Madagascan (?) pleasures

The company of wine people, who make Versus wines, have made a good bit of money off me and my friends recently. They may even think there is a sudden surge in the Madagascan market ever since we challenged our holiday hotel’s stock of Versus.

Pronounced “ver-soos” by the Malagasy locals, this wine became our unexpected ally after we checked the selection of local and French wines. Madagascar makes a few wines, and in John and Erica Platter’s book, Africa Uncorked, they suggest that the local bubbly is your best bet. We never got to try this wine, unfortunately, but did valiantly try the local still wines. These show a scant disregard for the beneficial effects of sulphur as a preservative. This is either because they want to be organic in style or because they don’t know better, but the result is that the wines taste like sherry, and are brown and oxidised. We opened and checked three, and then abandoned the quest.

To be fair, the state of the wine may have been due to transportation from the winery to our remote beach hotel, or it may have been the result of how long the wine had stood on the (not quite optimum temperature) shelf. These are real obstacles to finding good drinking wine in Africa, where cool temperatures and controlled transportation are as rare as leaders who aren’t paranoid.

The French wine on the shelf, Castel, was a known rot-gut agent and out of contention at the price. That left the selection of South African wines, which pretty much consisted of “ver-soos” red and white. Like most of the wines of South Africa, they had in their favour the benefit of clean, modern wine-making which ensures a decent, if not breath-taking, drink. They also came in one litre bottles, which was a big plus, since we were shelling out R160 per bottle.

The experience got me thinking about the current debate around carbon miles, where the argument runs that people should be drinking the wine from the region that lies closest. The idea, aside from its potential ecological benefit, works for wine in the sense that wine is not a good traveller. It doesn’t like temperature fluctuation or vibration, and it generally comes housed in heavy glass bottles that let in too much light and shatter easily. Local wine also tends to taste best with the local food and in the local setting.

All of which is old news, and the reason why fortified wine, like port and madeira, came to be – they evolved to withstand the rigours of travel. Along with rum, which Madagascar makes some great examples of!