Thu 03 Nov 2011

Grabbed By The Boks


Steve Farrow

Those of you who live within spittoon distance of Stevenage are probably aware of the informal (and, more deliciously still, free) tastings held in The Cellar Showroom every month. Generally these tastings reflect one of the latest Society offers, though occasionally the Showroom team are allowed to let their imagination have free rein with the theme of their choice. My suggestion of ‘Wines To Put Hairs On Your Chest’ has been curiously overlooked thus far but may get a look in as winter closes its icy grip around us all.

Our recent October tasting took our current South Africa offer as its theme, and it proved to be one of the most popular we’ve held. More than 120 members swept in on the night to sup a selection of reds and whites that had people purring like a pride of lions at a help group for lame zebras. The popularity was translated into high sales on the night too as our guests put their money where their mouths had just been.

One of the fun things about pouring the wines at such a tasting is the immediate feedback from the members, good and occasionally bad: sometimes when one is basking in the effulgent glow of repeated praise for a wine on show someone will come along, sniff, slurp and say with gimlet tongue, ‘oh I don’t like that at all!’ before wandering off to another table, hopefully to be placated. Fortunately it is a rarity.

This divergence of opinions and the debates thus engendered are part of the pleasure. Variety really is the spice of life in wine, as in so many things, and our Showroom tastings give members the opportunity to go off-piste if they wish to, and enjoy wines previously unknown to them.

Back to the South Africa tasting, and the clear winner was, unexpectedly, the most expensive of the offerings on show: the deliciously ripe and full Chamonix Greywacke Pinotage, 2007 from Franschhoek (£10.95). Pinotage is almost purely South African, being a crossing bred there in the 1920s from pinot noir and cinsault and rarely grown anywhere else. It makes a real variety of red styles and when treated with proper care, as it has been by Chamonix, it can really shine. This example is made in the ripasso style more familiarly seen in the Veneto of Italy which provides it with real velvety depth and richness. Our tasters bought more of this than any other wine and understandably so.

Pushing the pinotage hard in the popularity stakes was The Liberator’s ‘The Francophile 2’ Viognier, 2008 (£9.95). There is much mystery about this wine. The guy who made it has asked that The Society, for whom this has been exclusively bottled, keeps his identity secret, presumably so that he can fight crime in a mask or something like that – the Cape Crusader, so to speak. I have to say that this and the Greywacke couldn’t be separated in my book for quality and sheer enjoyment. The viognier (with a splash of grenache blanc and roussanne in the mix) exhibited such enticing honeysuckle scents and purity of sweet but zingy peach fruit that pouring it and watching so many delighted expressions was a lot of fun. It is a limited edition so when it has gone it really has gone.

Two more exceedingly honourable mentions must go to the Boschendal pair, a varietal Merlot and the Chardonnay-Pinot Noir blend. Both were snapped up in the sort of quantities that would normally have put them at the top of the leader-board at many Showroom tastings. The Merlot was plush with dark berry fruit and smooth tannins while the Chardonnay-Pinot shone with lovely weight of stone fruits leavened by fresh acidity. Both are great value at £8.50 and £8.95 respectively.

Finally, the Percheron Old Vine Cinsault, 2010 also went down a storm. Fulsome critical acclaim for the wine from Jancis Robinson on her website was borne out as its soft, sweet fruit hit the spot for many, and bottles flew off the shelves. It is remarkable value at £5.95, which undoubtedly helped, but the quality of the wine for the price was obvious.

Other wines garnered praise and sales as well but those mentioned above were the stand outs. I think the tasting really did demonstrate with admirable clarity the quality across the board that South Africa can offer these days. On this occasion there was a very real sense of the tasting having been a success when judged in terms of the enjoyment expressed by those who came along. Which in the end is what it is all about.

Steve Farrow
Cellar Showroom

Categories : South Africa

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