Monday, August 31, 2009

Stellenbosh, South Africa

"Intense aromas of stewed plums, cigars, and your grandmother's potpourri"

I thoroughly enjoy wine. I am partial to red, but will drink an occasional white or bubbly if I’m feeling inspired. So it was no coincidence that on our adventures in South Africa, our first stop in Stellenbosch, aka Wine Country.

After driving 14 ½ hours down to Stellenbosch from Windhoek, we deserved a little wine. We decided to join a wine tour that takes you around to vineyards, gives you lunch and cheese, and provides all the wine info one could hope for. So Todd and I readied our palette for our 10am tour, and when we arrived found out it would be a bit of a VIP tour, since we were the only tour who signed up!

We met our tour guides, who told us his name was Gabriel (like the angel) who’s actual name is Gabriel (pronounced with a ha like you are clearing your throat) but everyone called him Harvey. He was sufficiently knowledgeable even if perhaps a bit of a shady character, and gave us his instruction for wine tasting.

1. Swirl the wine in the glass to release the bouquet
2. Nose the wine (aka sniffing -but we don’t use such plain language in wine tasting)

3. Sip the wine softly, not too much, not too little
4. While holding the wine in your mouth, suck in the some air and swirl it around like mouth wash
5. And swallow paying specific attention to the taste and finish

There are three things I should mention up front.

Firstly, there is a point when you are wine tasting when all the wines start to taste good. This is a bad sign. It means you’ve had one too many ‘tastes’ and now you’re just drinking. Therefore, my critiques of earlier wines are much more valid than the latter. Consider this my disclaimer.

Secondly, my suspicion, confirmed in part by our trip to Stellenbosch, was that the people who write wine descriptions like “hits of tar and a finish of rose water” just get drunk and then come up with the most ridiculous things they can think of. Therefore, in my descriptions, I’ll stick to the facts and let you get drunk and create your own ridiculous descriptions of “boysenberry undertones and splashes of mahogany and cigars” when you try the wines yourselves.

Thirdly, I’ve dove into a bit of detail around the wines that we drank and the ones that we liked. Next time you are at the wine store keep a look out for South African wine and think of us!

The first Vineyard we stopped at was called Simonsig, at the base of Simon Mountain and since ‘sig’ means view it was appropriately named. We took a tour of the grounds and into the cellar- where the magic happens. We learned about grapes and fermentation and all sort of good stuff. At Simonsig (which import to CA so keep an eye out in the US) Todd and I tried different wines so between the two of us, we covered pretty much the whole menu. There were lots of good wines, but to pick some favorites…the Pinotage is a South African specialty. It is a hybrid of pinot noir and hermitage grapes- an excellent everyday drinking wine.
The Simonsig Cabernet Sauvignon Labyrinth, was a nice lighter Cab, called Labyrinth because they plant and grow the grapes in the shape of a labyrinth for no other reason than to name the wine. They age the Cab in oak, but then leave it in the bottles at the Vineyard to the tannins calm down a bit so it develops a smoother taste.
Finally, the Tiara Bordeaux Blend, Simonsigs flagship Bordeaux (Bordeaux the region in France where the grapes come from) was a nice blend predominately Cab, but with Merlot and Cab Franc as well. Normally I don’t enjoy Cab Franc and find it bitter, but this one worked for me. Supposedly the 2004 is a good year for this one. (Simonsig had a great list and I enjoyed most wine…or something to close it)

The next vineyard we hit up was Fairview, which is the vineyard that makes “Goats do Roam” which you probably know from the US. I think this was Todd favorite right off the bat, because Todd has a special place in his heart for anyone that gives the French a hard time and liked the play on their Cote du Rhone. They have a bunch of different wines, but the Goats do Roam- The Goats in Villages Red was a great easy drinking red, the Chakalaka in the Spice Route Wines is a great blend (Chakalaka is the name of an African-Malay Spice- as early slaves to South Africa came from the far east) and the Fairview Wines, of which the Mourverde and the Shiraz were particularly good. Todd second favorite thing about this place may have been that they kept live goats outside in a tower like on the label.

Next we went to Boshendal Vineyard. It was set on a nice property with a Cape Dutch farm house and worth it for the view, but overall it was probably our least favorite. We didn’t get to pick our wines, so we were poured 3 very oaky very white, white wines which might have had something to do with it, but if I had to pick a favorite I’d say the 1685 Shiraz/Cabernet blend 2006.

Finally we went to Tokara, the most modern of all the vineyards . For all you white lovers out there, my favorite white wine was here which was the Tokara White 2007, a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon- not a huge oak and butter flavor like a lot of oaked whites have- as the Blanc spends little time in the oak. The winning red here was Zondernaam Cabernet Sauvignon 2006- a nice solid Cab and pretty inexpensive (about $ 7 US here, but wine here costs nothing). We have a bottle of the Cab on our shelf getting ready to be drunk in Windhoek when we need a little reminding of what a great trip we had to Stellenbosch.

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