It’s been hot in Cape Town this week – and, I daresay, even hotter in the winelands, where those bravely ripening grapes are still puzzling over the unusually heavy rains of early January (and hopefully not too mildewed) and bracing themselves for what February will throw at them.
But while the grapes and the farmers have angst, we effete types who drink the stuff that others make are reaching into the fridge. That’s where I put my red Graillot Crozes-Hermitage 2007 for an hour or two yesterday, to useful effect. Today I had two white wines – both local, but KwaZulu-Natal, the source of one of them, seems in some ways even further away than the norther Rhone valley….
Natalian Rob Boyd (who used to contribute the occasional interesting article to a previous incarnation of Grape), was prompted by Oz sommelier David Clarke’s musings on this site (here) to send us a rare bottle of KZN-grown wine for Dave and me to sample: Abingdon Viognier 2012, made, said Rob “by my friends Ian and Jane Smorthwaite near Lions River in the KZN Midlands”. He suggested that this registered Estate Wine was the “one wine in their range that Cape visitors to Abingdon mostly as being completely different to anything being made in the Cape”.
So, eventually, Dave and I got together today, over pizzas (not to mention arancini and a few samples of other wines brought over by sommelier-owner Neil Grant) at Burrata in Cape Town, to open the bottle that Rob had kindly sent.
A more than viable challenge to many Cape viogniers, we both thought. Not particularly varietal (but so what? terroir is arguably more important than variety in expressiveness sometimes), and certainly none of the blowsy effusiveness that comes with some of the riper Cape versions. But some hints of apricot-peach richness on that palate, with a bit oiliness on the texture giving clues to the variety. A little residual sugar, we wondered? But balanced by quite a whack of acidity – and that was, perhaps, a downside of this wine: a touch of hardness and roughness (not from alcoholic power, though).
A very decent wine indeed, though. I hope Rob will quickly contribute a comment, giving his no doubt deeper understanding of the Abingdon Viognier’s expression of its origins.
Tonight I stuck with white, but returned to more familiar country. What a treat to revisit the very first vintage of Eben Sadie’s ‘T Voetpad (2009), from the maiden release of the Old Vineyard Series / Ou WIngerdreeks – the bottles with the labels featuring William Kentridge drawings. The picture used on the Voetpad is the one from which I’ve taken the walking vine used in my blog’s masthead; the picture itself hangs on the wall behind me as I type. I’ve been involved with the vineyards and the label, the winemaker and the artist, for so long that – how could I not have loved the wine tonight?
I’ve just got up to go and pour another small glassful. I think the wine is now showing better than I’ve known it across the years since it was made. The acid is powerful, but the overall affect is not simply of power, though I can’t pretend this is in any way a delicate wine. A Mosel Kabinett it emphatically ain’t. There’s real flavour, though it’s way beyond fruitiness; and some vibrancy, precision and focus – but maybe more a decisiveness, a resolution, an assertion that is strength of character more than muscle. It’s full of life, this wine. Rustic, in the best sense – your winemaking skills need to be intact to achieve this kind of rusticity.
I sometimes don’t know how winemakers who love their vineyards can bear to taste the wines from them, let alone be objective. Even I can’t be objective about this wine. I know the vineyard too well and am continually amazed by it; I will never ever forget the day I first visited it with the winemaker and with viticulturist Rosa Kruger (it was, altogether, one of the great days of my life). Later I went there again with the label artist William Kentridge. The first paragraphs of my book on Cape wine describe this place and speculate on its historical and cultural significance. Wow – I even half-heartedly picked a nearly-full lugbox of its meagre yield of grapes one year, in dreadful early-morning heat, fearful of snakes. (“This vineyard is at the gates of hell!” said Eben Sadie.) I must love the wine, and feel enormously privileged to have it in my glass tonight.
Just one more little taste…. it is full of the severe and generous sun.