What does mineral mean?

What does the word “minerality” mean to you when it comes to wine? Chances are very little, though you’ve probably heard the word used, or possibly read this term in tasting notes. Wine tasters claim to taste minerality and like to apply this description to wine – it indicates lofty praise.

“The smell of gravel”, “dusty” and “like sucking a stone” are some of the answers when I ask wine-makers what minerality actually tastes like. Continue reading “What does mineral mean?”

Premature reds?

There was a time when you would have to wait a few years for a good red wine. Reds that are considered premium are typically matured in small barrels for twelve to twenty-four months, and a few high-end producers then leave the bottled wine in the cellar to “knit” and bottle mature for up to two years.

The result is that a red made in last year’s 2005 vintage would only be available in 2009. Very, very few local producers still keep to this kind of maturation program. In this age of the quick commodity, the onus shifts to the consumer to mature it if he or she thinks that’s necessary. In the last few years this trend of releasing younger and younger reds has been obvious. Continue reading “Premature reds?”

Slowines launched

[A HandtoMouth project]
In this fast-paced world we live in, it’s good to have a reminder that fast is not always better – in fact it can be just the opposite. Slowine is a new range of happily affordable wines that invite you to enjoy some quality time with friends and family. As the logo says: “time becomes precious when life rushes by” – and this wine is an invitation to stop and take some time out with these delightful, easy-drinking wines. Continue reading “Slowines launched”

Testing service

In my restaurant guide, I score each place out of ten for their service, and it is a category where very few places climb to the highest points. Service is often friendly but usually ignorant and untrained. So the problem clearly lies with the management, though there is some mitigation in the fact that the staff are often temporary students, and training them would be an altruistic act. On the other hand, the staff would stay on if the profession was considered more noble, and not just a part-time affair. So they work for tips, and the clever ones work the customer most charmingly, but usually with little associated food or wine knowledge.
Murray Weiner at Porcupine Hills is concerned enough to be thinking about an academy. Chatting about all this, we also came up with the idea of an experiment where we test wine knowledge and etiquette at a restaurant by ordering and repeatedly declining bottles for spurious reasons. Mean, maybe, but could be interesting. I guess you’d have to repeat the experiment at various places to learn anything useful though.

Wine lists

Helping Bruce Robertson, previously of one.waterfront at the Cape Grace, with the wine list for his new restaurant – the name at this point secret, but scheduled to open sometime in February. It’s sure to get foodies in the door with some innovative ideas. For example, he is going to cook in front of everyone and the space is laid out so that most people have a line of sight to the pass. Also, the room adjoins a luxury car dealer… with views of the marques, so if you feel the urge to spoil yourself after a few bottles of fine wine, you needn’t travel.
Speaking of the fine wine, the idea is to stock the list with interesting and unusual wines, and also to make sure that the list offers fair value for money. One way of doing this (one I am keen on) is to have a flat rand-based mark-up, so that the price reflects the winery’s selling price, with something added for the service. Where this will show most clearly is on the wines that are usually very expensive on lists, because the restaurants whack great surcharges onto these wines. But here it will get the same rand mark-up as the most modest wine on the list. Probably a different flat rate for whites than reds though.

Pastis 10 Jan 06

“So who’s going to eat and who’s going to look?” The Caesar salad like a bed of lichens lay before us, but shredded and limp. This was a R40 salad, a fancy one. I had a predilection for ordering Caesar’s, since it was one of those dishes that was so simple and relied on such precise ingredients that most places got it only in name. And then added a sturdy price.

This was one such. Although the dressing was pretty good and accurate, the shredded leaves and generally flat and wet aspect of the plate was a tragedy. Continue reading “Pastis 10 Jan 06”

Is terroir the truth?

Two words currently very popular in local wine circles are “passion” and “terroir”. Every producer seems to have a high class of both. Through repetition and careless use, the words have reached the point where they are in danger of meaning very little. While a quarrel over passion and the surplus of it that many winemakers claim to have would be a truly subjective and rather sterile one (though one surely wishes they all had as much knowledge as passion), the facile use of the term terroir is more important, as it degrades a potentially valuable concept in wine. Continue reading “Is terroir the truth?”

What wood’s good?

As the dust begins to rise on a new year in the Cape wine lands (for the summer season is once more back with its true South-Easter howl), the appraisal of the white wines of 2005 begins to mount. Nearly a year since that harvest, and the sauvignon blancs have had their chance to settle (if they haven’t mostly been drunk by now) and some chardonnays are arriving.

For sauvignons, 2005 was both triumphal and forgettable. A few producers have made superb examples, and more and more it is those producers with a track record that do this, like Steenberg, Mulderbosch, Neil Ellis, Spier, Durbanville Hills. Another aspect of the vintage that was expressed in many examples I tasted was a moderate level of alcohol, a very pleasant 12,5% being common. I often feel a sense of relaxation coming over me when I spot a figure like this on the label, as if another glass is a guaranteed proposition. Continue reading “What wood’s good?”

Cardinal rules of wine

Chill your wine – and also cool your reds in summer. Here in South Africa, you may have noticed that we do not live in the temperate climes, or have the “room temperature” of Europe. Room temperature here is too often close to blood temperature. Wine should be enjoyed cool: whites well chilled, bubbly frigid and reds should slide into the mouth refreshingly.

Don’t show people the label on the bottle if you can help it – avoid snobbery and promote the idea of enjoyment. We all do it, some bottles come out when the right people are around the table, the wine presented more as a talking/bragging point than as something to be simply drunk. When a wine is truly good, it will stand out and surprise people – isn’t this better than the reassuring preconceptions? Continue reading “Cardinal rules of wine”

A good food and wine match is a 1 + 1 = 3 relationship

When a wine matches a dish in an interesting fashion, the relationship is at once complementary in the sense that it suits, that neither partner is worse off, but more, that the match is harmonious. This is a 1 + 1 = 2. Yet even more happens when the match is right, because the wine adds a level to the food and the food adds a dimension to the wine that seems to not have been there before. It was, but the food “unlocks” it. The chemistry is beyond my reckoning, involving the food, the wine and your taste buds; but a good match shows up previously hidden dimensions to both partners that confound mathematics!

Rustenberg not rusty

A wine, like a person, undergoes interesting changes with age. I say “interesting” and not “promising” or “satisfying” because not all wines age well – but the fact that they have a lifeline is a part of the fascination of wine. A wine’s potential to age also gives it a certain cache: the world pays more for wines that mature gracefully, and this ability is lauded on back labels.

Yet this capability is becoming academic as wines are drunk within hours of purchase and producers are responding by making wines that are ready to drink within a similarly short time. Keeping a wine to enjoy its maturation cycle is a hobby of a very small and steadily dwindling number of people. Continue reading “Rustenberg not rusty”

Would you want to eat at El Bulli every day?

Famous for his “molecular gastronomy” Ferran Adria’s restaurant El Bulli takes reservations for the year on one day in mid-Novermber, and within hours he is full. His now-famous food is all about flavours reduced and intensified to the extreme, to purity, but repackaged as foams, jellies and whimsical bites. It’s a gastronomic adventure, and apparently a satisfying one, though tiring. A typical meal consists of a dozen and more intense courses that demand a certain amount attention. Most of us who like good food also like much of our food to be comforting, to offer the reassurance of the known. There is a natural balance at work when El Bulli is so expensive and a seat so scarce – its not an experience for the everyday.