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A New Source of Wine Bargains

Oscar Foulkes August 7, 2012 Wines No comments

5 Ounces deals last just a few days, with 6-bottle pricing ranging between R300 and R500.

One of the benefits of being involved in the wine industry, as I was from 1993 until 2009 (with another two years of consulting), is that I didn’t need to put much effort into procuring my next case of wine. And, I hardly ever paid retail prices.

Let’s just say I got spoilt. The other thing that happened was that I was generally in control of my own drinking choices.

A couple of months ago, I was approached to produce content for a new deal website, 5 Ounces. I’m very happy writing about wine in a sales orientated way – it is, after all, something I’ve done for the best part of two decades. The difference is that this time I play no part in the selection process, nor in the commercial decisions related to pricing etc. So, I truly am not in control of my drinking choices.

Apart from the fact that it’s gainful employment (very useful thing, money) I’m getting exposed to many more wines than I would have been drinking otherwise, several of which are seriously exciting. What’s also been striking is the number of top end reds that are five or six years old (there’s even one ten-year-old), which suggests that some producers are having a tough time selling their wares. It may not be ideal for the producers, but it’s a great opportunity for us consumers to get access to reds that have already been partially matured. And, best of all for 5 Ounces customers, is that there’s always a deal, which is usually a discount of up to 45% off the retail price.

(When you sign up using this link you get a R50 credit on your first purchase.)

Sport in Cyberspace. Champagne in Real Life.

Oscar Foulkes March 16, 2011 Wines No comments

We’ve all had “you had to be there” moments, when we’ve been recounting a humorous experience, which in the retelling is not as funny as it was first time around. In fact, it may not even be the slightest bit amusing, in which case one is desperately looking for the nearest carpet to hide beneath.

We also have experiences that link us to momentous events in world history. For instance, at the time that I heard of the planes flying into the Twin Towers I was sealing off several dozen duck breasts.

And, at the time that that heroic man Robin Peterson was smashing the winning runs in South Africa’s group stage match against India, I was tasting – actually, drinking – the 1959 Champagne Guy Charbaut Cuvée de Reserve, an experience of such rarity that I should perhaps have phrased it the other way around (i.e. what was happening elsewhere in the world as I was drinking this venerable wine). The occasion was a function organised by the Cape Town branch of the International Wine & Food Society (IWFS), held at sparkling wine producer Chabivin in Stellenbosch.

I was watching the ball-by-ball commentary on the Cricinfo app I had downloaded onto my iPhone. Trust me, the tension was not diminished in any way by not being either at the game, or watching it live on television. During that epic run chase there were good overs and bad overs, not to mention wickets falling at inopportune times. But, as the number of balls remaining grew smaller the required target loomed larger. The remaining batsmen were facing perhaps the greatest challenge of their sporting lives. History was waiting to be written.

If ever there was an excuse for adopting the ‘chokers’ mantle, this was it. The situation called for calm heads and sure blows. Preferably ones that despatched the ball comfortably over the boundary ropes. De Villiers, Duminy, Du Plessis and Botha all contributed handsomely. With 12 balls remaining, 17 runs were required. Do-able.

But then the sheer numbers of cricket fans overwhelmed the Cricinfo servers. The ball-by-ball updates stopped. No, they were choked!

I was desperately refreshing the screen, while Jean-Pierre (married to the founder’s granddaughter Brigitte) was speaking passionately about his product. The significance of 1959 was that Brigitte’s parents married in that year, we were told.

Then, a partial update at the end of the penultimate over: 13 runs required. Where was that ball-by-ball? I was getting desperate, but the ’59 wasn’t lost on me. Its gorgeous caramel and mocha flavours were the product of over 50 years in bottle. The mousse, while not vigorous, was present.

Another partial update. Four balls remaining, three runs required. By application of simple mathematics it was obvious that the first two balls of the over had resulted in a four and a six, but that blessed ball-by-ball was still absent – thankfully the only choking being done was by Cricinfo.

Refresh. Refresh. The tension had by now, definitely, got the better of me. Then my phone rang, ‘Home’ was identified. I hastily rejected the call (it’s one thing to follow an iPhone app during a sit-down presented tasting; it’s another thing altogether to speak on it). Then the damn thing rang again, ‘Mom Cell’ was identified. Reject.

Those calls in quick succession told me the result. Would I have felt any differently about it had I seen the two runs that levelled the scores, and then the four that secured victory? I don’t know, but I would have loved to have been at home to experience my son on our balcony, as he blew his vuvuzela for two minutes in celebration.

Champagne is the drink of celebration, and by this point I was virtually bathing in the stuff, so I wasn’t exactly getting by-passed in the celebrations.

Dinner followed. Outside, we were seated at one long table as we ate a delicious meal prepared by the IWFS food committee (you can read about a previous IWFS function I attended here).

It was a fabulous evening. You really should have been there.

Chabivin is a joint venture between Champagne Guy Charbaut and South African winemaker Hendrik Snyman, which is making small quantities of Methode Cap Classique (champagne-method sparkling wine). We first tasted 2011 base wine (no bubbles yet), and then 2010, which had been on the lees for eight months (Hendrik is a man of many talents – he also took the pictures above).

After this we were treated to a recently disgorged 1999 Blanc de Blancs from Guy Charbaut, which was very fresh (bottle age occurs most rapidly when Champagne is on the cork) and quite delicious. The tasting continued with the crowd-pleasing non-vintage Guy Charbaut Selection Brut, and included two further vintage Champagnes, the 2000 Guy Charbaut Millesime and 1998 Guy Charbaut Memory.

For the best use of a barcode in a label design, the award goes to…

Oscar Foulkes December 13, 2010 Wines No comments

Awards used to be simple things. Time’s Man of the Year (which one year went to the PC), the Novel Peace Prize (which used to be collected in person), or the Oscar for Best Picture.

These days there are awards in so many niche categories that almost anything has a shot at getting an award.

The wine itself is decent enough, but I hereby nominate Boer & Brit The General for a design award, framed around the use of the barcode in the back label design.

Graphic designers must hate barcodes. They spend hours coming up with beautiful or striking package designs, and at the end of it all they need to find a place to put the barcode. Boxed items are relatively straightforward, because there is always the underside of the box. However, wine bottles are harder. Even on the back label, the barcode is an imposition.

Hence, the way that the barcode has been incorporated into the illustration of the Voortrekker Monument is nothing short of genius. I like the way that the ‘A’ number – another mandatory inclusion – has been placed in the arch of the monument.

Back label of Boer & Brit's The General

Back label of Boer & Brit's The General

Boer & Brit's The General

Boer & Brit's The General

A tip on getting the maximum enjoyment out of this wine: It’s a 2009 vintage, sealed under screwcap and consequently so tight and unyielding that it’s almost impossible to get into. At Sotano restaurant last night, I asked for a decanter, or a water jug if none was available, much to the bemusement of the waiting staff. They would certainly have been even more bemused at the way the wine got hurled into the jug (I was after maximum aeration). It finally reached a point of some suppleness when we reached the last half of the final glass much later.

Putting the Family back into Family Day

Oscar Foulkes November 30, 2010 Wines No comments

Mention the word Joostenberg, and a whole lot of positive associations spring to mind. The first of these relates to their Chenin Blanc Noble Late Harvest, which I think is one of the finest botrytis wines produced in South Africa. When it was first released – coinciding with the Joostenberg launch in the late 90s, if I remember correctly – it was labelled as a Natural Sweet and was the first wine from the estate that we got stuck into selling at Enoteca. At twenty-something rand per half bottle we sold buckets of it.

The operation is run by brothers Tyrrel (winemaker) and Philip jnr. (marketing) Myburgh, who are both all-round great guys. Their sister, Susan, is married to acclaimed French chef Christophe Dehosse, whom I first met when he was the chef at the Vineyard Hotel’s Au Jardin restaurant. For the past ten years, or thereabouts, he’s been behind the ridiculously underpriced food served at Joostenberg Bistro, which is attached to the Myburgh family’s pork butchery. Philip senior has been farming pigs for more than four decades, which means that Christophe has a fabulous resource at his disposal.

Earlier this year Christophe opened Restaurant Christophe in Stellenbosch, which I’ve been meaning to get to. This man produces wonderful food.

We’ve had several fabulous winter lunches at Joostenberg Bistro, during which we’ve worked our way through numerous bottles of the Joostenberg Bakermat red blend. Good stuff.

So, on Sunday we had the opportunity of experiencing the extended Myburgh family’s wines and food in a different context, in the form of a family day at the Joostenberg manor house. For R110 per person (yes, that’s correct, one hundred and ten rand) we had the finest spit-roasted pork ever. Actually, it may have been the most delicious pork I’ve ever eaten. Days later, I’m still salivating over the milky tenderness of the ribs that I fished out at the buffet.

The barrel-fermented Fairhead Chenin/Viognier blend was a wonderful accompaniment to the pork, but it was as enjoyable when we were sipping it while sitting on picnic blankets in the shade of the oak trees.

From the teenaged Myburghs ticking visitors’ names off at the entrance, to Christophe tending the spit, and Philip, Tyrrel and their wives chatting to guests, it was a fabulous expression of hospitality. They certainly didn’t make a profit on the day, and may not even have covered their costs, but I very much hope they’ll do it again soon.

These days there’s no shortage of places to have lunch on wine farms; this kind of personal involvement (not to mention value) is rare. Make the most of it while it lasts!

Positive Joostenberg associations keep piling up.

Gewurztraminer Meets Banana

Oscar Foulkes August 4, 2010 Restaurants, Wines No comments

Often, I think, too much is made of food and wine pairings. Achieving the perfect complement between the flavours of the wine and food (in the midst of myriad subjective factors) is almost impossible, and threatens to distract from the enjoyment of either the food or the wine. Having said that, wine dinners can be an enjoyable way of spending an evening, especially if one is making new discoveries, and if the chef has been sympathetic to the wines.

I attended a Neethlingshof dinner at Sidedish last night, with the winemaker, De Wet Viljoen, presenting the wines. The menu had been compiled by Dish’s head chef, Arno Janse van Rensburg.

I first encountered Neethlingshof wines in 1993, when they supplied several of my Mystery and Eclipse wines. The most notable of these was a Cabernet Franc-dominated blend, called Vivaldi, which won several large panel tastings, out-scoring wines at double the price. Until that point, I don’t think Cabernet Franc featured on their radar screen. They had several vintages in stock (still in tank), so I could blend to my heart’s content. Those were the days!

Neethlingshof, now, is a quite different place. De Wet is clearly passionate about his wines, and it shows. My favourites were the 2005 Shiraz and 2010 Maria (noble late harvest), which were both delicious.

As far as the food pairing was concerned, the surprise of the night was the harmony between the 2009 Gewurztraminer and a dish that comprised fish (hake), fried squid, caramelised banana, guava sorbet, naartjie segments and a kimchee dressing. Fruit and wine are not always a happy combination, but there is so much going on in a mouthful of Gewurztraminer that one can get away with quite a lot. The Neethlingshof release has a fabulous acidity, which makes it a bit challenging to drink on its own. However, it was twice the wine when the sips followed a mouthful of food. Of all the flavours on the plate, perhaps the most surprising complement was with the banana. Wow!

The one rule I do have when it comes to food and wine pairing is one I borrowed from the Hippocratic oath: “Do no harm.” The seared sirloin tartare with lemon atchar and salted apricot purée was delicious, but the lemon and apricot clashed badly with the shiraz that accompanied the course. It says a lot for the wine that it held its own under the circumstances. Based upon cursory online scouting, the Shiraz is available at under R70 per bottle, which I think is extremely good value.

South Africa has a wonderful tradition of various sweet wines, whether botrytis or fortified. The Maria (from Riesling) is fabulous – a wide array of gorgeous fruit flavours held together by rapier-like acidity.

Falling under the umbrella of Distell (through their subsidiary Cape Legends), Neethlingshof is assured excellent distribution throughout South Africa. The wines are not at all ambitiously priced and worth looking out for.

Wine & Prejudice

Oscar Foulkes March 17, 2010 Wines No comments

I find South African sauvignon blanc a most interesting case study, on a number of different levels.

When I first entered the wine industry, in 1993, winemakers were obsessive – with a capital O – about making fabulous sauvignon. If one is attempting to do something really well obsessive is good; no complaints about that.

The part I didn’t understand was why they were using New Zealand as the benchmark. The growing conditions are quite different, which means that one cannot possibly make wine that tastes the same.

In those days sauvignon was praised for its primary fruit character; barring wines from Constantia, the recommendation was to drink them before the next vintage was released.

To a large extent that remains valid today, but two further changes occurred. Firstly, sauvignon became widely planted in places like Elim, Elgin, Noordhoek and other ‘cool-climate’ regions. Secondly, more and more sauvignon gets bottled under screwcap.

What effect does this have? Cooler regions result in both higher levels of natural acidity and greater fruit intensity as a result of longer ‘hang time’ (acidity is one of the key components that ensures successful bottle ageing). And, screwcaps not only remove any risk of cork taint, but the anaerobic conditions slow down the wine’s evolution.

Iona Sauvignon Blanc sometimes comes to us with cork and sometimes with screwcap. The 2008 under screwcap is still very nice, but the cork example has been on its way out since late last year. By the same token, the 2009 Iona under screwcap was somewhat abrasive in its exuberant freshness, but is now settling down into a jolly nice drink.

By contrast, Cape Point Vineyards (CPV) has never been released under screwcap. As far as CPV is concerned, the biggest coup of all time must be Woolworths (the South African cousin of Marks & Spencer) convincing them to supply a reserve sauvignon. I’d have to believe that this was all about Woolies’ Allan Mullins putting his famous people skills to work. Keeping Allan happy means that they have to disappoint dozens of other customers around the world, because they really don’t produce very much at all.

We bought a few bottles of the 2008 Woolworths CPV sauvignon soon after release. I was initially a little disappointed, but thought that a bit more maturity would count in the wine’s favour and so hid the bottles away for future consumption. Over the last two days I’ve made my way through one of these bottles, and am delighted with the result.

In the early 90s, when all this sauvignon obsession was going on, Marlborough and Sancerre were icons. I believe there’s no doubt that South African sauvignon has joined them in producing iconic sauvignon.

I have been moved – largely as a result of personal experience, it must be said – into the camp that would rather drink a ‘quality’ sauvignon at two years than immediately upon release, as one used to (especially if it’s under screwcap).

Apart from the wine geek stuff, the South African sauvignon blanc case study proves that prejudice and fixed opinions can be very limiting.

Vintage 2000, Ten Years Later

Oscar Foulkes March 11, 2010 Wines No comments

The world has changed a lot since the charismatic André Simon founded the International Wine & Food Society in 1933. Almost everything that we take for granted, as far as gastronomy is concerned, didn’t exist. There weren’t celebrity chefs, households generally existed on the basis of one comprehensive cookbook, and the range of produce available was extremely limited. Not only that, but the globalisation of national cuisines hadn’t happened. Just think, Britain had to wait another two decades for Elizabeth David to bring Mediterranean Food into ordinary people’s homes!

Apart from the undeveloped state of British ‘cuisine’ there was also the serious issue of bleak economic times and impending war. Those wanting access to epicurean experiences needed to form their own Society, but chasing butter at the apparent expense of guns didn’t make them popular.

These days almost any wine or food experience is available to anyone with a functioning bowel and valid credit card. The imperative for a wine and food society is different to what it used to be.

I don’t think I’m alone in having questioned my membership of the International Wine & Food Society (IWFS). However, sufficient ‘good’ bottles have been shared with fellow members who also happen to be friends that the dips have been overlooked.

Last night’s IWFS tasting of ten wines from the 2000 vintage was one of the very good reasons why I stick around. It’s not that I haven’t had the opportunity of drinking wines as good (or better) than this. The thing is, if those ten wines had been in my possession they would never have lasted ten years. So, the IWFS is like a unit trust, or mutual fund, for pleasure. Every year the Society buys wines which it cellars until an appropriate opportunity arises. For people who regard rainy days as a reason to drink red wine, rather than a motivator for thrift, it’s a wonderful arrangement.

While I was disappointed by several of the wines, having the opportunity of having ten ten-year-old wines was fantastic.

My favourite wine could have been Champagne le Mesnil Blanc de Blancs, a gorgeously rich wine, with a fine acidic backbone. By comparison with non-vintage Moët it’s a bargain at around R400.

A pair of Burgundies, from Armand Rousseau and Domaine Jacques Prieur, followed the Champagne. I thought they were quite flat, flabby and unexciting, even going so far as to suggest that none of those praising them would have done so if the labels had been unknown.

By comparison, a pair of Piedmontese wines spearheaded by Aldo Conterno’s Granbussia Barolo, were bustling with fruit, dashing acidity and quite stern tannins. The Barolo was my other choice for wine of the night.

Then followed two clarets – Duhart Milon and Clos du Marquis – both of which suffered (in my opinion only, it must be said) from really hard wood tannins that may never get any softer. I suggested it would be nice to re-taste the wines ten years hence, and immediately was presented with a number of invitations to do exactly that. Sometimes dissension can be fruitful.

The Domaine du Tich from Sainte Croix-du-Mont showed what good value many botrytis wines from South Africa are. I thought was it a bit sulphurous, lacking in concentration and altogether quite one-dimensional. When drinking Sauternes-style wines I want to have the intense dried apricot and citrus peel flavours along with racy acidity, but this wine didn’t deliver.

The vintage 2000 tasting closed with Warre’s Vintage, which did everything it was supposed to.

In general, when it comes to special bottles, it remains my view that there’s “no time like the present” (click here to read my reasoning for that, which incidentally also relates to a Champagne from le Mesnil and an IWFS function). However, I’m pleased that these bottles were locked away for all those years, awaiting one evening of indulgence.

The Lynchpin of a Wine Bargain

Oscar Foulkes February 25, 2010 Wines No comments

There are few marketing exercises that have given me as much pleasure as launching Cloof’s Bordeaux-style blend Lynchpin to the British media … at a chateau in Bordeaux! Not only was the wine offered en primeur (a la Bordeaux), but I also put together a mini-conference entitled “Is the New World killing Bordeax” AND I got Bordeaux producers to participate (read about the event in more detail here). Not exactly the Procter & Gamble or Unilever approach to marketing.

Over the years I’ve drunk more than my fair share of 2005 Lynchpin (so named because of the “critically important” role played in the blend by Cabernet Franc). I see no reason to stop now; especially after the bottle I opened two nights ago, which was my first Lynchpin in about two months.

Clearly, I’m not an impartial commentator when it comes to Lynchpin. I worked with winemaker Christopher van Dieren in putting together the blend, I created the brand concept, and until December was employed full-time at Cloof. Having said that, my opinion is based upon a very intimate relationship with the wine. However highly regarded and experienced the people who have tasted Lynchpin in wine shows, or for wine publications, they have never spent more than a few seconds in its company.

I ask you this question: if you need a reference on a prospective employee, do you ask someone who knows them well, or the stranger who greeted them while crossing the road that morning?

I should add that this is not the style of wine that one would expect to win gold medals on wine shows, so a brief encounter in a crowded line-up may not leave the same impression as a more over-the-top wine would.

Here’s the description I wrote for the 2005 Lynchpin a few years ago:
All the taut elegance to be expected from Cabernet Franc, the tart richness of Merlot, and the take-no-prisoners power of Cabernet Sauvignon. Barrel maturation took place in French Oak, of which about 75% was new, giving the wine a very classic, well-balanced tannin structure. The aftertaste lingers for a good while, ending in a lip-smacking, appetite-inducing freshness.

All of that is still true, but with the extra time in bottle the wine has also now mellowed. The balance is still fabulous, and it is truly the most gorgeous wine to drink.

The best deal available for Lynchpin is at, where you can get it – effectively for free – as part of a six-pack of Cloof blended reds. Four of the six wines in the pack were awarded Four Stars in the Platter Wine Guide (yes, the stars are the products of a brief interaction between wine and taster!). The cost of the pack – R259 – must be one of the wine industry’s great bargains, with Lynchpin playing a ‘key role’ in delivering that value.

No Time Like the Present

Oscar Foulkes January 13, 2010 Wines No comments
In a movie restaurant scene that (to wine geeks, at least) could be as famous as Sally’s fake orgasm (When Harry Met Sally), Miles takes himself off to a burger joint with his prized bottle – a 1961 Chateau Cheval-Blanc – which he proceeds to drink out of a Styrofoam cup. Up to that point Sideways had been wall-to-wall wine porn; now, in a suicidal state, Miles is drinking the bottle for which – in his permanently depressive life – he could never find the perfect moment.

Every wine drinker has at least one special bottle. It may have been earmarked for a forthcoming event – an anniversary, a birthday, the birth of a child or the closing of a deal. Usually, though, the bottle is awaiting that ‘special moment’, the determination of which is clearly entirely subjective. For some people that moment never comes; they cannot conceive of the possibility that there will never be a better moment than the one right now.

The human body is fallible. It falls prey to a range of illnesses so vast that the pharmaceutical industry can afford to invest billions of dollars in R&D. And if we don’t get ill, we can become victims of completely random events over which we have no control. But, however impermanent our own existence, we’re a lot less perishable than bottles of wine. Few wines can last decades; those that can last the length of an uninterrupted human life are rarer still. This assumes, of course, that the bottles have been stored at an optimal temperature (between 12 and 16 °C), and aren’t corked. All bets are off if the bottle slips out of someone’s hand.

For my 41st birthday, my wife gave me a bottle of Salon champagne – and a card, of course, which said “To your Salon years”. Many people will happily spend $300 on a pair of fabulous shoes, especially if they are expected to give 10 years of service. Spending the same amount of money on a single bottle of wine requires the application of a completely different set of values.

Within the first months of owning this bottle I did suggest we open it, but my wife wasn’t in a champagne mood at the time (there’s no point drinking the stuff if the acid is going to clash with one’s body). Then, six months later we made a successful offer for a house, having been renting for more than six years. Surely buying a house is a ‘Salon years’ kind of thing, I thought? No, let’s wait until we move in.

I didn’t trust the movers with a few select bottles, of which Salon was one. And, workmen were still busy with renovations when we moved in. So, for a couple of weeks I drove around with a case of wine in my car (it was winter, so no concerns about storage temperature). When I thought the coast was clear I put the wines into a locked store room off the garage. What I’m working up to, is that there were still workmen on site, and somehow my bottle of Salon went missing.

Eugène-Aimé Salon must have been a pleasure-seeker of note. He was a fur millionaire, living in la belle époque, of the opinion that black grapes (pinot noir and pinot meunier) bring coarseness to champagne, and therefore devoted himself to making his own, but based entirely upon chardonnay grapes. At first his champagne was distributed to friends, business associates or relatives as gifts (one hopes he drank some himself!), making him a kind of garagiste champenoise. The first commercial release – and one of only 37 in the entire 20th century, was in 1921.

The key to Salon (the champagne) is grand cru chardonnay from the village Les Mesnil-sur-Oger. These grapes simultaneously deliver richness and acidity to create a kind of elegance that is impossible to achieve by blending with black grapes.

In 1995, I imported a small quantity of Delamotte champagne. This small house is joined with Salon, and the shipment arrived with a couple of sample bottles of Salon, one of which was consumed on our wedding anniversary soon thereafter. For the next five years, or so, it became customary for us to celebrate our anniversary with a bottle of Salon.

It is my opinion that the perfect way to enjoy a bottle of Salon is to share it with only one other person, which gives each person three glasses. The first glass will be the most bracing, if one can use such a word in a positive sense – the bubbles are strongest and the acidity freshest – giving a kind of Granny Smith apples experience. The second glass is showing more evolution in the wine, and by the time one gets to glass number three (especially if an hour has passed), the apple character has changed to a kind of baked apple pie with hint of orange rind and perhaps even a background of bread and butter pudding. Salon is a dry, and demanding, wine to drink. It rewards patience; this is not a champagne for supermodels to drink through a straw in nightclubs.

My disappointment at losing my bottle of Salon, then, is partially based upon its rarity (usually only three vintages per decade, released eight to 10 years after the vintage), its unique quality, as well as the emotional significance it holds. But there is another reason, and this was a visit we made to Delamotte and Salon in 1997.

We were on a wine and eating trip through France with another couple. There was no-one from the export team to receive us, but were told we were most welcome to visit anyway; they would deputise someone to take us around. The deputy turned out to be Max, a man in his seventies, who worked with the wine (he even wore the leather apron), but spoke not one word of English. I can understand some wine French, so off we set on our tour of the cellars that make what can lay claim to being the world’s most exclusive champagne, led by this wonderful old man. That we couldn’t communicate in a conventional sense was irrelevant. His manner was imbued with the quiet dignity and humility of having spent his life contributing to the making of one of the world’s great wines. Under those circumstances there really isn’t much need for marketing hype.

The tour ended in a simple reception room at the rear of the house, looking out over a small patch of vineyard. On a table was the full range of champagnes from Delamotte, and two vintages of Salon. Max then left us to get on with tasting/drinking the wines. As the sunlight across those vines started softening, I was filled with the sensation of perfection – the scene outside, the down-to-earth quiet in the room, and the elegance in our glasses.

So, what to gain from the loss of my special bottle? Unlike Miles, I’d prefer proper glassware (I’ve known people to ‘neck’ grand cru Burgundy when no glasses were available). And, drinking wine is like having a conversation; the greater the wine, the more it has to say for itself. That being the case, give it the space to be heard.

A couple of years ago I attended the end-of-year Men’s Function for the local branch of the International Wine & Food Society. The menu comprised foie gras, crayfish and duck, and for this feast members were asked to bring their best bottles (some of which, it has to be said, could only be regarded as ‘best’ relative to something rather dismal). My friend Zak brought a bottle of 1996 Domaine Jacques Prieur Musigny – his ‘best’ bottle – which he shared with several of us. Later he made an impromptu speech in which he expressed his admiration and appreciation for the friendship of various “gentle men” (two words intended) amongst us. That was the last time any of us saw him alive. Later that night, after getting home, he succumbed to a heart attack.

Zak had an almost mythical last supper; he ate his favourite foods, he drank a treasured wine, and he said a whole bunch of meaningful things that will stay with us forever. More than anything, though, the evening illustrated that there really is no time like the present; all kinds of things can happen either to our bottles or to ourselves.

This article first appeared in Player magazine.

Mesnil vineyards

Skin Contact

Oscar Foulkes November 30, 2009 Wines No comments

While in Mumbai last week I was a guest at two Bertani wine dinners. Apart from the pleasure of watching other people doing work that I normally do, the wines were a real eye-opener.

Amarone is not a new wine experience for me, but I don’t think I’ve had any for ten years. Also, I seem to recall drinking the more ‘modern’ styled wines, such as those made by Zenato.

If I’d been asked before the time to describe a wine that had spent six years in cask I would have bet money on the wine being oxidised, if not ridden with volatile acidity.

I tasted three vintages of the Bertani Amarone Classico – 2000, 1998 and 1983 – all of which did spend six years in cask. They were gorgeous, and the 1983 was so fresh that I would never have guessed it was 26 years old.

The unique feature of Amarone vinification is that the grapes are harvested in September before the full ripeness of the grapes causes the acidity to drop. The grapes are then placed on cane mats in open-sided sheds, where they lie for four months. Due to the cool, dry winds the grapes remain healthy, but lose a substantial amount of moisture, which causes the flavours to become very much more concentrated.

Regardless of which producer has made it, Amarone is a big, rich wine.

After pressing, the skins are used to re-ferment Valpolicella, which then becomes Ripassa. In essence, Ripassa is more concentrated than ordinary Valpolicella as a result of the use of Amarone skins.

Grappa is the distillate of the alcohol remaining in pressed grape skins after the completion of fermentation. Were these skins to be used for grappa, having already undergone fermentations for both Amarone and Ripassa, they would be the most-used grape skins ever!