THE SIMPLE THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT WINE

Wine comes from a fruit tree planted in the ground and producing grapes. So, here are all the clues we are going to need to identify a wine. It can taste fruity, earthy, flowery (presumably by having planted beside a flower bed) or vegetal (if planted next to a asparagus or bell pepper patches)!

I mean to say: Consider the ABC: Wine comes from a grape which contains 80% water. So there is very few other elements to play with. So, there is really not much need for endlessly duplicative content on the acidity of a wine, its fermentation temperature, or its upbringing. Life is simply too short to go into such trash.

I have heard someone say: ‘What I don’t understand is why we can’t have ratings that are like, but slightly more complex, than those for coffee. You learn where the bean (or grape) was grown and some info on the land; then you know something about the roast and the acidic level, the strength and so forth. Why want to know more?

No, you won’t discover an apricot or whatever you are looking for in a bottle of wine. Leave it to others to do. Maybe you only need to visit an orchard house or have a look at a farmer’s almanac to sharpen up your knowledge of flowers and veggies again.

Isn’t the secret simply to enjoy wine?

WHAT MAKES A WINE GREAT AND ANOTHER JUST GOOD?

THE ISSUE OF COMPARING WINE QUALITY.
Are some wines ‘better’ than others? If so, why? And who gets to decide? Is it possible to be objective in assessing wines?

One of the aspects of the wine trade that most fascinates outsiders is the disparity in prices between ordinary and great wines. But, great wines are not to be determined by price factors.

The influence of the place where the grapes are grown seems to be paramount. Let’s try to summarize the issues in a paragraph. While terroir is a French word, it’s a concept widespread in the wine world. At the most basic level, it’s immediately apparent that the same grape varieties grown in even subtly different locations will make wines that are somewhat different, even when treated the same way in the winery.

Then there is the issue of reputation. Reputation matters a great deal in the world of wine. Our senses of taste and smell are, it seems, easily fooled. We bring a lot of expectation to bottles of wine that are supposed to be rather grand.
You may be forgotten to think that you tasted a simple wine and then a very special wine, even though it cold be the same both times. Certainly, wines from vineyards of exalted reputation, which have a track record of making great wines (that is, terroir where grape variety and environment are perfectly matched) fetch very high prices, sometimes even irrespective of the quality of what is in the bottle.

The terms used in the tasting notes are often misleading too, and it makes telling reading. For a top wine versus an ordinary table wine, ‘A lot’ replaces ‘a little’; ‘complex’ replaces ‘simple’; and ‘balanced’ replaces ‘unbalanced’ – all because of the sight of the label.

This is about a phenomenon called ‘perceptive expectation’: a subject perceives what they have pre-perceived, and then they find it difficult to back away from that. For us humans, visual information is much more important than chemosensory information, so we tend to trust vision more. Therefore, blind tasting of great wines can often be disappointing’.

This is not to say, though, that great wines never deserve their reputation. There do exist many seriously great wines that merit, at least in part, the reverence accorded to them. The very top ‘trophy’ wines, though, do have a reputation that extends beyond what is in the bottle. You are paying for more than just an exceptional bottle of wine.

SAWi has addressed these disparities by its ‘Algorithm of Excellence’.

THE ELEGANCE OF WINE

I was so impress with this article that I thought it good to share.
It was written by David Boyer from BLOG.CLASSOF1855.COM

‘A few weeks ago I had a small soirée with friends. Virtually everyone that attended is a serious and very knowledgeable wine collector (or is the other half of a collector) and are people that I have had the great pleasure to know and taste wine with over the course of years. There were eighteen of us in total and because our tasting events tend to be on the structured and academic side, it was a blast to just take an evening and socialize. Enjoying great wine and good food along with personal and pleasurable conversation was a perfect way to usher in the summer season.
Of course collectors love to share wine with other collectors so the wines brought by everyone were just off the hook. Some of the greatest, from California, Italy, Burgundy, Bordeaux, Rhone, Champagne, and Germany, many from magnum, were all well represented. Needless to say, we had far too much wine but every drop poured was of very high caliber and delicious.
I opened a magnum of Château Rauzan-Gassies, 1995, Second Growth Bordeaux from the appellation of Margaux. It was intentionally nothing particularly spectacular or anything that would demand, or even request, a lot of your attention. However, I found myself drawn to it, always coming back to this wine after sampling other great wines that were opened. The wine was drinking very well and a number of people throughout the evening commented that they would be happy to drink this wine every day. I felt the same and later asked myself what it was that we saw in this wine.
I believe we were enchanted by this wine because of its elegance. Do you remember the forties? Yeah, me neither, as I wasn’t yet on the planet, but the 1940s are often thought of as an elegant era. Fashion in ‘40s clothing is today still regarded as the epitome of elegance, what with its beautiful and rich fabrics, understated colors, sleek lines, and classiness. In the world of autos, a mid-fifties Rolls Royce Silver Cloud I with Park Ward or James Young coachwork was held out as being exemplary of elegance and good taste. People like Jacqueline Kennedy, Grace Kelly, Catherine Deneuve, plus other worldly and Hollywood personas, once defined elegance in our society. None of these examples could be considered as over the top, gauche, or maladroit; they were all considered elegant.
Still, the very word, elegance, is not easy to define or clearly understand when it comes to wine, and seems almost inapposite in this day and age. The Rauzan-Gassies reminded me of older vintage Bordeaux but this wine was not rustic or backward as some of them can be, but rather, it was a contrast to such style. Most wine experts posit that the post-modern era of Bordeaux began after the 1982 vintage, which was, and still is in many cases, a remarkable vintage. Some châteaux are, not surprisingly, slow to change and so they tend to hang on to older winemaking techniques, using tried and true equipment and processes. From 1982 and prior, Bordeaux produced what the British would call a proper ‘claret’ and I would consider this wine as such. It’s the difference between Rachmaninoff and Liberace sitting down in front of a Steinway Concert Grand. Both performed at the top of their game but one played with complete mastery and precision without overplaying, and the other was competent but extremely flamboyant and flashy.
The term elegance, however, is very subjective and can be a difficult wine descriptor to grasp, but begs to be explored nevertheless. One of the most often overlooked attributes of wine is its texture. We tend to naturally focus on aromas and flavors but texture is tremendously important because it has everything to do with mouthfeel and it also informs about alcohol and glycerol contents. Texture can tell us about wine that has a lot of extraction, which can feel big and thick on the palate, or low extraction that creates wine that is thin or light. Texture is often presented as body, however, body is mostly related to the weight on the palate, whether it is full, medium, or light as the case may be. Texture goes to a deeper level than weight alone because it can change in your mouth, both before and after swallowing, but an elegant wine never seems big or weighty.
Extraction refers to the amount of grape matter, consisting mostly of water, fruit, and phenolic compounds such as anthocyanin for color and tannins for structure that gets transferred to the wine during the crushing and maceration process; maceration being the process of combining the grapes’ components and allowing the grapes’ juice, skin, seeds, and stems, if used, to come into contact and spend time with all the other elements. In addition to adding depth of flavor, complexity, and color, maceration contributes to a finished wine’s density, body, and texture.
The trend of using overly ripe grapes creates high alcohol wine because extreme ripeness, while lowering acidity (often not a positive attribute), produces higher sugar levels in grapes, which then get converted into alcohol during fermentation. This style of wine contributes to the level of glycerol present, resulting in a big, or heavy weight on the palate. Also, to add insult to injury, the continuing prevalence of employing reverse osmosis and other technologies helps to create wines that are inching ever closer to becoming pudding. Without need for further explanation, overly ripe grapes and over-extraction usually creates big full-bodied wines with high alcohol and a lot of density – in other words a wine that we consider to be a fruit bomb.
Symmetry in wine is another concept that goes beyond merely balance and it contributes to elegance. Low notes do not over-power high notes and visa versa. Acidity, tannins, alcohol, and fruit must not just be balanced but also seamless and exist in complete harmony together; throughout, everything is linear with no bumps in the road, so to speak. Symmetry is not easy to achieve and, even with the best wines in the world, is very often elusive. Also part of finding symmetry in wine has much to do with drinking it at precisely the right time and the right temperature, both elements of which, can and do change very quickly.
So here’s my take on elegant wine: these are often lighter to medium-bodied, very balanced and flavorful, possess ideal symmetry, can have complexity without requiring that you commit yourself to a long, drawn out intellectual exercise, and even if they are not overly ripe or extracted, or huge on the palate, they can still have a long finish, the alcohol content is usually lower (at 11 ½ to 12 ½ %) than so many of the wines being made these days, and an elegant wine will pair very well with many dishes. These wines are dialed back by many magnitudes compared to the huge wines coming out of California, Washington, and other New World regions. There, it seems, the race is on to make wine that can be consumed with a fork, and I’m not saying there’s not necessarily a place for that as wineries adapt to the ever-changing tastes of market demand, but just that there is a huge contrast of styles. However, in this world of faster, bigger, more is better, it’s truly a pleasure to enjoy something elegant and be reminded of nuance, to stop and smell the roses in life.
Some would say that using the term is pretentious and that so much vernacular created by wine critics is magniloquent. I would argue that the reference to elegance has a precise meaning within the framework of wine and is a useful, if not often applicable, wine descriptor. Besides some Bordeaux, I have also found a number of wines from Burgundy and Champagne that fall into this much more rarefied category, and I hope that you too discover some elegance in your journey with wine. Elegant wine is both fascinating and rewarding’.

I HAVE A THEORY

When you sit down in front of four glasses of wine, you’re tasting them and talking about them at a table with a bunch of people, invariably things become subconscious and you might intellectually say, ‘This is the wine I like best’, but if you look at what you’ve drunk, the glass with the lowest level of wine left in it is the one you really like, isn’t it.
People don’t generally drink the wines they like the least and save the best for last. We might think we can do that easily, but generally we fail. It’s very revealing. In fact, I will open bottle after bottle to find what I like, especially in touring other wine producing countries too. It is about discovering. And, it doesn’t need to be an expensive exercise.
Only then might you find wines from other areas to be surprisingly good, as well as both interesting and different, even though they may not be as good as your favourites. That is to say, if you have any. But, I also know that people get tired of the same thing. Therefore, I wish to encourage you to go out and discover new wines.

OUR WINE HABITS – IN WHICH WINE PROFILE DO YOU FIT?

Anyone consuming wine fits into one of five social behaviour wine categories. The wine fraternity in South Africa finds itself equally represented in all of these.
Most of us start off as enjoyment oriented social drinkers by buying well known cheap brands for consumption at a braai or having a glass of wine in a pub. In each case, the company is mostly more important than what kind of wine is on offer.
A step up from this is the everyday basic wine drinker who, also being a low end spender, is normally satisfied with repetitively buying something cheap and sticking to the same labels. This category drinker only goes for bargain buys of around R20 per bottle but would hardly be able to impress everyone, except others in this category.
The conservative traditionalists are the older, wine snob class who think they know wine, seldom seek advice and normally buy wine from supermarkets. Unfortunately, this class of consumer, more often than not, misses out on learning more about wine by being unable to distinguish between mediocre and good wines. They remain pretenders.
Those who want to know more about wine and can easily be influenced are the enthusiastic wine experimenter. They want to learn, are often part of a wine club and enjoy themselves thoroughly as they embark on exploring new wines. To compare similar cultivar wines with the same SAWi Index ratings or from different terroir pockets is something that would appeal to this group.
These wine enthusiasts are keen to know what a good wine is, read tasting notes and are eager to ask about alcohol content, acidity and other important elements before ordering.They also know how amazing the wine experience can be with the right food pairing. Interestingly enough, roughly 60% of these wine enthusiasts are women!
Image seeking connoisseurs – these savvy shoppers and readers are the wealthier, professional and middle aged group wanting wines that appeal to their so called good taste. They go after exclusive high end wines to impress and appear in the know. The SAWi Ambassadors Club Selections would be the ideal wines to have.
Such wine drinkers are image seekers that are status driven, read specialized wine publications and prefer fine dining. As such, they wish to be treated as the wine elite, although many still lack adequate knowledge.

I OWE A LOT TO WINE

It played a major role in my conception [as a story I once heard].
Well, having given my opinion on wine lists the previous month, here is some more, especially regarding waiters trying to convince you what to have, like the red or white Chenin Blanc.
Many of us are not much of a wine expert. When a waiter brings us a wine list, apart for going for value for ‘many’, we seldom go beyond the time-honored system of “eeeny meeny miny mo”. Why do most of us try to impress the waiter, or is it only some of us?
“So what kind of wine do you like?” the waiter asked. “Whatever tastes most like Kool-Aid,” I said. He chuckled as though I was kidding. He eventually poured something into my glass then asked me to swirl it. “The swirling,” he said, “opens up the wine. Reds are especially tense out of the bottle.” We all drink and learn at the same time. Just like at college.
The waiter wedged his nose into the glass the way a linebacker does an oxygen mask. That’s why wine glasses are so big – to fit your snout in. Apparently, it helps you shift gears too. “Have you ever reached for a glass of iced tea thinking that it’s 7-Up? That’s why we sniff.” Finally, after all the pomp and circumstance, I was given to do what I came to do: Get hammered. No, no, no. I had come to debate the floral undertones of wine while wearing a monocle.
We started with my favorite wine, the “Viognier” [pronunciation tip: don’t sound any of the actual letters]. Some waiters push voy-NYAY on Chardonnay junkies when they want to get crazy]. “My job,” says the waiter, “is to help you discover your preferences. If you’re into Kool-Aid, do you prefer Sharkleberry Fin or the Great Bluedini?” I held newfound respect for this man.
The waiter recommended reading Wine for Dummies unless you’re a complete idiot, in which case read The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Wine. Eventually we graduated to red wines – the Dark Side – starting with my favourite, the Pinot Noir.
Then the waiter explained the difference between red and white wines, and despite what your uncouth brain tells you, reds do not simply come from red grapes. The color comes from tannins in the skin. “The tannins,” said the waiter, “also intensify your hangover.” I verified this theory the next morning when I found myself bickering at the phone long after it had stopped ringing.
So it goes. “This next wine will be your favorite,” the waiter said, pouring a Sauvignon Blanc. “It has a nice, peppery finish.” Pepper is not something I look for in a wine. In fact, it’s not something I look for in my food. Yet this bottle, Rock Rabbit, was the kind of wine that made you skip dinner. It felt almost nutritious.
Next, the waiter and I swirled our way to the Bordeaux, a Merlot wine named after a busty seventies actress. Merlot is a “dry wine,” which means that if you spill it on your clothes you’ll need dry-cleaning. I struggled to describe the Bordeaux. The waiter had already taken the obvious choice – smoky herbal dusk – so I had to stick with poetic faces.
“We consume so much wine as a society,” the waiter said, “that you can hardly find a six-year-old chardonnay. Most wines are designed to be consumed quickly.” Actually more than 90% of all wine produced in the world is meant to be drunk right away, meaning anywhere between now and 6 months. 90%! And boy was I consuming quickly. The bottle read “12% alcohol by volume,” which had something to do with how loud we were getting.
By day’s end, I was not only sideways, but upside down and backwards. I had, however, learned some things. Whereas my motto on wine used to be “quantity, not quality,” I now feel comfortable walking into any snoots y restaurant, looking that waiter directly in the nose, and ordering my favorite wine – whatever they recommend.
Well, not really…maybe you do? Remember: “Wine improves with age. The older I get, the better I like it.”

WHAT WE DO WHEN IT COMES TO CHOOSING A WINE IS PERHAPS NOT GOOD

The initial purpose of my column was to highlight who we are as wine drinkers. Firstly, you ought to know where you fit in and where you find yourself in the quest for wine, to hopefully progress as an enthusiast, experience much more, and in so doing, have fun too. The first thing is to be honest with yourself and stop pretending because, which is what we do when it comes to wine drinking right?
So, this time round I want to further elaborate on the subject and say a few things about ‘what we do’ and later on ‘what we ought to do’ when encountering or ordering wine. What do the majority of us generally do when it comes to choosing a wine? Or to put the question differently, shouldn’t the challenge lie in choosing a good wine and hopefully one from outside our comfort zone?
Don’t tell me you follow ‘Parker’ or the like. Think about how many people have wasted money on big scoring wines sitting in their cellars thinking this is the way to learn about wine – by deferring to an expert, ‘it must be good, let me try it’, and . . . not so much.
Furthermore, it seems that the more experience we have with wine, the more difficult it becomes to discover new varieties that please us. How difficult is it for you to find a wine that makes you ask ‘where have you been all my life? – I love this!’ This happens very seldom, or does it? Well, not if you are prepared to make an effort to find such gems.
Most importantly, stop constantly seeking out bargains. There is every chance that you will be buying rejected wines that have simply been re-bottled or marked down as they would not otherwise sell. On average, you get what you pay for. Good wine is not necessarily expensive, nor old. It’s deep, complex and stays with you long after you’ve tasted it.
I also know how attached we can get to a particular wine label, but be aware, some such labels are sometimes more cutesy, fun or otherwise used as an obvious marketing tool. There is simply nothing about label design or content, or even bottle shape, which can determine what lies within. Having a cork (or not) is no sign of quality. Knowing a little about wine areas makes the quest so much more meaningful, but as I said, more on this later.
Eventually, you may be saying, “But there are so many wines. How do I choose?” The general tasting rules of swirl, sniff and sip are a start, but there’s more to learn when determining if a wine is worthy of your taste buds and cash.
It’s like a Rembrandt drawing hanging in your bedroom – after a while you wouldn’t really notice it. The same with our taste buds. We have an inherent need to search for something new and different. The hunt is fun. In the end, the wonderful thing is that there’s a mysterious aspect to proceedings by which you can’t control or understand everything, which makes discovering new wines so much fun.
Make a start. Try some cooler climate wines that aren’t as ripe, extracted, and alcoholic.

PICK IT APART

“Most restaurant wine lists are praised and given awards for reasons that have little to do with its real purpose, as if it existed only to be admired passively, like a stamp collection. A wine list is good only when it functions well in tandem with a menu.” Gerald Asher.

Most of us, when sitting down in a restaurant, have the habit of taking the wine list, scrolling over the prices first while relying on the social behaviour wine category that we fit into [as I have highlighted in the previous issue of the month] either as:
– social drinkers who go for the cheapest wine
– basic wine drinkers who would rather choose a label they know and don’t spend much
either;
– conservative traditionalists (snobs) who would normally have no idea as to what a good
wine is, but could go for a middle of the road bottle as being influenced by price;
– wine enthusiasts who are experimenters and who want to know what a good wine is are
keen to learn more and therefore ask questions first;
– connoisseurs who go after high end wines to impress and appear in the know.
So, what’s the problem? Well, let the penny drop. Have you decided what you want to eat yet and why order a bottle (fine perhaps for the social drinker who cares less) if you want to experience how food and wine can complement each other?
The fact is that the majority of restaurant wine lists are of little help. Such a list, in order to be “good,” should not be a way to extract as much cash from a customer as possible. The list must work for the comfort seeker and adventurer; a list that satisfies both the needs of the Wednesday supper, as well as those of the Saturday night celebration. Who wouldn’t want to enjoy the right kind of wine with grilled chili sirloin, chicken casserole, oysters, seared scallops and a cheese plate?
How should it be then? With a bit of extra attention, a start would be grouping wine lists by Varietal and Style, Bubbles & Pinks, Fresh and Bright (Light to Medium Whites), Stand up Whites (Medium to Big), Flex Reds (Smooth & Elegant), Brawny Reds (Big & Bold). This would make for a well designed wine list, hopefully from the particular area! It should fit Gerald Asher’s criteria of being well suited to the food menu.
Then again, a wine list may be as good as it gets, but should be backed up by a well trained waiter who knows wines and could provide valuable advice. Unlike my last experience when only Slanghoek was available at a harbour restaurant due to the owner and winemaker being friends! Why don’t we keep to our regions? Nevertheless, I ordered a Chenin Blanc, after a while which, the waitress returned to ask me: “a red or white”?

THE LANGUAGE OF WINE

Wine tasting, as opposed to mere drinking, is an art form that teaches us to focus on quality, purity, uniqueness as well as diversity, and not quantity.
Technically, wine can be described as the result of a biochemical transformation from sugar to alcohol. However, this is only part of the truth. Wine is also the expression of terroir, which indicates the flavour profile specific to the particular site from which the grapes were harvested as well as the vintage or year of harvest. These are the two major factors determining the flavours of a wine.
One of the attractions of tasting is the identification of an aroma; making the connection with other sensory and cultural pleasures; recognising a certain style of wine or particular vintage. Wine becomes a magical journey in time and space. It does not have to include jargon, pretenses or snobbism. Knowing the basic rules will provide more pleasure from the game.
Novices often wonder whether wine tasting itself is not a sufficient pleasure, or whether efforts to describe a wine are wasted. In fact, tasting wine is similar to criticising a painting. Pleasure is always said to be heightened by knowledge. Wine is a unique individual that tells us a story if we know how to listen. One sip may be enough; whereas a wine of understated elegance, in the words of Jan ‘Boland’ Coetzee, will “drink like water”.
Varietal characteristics must always be well preserved in a wine, leading to an intensity of flavours, aromas and overall balance. At the highest level, wine represents a specific vintage or year of harvest, the ability to age successfully and the expression of terroir or geographical identity – wines of place.
A geographical distinction, between Europe (Old World) and countries formerly colonies (New World) differentiates between two philosophies of wine making. Old World wine making is defined by tradition; wine is made in the same places, in the same ways and styles as it always
has been. Nature is the key factor and yearly climatic variations expected. The expression of terroir is more important than the actual varieties used in a specific blend of wine.
The New World on the other hand, is defined by progress. New technology, innovative cultivation of grapes and exploration of uncharted areas are the order of the day. Wines are created to be consistent in quality. Such wines are defined by varietal characteristics, with the expression of the particular fruit from a terroir perspective vital. In South Africa, the best wines are made with an understanding of both worlds.
Once bottled, wine enters a reductive state and starts to develop the aromas that come with age: leather, meat, game, mushrooms and smoke. With wine a product of a living entity, it has its own cycle of life: birth, development and maturity, followed by decline and death. A wine that retains some of its fruit after maturation and aging has every chance of becoming great.
The following elements are to be noted in considering a wine: sweetness, acidity, bitterness, aromatic character, body, persistence, balance and typicality.

A QUICK NOTE ON FOOD AND WINE PAIRING

Canapés – a light delicate fresh and gentle champagne
[goes well with most appetizers and don’t spoil later heavier dishes]

Starter – Salad from the garden with herbs
compliments the
light earthy herbaceous Sauvignon Blanc matches the greens
slightly richer Chenin Blanc compliments the Prawns

Main dish – Fillet of beef, celeriac, beetroot and sage sauce
The delicate, earthy smooth and silky Pinotage with its gamy nuances
and the
mellow to mild earthy and wild herb flavour of the Cabernet Sauvignon
compliments the
more vegetal slight bitterly aromatic flavour of the celeriac puree
rich and creamy, sweet and slightly nutty beetroot flavour
highly aromatic, musty, earthy smell of the sage sauce

Dessert – Chocolate Mousse, verjus, macadamia
The sweet Mead or chilled soft plum flavour and richness of the Merlot
dessert in themselves, compliments the
refreshing fruity light acidity and fructose of the Verjus
light, meltingly smooth texture the chocolate mousse
nuttiness of the macadamia