Wine and Words: 1- Latin

Pretentiousness or laudable classicism? Both? Whatever the reason, there are more than a few South African wines featuring Latin or Latinisms. It was a few of them I recently tasted (see below) that reminded me of others – and I’m sure I’ve missed some out.

First prize (primatus, or something like that) must go to Sadie Family Columella, whose display label is entirely in Latin, right down to the address: Aprilis Vallis, Castrum Bonae Spei, Africa Australis (Aprilskloof, Cape of Good Hope, South Africa). There’s an element of appropriateness, given that the wine is named after the ancient Roman who produced perhaps the earliest good treatise on viticulture in his De re rustica, but I seem to remember Eben Sadie confiding long ago that his wine was just too good for either English or Afrikaans!

Interestingly, the only element on the front of the Columella bottle that is not in Latin is the date – which is in the same good old Arabic that everyone else uses. Everyone except for Steenberg on the elegantly minimalist label of their fine white blend Magna Carta (“great charter”), where it’s in Latin. The first vintage was MMVII.

Another well-established Latin name is Overgaauw’s Tria Corda, which means “three hearts”, referring to the three grape varieties in its blend. (Indispensible Google allows me to learn that, apparently, some old Roman guy referred to his triple linguistic heritage by saying he had “three hearts”: Quintus Ennius tria corda habere sese dicebat…)

More recently, another Bordeaux blend has gone all Latin (with a most elegantly appropriate label). Invictus comes from the resolutely non-Latinate Druk My Niet estate, and was, they say, named not for the movie about Mandela but because it means “new and forthcoming” – they thought of “impetus”, but it sounded a little too close to “impotence” for comfort.

And there used to be, for a very short while, a winery and wine named Mea Culpa (“my mistake” – but with a name like that how could it survive?).

Still surviving, with an altogether less apologetic name, is Emineo Wines (“prominent, outstanding”), which has made three wines all basically called Liber (“book”) – but with Latin numbers I-III and a few mysterious letters to distinguish them. The brand is produced for a Cape Town patent lawyer, which no doubt explains some of all this obscurity (lawyers were obliged to take Latin at university and presumably they all desperately wanted to make as much use of it as possible, however meaningless to the unwashed masses).



That’s nearly as far as I can go on this theme. I’ve been trying to put off talking about Credo, a brand owned by what was until recently called the Company of Wine People until, presumably, they finally realised what a dreadful, cringe-making name that was and became Stellenbosch Vineyards (which was the name of one of the partners that merged in 2004 into Omnia Wines, which then became the COWP….). Not a happy naming history – but then the company itself had consistently traded at a loss, it was announced last year when it bade a relieved and hopeful farewell to MD Hermann Böhmer.

Credo means “I believe”, and the brand was relaunched a year or two back with two wines bewilderingly called Quattuor and Quinque. Platter 2013 says these are “the Latin names for the fourth and fifth wine styles to appear under the brand”, which takes some working out. More significantly, I can’t imagine that the average customer at a restaurant or in a bottle-store is going to feel at ease trying to pronounce them having not even tried to understand them. My guess is that the producer used the same branding geniuses that thought up the name “Company of Wine People”.

Anyway, now Credo Quattuor has fractured into four new wines, with varietal names following the Latin stuff. The announcement about the release says that “the range has been christened ‘Quattuor’ meaning four and represents ‘four of the best only’ from each vintage”. Which is quite possibly crystal clear to some of you.

Whatever it means and however you’re meant to pronounce it, the Quattuor wines were not very impressive when tasted by me, Anglea Lloyd and Ingrid Motteux recently.

The Credo Quattuor Chenin 2010 (R100) made it into the so-called “Top 100 SA Wines” selection, but I’m afraid that says less about quality and more about the blockbuster styling and the limited number of wines entered. It’s big, bold, powerful and a bit sweet. The aromas are nice, only hinting at the oak, but wood is more influiential on the palate, and even gives a bitter edge to the finish. There’s also a vague hint of rot about it, I fear. If you want it at its best, taste it in a big line up and just give it a quick sniff and swirl about the mouth. Rather than drinking it.

The Chardonnay is two years younger (huh, what is going on here?), a 2012. Both cost R100 from Welmoed farm – who knows if it’s available elsewhere? It’s much pleasanter, also rich and ripe, rather clumsy and noticeably oaked, with notes of ripe pineapple and honey. Dulll, easily beatable, but not unpleasant.

Credo Quattuor Shiraz Merlot Viognier 2010 also costs R100. Deep dense colour. Ripe nose. The viognier perfume a bit excessive. Big, exuberant, with some firm structure, full flavoured ripeness and a bit of succulence. Big tannin. Well enough balanced within this overdone, power-besotted paradigm.

I found the Shiraz 2010 the best of the Quattuor foursome – because it’s a bit lighter and fresher, not so resolutely heavily extracted – and it’s also the priciest at R145 ex-farm. Rather nice nose, with red and black fruit. Also big tannins, but rather better balanced, allowing the fruit to come through more nakedly.

Classic is as classic does, and I’m afraid that all the Latin and pretentious packaging is not going to substitute for a more serious approach to seriously-pitched wines.

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