Friday, May 27, 2011

Midweek Musical Muse XIV - Die Langpad, Christoph Kotze

Een stomende desemberaand in wellington
in breyen se huis
saam met jan en christoph

breyten se brief - jan blohm

en as ek vlug in die wind
word ek die donker se kind
en belydenis die bind my
met jou tangerine-roos tintelend.
word wakker, word wakker
met die news paper grappe
vat my ver weg van jou
en jazz cafe se omo
so wals my my lief
laat my in angels believe
ek het gesê jy is die son in breyten se brief
want hy maak ons huil maar jy maak my sien.

sunnyside se poems dryf my sweet sherry toe
het jy ‘n clue my baby blue
my rosie so true.
en as dors aan die tyd, sing die kaapse wind suid
kom lê in my arms, ek het als weggesmyt
maar wals my my lief
laat my in angels believe
ek het gesê jy is die son in breyten se brief
want hy maak ons huil maar jy maak my sien.

en ek skryf jou gedig
jakaranda in die reën
en die volmaan eers blinkend
sy’s happy jy’s nou clean.
laat my klim om die glimlag, helend wag
hierdie visions van jou
my venus se blouvrou
maar wals my my lief
laat my in angels believe
ek het gesê jy is die son in breyten se brief
want hy maak ons huil maar jy maak my sien.

so vlug vlug my kind
in die blou lug my kind
so vlug vlug my kind
in die blou lug my kind

Friday, May 20, 2011

Treasure Hunting

The Bovlei Valley Retreat against a backdrop of the Haweque Mountains.

It's raining again/Oh no, my love's at an end.
Oh no, it's raining again/and you know it's hard to pretend.
Oh no, it's raining again/Too bad I'm losing a friend.
Oh no, it's raining again/Oh will my heart ever mend.
“It’s Raining Again” – Supertramp

I am not sure what rain has to do with lost love, except that grey overcast skies tend to make life seems more miserable similar to losing love. But oh yeah, it’s raining again and I am starting to think it might be a good idea to snap a picture of the sun when it eventually present itself again, blow it up to billboard size, put a spotlight on it, paste it to my patio door to remind me that the sun still exists and just to generally brighten up the weather-related “house-arrest” we are currently enduring. One could convince oneself that somehow the notorious bad English weather crossed the Atlantic pond and established itself over Kentucky.

But I have nothing to complain about. What with the Mississippi overflowing its banks, and thousands been driven from their homes and farms for weeks while they wait for flood waters to retreat. Thankfully I am on a hill, away from low lying, flood prone areas.

Looking back toward Wellington and the Limietvallei from Bain's Kloof Pass during our visit to the region in December 2010.

The Location

If you drive east along the R301 in the Western Cape, away from the town of Wellington, toward the Bain’s Kloof Pass, one is confronted by the majestic Hawequa Mountains, which rises from the Limietvallei (Limit Valley, so called because it was the limit of European settlement in the early days of the Cape of Good Hope, the outer post) like a massive barrier between civilization and the dark African continent.

Wellington, originally named Wagenmakersvallei by the Dutch or Val du Charron by the French Huguenot settlers, meaning the place where they make and repair wagons, and then renamed by the English to Wellington, after Arthur Wellesley, the 1st Duke of Wellington and the man who defeated Napoleon at the battle of Waterloo, lies on the banks of the Kromme River and at the foot of the Groenberg (Green Mountain). The area is not known as a premier wine region in South Africa. It is more famous for its fruit farming, dried fruit industry and for being the nursery of vine rootstock. Between 80% to 90% of South Africa’s vine rootstock comes from Wellington farms.

The Hunt

A few weeks ago M and I had to go into Lexington and she wanted to stop at a specific store. I notice there was a liquor store nearby that I have never visited. After I dropped her off for her shopping I went to look if I can find any “treasures”. Now don’t think I stop at every liquor store I see, but just like some people, when they have time on their hands, go rummaging through antique stores for “treasures” or others go to nurseries to look for unique or specimen plants, I, and there are many people like me, go to a liquor store to meander through aisles and shelves and possibly find an extraordinary or interesting gem of a wine. It may be a wine that looks interesting based on the description on the label or I may have read about the terroir, but never tried a wine from there before. A Wine explorer! I don’t have a specialty, but I am always on the lookout for South African wines, especially new wines or new estates from the ever enlarging South African wine industry, and especially here in Kentucky where South African wines are not found in abundance.

I browsed through the shop’s Cabernets, Merlots and Zinfandels, their imports from France, Italy, Chili, Australia and many more and was quite surprised at the variety for such a small store. I found a Marques de Cáceres Crianza from Spain, which I wrote about in my previous post. But apart from some Graham Beck wines, nothing much from South Africa. But I didn’t see any Shiraz wines anywhere and when I asked a store worker he pointed toward the back wall, not hidden away, just away from the other wines. Why I don’t know. Maybe it was the only space they had for them.

It wasn’t a large selection, but again, I was pleasantly surprised at the variety and there I got my kick for the evening, there I found my “treasures”. I found a Fairview Goat-Roti 2007 (a Shiraz and Viognier blend), but you find Fairview’s Goats do Roam wines in all the bigger stores here. But I also found something I have never heard of or read about before, an Eventide Shiraz 2005 from the Mischa Wine Estate in Wellington. I know a little about the other more well-known Wellington estates like Diemersfontein, Doolhof, and Welbedacht, but I have never heard of the Mischa Estate before. And that, the unknown, the newly discovered, is one of the criteria for my definition of “treasure.” Of course, the unknown could and has in the past sometimes backfired, but in this case, what a pleasurable find it was.

The Treasure

This deep rich garnet colored Shiraz is all about fruitiness and was a gold winner at the International Michelangelo Wine Awards. From the first whiff to the last lingering velvety aftertaste the overall impression is one of well balanced fruit with a subtle, but valuable contribution from aging in oak barrels. The wine is complex on the palate. Juicy, leaning toward jammy, with lots of berry fruit, balanced tannins and mild spiciness from Shiraz’s usual peppery to very complementary cinnamon notes. I am not a greater lover of the spice and will rarely eat something with an overly cinnamon taste, but the hint of cinnamon gives the Eventide Shiraz a truly unique taste that makes it stand on its own rather than being just another mildly-spiced Shiraz. Which make me wonder? This is major fruit terroir. Is there a link in the soil between the valley’s many fruit trees and the fruitiness in the wines from Wellington? Probably not, it is just good soil.

South Africa produces many good wines. It does not have the consistence in quality and the history of the French, nor the market and funding of the Americans, but its wine producers have the spirit and passion to compete with the big boys. Kudus to Andrew Barns and his team at Mischa Wine Estate for injecting that passion into this very pleasurable, drinkable “treasure”.  

Friday, May 6, 2011

The World In A Wineglass

The blackish-gray sky is filled to the brim with fat and swollen clouds. The clattering of the rain on the windowsill and the roar of thunder might have quiet down the birds, but it nevertheless still sounds like a rainy jungle out there. Although it is beautifully green everywhere, after months of the monotonous white and grayish fare that the winter dished up, trees have blossomed and here and there the irises, columbines, clematises and dianthuses are displaying their bounty of early spring beauty. Nevertheless, in the wake of near-constant rainy days nature has taken on a solemn demure on a day like today. Everything is damp and wet and weighted down with heavy raindrops. It’s spring, the rainy season, but there is no spring in nature’s step, only heavy footfalls of storms and tornadoes and more storms and more rain.

Looking out the window I feel like humming Eddie Rabbitt’s I Love A Rainy Day, but instead Tab Benoit is bluesing in my ears about being on the Night Train from his excellent 2005 album Fever For The Bayou, true gumbo blues, swamp music.

I recently attended a wine tasting at one of the wine shops in town. V-The Market, a wine, beer and gourmet food market holds a tasting every Friday evening. Every week they offer something different, although they quite often focus on bourbons, which I can understand in their effort to promote local produce, seeing that 90% of the world’s bourbon is made in Kentucky.

I went to taste 5 reds. Cover cost $5. Cheese and snacks are free. Not bad.

Swirling through Europe

The night started off with an Italian red, Barco Reale di Carmignano 2008 from the Fattoria Ambra winery. Carmigano is a small DOCG region just west of Florence with a bit of history to it. Carmignano was one of the four wine zones cited in the 1716 decree of Grand Duke Cosimo III de’ Medici, and as such is one of the oldest wines of denominated origin in the world. In this tiny appellation, just 300 hectares, is Barco Reale, meaning “royal park” because the de’ Medici family use to hunt there.

The 2008 Barco Reale di Carmignano, made from Sangiovese (75%), Canaiolo (10%), Cabernet Sauvignon (10%) and Merlot (5%) was classic Chianti in appearance: bright, ruby red. Although fruity on the nose, the flavor was medium-bodied, slightly tannic and dry. Too dry for my taste. The Barco Reale, made from younger vines, first pressed harvest and designed to drink early, must be seen as the little brother of the Super Tuscans or Chianti's that come from the same DOCG.

From Tuscany we crossed the Alps to Austria to taste a Heinrich Red 2008. Truly a surprise to me because I didn’t know Austria can make such decent red wines. The Heinrich, made by Gernot and Heike Heinrich Winery is a blend of three quite obscure grapes – Zweigelt (60%), Blaufrankisch (35%) and St, Laurent (5%) in the Neusiedlersee Hugelland region in eastern Austria. This medium-bodied red was purplish in color, with lots of cherry fruits on the nose, and juicy, very fruity and a distinct peppery taste on the palate. Tannins were rounded and overall a very enjoyable surprise.

For the 3rd wine to be tasted we went south in location and far south in taste. It was a total let down. Maybe it is my mistake of always expecting something great from the Rhône Valley. The 2007 Chateau Sainte-Elisabeth originates from an appellation called Costiéres de Nimes, which is on the western side of the Rhône River and east of the ancient Roman city of Nimes. The wine lacked everyhing that makes Côtes du Rhône wines great. It was terrible on the nose and in taste. Made mostly from Grenache it was flat, tarish, and very minerally. I am sure this was a simple village wine, meant to sell locally, but unfortunately exported.

Then we went further southwest, cross the Pyrenees Mountains between France and Spain to Spain’s premier wine region, La Rioja, to taste the Marques de Cáceres Crianza 2006. Made from Tempranillo, Mazuelo and Graciano grapes, the wine was a typical Rioja in smoothness and taste, but lighter, without the usual heavy tannins. However it was still dry, but with a velvety finish. Generally I like Tempranillo for of its spicy, herby aromas and clear berry fruit flavors and this one didn’t disappoint. Good value for $16 a bottle.

Changing hemispheres

For the last tasting we crossed the Atlantic to the foothills of Argentina’s Andes Mountains, to the high-elevation vineyards of the Uco Valley in the Mendoza region, the world’s capital for Malbec production, for the best wine of the evening. The Finca El Reposo Malbec 2008 is a single-vineyard 100% Malbec, full of raspberry, black current, peppers and mocha. The Finca El Reposo ("sleeping vineyard") had a fresh taste, which could be contributed to the light use of oak aging, but a smooth finish. Fermentation is done in stainless steel tanks to preserve freshness and brightness in flavors. At $12 a bottle, it was most certainly the best-value-for-money wine of the evening. No wonder I bought a bottle or two.

Who says a short drive around the block can not be transformed into an evening of world travel through a glass of wine.

Heading picture: The Uco Valley in Argentina. Credit to  Tom Bryce-Gardyne at