Drinkability

Tasting for the next edition of the Platter wine guide is now finished (bar a few absurdly late chancers). As one of the seventeen judges involved I sigh with relief – though the sigh is continuous with the weary one emerging from under my associate editor hat: the work of subbing, checking and writing has a way to go.

But at last I can choose what to drink! It’s fascinating and rewarding to taste through the entire ranges (between 1 and 25 wines for me) of three dozen good producers (some tasters do more wines, some fewer), but restricting. I work slowly at the process, sampling the more serious wines over a few days to see how they develop once opened; and most wines I taste at least a few times. Maybe that’s indecisiveness, maybe a measure of reluctance: I increasingly dislike assigning scores to wines, with their implied certainty.

Then, when it comes to wine with my dinner, not only have I already sometimes challenged my alcohol tolerance (with work to do later), it seems absurd to open something new with at least half-a dozen open bottles standing around. Which to pour? The “best”?  But the best are not always, in fact, best. Many of the highest-scoring wines have been given starry ratings on the strength of what I think they will be like when they’ve matured in bottle. This despite the sad fact that many bottles of even the grandest cabernet sauvignons are going to be drunk soon – long before they’re anywhere near offering their best. A shocking waste of money in my opinion – and when it comes to restaurants not offering mature wines, a dereliction of duty.

My pleasure in young serious reds is limited: generally they are rather raw and astringent, showing the tang of the oak barrels they’ve only recently emerged from; the components in balance let’s hope, but not yet in the graceful harmony of a fine, mature wine.

So those dinner glassfuls on Platter-tasting days tend to be more modest stuff. I get more pleasure, for example, from youthful Le Riche Cab-Merlot than from the undoubtedly superior (in ten years time) Le Riche Cabernet Reserve. The great value Mountain Red from Thelema is, to my taste, a pleasanter drink in youth (though much less interesting) than the fine Thelema cabernets and – my favourite from this producer’s submissions – the excellent Bordeaux blend, Rabelais 2008.

This general principle did fall down, I confess with one other grand cabernet-based blend – the Tokara Director’s Reserve Red 2009. It’s not released yet (do look out for it, it’s a step up from the 2008) but it’s already brilliantly enjoyable – though I think it should grow even better, more complex, silky and seductive. All Tokara’s wines seem to get better with each new release, incidentally.

Another immensely satisfying youngish red wine come to mind. Meinert Synchronicity 2008  shows some of the classic virtues Martin Meinert brings to wine, especially structure, balance – and drinkability. There was precious little left in my bottle after a few days.

If you also enjoy unpretentious but not-dumbed-down drinkability, try Goede Hoop. The forthcoming Heritage blend of half a dozen varieties is the best, but all from 2009 and later vintages – though not heavily star-studded – are reasonably priced, easy-going and with a freshness and charm that is less common than it should be.

First published in Mail & Guardian, 7-13 September 2012

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