CASAL MENDES BLUE

Blue wine? Nooit! “What does it taste like?”

“Oh, I think you’ll enjoy it”

“Give me a clue: crispy; dry; sweet?”

“You’ll see.” With that my brother thrust the bottle of blue wine into my hands moments before I had to leave for the airport. That was months ago. Hold the bottle up to the light and it looks beautiful.

Good curiosity value – that’s all. I had no immediate takers once I had arrived home and so I placed it on my wine rack, where the pretty colour dulled from the outside as the bottle gathered a layer of dust. None of the family present for Christmas dinner was eager to try it. Blue wine? I could see a disparaging ‘bubble-gum flavour’ in the thought bubbles floating above their shaking heads – that ubiquitous blue bubble-gum flavour of milk drinks and crushed ice so beloved by some. Why is blue associated with bubble-gum? When I was young it was always pink.

Lockdown arrived. In South Africa this meant that not only were we initially confined to our homes, but the sale of alcohol was forbidden. The weeks extended with slight variations to the theme … then alcohol was on sale again … then it was banned again …. I had not stocked up at all and the holes in my modest wine rack were gaping – even being used as anchor points for spider webs.

Time for this blue wine to be cleaned up and spend time in the fridge. It looks like a wine that needs to be cold to enjoy. Was I going to enjoy it? Why had my brother smiled … what was the catch? Lockdown continued with no visiting of friends or family allowed … the spiders were beginning to consider renting out apartments on my wine rack.

I removed the bottle of Casal Mendes from the bottom of the fridge and looked at the bottle suspiciously – all over. I scrutinised the label that tells me it is a product of Portugal, should be served at 7°C – I was right about that. So, the moment had arrived: I poured the teeniest portion into the glass (look, my brother gave it to me – I might be the butt of a rather drawn-out joke, who can tell?) and did the swirling, testing the aroma, looked for legs – anything to delay the actual tasting.

Hey! It’s not bad! In fact, I discovered that this blue wine is eminently drinkable: crispy and light. I found I enjoyed the unsweet, slightly acidic, fruity flavour. While I do not think this is a wine to keep, I can imagine enjoying it during the heat of summer.

I have since discovered that this blue wine has only been in the Casal Mendes range since 2016 and is based on a ‘green’ wine – what is added to make that beautiful shade of blue, I wonder. Whatever it is, I am going to look out for another bottle once summer gets underway!

TOO LONG IN …

… NOT THE RIGHT CONDITIONS

It happens every now and then that we purchase a wine that seems to be too good to use for ‘everyday’ consumption and so keep it for a ‘special occasion’. The problem may arise that when the ‘special occasion’ presents itself, that particular wine proves to be anything but special! This is was the sad case of a particular bottle of Blaauwklippen Shiraz Vintage 1999 I was given when neighbours left town.

You can see from the photograph below that the cork had dried out so much that it broke into pieces. In fact it was so crumbly that the corkscrew couldn’t grip on what was left of the cork in the bottle and the latter had to be pushed down. Apart from being suffused with tiny bits of cork, the wine had turned into a foul tasting vinegar – what a disappointment!

Let us not blame the Blaauwklippen Wine Estate, which was established in 1682, but rather the length of time and the conditions under which this particular bottle was kept. It was certainly not in a temperature controlled cellar, but in a wine rack above a fridge in a kitchen.  Was it being kept for a ‘special occasion’ or was it passed over more than once in favour of a wine bottled with a screwcap? Do you remember the brouhaha that swirled around wine drinking circles when screwcaps for wine bottles were introduced?

The moral of this tale is that unless we can control the conditions under which our wine is kept, it seems to be best not to keep it for too long. Enjoy your wine – don’t hoard it!

OENOPHILE

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.