It’s nothing new, but sometimes the old truths and cliches strike forcibly (I’m glad to say – it shows I’m not dead yet). It struck me forcibly again tonight that to talk of “wine” as though it’s a single category is often absurd. What connects, say, Craig Hawkins at Lammershoek with your average wholesaler or “co-op” or big-brand winemaker? Not a lot, I’d say, beyond working with grapes. They’re both doing, let me hastily add, their own respectable, jobs very well; my point is merely that they are radically different jobs.
Of course, I’m more interested in, fascinated by, what the artisan winegrower does, but I retain respect for the other – even if I don’t always want to drink much of the latter’s product.
No-one, I venture to say, is more forceful than I am in pushing the virtues of the better cheap Cape chenin, and I do so convincedly. I’ve done it again today in a piece on “12 wines for Christmas” I submitted to the Mail & Guardian, which included the general comment as well as specific praise for Simonsig’s tasty, balanced Chenin.
I chose the Simonsig as the one to most recommend of four cheapie chenins I tasted yesterday. Tonight, preparing my dinner, I poured a glass of another I’d liked, the Doolhof Cape Crane – a touch more interesting, perhaps than the Simonsig, but less perfect of its type. The other two bottles I’d given to a neighbour, by the way.
Anyway, my story is this. Halfway down my glass of nice Doolhof, I suddenly revolted. I wanted better. I knew I had better available; I might get run over by a bus tomorrow, so why not have the better? The second half of the glass went down the sink – it deserved a superior fate, I know. But not just then.
Vina Gravonia is one of the few remaining old-style white Riojas, a single estate wine from 100% viura (maccabeo), four years in old oak and released after a few more, made by R Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia, a producer for whom many winelovers send up occasional prayers of gratitude in this world of showy, cult Napas and grand Bordeaux equivocal in terms of everything except price.
I opened, that is to say, a bottle of Vina Gravonia 2002. Oxidative, deliriously thrilling, exciting, packed with character (at just 12.5% alcohol). Fruity? Most emphatically not, but with all the flavour intensity of fruit transformed into real wine rather than alcoholic fruit juice.
Moving to this from a nice, everyday wine was like moving from Agatha Christie to WG Sebald; from Abba or Johan Strauss to Bach. (I freely confess I’m not at all sure in these snobby class-riddled terms how it relates to the modern high quality TV series that I enjoy so much – Cravonia went very acceptably with a fifth-series episode of Breaking Bad that I was watching with appalled and unalloyed pleasure.)
So. That’s it. Two wines. Two worlds. I certainly don’t think everyone would like the wines of Tondonia, and I don’t despise them if they don’t. I myself am happy driving a Toyota or riding a bike, though I suspect I might prefer something more petrol-heady if I bothered to care; I like braks rather than named breeds when it comes to dogs.
And money, or the lack of it, is significant in all these choices, and not everyone has money or chooses to spend it on the same things. (I could buy truly great wines for the rest of my life for the price of the Audi TT or big SUV which some people deem necessary). Simonsig and Doolhof chenins cost about R40; Vina Gravonia 2003 (from Wine Cellar in Observatory, whom it occurs to me I continually punt without ever a word of thanks dropped into my inbox!) is R230.