Wine: Finding the Sweet Spot

It has been a long hot summer, and no, it has not been thirsty.

Over the summer months, crates of frosty beer were consumed, along with copious alertly refreshing gin-and-tonics. Not to mention the chilled bottles of dry white wine and, devil-in-me, some beaded vessels of Champagne. But, even in the heady temperatures and sun-drenched days, a wine-lover longs for a glass or two of red wine to satisfy that primal lust for tannic, berry-fruited vinous pleasure. But when it’s 34°C in the shade, even the most ardent vinophile finds the prospect of a glass of oaked Shiraz or earthy Cabernet Sauvignon about as attractive as climbing Table Mountain in a pair of long woolly underpants.

A Refreshing Red

Over the past summer, a few red wines passed my thirsty, heated palate, proving that when it comes to refreshment, the reds can actually offer the zingy cool enjoyment to rival the perkiest Chenin Blanc of Chardonnay while providing that long run of red grape flavour to satisfy the parts of a wine appetite that the whites simply can’t.

Top of the heap is a wine made from the Shiraz grape, a variety known more for its brooding, bloody spice weightiness than for summertime sipping.

Kleine-Zalze-Syrah-Du-Plateau-2022The wine in question is Kleine Zalze’s new Syrah du Plateau 2022, a limited release of 600 bottles. Kleine Zalze winemaker RJ Botha says he had wanted to get his hands on some Shiraz grapes from the rarefied chilly heights of Ceres Plateau for some time, and when he managed to score a ton or so, the idea was to do something original.

So, the grapes were given the whole-bunch, carbonic maceration treatment in two of his beloved terracotta amphorae and released in November 2022. In a clear flint bottle, sealed with a glass Vinolok stopper and with a stand-alone label, despite it being a Kleine Zalze wine — available from the tasting room only.

The most important thing to say about this wine is that it is extraordinarily delicious. Being 11.5% alcohol in a summery bottle, I chilled the wine and took it to a convivial lunch on a humid day in Durbanville. The only problem was there was only one bottle. A juicy gorgeous yumminess. Gulpable to the max. On the nose, this Syrah du Plateau has scents of dried prunes lying on a bed of dried lavender, with a cavernous chill on the aroma, one redolent of sea caves at low tide.

The juice hits the mouth like the first breath of cool air after a torturous and hot bout of mountain climbing. There is the cheek-puckering jig of sour cherry coupled with some wild bramble, plum and a coaxing touch of strawberry. Then, just enough savouriness provides the umami-like delight of sweetish meeting savoury. And broad, too, this wine, the carbonic maceration and lack of oak giving it the obvious wide and scented charm making its comparison with a very fine and still young Beaujolais unavoidable.

Invigorating and delicious, you’ll never look at Shiraz the same way after a few glasses of this wine.

Fruity And Accessible

One red wine that is known to present itself in an approachable fruity manner wrapped in a moreish juiciness is Pinot Noir. But thanks to the religious reverence the wine aficionados have bestowed on this Burgundian cultivar, Pinot Noir suffers from an elitist and inaccessible image, together with the fact that most bottles are priced at stratospheric levels.

This is where Paul Clüver, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay specialists from Elgin, are opening up a whole new channel for Pinot Noir appreciation and enjoyment with an accessible wine under the Paul Clüver Village offering. On the estate’s upper tier, one finds the icon Seven Flags Pinot Noir, followed by the famous Estate wine, both of which are among South Africa’s leading renditions of Pinot Noir.

Paul-Cluver-Village-Pinot-Noir-NVWith Paul Clüver’s Village Pinot Noir, the brand has created a delectable and sappy Pinot Noir featuring all the inherent flavours expected of the grape but made to a style that doesn’t require intense ageing or a consumer’s delving into further credit. The bottle price of around R125 makes many points in this regard.

In making the Village, Paul Clüver’s younger vineyards are used, while the more senior sticks are headed for Estate or Seven Flags Pinot Noir. In their youth, the grapes offer a juicy brightness and more forgiving tannins, yet have the pedigree and breeding to present structure commanding the respect one expects from this noble variety.

Ageing is done for ten months in older French oak barrels and 5000-litre foudré, freeing the testosterone-driven tannins of youth, broadening the flavour profile and giving the wine an agreeable and inviting silkiness.

The Paul Clüver Village Pinot Noir 2020 is currently on the market, showing that a red wine can make for a summer where the living is easy. Cherry notes offer a summery sweetness upfront before a slight bacon-kip savouriness perks the palate. A discernible Pinot Noir typicity of stony autumn cool verges on the edges, providing a dappled brightness and multi-faceted dimension to the wine. Palate-weight is akin to an owl feather, with a coaxing furriness backed by a discernible stem of pliable yet pronounced rigour. Delicious and quaffable as it is, the wine has a hum of the imposing trumpet call that heralds an honest Pinot Noir remaining true to its roots, secure to its calling.

Perfectly Bitter

One white wine discovery worth noting is a Chardonnay in the Survivor range of wines made at various Cape cellars by stalwart winemaker Pierre Wahl. And I highlight this as it offers an often-underrated aspect found in good Chardonnay, namely bitterness.

As we pursuers of the senses-pleasing drinkables know, bitterness is pleasant and refreshingly bracing when wrapped within the framework of myriad flavours and textures. Tonic water with a slap of gin…a few drops of bitters to a sweet Tequila Sunrise…that crunch of celery with the Bloody Mary. Here a hit of bitter lifts and perks gives depth and character and — in wine — a unique kick.

Survivor-Cellar-Master-Series-ChardonnaySurvivor Wines has just released a Chardonnay in its top-tier Cellar Master Series, and here this unique bitter kick is found, taking the wine to the next level.

Grapes were sourced from the Tradouw region near Barrydale, and here Pierre made magic by fermenting the wine in different batches and using an array of barrels and tanks to achieve a balanced purity.

It certainly has worked here, as the Survivor Cellar Master can rightfully stake a claim among the finest renditions of Chardonnay for which the Cape is building such a sterling and noted reputation.

On the nose, the wine smells of gold and wilderness, those noble elements of white flowers and sunny white fruit and crushed nut shells slightly disrupted by buchu roots still covered with fresh, old earth. This edginess continues onto the palate, where Chardonnay pedigree holds true in the precise tastes, including grilled hazel splashed with seawater, cold butter hitting a crust of fresh, warm sourdough bread and a most delicious sun-drenched compote of honey and lime. A run of rock salt adds to the thrill.

And don’t forget that slight edge of bitterness. Here it is — Sicilian lemon peel, thickly cut and the invigorating tang of a green loquat, this presents itself in the wine. It adds action and brilliance, giving this Chardonnay a uniqueness, a sense of own.

Constantly on the look for variety in Chardonnay, this wine has found my sweet spot.