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Having fun, writing about the stuff I like

Consumed by consumption

Oscar Foulkes April 4, 2007 Uncategorized No comments

Deciding what to buy these days involves the weighing up of a multitude of sometimes competing considerations. The big one, of course, is the big, ugly splodge of carbon that gets footprinted in the course of growing, manufacturing or distributing the product in question.

It’s easy for us Africans to laugh at Europeans’ angst about such matters. After all, their supermarkets are stocked with produce that’s been flown or trucked in from all around the world. However, rising affluence in South Africa means there’s a greater willingness to pay a premium for out-of-season produce that’s been flown in.

Last week I needed green asparagus, so I made the usual visit to Woolies. I noticed that the price was double what it had been a month previous, but thought no further of it. It was only when I was about to trim them in preparation for blanching that I realised they were produced in Peru. We’ve had Kenyan or Zimbabwean green beans, broccoli or rocket for some years – and in any case they’re in Africa – but asparagus from Peru somehow pushes us into another bracket.

It has to be said that I would not normally buy produce at double the in-season price – I’d rather switch to something else that’s in season – so I’m not going to be responsible for spreading that splodge too much. I do sometimes buy imported avocado, which I pretend has been brought in by ship, which is a relatively carbon-friendly way of moving goods around (for the record, wine moves around the world by ship, not air).

I’m looking forward to the day when a bottled-water-sipper gives me the carbon footprint lecture. There are few places in the developed world these days where it is not safe to drink tap water, which by some distance is the most carbon-efficient way of distributing aqua (not to mention the cheapest). I suspect most people who order bottled water in restaurants do so because they don’t want to be perceived as being miserly. Somehow it seems so un-cool to ask specifically to be served tap water.

One of these days I’ll stop writing about Tokyo, I promise, but I must mention the bottled water I encountered at Foodex. Labelled Arabian Oasis, it comes from the Emirates, the carbon centre of the world, and was being dished out by promotion girls dressed so scantily they would be in danger of getting stoned in some Muslim countries. When we’re drinking bottled water from a desert country (probably produced by reverse osmosis) the perversity of modern consumerism has reached a dangerously destructive pitch.

It used to be thought that organic farming was where the ducks ate the snails, and the farmer ate the ducks (I’m happy to eat the ducks, too). While I don’t actively seek out organically-farmed produce I prefer to consume food or drink that’s been produced with the minimum of chemicals. When it comes to wine – notoriously difficult to grow organically – bear in mind that the vines have to be sprayed more regularly for downy mildew, which substantially increases the carbon footprint.

I’m troubled by the viability of fish stocks every time I see a big, beautiful tuna, yellow tail or geelbek lying on crushed ice at the fishmonger’s. How long must it take them to grow to that size? Can there really be so many of them that they can be fished as intensively as they are? My solution is to switch to farmed salmon, but then I have to consider the carbon footprint (fresh salmon gets flown to South Africa). There just doesn’t seem to be a win-win solution.

I could switch to Karoo lamb, which is effectively farmed organically, but what would Patrick Holford say about me eating all this meat, not to mention the lack of fish in my diet? Dare I suggest that he has a box of pills or capsules to sell me?

Dinner, bed & breakfast

Oscar Foulkes March 31, 2007 Hotels No comments

I neglected to add comment about Park Hotel (www.parkhoteltokyo.com) to my report on Tokyo, which is remiss, because it earns a huge ‘thumbs-up’. Its cost would have precluded me from booking it direct, but as I was on an ANA package (very civilised economy class!) from Hong Kong, the first two nights were free, and the additional nights were billed at a much more affordable rate.

It’s a hotel that occupies the 25th to 34th floors of the Shiodome Media Tower, so one is well away from the noise and bustle of street level. The reception area is backed by huge windows; when I went downstairs on my first morning there was a clear view all the way to the sunlit snowy slopes of Mount Fuji.

The breakfast buffet consisted of the usual array of cereals, yoghurt, eggs etc, but could have done with better bread than the airy white sandwich loaf (a common problem in Asia). However, it probably had the best croissants one will find outside Paris, no doubt the influence of resident chef, Tateru Yoshino, who also has a restaurant in Paris. Two mornings running I was joined in the lift by the same visiting businessman (I soon learnt that he was French) carrying a huge takeaway box of these crispy, buttery objects of delight.

My room was small, but extremely comfortable, especially by big-city standards. In-room broadband was free, which is the way it should be at all hotels.

As far as evening meals were concerned, I did my usual wander around the streets in search of ‘local’ experiences. Even at the lower-priced restaurants, there was an unbelievably large selection of wonderfully fresh fish and seafood on offer. While the rand has depreciated nearly 20% against the yen since my visit last year, it still amazed me that sushi is generally cheaper in Tokyo than it is in Cape Town. That is should be better is no surprise!

I didn’t only eat sushi; I also pigged out on noodles with soup. All very oi-shi – and I could tell them so.

The Great Frequent Flier Scheme Scam

Oscar Foulkes March 30, 2007 Uncategorized 2 comments

When the great book of marketing triumphs is written, one of the chapters will surely deal with the variety of frequent flier schemes that these days abound. As a way of getting customers to focus on issues other than the lowest price, they’re a masterstroke. It used to be that you could earn maximum miles on discounted fares, but that’s all been changed as airlines have wised up to the contingent liability. These days the miles earned are substantially reduced when you buy a cheap ticket.

Especially with the rise of budget airlines, I doubt that there’s any calculation of miles earned that justifies loyalty to one airline, especially on short-hop flights. However, the much-coveted gold status does confer a large number of benefits that make travel a more bearable experience (unless, of course, you’ve bought a business class ticket, in which case none of this applies to you). Access to lounges, preferential seating and boarding, and my personal favourite – additional baggage allowance – are a few of the benefits. I don’t think I ever travel without wine samples – usually a case – which can single-handedly wipe out an economy class baggage allowance. I would say I’m probably also safe from getting ‘bumped’ due to over-booking. (For the record, my favourite lounge is Cathay Pacific in Hong Kong, where I never fail to eat my way through the entire noodle bar menu.)

It was required of me earlier today to explain the concept of miles to Aedan, especially with respect to using miles to upgrade to business class. “It works like this”, I said to him, “your teacher rewards you by giving you stars for your star chart. Imagine if you could convert those stars into an extra day’s holiday, or even a special toy.” The juvenile analogy is perhaps not misplaced, given how emotional travellers can get about relatively trivial issues.

My tenure in wine retail yielded at least one case of air rage (of which I’m aware). This happened on a flight from Cape Town to London in 2000. I was in business class (having purchased a ticket with air miles), in a suitably cosseted state, sipping a delicious glass (or three) of Kanonkop Pinotage, and deciding which channel to watch on my personal video screen. In stormed a winemaker in a state of some pique at having to drink Oscar’s Easy Red in cattle class. It was not a pretty sight, and hardly a good time for me to suggest to the hostess to “give them cake.” The man’s eyes were crazed, his little remaining hair dishevelled. Not wanting to interrupt the in-flight entertainment for too long, I begged a bottle of the Kanonkop Pinotage (one of the Cape’s finest) to pacify the gent.

So, how did I come by the miles? In 1998, when I couldn’t get conventional funding for my wine shops, I began to get extremely creative in foraging for cash. On one day, Andrea and I applied for every single credit card we could. With interest rates heading for 25% it was cheaper to add the 2.5% merchant’s commission for the sake of 55 days free credit. There was the secondary benefit of collecting Voyager miles (which is what got me into business class). When the concept was introduced the banks were offering one mile for the expenditure of every R5.00. It seems hard to believe that they were that generous.

For travellers with automatically-replenishing gold credit cards none of this is relevant, but for the rest of us – scratching around to make the inhumane bearable – the slightest advantage that either gives us an edge, or that gives us the illusion of having one, can cause us to act somewhat less rationally than we would otherwise. Especially when it comes to choice of airlines.

“Oi-shi”

Oscar Foulkes March 16, 2007 Uncategorized No comments

img_1900I’ve spent the week in Tokyo, where I represented Cloof at the Foodex trade fair. It’s been an amazing experience, not diminished in any way by it being a repeat of last year’s visit.

I kicked off on Monday morning with a visit to the Tsukiji market, which is within walking distance of my hotel. My aim was the fish market, but I took a detour through the fresh produce section. The perfection and array of produce, on a grand scale, needs to be seen to be believed. The same is true of the fish market, where a yellow tail (hamachi) had gills so red it appeared to have been yanked from the ocean minutes previously.

I saw the two-metre long over-sized sushi knives they use for filleting tuna, and discovered the secret of firm, red-tinctured defrosted tuna; as the fish is defrosting, and during storage thereafter, it is wrapped in moisture-absorbing paper. At home I always avoid defrosted (i.e. not fresh) tuna, because it tends to be grey, watery and spongy. One forgets that the majority of tuna in Japan has been frozen, and yet it generally presents well at sushi counters.

Thanks to presenting Cloof wines at Foodex I learnt a new Japanese word, oi-shi. I’m not going to attempt a definition, rather the context in which it is used. I’m told that Japanese will say ‘oi-shi’ even when they think something is just so-so, but my skill at reading body language confirmed that when they said ‘oi-shi’ about Cloof wines they absolutely loved them! So, there you have it, oi-shi is used to describe a delicious taste experience.

The hit of the show was unquestionably The Very Sexy Shiraz, with Crucible Shiraz a close second. Several people asked how we could call it sexy if it is so elegant. Ah, I said, but sexiness can be defined in many ways. One lass suggested that the wine was called thus because of my own sexiness, and then rapidly vanished when I asked her what she was doing later.

One could (and would probably need to) write lengthy strategy documents about selling South African wines in Japan. Let’s just say that the reputation-driven Japanese are in love with the French. Apart from the highly desirable French luxury brands, at the top end French wines remain the world’s benchmarks. All things French have immediate cachet and saleability. Our challenge – as South Africans – is to develop our own message of desirability. On a very cursory examination I would suggest that golf (Ernie Els, Retief Goosen and others), golfing (stacks of affordable golfing possibilities in South Africa), wide open spaces, relaxed South African hospitality, sunshine and wildlife could be good starting points, to name just a few possibilities.

I was alarmed to discover that South African wines are not even in the sommeliers’ syllabus. So here’s a crazy idea – as an industry we should be sponsoring a module on South Africa, complete with a selection of wines for tasting. When those graduates go out into the industry they will be much more receptive to the sales people coming around to sell them South African wines. It’s undoubtedly a long term approach, but if we are to succeed in this very affluent market we need to lay the right foundations.

Sadly I didn’t get much opportunity to stroll around the fair, but I did see a phenomenon I’ll call ‘spontaneous queue formation’. I happened to walk past the stand of a Mexican tuna farm three minutes before they were due to start handing out tasting plates of sashimi, rice and avo. Good timing. I thought I was in pole position, until I saw the queue of patiently waiting Japanese snaking around the corner.

In such a densely populated city crowd management is critical to the smooth running of just about everything. Every day 2.6 million people go through the Ikebukuro station! At every station people queue in neat rows to board the train, but only once passengers have disembarked. Japanese orderliness in action is one of the cultural wonders of the modern world.

Japan is largely a monoculture, and is possibly the better for it. However, walking through Roppongi I encountered what looked like Nigerians loitering (with apparent intent) on the pavements. I didn’t stick around to have a conversation, and so never ascertained whether it was drugs or girls they were pimping. These are not the kinds of Africans we want preceding our business development exercises, especially in a country like Japan.

The most interesting African I met at the fair was Brian Sathekge, who relocated (on a whim) to Tokyo in January after an unspecified business disappointment back home. In a short time he appears to have learnt apparently good conversational Japanese, and is determined to put big deals together for the benefit of his countrymen (well, for his own benefit, too, but you get the picture). Brian has no shortage of courage, ambition or dynamic energy. I’ll be watching his progress with interest.

I also met a Spanish-speaking Japanese man, who was afflicted with the combined pronunciation problems of the two languages (in Spanish Vs become Bs, and in Japanese Ls become Rs). It was hard to keep a straight face when he started telling me about his visit to ‘Napa Barrey’.

Given a choice of what to peddle in Japan, I think I would have to switch to hair products for men. Women’s styles are relatively conventional – generally not colour treated, shoulder-length, and apparently professionally cut. Young men on the other hand, all begin with straight dark hair, and end up on the streets with a wide variety of styles – many carefully dishevelled – involving bleach, blow drying, waxes and gels. That’s a market worth having a piece of.

It all comes down to identity and (perceived) sex appeal. Perhaps that’s why The Very Sexy Shiraz is so very oi-shi.

The ‘Kaeffers’ are restless…

Oscar Foulkes February 23, 2007 Uncategorized No comments

I was reading a news report earlier today (at www.decanter.com) about the court challenges that have followed the announcement of the Kaefferkopf region as Alsace’s 51st designated Grand Cru area.

Given its name, and being South African, I immediately assumed political correctness to be the reason for the legal action.

But no, it seems that 37 growers, making up 15 hectares that had been excluded from the revised classification, were aggrieved at being prohibited from using the name in future.

Having watched Gallic intransigence in the face of conflict from afar, it can reasonably be assumed that the looming legal fees on both sides could easily turn those ‘de-Kaeffernated’ 15 hectares into the most expensive vineyards in France.

Dare one suggest that it would be cheaper for the French government to buy those vineyards now than defend the action in court?

The Devil Drinks Cloof

Oscar Foulkes February 23, 2007 Uncategorized 1 comment

logo_forkAs a purveyor of red wines that inevitably average out at just under 14.5% alcohol I’ve been at the receiving end of a growing number of (negative) comments about high alcohol. I wouldn’t say that I feel yet like the vinous equivalent of the super-sized Big Mac, fries and soda, but I am feeling a bit sensitive about the issue.

Climate change aside, I can understand how the phenomenon of high alcohol levels came about. Simply put, winemakers found that it was easier to sell flavourful wines made from fully-ripe fruit. Some of this fruit was probably left ‘hanging’ for longer than was absolutely necessary, with the result that wines got bigger and bigger.

However, we don’t all make wine in the Mosel. In some parts of the world (not only the Southern Hemisphere!) alcohol levels in the vicinity of 14% are the natural level. In this region an equilibrium point of ripeness has been reached. Depending upon the quality of fruit that’s been harvested the wine will be in balance. Simply put, there is enough fruit extract, acid and tannin to balance the elevated level of alcohol. The wine is undeniably fuller-bodied, but it is a faithful representation of the conditions under which it was grown. Surely this is a feature that should be praised?

It seems to me that the alcohol argument has become somewhat hyped, and so is lacking in logic. Let’s take the case of someone drinking two 125ml glasses of a 14.5% wine. If that person were to switch to a 13.5% wine they could increase their consumption by all of 18.5ml. That’s a little more than three teaspoons.

Or, doing the maths slightly differently, you would have to drink 13 glasses (each 125ml) of 13.5% wine before earning yourself an extra glass. Most people I know would not be in any condition to drink that 14th glass.

There is an interchange in The Devil Wears Prada where one of the fashionistas says: “Four is the new six.” Nowhere in the alcohol lobby is there any suggestion of the ideal level of alcohol. If 13.5% is currently considered acceptable, how long is it before 13% becomes the new 13.5%? And so on.

I’m not suggesting that all wines of 14% alcohol are in balance. Far from it; but then I’ve even had 12% wines that have been out of balance.

The bigger issue as far as alcohol is concerned is the temperature at which the wine is served. In my view most red wines should be served at about 16°C and service above 18°C should be disallowed. Red wines change personality completely when they are served too warm.

One of the trademarks of our chosen beverage is that our experience of it is so subjective. There is no empirical measurement of a wine’s quality. One of its few absolutes (excuse the pun) is the percentage of alcohol it contains. As one of the few undeniable facts relating to any particular bottle it is therefore a prime candidate for getting latched onto.

This brings to mind my observation of a certain style of sports commentary that employs statistics at every turn. These are important, and can explain why a team or individual is not getting the results they’re hoping for. Telling us what percentage of fairways a golfer has hit is relevant, but not to the exclusion of pointing out to the viewers at home what adjustment to either grip or swing is necessary to rectify the problem.

Alcohol per se is not the problem, but it would be helpful to guide wine drinkers in picking well-balanced wines, and in suggesting ideal serving temperatures.

I am of the opinion that there are more examples of wines that have become unbalanced due to over-wooding than there are wines that are unbalanced as a result of over-ripe fruit. Here again we are in subjective, non-empirical territory. At the end of the day it comes down to the style of wine favoured by the winemaker.

But that is just subjectivity. If we stick to facts the average wine drinker’s consumption is only marginally affected by switching to wine at 13.5%.

Not-Average Drinking

Oscar Foulkes February 13, 2007 Uncategorized No comments

I had occasion last year to visit a medical specialist, who undertook a lifestyle audit during the course of his examination. I sailed through the bits about smoking, regular exercise, and even elicited a raised eyebrow when he saw my blood pressure and heart rate.

I thought my half-bottle per day consumption (of life expectancy-extending red wine) should earn me a pat on the back. But no, he leaned back, fixed me with a concerned gaze, and told me that this was somewhat above the average. He was not amused when I suggested to him that perhaps there was a problem with the average.

I found myself stepping slightly beyond my own average last week when sipping my way through the greater part of a bottle of The Very Sexy Shiraz. It’s a wine that’s drinking so well at the moment (let’s not even consider a direct examination of the grammar of that phrase, and write it off to industry colloquialism) that I found it difficult to replace the cork once I’d reached the allotted demi-bouteille.

I was a victim of the wine’s deliciousness, without any free choice in the matter.

A New Harvest

Oscar Foulkes January 31, 2007 Uncategorized 2 comments

Between Monday and Thursday last week we had four days of temperatures in the vicinity of 40°C and above. Walking outside was like stepping into an oven. There was no escape from the heat. Sleep was almost impossible.

If this was a sneak preview of global warming it’s a scary future.

Of course, it’s not unusual for temperatures in the Western Cape to touch 40 degrees at various points between December and February. What made this so devastating was that the heat wave continued for four straight days, following on from several very hot days in the preceding week.

Oh, I forgot to mention that we’d started harvesting Pinotage grapes. Dozens of hectares of ripe Pinotage were hanging on the vines awaiting harvest. The pickers (spare a thought for them working in the heat) just couldn’t get there in time; even a team of 500 pickers couldn’t have brought the grapes in before they were beyond the pale.

By Friday, when winemaker Christopher van Dieren took me around the vineyards to show me the bunches of shrivelled berries, we’d lost the equivalent of approximately 150 tons of Pinotage (one ton produces about 650 litres of wine). The high levels of sugar in the almost-raisins meant that the potential alcohol was way over 16%. Even if we’d had a dip at making wine we’d have ended up with jammy, raisin flavours.

Ever the opportunist I considered the possibility of making Pinotage Amarone. In Veneto, where the red wines tend to be quite dilute, the wineries partially dry the grapes, which they then ferment and make into Amarone. This dehydration process increases the concentration in the juice. Perhaps as a niche product, produced in small quantities, there could be a future for Cloof’s Vine-Dried Pinotage Amarone – but 10 000 cases? We left the grapes hanging, and got on with harvesting the grapes that were still healthy.

Which brings me to the juice that’s destined to become the 2007 Cloof Crucible Shiraz. After only a day and a bit on skins the juice is already the most concentrated I’ve ever seen. Clearly the berries lost a fair amount of moisture during the heat wave. One of the dangers of hot conditions is that the sugar goes racing up, without simultaneous ripening of the berries. In the case of this Shiraz the pips were nut brown indicating full physiological ripeness. It promises to be a blockbuster, but first it needs to ferment.

Juice from Merlot and Cabernet Franc grapes (potential for Lynchpin 2007) harvested this week is showing good concentration. The flavours are good, so the grapes appear not to have been unduly affected by the hot conditions.

The accelerated nature of this year’s harvest means that we’re already onto Cabernet Sauvignon, a full three weeks ahead of schedule. We’re supposed to be hosting a Harvest Day experience on 17 February. At the rate we’re going we’ll have to ‘borrow’ grapes from a neighbouring farm!

Wine drinking & taxes in Thailand

Oscar Foulkes January 18, 2007 Uncategorized No comments

I have often said that the only way to survive Vinexpo (as a visitor) is to nip outside the interminably long exhibition halls every hour, or so, for a pression – a short draught beer. The 200ml doesn’t affect one’s sobriety, but makes all the difference to a palate that’s being assaulted by dozens of wines per hour. I would probably even admit to hankering after the first icy cold beer at the end of a summer’s day, so my willingness to drink beer is proven.

However, there’s a limit to the number of beers I’m comfortable drinking on any one day, or even consecutive days of drinking beer. Forewarned of the wine situation in Thailand I took the precaution, therefore, of filling 3-litre foil bags with a variety of red and white wines for our three-week end-of-year holiday.

Between import duties and alcohol tax, wine is subject to a whopping 380% surcharge in Thailand. Consequently importers focus most of their attention on the cheapest wines possible – my guess is that the vast majority of wines imported into Thailand leave the cellar door at no more than €1 per bottle.

The wine starts life bad, and doesn’t get any better under tropical storage conditions. The problem is exacerbated by the widely used 5-litre flagons that cannot possibly be consumed before the wine oxidises. The bottom line is an absolutely dreadful wine experience.

Because the wine is bad (and expensive) sales volumes are low, and the wine is guaranteed to go off before it’s left the store.

Fortunately we did most of our dining at beach restaurants. We were therefore able to order a glass of wine, turf it out on the sand, and then surreptitiously re-fill it from the foil bag concealed inside a handbag or rucksack on our laps. Except for the time I mis-aimed the nozzle, resulting in a dribble of red wine down my leg, it worked very well.

I don’t mean to single out Thailand. Many other countries – in Asia especially – tax wine on the basis that it’s a non-essential product mainly being consumed by ex-pats and tourists. Protection of local breweries and distilleries is probably a prime motivation.

But wine is not necessarily interchangeable with beer or bad whisky. And, servicing happy tourists with bad wine can’t be good for business. I wonder, also, what losses are suffered by restaurants, bars and stores in writing off redundant stock.

Let’s take an alternative viewpoint on this. If we take the hypothetical €1 bottle of wine, the Thai government collects €3.80, and the wine costs the importer €4.80 (without logistics costs). If they instead took a flat €2.00, the importer could afford to pay €2.80 for the wine, which would result in infinitely better quality being served.

Or, if he stuck to his original wine, he would be in for €3, and everyone down the line would get a better deal.

In my view, the resulting increased sales volumes would quickly compensate for the duty reduction. More importantly, a country that survives on tourism would have happier visitors (and I wouldn’t need to sneak around with foil bags of wine!).

Cork Problems

Oscar Foulkes December 20, 2006 Uncategorized No comments

I’ve had a really bad run with corks over the past month.

It began during a series of tastings for journalists in London. In one tasting the final three wines (Crucible Shiraz 2003, Lynchpin 2005 and our 2003 Cabernet Franc blend) were not showing well. There wasn’t any obvious cork taint, but in each case the flavour had been stripped out of the wines. The danger, of course, is that I knew there was something wrong with the specific bottles; a stranger to the wines would just have assumed that they were supposed to taste like this. Of course, it is horribly bad luck to have the three top wines at the end of a tasting all suffer from cork problems, and it’s never happened to me on this magnitude before.

The other was a debate I initiated on the basis of a comparison of cork-sealed and screwcapped bottles of 2004 Cloof Bush Vines CPS. All I wanted to illustrate was how much more slowly wines under screwcap evolve than under cork. In my experience the wines can remain so tight that consumers will need to be educated to decant screwcapped wines. We ended up having a lengthy conversation (that continued on email) about the wine’s alcohol level (in this case only 14%).

It has to be said that the cork-sealed bottle was served at a significantly warmer temperature than the screwcapped one, which would have accentuated the alcohol (even if it had only been 13%). The main difference, as alluded to above, is that the tannins in the cork-sealed wine were softer, which allowed the flavour of the wine to express itself. Very Important Wine Writer was of the (strongly-expressed) opinion that the cork had oxidised the tannins, which made the wine taste flat, and hence throw the alcohol out of balance.

The following evening I dined at a restaurant for which this wine man had written the wine list, and was delighted to discover the Minervois (previously discussed) that – in my view – had unbalanced alcohol. In response to this on subsequent emails, Very Important Wine Writer once again trotted out his ‘cork oxidising the tannins’ thesis.

Never having been able to keep my mouth shut when a contradictory opinion is buzzing around my head, I then entered the lists. Corks don’t oxidise tannins, oxygen does (which of course enters the wine as a result of the imperfect seal provided by a cork). The part of the wine that balances the alcohol (especially in Cloof wines) is the wonderfully rich mid-palate, which is the product of poly-saccharides and glycerol. Neither of these binds with oxygen.

In the case of the Minervois there was no shortage of tannin; in fact, this may have been one of its redeeming features. What was missing was a huge hole in the mid-palate – components that should have come from the vineyard, and didn’t. The joust has not yet delivered a winner. With two equally stubborn people, both of them totally believing in the rightness their own point of view, how could it?

Earlier this week we visited Mannenberg restaurant in Cape Town’s Waterfront (great live music, by the way). We selected the 2004 Robert Alexander Merlot. The first bottle was fine, but we were obliged to send back bottle numbers two and three as a result of them being corked. At this point the manager asked if we didn’t want to order a different wine. I did my best to explain that the wine had been tainted as a result of a chemical reaction with stuff on the cork, and that she’d be perfectly entitled to return it to the supplier for a refund. When bottle number four was also corked we decided to grin and bear it, rather than risk getting thrown out for being ‘difficult’.

We were both shocked and amused a while later to see the owner sharing the sent-back bottles with his personal guests.