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CALLING ALL FLIGHTS: Next Level Lockdown Blues

20 May 2020  -  Graham Howe

A good bottle of wine a day keeps the lockdown blues away. Graham Howe takes a trip down memory lane on flights of alternative varieties which evoke virtual viticultural travels.

As the corona lockdown continues into its second month I find myself discovering more obscure corners of my wine cellar,inspired by alternative varieties which break the monotony of the same old same old. I relive my journeys around planet wine, opening rare collector’s wines which evoke warm memories of tastings in sunny vineyards from Australia, Argentina and Alentejo to the Med and Mosel. A taste of Grenache Blanc and Bukettraube, Roussanne and Riesling, Malbec and Mourvedre, Verdelho and Zinfandel takes me back to when borders were as porous as my cellar.

DAY 44:

While reading a column on the boom in organic wines worldwide, I sipped on a glass of earthy Verdelho from Org de Rac in the Swartland – and recalled walking in the vineyards near Piketberg with veteran winemaker Frank Meaker. The vibrant, spicy, yellow apple style of Verdelho transported me back to the grape’s origins on Madeira and the Portuguese mainland. The following day, I opened Org de Rac’s flagship Die Waghuis Blanc – a seamless wooded blend of Verdelho, Chenin and Roussanne with wonderful texture and viscosity, which evoked great Portuguese dishes of bacalhau (salted, flaked cod), squid and chorizo, and salted sardines grilled on the coals in Lisbon.  (I’ve also tasted top-rate Verdelho from cellars like Arcangeli, Cavalli and Stellenbosch Vineyards.)

DAY 45:

The thought of another thirty days in lockdown led me to open a real collector’s wine today – the only wine made from one hundred surviving vines of this rare variety in the world. A limited release under Stellenbosch Vineyards flagship label – they also make one of the best barrel-fermented Verdelho and Grenaches - Therona is the name of a variety developed in the late 1950s by Professor Orffer in Stellenbosch. A cross between Crouchen Blanc (aka Cape or Paarl Riesling) and Chenin Blanc, its curious experimental name was U2 though it never took off like the band or the original rocket. Barrel-fermented in old oak, Therona 2017 shows peach and green apple flavours.

DAY 46:

Slowly decimating the diversity of my cellar to alleviate the boredom of lockdown – I have now moved an old-armchair, corkscrew, glasses and reading lamp into my new study – I came across another collector’s wine today. Grown and bottled by only two cellars in South Africa – Lanzerac and Le Belle Rebelle in the Breedekloof – Pinot Blanc hails from Burgundy and is planted from Alsace to Austria, Germany and Italy. Even ampelographers – botanists who study the DNA and classification of wines – tend to mix up Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc, a full-bodied variety with a strong fragrance. I was entranced by Lanzerac Bergpad Pinot Blanc 2016, a creamy, barrel-fermented wine with exotic violet and lavender scents, litchi, pear and quince flavours, fermented with wild yeast. Yummy.

DAY 47:

I opened a tango of Malbec wines today which took me travelling to good times spent drinking the variety on the waterfront of Boca in Buenos Aires. Originating in Bordeaux and Burgundy, Malbec – literally meaning “mal or crazy in your mouth” I’m reliably told –is the national grape of Argentina today. A richly coloured grape, it is a big, meaty, savoury, mulberry wine on the wild side. It goes well with a BBQ on a fence post with the gauchos of the pampas from Patagonia to Mendoza. While sipping on Lanzerac’s Dok Malbec 2015 (named after Dr Danie Craven) – another wine in cellarmaster Wynand Lategan’s flagship range - I dreamed of the open plains all the way to the ends of the earth at Ushaia, the southernmost city, where I’ve set sail on two trips to Antarctica.

DAY 48:

Malbec mania has hit as it goes so well with a lockdown braai. I’ve stumbled across a lost corner of my cellar made over to Malbec – with vertical flights of the variety by key producers like Neethlingshof, Doolhof and Druk my Niet going back to 2008. One of the last tastings I did in 2019 was with acclaimed cellarmaster De Wet Viljoen who has handled 17 vintages at this acclaimed Stellenbosch estate. On a tractor ride to the top of the farm, he pointed out the vineyards where Eben Archer planted their prized Malbec over two decades ago. Neethlingshof Malbec 2010 shows lovely fragrant floral and violet aromas, luscious dark berry, spice and dark chocolate nuances. I recall a flight of Doolhof Malbec a few years ago led by Rianie Strydom, the ex-Haskell winemaker.

DAY 49:

The only bottle of Grenache Blanc in my cellar fell victim to my thirsty corkscrew today. No mercy here. Grenache Noir – the world’s second most planted grape variety originating in Spain - is more often found in South Africa and elsewhere than its lesser known white sister. Much planted in Roussillon and the Languedoc, I’ve sampled wonderful local expressions of this richly-flavoured, full-bodied white grape released by KWV Mentors, Piekenierskloof and The Foundry. Today I imagined revisiting the south of France in the footsteps of Gauguin and Van Gogh inspired by Bosman Family Wines wonderful, textured Fides Grenache Blanc, a natural amber wine fermented by Corlea Fourie on its skins, basket-pressed into Russian oak barrels – rich in orange and ginger marmalade flavours. 

DAY 50:

If A stands for Albarino, Z stands for Zinfandel in an A-Z of alternate varieties which enrich the diversity of the South African national vineyard – and of my own modest little cellar. Sadly, only two Cape cellars - Blaauwklippen and Idiom grown and bottle the variety today – pioneered by winemaker patriarch Walter Finlayson at Glen Carlou. Blaauwklippen, a heritage Stellenbosch estate founded in 1692, has adopted the grape as their hero variety and Nerina Cloete now makes several versions, including the reserve, MCC, noble late harvest and blanc de noir versions. So I finished my flight of imagination with an older 2009 vintage of Blaauwklippen Zinfandel 2009 – intoxicated by the rich black cherry, blackberry, raspberry and pomegranate character of this fascinating variety.

The wine evoked memories of an exotic cruise we did along the Dalmatian Coast a few years ago to Montenegro, Dobrovnik and Croatia, past the vineyards where Zinfandel (aka Primitivo) originated. And I recalled the annual Zinfandels of the World tasting led by Rolf Zeitvogel, the ex-cellar master of Blaauwklippen who introduced us to serious expressions of this variety from Australia to California and the Cape. Great wine takes your taste buds travelling – and licks the suburban lockdown blues.