As any boerekos boffin knows, a boerejongen is a raisin marinated in brandy. The Joseph Barry Cape Pot Still Ten Y.O. crowned Best Brandy in the World at London’s International Wine & Spirit Competition recently will do (as will any of the other eight SA brandewijns that have won the trophy since 1999) but Joseph Barry is most a propos, hailing from Barrydale in the Klein Karoo where the place to stay is the Lentelus B&B (motto: “if Florence is too far, Provence too French, visit real SA countryside, visit Lenetlus near Barrydale”). Mein hostess is Joubert matriarch Helena who has four boerejongens of her own.
Four Joubert jongens Schalk-Willem, Meyer, Cobus and Andries cover all the bases in the wine industry. Helena’s eldest two are winemakers: Schalk-Willem at Rupert & Rothschild in Franschhoek and Meyer on the family farm Joubert-Tradauw down the road where he makes 4000 cases of wine from 40ha of vineyards with the majority of fruit sold off to people like Riaan Marais at Southern Cape Vineyards for Joseph Barry brandy. Laat lammetjie (late lamb) Dries is a professional photographer with a portfolio of functions and bottles while Cobus markets the stuff for Morgenster in Somerset West and exciting new organic Stellenbosch producer Wedderwill whose offering of multiple vintages of Sauvignon Blanc answers the age old question “does SA Sauvignons age?” in the affirmative.
SA brandy, the silent spirit that wins all awards but is a bugger to sell to Cognac entranced cognoscenti makes for tasty boerejongens. Although those offered by Meyer’s ace chef wife Beate are more likely to be marinated in 1860 Muscadel. A solera Nagmaalwyn (communion wine) faithfully topped up by generations of Jouberts – or Jauberts as they used to spell it – the wine was first made in Wellington before the family relocated to the Klein Karoo. Drinking a glass at the 350th birthday lunch for SA wine held at Groot Constantia on 1 February 2009 was a truly religious experience and added much needed gravitas to an event featuring Jan van Riebeeck in velvet drapes and a Sophia Loren wig while Zulu gumboot mine-dancers trod grapes in a tub on the manor house lawn.
The whole Capab theatrical wardrobe was on hand at Allesverloren in the Swartland where the festivities took the shape of a black-tie dinner and guests could have themselves photographed in 17th century finery before a word from the sponsor – MD of a financial services company – who raised a toast “to the man who made it all possible: Jan van Niekerk.” You couldn’t invent this material.
The last time I had a glass of the 1860 was in Cobus’ cellar in his mansion clinging to the side of the mountain in St. James. St. James is a 1920s Cunard liner run aground between Kalk Bay and Muizenberg to quote either Noël Coward or George Bernard Shaw. Cobus’ 1918 Herbert Baker stone house is 92 steps up from Main Road (worth counting as the house has no number outside) and Rohan Vos of Rovos Rail fame has bought the property below, so a gradual regression back to the era of glamorous flappers is anticipated.
Schalk-Willem, looking disturbingly like Johnny Cash in black, had arrived for dinner bearing crusty French bread and pork terrine from Christophe Dehosse’s Joostenberg Deli. Living behind the borewors curtain in Bellville, Joostenberg is on his way to and from his Franschhoek cellar, which presents a daily challenge to the waistline.
Schalk-Willem had heard alikreukel (giant periwinkle) was on the menu and had thought ahead and brought along two bottles of Moulin Touchais, a sweet Chenin from the Loire and the only wine guaranteed by its producer to last a century if properly cellared. The Touchais family has been producing vinous Methuselahs for 8th generations, so will most likely be around to deliver on their guarantee, although probably to the heirs of the original purchaser.
Schalk-Willem had shelled out R380 for the ’75 vintage at Caroline Rillema’s Fine Wine Cellar in Cape Town and it was remarkably fresh thanks to the way the wine was made. 20% of the grapes are harvested green and acidic, the balance, six weeks later full of sugar and unctuous richness. Pips are removed and the grapes undergo a slow fermentation for several weeks before being bottled and left to mature in kilometers of underground cellars for ten years before being released.
Smooth and elegant with layers of flavour (quince, apricot, lemon) it was a remarkable match with the rough terrine. A 1990 vintage tasted even sweeter but lacked the flavour complexity of its older brother – clearly too young!
With an amuse bouche that threatened to become the whole meal, Cobus broke the porcine spell with alikreukel on toast or Bruscheta as they call it in the southern suburbs. I’d brought along a wicker basket of lemons from Lemoenfontein (my pied à Paardeberg) and dibbled lemon juice liberally over the mollusk in its sauce of mushrooms, garlic and cream. A bottle of 2009 The Goose Sauvignon Blanc emphasized the citrus notes while the elegant Alsatian-style tapered bottle evoked the pointy shell of the sea snail.
Main course was waterblommetjiebredie (waterlily stew) and for that Cobus had thoughtfully decanted a bottle of 2004 Morgenster, one of the finest Bordeaux-style red blends in the SA cellar. An estate he now markets. While some debate raged over whether the bottle was totally “clean” or not, we agreed that technically too perfect wines, like a Craggy Range Gimblett Gravel Syrah 2007 which followed, run the risk of becoming boring.
Recently returned from Hawke’s Bay in New Zealand, Schalk-Willem showed pictures of the Craggy Range vineyards that had supplied the fruit for the wine, with shoots tied up with cable ties and vines planted in neat rows of fearsome efficiency. Plus a piece of the black Gimblett gravel some hold supplies a stony minerality to Craggy Range.
I’d last seen him at the Saxon Hotel in Johannesburg where he was hosting a blow-out dinner (ripe avocado filled with prawns and Alaskan crab – no crabstick doppelgängers here – followed by stuffed chicken breast or steak and then a variation on death by chocolate). Schalk-Willem made the point “this dinner (preceded by a vertical tasting of my Baron Edmond flagship) costs me less than an ad in a lifestyle magazine. We export to 60 countries, we don’t enter competitions and we don’t advertize. It’s all by word of mouth.” No wonder SA lifestyle publications are in extremis.
He kicked off the vertical tasting of vintages 1999-2005 with a joke. “The first miracle of Jesus was turning water into wine at the wedding at Cana. We’re still waiting for the second miracle: turning wine into profit.” Which raised a chuckle from Jozi’s leading bottle store proprietors and restaurateurs who made up the guest list.
The Biblical analogy was carried over to the meal which had something of a Last Supper feel about it as dinner conversation focused on tales of impending doom. In a sobering sign of the times, if you’re a no-show (like one celebrity chef) you became the subject of speculation asking whether you’ve gone bust. It’s worse than fishing for piranhas on the Orinoco.
While R&R may translate to fine wine in SA, for the rest of the world R&R means Rock & Roll, which is a convenient metaphor for as I think I mentioned before, Schalk-Willem is a doppelgänger for Johnny Cash. Vertical tastings are few and far between and provide the best way of measuring producer consistency, maturation progress and potential. So for those who had the foresight to stock up with previous vintages, my R&R opinion:
99: best nose of the flight, still in excellent shape like Bob Dylan on Together Through Life;
00: one of only two vintages (the other being 05) to include Cabernet Franc, a bit disappointing like the sales of U2’s new album No Line on the Horizon;
01: “nice wine, but then a cup of tea is nice” as Johnny Cash might have said. A bit of a Cat Stevens;
02: starts of stinky but ends in finesse like a Tom Waits performance;
03: booming 15.5% alcohol and sweet, raisin fruit. As Tears for Fears said “shout, shout, let it all out…”
04: lacks elegance and focus, just like Amy Winehouse;
05: very concentrated, with many things going on, on many different levels, like Nick Cave.
The tasting was a smile: the first and last wines were highpoints with the low in the middle. Volumes of the 2005 are dramatically down: from 60 000 bottles to 17 000 and the price is up 24% on the quality jump. Even more impressive is the alcohol level: 13.5% down from a succession of 15 and 15+. Could this be the sign of a reduced Michel Rolland effect, the famous Bordeaux consultant and high priest of overripe fruit? Time to stock up on Edmond and the 2007 Baroness Nadine Chardonnay (a stonker) before it’s all exported to Germany.
Dinner ended with another joke. “What is the difference between a German and an Afrikaner? A German leaves without saying goodbye. An Afrikaner says goodbye, and then doesn’t leave.”
15.5% alcohol in a really cool vintage like 2003 – what were they THINKING?
2003 a cool vintage?? must have been somewhere else.
Yes, maybe somewhere else. I always thought, after the wet, disease-ridden 2002 and very hot years from 1998 (hottest year globally on record at the time) to 2001, that 2003 was a welcome cool vintage by comparison.
I see that Platter’s mentions difficulties with late-ripeners in some areas in 2003. Is this typical of warm or cool vintages?
Let’s see: Baron Edmund 1999 @ 14%; 2000 @ 14.5%; 2001 @ 14.5%; 2002 @ 15%; 2003 @ 15.5%. So, it just got hotter and hotter each year (reflecting vintage) or the style just got riper & riper (reflecting the people who made it)?
Still, my point has been missed. NO unfortified wine from SA should ever be made at 15.5% alcohol – in my humble opinion. It’s impossible to attain a natural balance and virtually impossible to attain a sense of place/terroir.
Go and taste Ridgeback Shiraz 2006 at 13.5% alc. from a warm area and any Rijk’s red at 14% to 14.5% alc. from a hot area. Then ask yourself if the recent 15% alcohol reds from much cooler vineyards at Klein Constantia (for instance) isn’t actually a winemaking fault.
Some winemakers in SA are still hopelessly obsessed wit so-called unripe tannins and overripe fruit. Where’s the balance and character?
For the record: I much prefer the latest vintages of R&R’s reds – good stuff!
R&R should invest in Reverse Osmosis technology (like everyone else) to bring their alcohols down.