Sunday, August 31, 2008

Waiting For The Barbera-ians


The bottle cuts a curious figure on the table--stately and somehow blacker than a red wine container has any place being, Sicilian ruminant cartooned across the face in crisp relief. It's Fairview's "The Goat Father", a wine that I reasonably expected to be terrible based on the fact that it's affordable, from South Africa (bear with me here), and attempts to blend Shiraz, Cab Sauvignon, Merlot, Barbera, Primitivo, and other cultivars that you need a faithful hound's nose to discern.

But it was good! Sexy, translucent color, spicy nose redolent of red berries, and dueling bright/earthy flavors that land halfway between Piemonte and Paarl (technically Cameroon, but whatever). The wine is a keeper. A head-scratcher, but a keeper nonetheless. I remain intrigued by the willingness of South African winemakers to try anything, whether doing this sort of mad-scientist blending, making dirt-cheap viognier, or going the distance with a home-spliced grape.

From this Thunderdome of vinification I've found that you're as likely to get a consummately delicious wine as a disorienting sensory experience more akin to eating meat than drinking juice. The latter can be a particular hazard in "value" South African wines, where some truly bizarre flavors lurk.

The good ones, though, are wowwww. Are we looking at a gawky McDonald's All-American suffering its last bout of growing pains? Count a yes vote here. The not-so-invisible hand of U.S. taste seems to have wreaked its confusion in the early noughties and now, tasting South African wines, one senses that it's starting to marry a fierce individualism with the opulent delectability inherent in its terroir.

Having had nearly two decades to sweat out the economic poison of the apartheid regime, innovation has nowhere left to hide in the wine world's erstwhile palate of darkness. Proof is in one taste of Rudi Schultz's "suck on this, Hunter Valley" 2005 Syrah which is as mind-blowingly good as the villians in Lethal Weapon 2 were bad. Or, in Brampton's $11 "I killed the Yellow Tail kangaroo" wine from the same grape . (Preceding proprietary names not real.)

Give it 5-10 years, but I'm betting the ruthless inventiveness of South Africa will push it past its wine-producing fraternal twin Australia in the price-quality ratio of its product. Inklings of this are evident, as it just came up huge at the Decanter World Wine Awards. Gelukwensing!

Recent notables:
  • Chateau Pavie-Macquin 2003: Deep red color, not quite inky-purple. Rich nose of spice, ripe raspberry, stone, and violet. Soft tannins but substantial acid for a reputed fatso blockbuster. End result is a major black cherry-ish intensity that finishes forever.
  • Domaine J. Chartron Puligny-Montrachet "Clos du Cailleret" 2005: Glistening gold intoduces typically luxurious nose of red apple, pear, and a curious note of slate. A low-acid Puligny that's almost more a cocktail wine, albeit a supremely delicious one. Could probably use some time in bottle.
  • Clos Apalta 2004: Dark color that barely disperses, even at the rim. Has Rolland written all over it with sweet vanilla, blackberry, and crushed rock aromas. Velvety texture with notes of mocha and licorice on the finish. Decanting is valuable here.
  • Damn it, there are so many others and I just haven't been doing this enough.

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