What wine is to be

The latest climate change predictions are dire news for the Western Cape. Suggesting drier and warmer conditions, the egg-heads reckon that any non-irrigated crop is doomed. The wheat industry is singled out to be hardest hit, but vines will also face a trial by solar fire, critically in those areas where unirrigated vineyards still exist.

Warmer conditions also mean that the current trend towards fuller and more alcoholic wines is not going to end anytime soon. But with more and more people blanching at wine with 15 to 16 degrees alcohol, the producers need to get creative. Revised root stocks for slower fruit growth, new grape varieties more suited to warm climates, yeasts that are less productive – all these partial solutions are being investigated.

Arguably the most invasive solution is the use of technology to remove alcohol from the finished wine. The reverse osmosis machine is already a familiar face in many a winery. While I am not a self-confessed Luddite like some in the industry, I would prefer my wines to be as natural as possible, or at least to be be informed if fancy footwork is the secret to my favourite tipple’s success. But then again, what is tradition in wine nowadays? The making of wine is already centuries away from grapes stomped by foot.

Two weeks ago I had plates of tiger prawns in front of me, touts with pirated copies of the movie Blood Diamond at the window, and a glass of vinho verde alongside. I was in Maputo after 16 years, and it was marvellous. The vinho, in those squat round bottles, had the dubious name of “Calamares” with drawings of the beasties on the label, so no hiding its blatant application at middle-brow tables.

Of course it is the setting and the moment, but a vinho verde at 9 degrees alcohol at lunchtime on a warm day is the answer to many questions. Light and fresh, with that slight spritz that the wine is famous for, it washes seafood down while allowing the sweet mineral flavours to linger beautifully.

I don’t know how that wine was made, but I have drunk this style of wine for long enough to know that it has been made the same way for decades. Picked green, before full ripeness, the grapes are fermented just short of finishing the process. In this way, the spritz is captured and the naturally high acidities of not-quite-ripe grapes are balanced by a bit of residual sugar. In other words, a native solution to the challenges that the warm climate makes on grape-growing in Portugal.