Hogmanay is arguably Scotland’s biggest contribution to the world of celebration (closely followed, less than a month later, by Burn’s night!) with street parties in the major Scottish cities, especially Edinburgh which has a televised evening of entertainment and fireworks, subject to the tempermental weather!
With much of Scotland subject to Viking influence at the end of the first millennium the tradition probably developed from Winter Solstice ceremonies and the Norse Yule festival. The annual New Year’s Eve celebrations are historically more popular than Christmas, thanks in no small part to the Church of Scotland effectively trying to ban what was considered a Catholic feast and not proper for hard working protestants (until the 1960s, Christmas Day was a normal working day for most Scots!
One of the Hogmanay traditions I still remember from my childhood is First footing. After Midnight (The Bells) the first person to come calling is meant to bring good luck for the coming year if they are tall, dark and handsome (methinks a woman’s influence is detected here!), especially if they bring with them a lump of coal for the fire or a dram of whisky or a piece of Shortbread for the hostess. Blond men are less welcome, possibly due to a race memory of pillaging Vikings on a raid, and women are equally unwelcome as a first foot.
If you’re going to a Hogmanay party then an essential piece of kit is the traditional carry oot, typically cans of lager and a bottle of whisky. Wine is not traditionally considered appropriate, although a glass of something sparkling is much appreciated from the host (especially as the bells start chiming to see in the New Year) and the Scots are not known for refusing alcohol of any kind when a party is in full swing!
A custom that has crossed the world is the singing of Auld Lang Syne as the old year ends and the new one begins. The song by Rabbie Burns, most likely based on older folk songs, is used throughout the year in Scotland, especially at Cèilidhs and on Burn’s night (January 25th) but it is on New Year’s Eve that it has acquired global popularity. The final 3 verses are typically dropped so it is the first verse and chorus that will be sung by merry partygoers from Sydney to L.A. this year, and Iíll raise a glass of something bubbly myself and join in with the rest of you – a Happy New Year to you all and may 2008 bring you hope and happiness.
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And days of auld lang syne?†
For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne
We’ll tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet
For auld lang syne.†
Whether your sparkler is Champagne, a Cremant de Loire, a Clairette de Die, Blanquette de Limoux, Buget Cerdon, perhaps a Sekt, a Cave or Prosecco, whether American, English, Russian, or an Aussie bubbly, open any and all. Have a happy and safe holiday!
Best Wishes from the UK on this festive day, one of the few left where, for most people, family and happiness takes precedence over the mundanities of routine life. I hope you all have a great day and are going to be having a drop of something special – because if you can’t open the good stuff on Christmas day then when can you?
The practice of drinking heated wine during the winter time is an ancient tradition in Europe. Harsh winters without the modern heating systems we enjoy made necessary warm alcoholic beverages for work and also social occasions. As civilization became, well, more “civilized” with the advent of the industrial age and modern technology, these necessary drinks became “traditional” for those wishing to retain the history of their ancestors.
It has many different names as regions and countries that made the drink, the most famous being Wassail from the Anglo Saxons and Glogg from the Norse countries in Europe. Of course the Vikings pillaged the British Isles a lot so I would think this traditions origin is probably Norse, plus it’s a lot colder there with a greater need for alcoholic warmth. Well that’s my excuse anyway to stay warm.
The drink has a million plus variations original recipes altered according to the region or area’s locally available produce. I’ve seen recipes where it’s just hot wine and honey or very complicated concoctions involving spices, eggs, curdled cream, ale and fruit. The ingredients of wassail came about because traditional ingredients such as apples were beginning to spoil the end of December from the time of their original harvest thus cooking them in honey, sugar and alcohol extended their viability.
During the middle ages, only the very rich could afford mulled wine with heavy amounts of spice and sugar. Sugar came about during the time of the Crusades and was probably known about since the time of Alexander the Great, but at $100 a kilo during the 1300’s it was a big luxury and honey while also very valuable was more available. So the drink became a celebratory tradition because of its ingredients and expense. Serving such a luxury to guests shows the magnanimity of the host. Special bowls were even created to partake in the tradition of passing around the drink at the hosts table.
Though this custom is associated with the Christmas holiday season, its origination is definitely Pagan. Along with the winter solstice (December 20-23 depending on the year) which is the shortest day or longest night depending on your point of view. The celebrations and traditions of the northern Pagan winter solstice were absorbed and merged into the Christian faith as a way to convert pagans. Wael Hael or Wassail was one of these traditions. Originally Wassailing or as we know it today as Caroling was a tradition to sing to the apple trees to make them produce more fruit. Also the practice was a form of begging where Wassailers would sing until paid to go away. I like that. I’m gonna sing until you can’t stand it anymore and have to pay me to go away. I remember an old Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers cartoon which had something similar, but I digress.
Regardless of the origins, caroling became tradition with the Christmas season and its songs associated with the drink are still sung today. “We Wish You A Merry Christmas” is one of these songs which the lyrics talk about the Wassailers saying “We won’t go until we get some” and of course blending in other old traditions such as “figgy pudding” which is in modern terms the good old traditional mainstay of the holiday season……..fruitcake, although the English figgy pudding version is quite yummy.
I’m getting way off track and you just want to know how to make the drink. Once you start making this stuff, I warn you it gets addicting. Make it with seasonal ingredients and it’s a fantastic way of using wine leftovers. Yea I know who has wine leftovers, well I do a lot, and since I live in the south so I have a running jug of sangria in the fridge, but during those two cold months we get down here, that jug is dumped into a stock pot. Narrow stock pot is better because of evaporation, but it really doesn’t matter and if you want to keep a continual batch (makes the house smell heavenly) a crock pot works a treat.
In researching this article I saw some pretty horrific ingredients which most included fruit juice concentrates and Pepsi and Coke. Also Wassail is alcoholic, it was always alcoholic and I appreciate the puritan sensibilities of people, but this is a wine site so no non-alcoholic version will be given. All you need is wine, ale or cider, whole cloves, whole cinnamon, apples (traditionally crab apples), candied ginger, oranges, lemons and honey or sugar (preferably honey) to taste. These ingredients are not in stone, use your best judgment. If you use sugar I would use demera sugar which is more what would have been used in medieval times. Take a couple oranges and shove a bunch of cloves into its skin and some small apples (use firm apples that bake well like Crab or Granny Smith etc, don’t use an apple that would easily fall apart) and bake them whole in an oven around 300 for half an hour. You don’t want to “cook” the fruit; you just want to loosen the juice from it so it will bleed into the wassail and season it. Don’t worry about the cloves falling off the oranges, they will, its fine. Take the oranges out, stab it a few times with a fork and put it in the stockpot with the whole apples, whatever wine you have 3 bottles or equivalent ale or cider or all three. Sweet wine, dry wine, sweet or dry cider, ale whatever, it’s okay. If you like it a bit “stiffer” put some brandy or port in it. Put 3 or 4 sticks of cinnamon, dried or candied ginger, freshly shaved nutmeg, maybe some lemon slices all to taste. If the wassail tastes “flabby” add more lemon slices to boost the acid content of the drink. Add sugar or honey until it’s to your desired sweetness. Put on a low heat and do not let it boil, as you will boil off the alcohol. You want to extract the flavors from your ingredients so cook on low for a good hour and then enjoy. If you feel it’s too strong all around add hot water, but a little water goes a long way. Have fun with it.
What? Not the recipe you were expecting? I just gave you the tools to make your own wassail tradition, next is up to you. There’s no incorrect way to make it, well, unless you use those nasty processed ingredients instead of fresh.
From my Family to Yours,
Once upon a time there was a beautiful girl named Alienor who was the daughter of the powerful Duke Guillaume of Aquitaine and Poitou. She lived during the 12th Century and became the Queen to the King Louis VII in 1137 and then annulled the marriage on the basis they were 3rd cousins only to marry the future King of England, Henry II who she was even more closely related. Actually they all were related quite closely, but Henry was 13 years her junior and you have to give Eleanor as she was now known her due, she made off with a royal toy boy. It’s a lot more complicated than that, but I like my version that she got tired of one King and exchanged him for a much younger King. I mean, who does that? Completely awesome!
The 12th century was the time of the great crusades, the court of Thomas of Beckett’s murder, and two very famous sons of Eleanor’s, Richard otherwise known as “Lionheart” (ringing a bell now) and John, both Kings of England. This was a time of dangerous politics and Eleanor was no wallflower. She tried to overthrow her husband and place her children on the throne of England. Why would she do this? Henry was having a very public affair with a courtier and there was talk of divorce. With the possibilities of new heirs and the bitterness of being cheated on, I think Eleanor took care of her business. Gives a new meaning to that old saying “Hell hath no Fury like a Woman Scorned” doesn’t it? She was placed under house arrest by her husband for 15 years and separated from her children. Henry died during a jousting tournament and Richard the Lionheart ascended the throne and immediately freed his mother and made her Regent during his 3rd Crusade. When Richard died, John was named heir. Eleanor had a lot to do with that too, but we’re just hitting high points.
So what does all this ancient medieval history have anything to do with Bordeaux? Everything. Without England having the Aquitaine as part of its lands, we would not have Bordeaux as we have it today. Aquitaine was an independent duchy (think Luxembourg) when Eleanor inherited it after her fathers’ death those lands encompassed what is now 1/3 of modern France.
Now you see how Eleanor married two Kings. In the heart of those lands are the Gironde and the port of Bordeaux and La Rochelle. She was a powerful woman during this age of men, war and crusades. Eleanor’s father was clever and insured his daughter’s independence; because only until Eleanor’s heir advanced to the throne could the duchy be incorporated into the country the heir ruled. Until the heir ruled, the Aquitaine remained Eleanor’s.
Bordeaux didn’t become important as a wine port until after Eleanor’s death in 1204. Eleanor didn’t favor Bordeaux; she, like her father gave favor to the port of La Rochelle. Salt was one of La Rochelle’s main commodities and from Roman times to her day salt was expensive and valuable. It was King John who opened the port of Bordeaux to royal favor by allowing access to the English market. But it wasn’t until 1224 when Louis VIII captured Poitiers that Bordeaux’s fortunes really changed. La Rochelle sided with France, Bordeaux with England. La Rochelle stayed with the Kingdom of France, the Aquitaine was reduced in size and Bordeaux entered a golden era with the rise of the merchant class, known as the Bourgeois. Yes, it was much more complicated than that, but you get the idea.
With Bordeaux remaining loyal to England, it gained tremendous favor and power and Bordeaux wine (there was other trade as well) began to flow into England. During this time, the Medoc didn’t have many vines nor was it the size it is today. The wines produced from the area around the city of Bordeaux were from Graves, Entre deux Mers and Blaye. But this was only a small segment, most of the wines came from the surrounding areas including Cahors and Bergerac and further down into the Languedoc and Perigord. But Bordeaux wanted to promote the local wine, restrict the outsiders and improve the coffers of the city, so trade restrictions were set forth specifying when the outlaying regions were allowed to bring their wine to Bordeaux for export with many other conditions.
The newly active Bourgeois (Merchant class) devised rules and regulations to promote Bordeaux and formed a easy to collect tax system that was favored by parliament. Many of the rules were very unfair including barrel regulations which other regions shipping through the port of Bordeaux could not have as many hoops securing the seals of the wood staves creating leaks and accelerating the aging process. Many wines from the outside areas were never sold being allowed to sour and be dumped before finding a buyer. Subsequently Bordeaux wine flourished in England and approximately 40,000 tonneaux a year was imported. 1,000 tonneaux is equal to approximately 1 million bottles; the bottles were of equitable volume to today’s bottles. All the wine was shipped in barrel; chateau bottling didn’t arrive until the 20th century.
So, that is how England came to own a big chunk of France for 300 years. It was only until the end of the 100 Years War and the defeat of Bordeaux’s governor, John Talbot, the first Earl of Shrewsbury, at the Battle of Castillon (just outside St. Emilion) in 1453 was the duchy removed from English rule. Bordeaux remained mostly independent and was annexed to the Kingdom of France in 1653 when Louis XIV entered the city. As a side note, the Earl lost his life during the battle, but his name lives on with the famous St. Julien property he owned while Governor. Chateau Talbot has been consistently producing beautiful wine since the Earl owned it. We’ll have more on the rise of Bordeaux in the next installment. Oh! And a Pope who made wine enters the scene.
Japanese food seemed a good idea for a late Thursday lunch towards the end of a busy week and Kyoto a relatively new restaurant and is part of the Tokyo Sky nightclub in the shopping centre. We found it by accident as we were heading for another restaurant in the centre but it was closed for a private function – I’m glad it was!
The menu has a wonderful selection of sushi, sashimi, soup, noodles and main dishes and we went through it at least twice to try and whittle down the candidates. Meantime we ordered a superb Graham Beck Cap Classique, the South African Méthode Traditionelle sparkling wine. This was their non-vintage Brut, a very drinkable Pinot Noir Chardonnay blend coming in at a restaurant price of £9 ($18).
We watched the Japanese sushi chef at work for a few minutes until the first dishes arrived and I never cease to be amazed at the level of skill involved in quickly preparing good seafood. I’d already heard about the good match between sushi and Champagne, and this South African equivalent was spot-on for the food (it wasn’t bad on its own either!).
The Tempura prawns and Kyoto’s speciality spring rolls with dips were wonderful, while a combination of different sushi and sahimi made up the rest of our meal. I especially liked the Unagi nigiri (grilled eel) and the melt-in-the-mouth Salmon sashimi. The wasabi was really potent, an added bonus!
Seafood is popular in South Africa, and the quality is excellent – in Fourways itself (which is an offshoot of the Sandton suburb of Johannesburg) there must be at least 6 decent sushi/sashimi restaurants to choose from, whereas back home we’re struggling to reach that number in my whole region, which has a far greater population and area. This was the second time I’ve had Japanese food in this country and both times the food has been far superior to anything I’ve had in the U.K.
The bill for two of us, including the fizz, came in at about 350 Rand, less than £26 ($52) which makes me a little sad, since in the UK you’d typically pay double the price for something not as good. My local guide Caroline made a note of returning soon with her friends.
Greybeard– November 2007.
Tonight, Wednesday, Dec. 19th, PBS will air The Grapes of Math as part of its Wired Science series (8 p.m. Ch. 9). The program claims to provide “a wine-tasting trip to some of California’s most technologically advanced vineyards”, and focusses on what correspondent Ziya Tong calls winemaking’s “dirty little secret”: the increasing use of science and technology by winemakers. She highlights two wineries in particular, Clos de la Tech, owned by T.J. Rogers, the founder and CEO of Cypress Semiconductor, and Havens Wine Cellars, owned by Michael Havens.
I’ll post comments after a thorough viewing.
Links updated 1/19/09
My hostess Caroline had told me Tony’s Spaghetti Grill was a regular haunt of hers and, even though it was a Wednesday night, the atmosphere was buzzing and the tables full. This may have had something to do to a second night of rolling power outages in the surrounding residential areas, something being seen more and more as the South African Power Grid doesn’t seem able to keep up with demand.
Pasta and Pizza dominated the menu, a good selection of Italian favourites. For wine we went for a dry Boschendal 2007 Blanc de Noir Rosé (32 % Merlot, 23% Cabernet Sauvignon,21.5% Shiraz, 16.5% Ruby Cabernet, and 7% Pinot noir). This promised to be a good complement to the range of food we were browsing through.
I had a bowl of mussels to start with, as earlier in the week I’d passed up on something similar and ended up with a disappointing salad instead. Here the shellfish weren’t quite as good, but still tasty.
The surprise of the evening was the main course. I’d plumped for a baked Calzone Tradizionale – ham, pepperoni, mushrooms, olives and cheese. It arrived on the table and it was ENORMOUS! I cut into it and melted cheese oozed out revealing thick strata of the various ingredients. It was delicious, each mouthful giving a slightly different flavour combination, I especially enjoyed the ones where black olives dominated. The Rose did go remarkably well with this and we happily finished the bottle, but alas the Calzone defeated me – I had to request a doggy-bag and took it back to my hotel (where it provided a hearty snack the next evening!).
The meal came to about 300 Rand (£22.50, $45) and was well worth it. The restaurant is fun and lively, the staff are friendly and attentive and the food & wine was good. I envy Caroline as she lives nearby and can pop in here whenever she feels like.
Greybeard – November 2007.
Verdicchios is in the Montecasino shopping and entertainment complex, a kitschy replica Tuscan town, in Fourways, just north of Johannesburg. There’s a pleasant bar and café atmosphere on the ground floor but it’s in the slightly formal downstairs section, resembling a castle cellar, where we were seated for our meal. The menu is varied and promising, a range of Italian classics with a few local variations.
My local guide, Caroline, recommended a refreshing glass of Buitenverwachting 2006 Buiten Blanc, a blend of Sauvignon-blanc, Chenin-blanc and Riesling, to start off with which was delicious, the Riesling and Chenin adding a nice twist on the oft-too-dry Sauvignon South Africa can produce.
For our starters she ordered Mussels in a Garlic and White wine sauce, while I went for an old favourite, an Insalata Caprese. The Mussels looked delicious as well, the sauce being so thick and creamy that it was more of a soup! South African Mussels are large, flavoursome beasts, I’ve tried them before, and it was with some envy that I regretted my choice. My salad rested on a thin bed of iceberg lettuce, something that is acceptable at home, but not, in my opinion, when you’re dining out. The tomatoes were OK, lacking a depth of flavour I was hoping for but a sprinkle of salt perked them up a bit, however it was the Mozarella itself that was the most disappointing – much drier than it should have been and blander than most I’ve had in the past. The best part was the drizzle of pesto on the top which at least added some flavour. Caroline admitted that salads in South Africa needed some work and I tend to agree!
Main course was so much better. Caroline went for a roasted duck (which she said was excellent) but for me it was the Oxtail that jumped off the menu. This was delicious, plenty of meat on the tail bones and in a rich dark gravy/sauce on a bed of rice and vegetables. A knife and fork was not enough to prize all of the meat from the bones and it was with enjoyment that the bone-sucking began! This was washed down, and complemented, by a spicy La Motte 2004 Shiraz.
For dessert Caroline went for a Crème Brule which disappeared quickly, but for me the star was a glass of South African Port, a 2002 Allesverloren (all is lost). This was recommended by my hostess, as I was unaware that the country even made Port style wines, and was a mere baby, still with noticeable tannins behind the sweet raisins, but showing exciting promise. The wine had hints of Madeira dryness and was a perfect end to the evening.
The bill came to 600 Rand (£45, $90) and is one of the more expensive meals I’ve had in this country.
Greybeard – November 2007.
In the present political climate, exacerbated by the interminable presidential campaign, the issue of immigration has been reduced to a convenient, ready-made rhetoric, largely xenophobic in tone, attributing darker motivations such as invasion and terrorism to the undocumented souls who cross America’s porous southern border. That mess is not directly my topic. My effort here, and in posts to follow, is rather more narrow: to provide relevant texts on the history of migrant labor in the development of California’s Wine Industry, and to frame them with contemporary elaborations.
The first piece, the most general, is First Farmworkers, First Braceros. Here is provided a very competent introduction, though, as is made clear, the first farmworkers could hardly be called ‘migrants. ‘Captives’ would be closer to the truth.
Alongside this robust piece I place an odd, contemporary (Nov. 27, ‘07) contrast, a historical gloss from NVWR® 56 – California Wine History from Napa Valley Wine Radio. In this otherwise informative piece the narrator manages to tell something of the history of California wine without mentioning migrant workers at all!
Next is the fine article Grapes of Wrath, Revisited. Here is a sympathetic gloss on recent conditions in Napa.
Lastly, for the purposes of this first Wine History blog post, is something on the success of some migrants, Pickers to Vintners: A Mexican-American Saga.
That is plenty of material for now. Cheers.
Santa Cruz, Ca. is known for many things, from Travel and Leisure’s 10 Great Places to Spend Christmas, 2007, to Outside’s Best Towns, 2007. Yet something was missing. Though the epicenter of the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA we have a distinctive shortage of wine bars. Into this gap has stepped Soif in downtown Santa Cruz.
Soif, French for thirst, opened August 6th, 2002, and the Santa Cruz community has been well served ever since. Their wine list is clearly international.
Efforts have been made to open their retail to a greater assortment of local wines. There is not a Ridge to be found. Or Hunter Hill. Neither can be found a Kathryn Kennedy.
The problem of local Santa Cruz wine representation appears to be precisely Soif’s strength: here one may fine vintage Vilmart champagne, rare Burgundy, exotic, steely Chablis, limited productions Priorats, excellent Portuguese efforts, bright Rieslings. Though not the only local wine bar, it is certainly the best. And given the grim business practicalities of operating a shop of any kind here, I wish them the best!
[2008 Spring update forthcoming.]
So, I have a 5 day business trip in South Africa and I like wine – so far so good! True, I’m in Johannesburg, so nowhere near any of the traditional wine areas, but as the largest city in a tremendous wine making country then this is no great loss. Also, as it’s late November (Summer), by all accounts Cape Town and the vineyards are a nightmare to visit seeing as they’re all full of foreign tourists and holidaying South Africans, which pushes the prices up. Johannesburg, on the other hand, becomes a quiet and more enjoyable home for the remaining residents come Christmas. I am reliably informed that Cape Town is a much better destination in March/April (avoid Easter) or September/October, where the weather may not be perfect but it’s before the hordes descend and the prices ascend.
My local contact and guide is Caroline, a true bon-viveur and is the perfect hostess, making sure I am sufficiently fed and watered during my stay. On my last trip here we visited the opulent bush restaurant, Casalinga for a sedate Sunday lunch of fine food and wine, only mildly interrupted by a helicopter landing during the main course offloading new customers! Most memorable from that afternoon was the Diemersfontein “Summer’s Lease” 2003 Shiraz, Pinotage, Mourverdre.
This trip round the wining and dining is more local. My hotel’s in Montecasino, a slightly kitschy, replica Tuscan town, shopping and entertainment complex in Fourways, just north of Jo’burg.
Here the slightly formal, but ever so good Verdicchios Italian Restaurant is the starting point, with a delicious Oxtail dinner washed down, and complemented, by a spicy La Motte 2004 Shiraz. However the star of the evening was dessert, in my case a glass of South African Port, a 2002 Allesverloren (all is lost). This was a mere baby, still with noticeable tannins behind the sweet raisins, but showing exciting promise. The wine had hints of Madeira dryness and is a blend of Tinta Barocca, Souzao, Pontac, Malvasia Rey, Tinta Röritz, Tinta Francisca and Touriga Naçional varieties.
Caroline explained that although Port style wines have been made here for hundreds of years the improvement in quality and age worthiness of the ones over the last decade are becoming noticed at home and, hopefully soon, internationally. Allesverloren is from Swartland, in the Robertson region, but it is Calitzdorp, in the Klein Karoo that has a terroir matching the Douro region of Portugal, so it is logical that Port style wines should be produced here.
While the name Port is still used domestically there is an agreement with the European Union to phase out the use of the word by 2007 for the export market and by 2014 at home. The South African Port Producers association SAPPA has an excellent website explaining a bit more of the history of this wine .
With this in mind I was on the lookout for a South African Port when we stopped by the local Bottle-shop, the excellent Bootleggers Liquor Merchants at Fourways crossing Retail Centre, to choose what I was bringing home with me this trip. Whilst they are short on international wines the selection of local producers is wonderful and more than makes up for the fact I’m nowhere near a winery! I picked up a Boplass Cape Tawny Port, Calitzdorp. This is 100% Tinta Barocca matured for 12 years in Portuguese oak barrels, 19% abv. and as the winner of several internal S.A. wine awards it promises to be a steal at £4.50 ($9).
As I wandered the store another label caught my eye, the distinctive yellow Capriciousness of Goats do Roam 2006, Paarl, Wine of Origin Coastal Region. 14.5% abv. The GDR winery is (in)famous for its wordplay on French equivalents, with the range including Goat Roti (Shiraz/Viognier), Goats do Roam in Villages (Viognier, Grenache Blanc, Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc) and Goat Door (Chardonnay). However in 2003 the French did not find this so funny and the Institut National des Appellations de Origine (INAO) decided to file a lawsuit to prevent the registration of the name in the US. Apart from getting great free publicity the lawsuit fizzled out and winemaker Charles Back continues to make enjoyable, light-hearted wines out of the Paarl (Coastal) Region.
Innovative winemaker Back also has the Fairview and Spice Route ranges and is at the forefront of creating South African Icon wines, with his Spice Route Malabar (Rhone blend with Pinotage) taking an International trophy at this year’s Decanter Awards. Having heard so much about Goats do Roam, and needing something to sip on in the hotel that night, I bought one. The dominant variety is Shiraz, blended with Pinotage and Mourvèdre and it was a vibrant purple colour with an earthy, slightly spicy & mint aspect, really smooth in the mouth with a nice tannic mid-palate and a good finish of cherry wood. Apparently this is the biggest selling S.A. wine label in the US and here for less than £3 ($6) this was a lovely drink and typical of the quality of wines you get locally for good prices.
The final choices were easy. After the meal the previous night I instantly noticed the La Motte Shiraz 2005. 14% abv. Wine of Origin Western Cape, Franschoek Valley. A Gold medal winner at the 2007 Concours Mondial in Bruxelles this set me back £7 ($14). Lastly a colleague at work had asked me to look out for a good quality Merlot, and the attendant at the bottle-shop suggested the Durbanville Hills 2005 Rhinofields Reserve Merlot. 14% abv. Wine of Origin Durbanville. The winery overlooks Table Mountain and Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela spent his time in prison during the Apartheid years. This came in at £6 ($12) and the buying was done for the week.
The Italian dining theme continued the next night at Tony’s Spaghetti Grill , also in Fourways. A dry Boschendal 2007 Blanc de Noir Rose (32 % Merlot, 23% Cabernet Sauvignon,21.5% Shiraz, 16.5% Ruby Cabernet, and 7% Pinot noir) complemented good, hearty Italian fare.
A late lunch towards the end of the week was at Kyoto Japanese Restaurant (part of the Tokyo Sky club at Cedar Square Shopping Centre, Fourways View). To complement a selection of fantastic sushi we had a superb Graham Beck Cap Classique, the South African Method Traditionelle sparkling wine. This was their non-vintage Brut, a very drinkable Pinot Noir Chardonnay blend coming in at £9 ($18) – that’s the restaurant price. The less than extortionate mark-up in South African restaurants, about double the retail price, is another reason to enjoy more and better wine with your meals here, especially as that retail price is significantly less than equivalent European and US prices.
South Africa is definitely the place to try and buy good wine whether you’re here on business or pleasure, and you soon realised that the selection we see on the shelves back home is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what this country has to offer. With nearly 450 years of winemaking history the locals know how good their wines are, the rest of the world is still finding out.
There are a number of wonderful, capricious paintings at the Bonny Doon Winery in Santa Cruz, Ca that shall be painted over when Randall Grahm finally shutters the doors. Just a few days ago an enormous crane arrived to carry away the just sold, one storey high, multi-thousand gallon oak storage tanks. The winery is winding down. Workers have more and more time for soccer breaks.
Mr. Graham has relocated to Washington State, very near the Red Mountain AVA, along the Columbia river, where, under the Pacific Rim brand, he will produce 120,000 cases of Riesling and 6000 cases of Chenin Blanc. His initial intent was to down-size.
The repainted facade will match the drab olive of the balance of the facility. The building itself will become host to a number of wineries and their tasting rooms. The project should wrap up sometime in the Spring of 2008.
And so with a few key strokes is a new wine blog born. Welcome to Reign of Terroir. We are a collective effort. Along with my esteemed colleagues, Donna and Karl, we will provide a wide variety of commentary on all things vinous. From International Terroirs and Travel to local Vineyards and Wineries, from Tasting Notes to Restaurant and Book Reviews, and much more, we will do our best to provide sober and useful information on the World of Wine. An enormous challenge to be sure, but one we are eager to take on. My special interest is Wine Technology, vineyard and vinification practices, both modern and traditional. And I shall handle the daily affairs of this blog. Donna will write about the area of her principle expertise, Bordeaux. And Karl, our far-flung UK contributor, will concentrate on international matters. Most importantly, each remains free to write on any aspect of wine culture. Further, we hope for robust and lively Comment. Feedback is very important to us.
So, let’s begin.
While wandering the aisles of a Lithuanian supermarket recently I noticed the preponderance of Georgian wine on the shelves varying in price from £1 to £15 ($2 to $30). Not having tried anything from this country before, and with limited knowledge of this region of the world, I randomly chose 3 from the range on display, a cheap semi-sweet red and white (£2 each) and a more expensive dry red (£6). Sitting in the hotel room that night I uncorked the cheaper red while I browsed the internet looking for references to Georgian winemaking in general and, more specifically, what I had just purchased. Georgia has a long history of winemaking with 500 or so indigenous grape varieties, most famous being the red Saperavi and white Rkatsiteli. Wine was traditionally fermented in underground clay vessels called kvevri and it is arguable that Georgia is the birthplace of Winemaking, with archaeological evidence pointing at winemaking at least 8000 years ago. In 2006 Russia, Georgia’s northern neighbour and historical overlord from the days of the Tsarist Empire and the Soviet Union, banned all import of Georgian wine, citing health warnings. While political motivation for the embargo is widely cited it is accepted that Georgian wines suffer from a serious counterfeit problem in many of their traditional export markets, something the Georgian government and winemakers are trying to address. As well as reclaiming their reputation Georgia is now looking westwards for an outlet for its quality wines.
Back to the wine. Alazni is the main river running through the Eastern Georgia wine region of Kahketi region and the Georgian Valleys 2005 Alaznis Valley Red, by Tbilvino, is a semi-sweet red blend of approx. 60% Saperavi and 40% Rkatsiteli. This style is traditionally favoured by Eastern European consumers, but is regarded by the new wave of Georgian winemakers as unsophisticated for modern Western markets. The nose was simple but fruity, with a mulled wine aspect in the background. There is a touch of dryness in the mouth but overwhelmingly it is the “almost sweet” aspect which is apparent, however some low level complexity is coming through – a touch of chocolate, a smidgen of cherry. At £2 ($4) this was a pleasant drink and encouraging for the remaining bottles heading back to the UK with me. A quick check of the Tbilvino website shows an international influence in the first half of the decade from Australian winemakers Nick Spencer (now at – Blue Metal Vineyards) and Jeff Aston – (Even Keel Wines). The site has some good background information on Georgian winemaking and has plenty of similarity to the Wikipedia entry on Georgian wines. So, what about the other 2 wines that made it home? The white was also from the Georgian Valleys range by Tbilvino, the semi-sweetAlaznis Valleys 2005 White, a 100% Rkatsiteli. I expect this to make a nice simple weekend drink sometime before the end of the year. The red is a Tamada Mukuzani 2001 Kakheti Dry Red . Mukuzani is 100% Saperavi aged for at least 3 years in oak casks and seems to be in the vanguard of Georgian international award-winning reds. I look forward to when I eventually open this one, but plan on holding onto it well into 2008 or beyond.So how easy is it to get Georgian wines if you aren’t loitering around Eastern Europe? In the U.K. only a limited selection is available, but not surprisingly includes Waitrose, who offer the “Orovela Saperavi 2004, Kakheti” as recommended by Jancis Robinson In the U.S. WLTV offers a good selection under $15, most under $10.
Bordeaux is an enigma; or is it? True, it’s many things to many people but fundamentally, what is it about Bordeaux? Why is it so sought after and enjoyed throughout the world? Bordeaux is most famous for its rich and pricey reds, but fortunately, within its boundaries one can also find tremendous wines for every palette and budget. You may not know this but Bordeaux is the biggest fine wine region in the world. The region contains over 280,000 acres of vines farmed by 13,000 grape growers, producing 800,000,000 bottles of wine annually. Yes, you read that correctly, eight hundred MILLION bottles.
Lemme give you a few reasons why I’m involved with Bordeaux. When I was 17 I was introduced to a little wine called Chateau Margaux (lucky teenager eh?) and it began a life long love of the region. I studied privately and collected a bit here and there but upon my father’s death a few years back it made me realize how much I love wine and especially Bordeaux, so I changed careers, became a poor student again working on a number of certifications, including International Bordeaux Tutor. So, I guess I am now a wine professional.
As a Professional, I see many people who gushingly exclaim “I love Bordeaux!”, and yet know nothing about it. They mentally group Bordeaux as a type of wine rather than the end product of its geographic source. When I ask what they love about it? The answer is usually because it simply tastes good. Now that is an absolutely great reason to drink Bordeaux, it’s how we all start drinking wine, but we never ask ourselves, why did it taste so good? And how do I apply that knowledge to purchasing other bottles? The main question is can you mix advanced knowledge with enjoyment of drinking wine? Well, of course you can and in forthcoming articles here at Reign of Terroir give you the knowledge to make you better Bordeaux drinkers and buyers.
To understand any wine region, especially Bordeaux, you have to have a basis of where it originates and its history. The need for instant gratification creates wine drinkers who take critics at their word and instead of finding wines to their own tastes they just buy what is recommended because it’s easy. Have you ever brought home $200 of critic recommended wine and found yourself surfing the internet that night looking for vinegar jars or sangria recipes to dump the undrinkable remains of bottles you just didn’t like? Having a bit of knowledge about the wine you are buying can save a lot of heartache on your pocketbook and taste buds.
In future articles at Reign of Terroir I’m going to give you a lot of fine details regarding the region. I will include the discussion of vintages in detail and not just give you some chart. Don’t you end up hating vintage charts because they never seem to work they way you think they are supposed to? I will give you the information to develop the ability to know which Bordeaux is going to be right for you. For example did you know when the critics crow about how wonderful a specific vintage might be for Bordeaux most of the time they are referencing the left bank? But it could be a poor year for the right bank and bargains to be had as a result. We’ll enjoy a number of Cabernet versus Merlot smack downs along the way.
I’m not a wine critic. If ratings are your gig, you’re going to need to get a subscription to a critic. I’m here to give you the reasons why they get the ratings. We trust in people we’ve never met to make recommendations and hope and pray its good when we open the bottle and it just shouldn’t be that hard. Bordeaux really isn’t all that complicated once you have basic facts and its history under your thick old noggins. Now, how completely jazzed are you going to be when you walk into intimidating wine stores armed with nothing other than your brain and when they ask you if you need help you can say no and mean it!
So, take this journey with me, and together, we’re going back to hundreds of years of history, through war, peace, pestilence, tradition and discover what is arguably the most famous wines in the world…..Bordeaux.