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Chenin Blanc, By The Numbers (Stellenrust Recent Releases)

Vinted on October 17, 2013 binned in elegant wines, kick-ass wines, on the road

Make your way through the typically-wine-country picturesque town of Stellenbosch in South Africa, pass by the nigh-unpronounceable Blaauwklippen and Paradyskloof (I gave up on trying those tongue-twisters, personally), and you’ll find yourself at a gorgeous mountain-studded spot – Stellenrustwhere they number their Chenin Blanc.

But then, you’d probably expect a numerical focus from a place where the proprietor’s name is Dr. Tertius Boshoff. C’mon, if it was from a crime novel you’d roll your eyes!

Boshoff looks nothing like what you’d expect from that name (I envision a modern rendering of Hugo Strange). But he does seem PhD-serious about his wines, and an estate that dates back to 1928 (which is not that long ago by some South African standards, actually) and now encompasses about 400 HA of vineyards across Stellenbosch and the cooler, higher elevation Bottelary Hills, near Cape Town.

The Stellenrust tasting room is a bit of an odd experience, ultra-modern inside but fashioned in some sort of Greco-Roman homage on the outside. And of course, just to throw you off, the wines are French-influenced, with some (their “JJ” line) being made entirely by hand, no machinery allowed.

Confused yet? It’s okay, because the wines are worth the oddities…

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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 Doesn’t Sell Wine, Stories Sell Wine (Nederburg Auction 2013 Keynote Speech Recap)

Vinted on September 12, 2013 binned in commentary, going pro, on the road

I’m not-so-freshly back from Cape Town, where last week I delivered the keynote address at the 39th annual Nederburg Auction. Somehow, my back survived the jaunt (though the sciatica and disk issues did some relatively serious damage on my anxiety).

Since the Nederburg organizers don’t invite keynote speakers back, I felt even less pressure than normal (and I don’t start with much in this regard to begin with) to censor my thoughts… and so I think I delivered on the promised “tough luv” messages about the difficulty, complexity, and insanity of the U.S. wine market, and my ideas on how South Africa can still “win” there.

The organizers were absolutely lovely people, the event was top-notch, and the hospitality beyond any reasonable sense of expectation. Also, I’ve now officially tasted impala and can now tell you that I understand why the big cats prefer to hunt those suckers down in Africa (after the lunch of it I had at La Motte’s fabulous restaurant in Franschhoek, I was ready to try to run a few of those things down and eat them raw myself).

Anyway, the auction itself was successful this year, with price per bottle up over last year’s event. Some amazing juice got auctioned off on day two during the charity portion of the event (including two bottles of 1981 Hill of Grace that were generously donated to the auction by Nederburg in my name… and no, I didn’t get to drink any of it). Below are some images that pale in comparison to actually being in the beautiful country of SA, and (eventually… hang in there!) an embedded video of me getting all Southern-Hemisphere-Keynote on everyone…

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