sweetness. We scored it 12.5 out of 20. The Two Oceans (this really is a good cheap range from Distell – remarkable value if you’re not demanding character in your wines) is a bit livelier and fresher, with some crisp appley, tropical-fruited charm, and a bit more length and weight than the other wine. We grandly accorded it a whole point more.

But if you’re wanting to try a bit of meditiation, alone or in company, you could do better than either of them.

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