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Rain, Raisins And Retrospect: Klein Constantia’s Battle To Hold On To The Past

Vinted on September 26, 2013 binned in elegant wines, kick-ass wines, on the road, wine review

“This would be impressive, really, if you could see any of it.”

We’re driving through a winding, makeshift “road” of mud and ditches in the hills of Constantia. I’m wincing in sciatic pain with every bump, which come approximately forty nanoseconds apart courtesy of the damage done by a South African winter of intense rainfall and flooding. The impossibly young winemaker Matthew Day is my guide on a day in which the clouds have decided to settle almost directly on top of Klein Constantia’s mountainous estate vineyards.

It doesn’t help that I’m also having panic attacks with almost as much frequency as we’re encountering those bumps, thanks to what the orthopedist told me about my blown-out lumbar disk, just before I left for South Africa: “you should be okay to travel… but if your ankles roll, or you loose control of your bowels, then that’s a medical emergency that will require immediate surgery.”

Loose control of my bowels?!??? This is NOT what you tell a borderline-hypochondriac who’s prone to anxiety attacks right before he’s about to get on a plane for two days of non-stop travel!

Let’s just say that it’s tough to focus on cloud-covered viticultural beauty when you’re irrationally-but-constantly worried about literally loosing your sh*t.

There’s a point to our vineyard tour, which we have to abandon early due more to the poor state of the muddy roads than to my physical and mental issues. Day looks out at the wet mist; “our goal is to farm here for the next three hundred years, and we only have this soil to do it; so we’re trying to get away from the ‘old style’ of farming.”

The “old style” – spraying pesticides, conventionally farming – is about the only “old” thing from which Klein Constantia is attempting to move away. Otherwise, the focus is to restore the quality behind a name that was once synonymous with the greatest wines in the world…

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Highlights From The 2013 Nederburg Wine Auction

Vinted on September 19, 2013 binned in elegant wines, kick-ass wines, on the road, overachiever wines, wine review

Ok… so… South African wine is almost hopelessly underpriced.

As in, shot-themselves-in-the-foot-and-will-be-limping-through-the-U.S.-wine-market-for-a-few-more-years underpriced. Which means that exciting bargains exist for the budget-conscious wine lover who’s willing to seek out the best wines from SA.

That’s the big take-away for me from my time speaking at the 2013 Nederburg Wine Auction near Cape Town earlier this month. Of course, some touring of the region’s wineries went down on that trip as well, so there will be some features on the best of those visits coming your way here over the next few weeks. For now, I’d like to focus on some of the highlights of what I tasted during the two days of the Nederburg Auction itself.

Not all of these wines will be available in the States yet (alas), but those that are generally have price tags that goofily belie their quality and pleasure-inducing vinous super-powers Clark Kent style, which means it’s like bear-market prices on some very, very nice wines for those now in the market for the best that SA has to offer.

For the sake of the lovely people making wine there – many of whom I now consider friends after breaking bread, cracking corks, and eating strange game meats with them – I’d love to not have to say that about how they’ve priced their wares, and would love to say that their wines will command the prices that similar quality would demand from other regions… BUT… it just ain’t so.

The truth is that SA in a crappy situation market-wise on that front, and the declining value of the Rand versus the dollar and the euro isn’t going to help matters much. And of course they already know all of that, so this isn’t news for them – but it does mean potential bargains for you, if you’re the open-minded wine drinking type…

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Wine Pleasure Through The Whining Pain (Foxen Recent Releases)

Excruciating pain has a way of giving you additional focus.

I’m learning this the hard way, courtesy of a degenerated L5-S1 lumbar disk which is causing a bulge that my spinal cord finds disagreeable (“disagreeable” as in “excruciating sciatica that is more painful than when I broke a bone in my hand and is now at the point of nearly debilitating me”).

I mention this as framing only, because when you’re on the road (in this case, a paying gig handling social media ambassador duties for the 2013 Chardonnay Symposium) dealing with this kind of pain, it takes something special for you to bother expending the energy required to really focus on it. You’ve got to seriously want it, and it has to be seriously worth it.

That’s the best way I can sum up my time tasting a handful of the twenty nine (!) different wines offered by Foxen’s vintner Dick Doré and winemaker Bill Wathen during a brief trek through Santa Maria a few weeks ago; that they’re worth your focus.

Doré was scruffily unshaven (not judging – so was I!), down to earth and amicable, touring me with the occasional waves of his long and lanky arms through their new winery that sites a short distance down the road from the barn in which Foxen had been making wine for about twenty-five years. Foxen is one of those unassuming producers that sits under the radar, but gets a knowning nod when discussed among wine geeks. I got the impression from Doré that they like it that way, and that they’ve yet to fully grow into the skin of a three-year-old facility that would be modest by most California Disneyworld-like tasting room standards…

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Who’s Buying Ultra Premium Wines? Not Millionaires (Tasting The 2011 Cloudburst Chardonnay)

Vinted on July 25, 2013 binned in kick-ass wines, wine review

I was recently contacted by a PR person who didn’t want to send me samples, but instead wanted to interview me about a wine.

That probably sounds odd (it certainly feels odd to type it). I suppose that it is kind of odd. But it’s not freakishly walk-away-and-phone-the-authorities-because-this-person-is-totally-psycho odd, when you consider what the PR person told me: “from what I can tell, you’re one of the only people in the Northern Hemisphere who have actually tasted this wine!”

The wine on her mind was the 2011 Cloudburst Chardonnay from Margaret River. It retails for about $150 USD, assuming you can find it. The PR person wanted to get my thoughts on the wine, and if/how it could be marketed in the States. There have only been a handful of vintages of the wine to date, so the pedigree isn’t their (yet – more on that in a few minutes), but it’s (obviously) the kind of wine that carries an exclusive price tag, which means that for maximum payoff, Cloudburst ought to be marketing the wine to… you.

Yes, you. The non-millionaire reading this.

You see, from what I can tell, you’re actually the target market for this wine.

Sure, we wine geeks like to jokingly moan that wines priced in this Cloudburst-ing cateogry are purchased by the case-load by trust-fund-baby, yacht-racing, endagered-species-cabob-eating richie-rich types who got thirsty when racing their yacht against their trained great white sharks, and so decided to swing by Margaret River for a quaff of some Chardonnay en route to spending the Summer on their own private islands. But while those jokes are funny in a gather-around-the-water-cooler kind of way, they bear little resemblance to wine-buying reality.

That reality suggests that you and I – the wine geeks – are the ones most likely to buy the type of exclusive, very good, and rather expensive wine like the Chardonnay on offer from Cloudburst. Not millionaires; you and me…

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