It has taken me a long time to become something akin to an oenophile – not as a connoisseur you understand, but simply as someone who enjoys wine along with pleasant company. Although my parents were not regular wine drinkers, they introduced us to wine from an early age. At special dinners we were allowed what would amount to a few drops in a liqueur glass so that we could join in with the toast for whatever the celebratory occasion happened to be. I wrinkled my nose at it.
Even once I had reached the legal ‘drinking age’ and was at university, I eschewed wine in favour of beer – or a soft drink! Beer tended to be far more thirst-quenching, and therefore satisfying, after a weekend spent hiking in the Natal Drakensberg or having expended a lot of energy playing in a squash tournament.
I had recently begun teaching when we attended a work-related dinner. The brief look of shock on the face of our host has remained etched on my memory: I asked for a beer in response to his “What would you like to drink?” on our arrival. What a social faux pas! He politely handed me a beer in a tall glass with a narrow base and only then did I notice that the men were drinking theirs from beer mugs and all of the other women present were delicately sipping white wine! To my uninformed eyes it looked such an elegant drink. I felt very raw and unsophisticated and allowed my beer to last a very long time.
White wine still tends to have a sophisticated air about it. I entered the ‘adult’ social world when ‘wine rules’ were still strictly adhered to: white wine with fish and chicken; red wine with beef and lamb. The prevailing custom also seemed to be that women had white wine before dinner. My problem was that I simply didn’t like the taste of white wine!
I can no longer remember when I was introduced to red wine. For decades however, it has been my preference: robust, dark red, and not sweet. Believe me, I tried the white varieties now and then but, compared with red, I didn’t enjoy either its bouquet or its taste. Red was the way forward and that choice sometimes made me feel awkward during early adulthood.
An example of this is a formal dinner we had been invited to. Our hosts had spared no detail with either the table settings or the menus. I did not miss the slight lift of an eyebrow, however, as our host filled my glass with red wine – all the other women present had opted for white!
Happily, times have changed and now we can choose white, red, or rosé without anyone turning a hair. We can now actually enjoy being an oenophile [from Greek oinos (wine) and –phile (love)] without fear of falling foul of any ‘laws’ of etiquette.
Price and occasion still determine my range, although I admit to shifting the limit as I age and my palate becomes more appreciative of the intricacies of wine. I am also happy to choose wine according to the labels; I have become familiar with different types and brands; and I regularly take note of ‘good’ wines tasted elsewhere.
Last year the South African Post Office commemorated the local wine industry by issuing a set of five small international letter rate stamps on 6th October 2017, designed by Rachel-Mari Ackermann of the SA Post Office. I can only show you four of them: the missing stamp depicts Groot Constantia, the oldest wine estate in South Africa. The stamp on the top left shows the Groot Constantia wines, Duke of Northumberland 1791 and Grand Constance 1821; next to it is the famous South African Pinotage wine – the first bottled vintage Lanzerac wines 1959; below left shows workers collecting grapes at Babylonstoren; and lastly a collection of wine barrels.
White wine? I admit to only venturing down that path about four years ago. I still take tentative steps, many of them experimental, and take careful note of what works for me or not. I am gradually gathering a repertoire of white wine I can serve with confidence. To me, white wine is best enjoyed in summer – they still battle to find a place in my winters.