Saturday, September 4, 2010

Diversionary Tactics: Winex Review

This post was to be published on a nascent wine blog that, alas, didn’t pan out. I think mixing drinking and group blogging might not work well for a first collaboration. I thought it would be fitting to keep with the mercurial nature of this blog, which swings wildly from pictures of fun in the sun to rants about human rights. Besides, I didn't want to waste the post.

I didn’t like wine very much a year ago. I was (and mostly, still am) clueless about what makes wine good or bad, and I had only a vague understanding of what different types of wine were. I fit into the school of “good, bad, red, white.” And until some point in the recent past, I thought it was mostly bad.

This, I suspect, led me to be seen something of a black sheep in my family. Wine appreciation fits perfectly into the psyche of the overly loud know-it-all clan to which I belong. Being a native of the outskirts of California wine country and living in France for a while only compounded my vinicultural failures.

However, spending time in wineries and having the financial freedom to try many different labels and varieties of wine has helped change my mind. Because one of the greatest things about South African wines, apart from their quality, is that they’re cheap. And that warms my skinflint heart—if I mess up and get a bad bottle, I’m only out a few rand, and rarely to never out more than twenty dollars. Even better is to find a delicious bottle of wine for under forty rand—or about five US dollars. Yes, they do exist. And they’re glorious.

I’ve been thinking about this transformation in comparing my experiences at WineX, a wine festival that takes place annually in Cape Town and Johannesburg. It snuck up on me this year (as did, regrettably, the excellent Stellenbosch Wine Festival, which I completely missed). Last year’s festival was a reeling, overwhelming mess. I tasted too many and enjoyed too few.

But now, I’ve visited a few wineries and have started to learn a little bit. I even have a few favorite wines. And I learned something surprising at WineX 2010, which has crept up on me: I actually like chardonnay, and, even more surprising, I like wooded/oaked chardonnay. Go figure.

I tried a few wines from the Hemel-en Aarde Valley, which is near Hermanus. I looked into visiting the wineries up there, including Southern Right, Newton Johnson, Sumaridge, Bouchard Finlayson, and La Vierge/Domaine des Dieux, but most of them are on a 25-mile dirt road stretch between Hermanus and Caledon. Not exactly on the beaten path, even if their wines and restaurants are highly ranked. It’s supposed to be one of those last “untouched” wine regions in South Africa. The region is known for its pinot noirs and chardonnays, whose grapes allegedly develop better in to the cooler air coming off the sea. Since I haven’t been out to Hemel-en-Aarde yet, I was eager to try some of their wines. I wasn’t blown away by La Vierge when I tasted their Pinot Noir (despite the awesome snake-shaped decanter and general Garden of Eden theme). I did like Bouchard Finlayson’s Hannibal, a red blend of Sangiovese (44%), Pinot Noir (27%), Nebbiolo (14%), Shiraz (5%), and Barbera (10%). I also loved Whalehaven's Chardonnay and unwooded Chardonnay/Viognier (the Côte Rôtie style Shiraz/Syrah-Viognier red blend from La Motte is one of my favorite wines, so it was fun to try the grape in an actual white wine blend for once).

Beyond the Hemel-en-Aarde choices at Winex, I found a few wineries that I’m excited to get out to. Apart from well-known wineries that I’ve visited and/or tasted on several occasions, such as Simonsig and Tokara, I really liked Buitenverwachting (I have no idea how to say that either), and Rupert & Rothschild. And in all cases, it was the chardonnays that got me. Again, go figure.

Obviously I've got a long while to go before I can use real wine words like "flabby" or "bouquet" or whatever, and saying "I liked it" probably keeps me firmly planted in "good/bad/red/white" territory, but at least I'm no longer ruling out whole varieties (or even colors) of wine. I guess I'll have to keep drinking until I figure out more.

1 comment:

  1. Which one do you think I could find here in the States? I always get overwhelmed by all the wines and end up just buying two buck chuck.