ROSE PROTEA BY ANY OTHER NAME WOULD SMELL AS SWEET”
Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé, Bandol and Hermitage: All revered French wine appellations producing some of the world’s most highly-prized (and highly-priced) renditions of Sauvignon Blanc, Mourvèdre and Syrah.
Lara Koers: Formerly of Michelin star Restaurant Vermeer in Amsterdam, has recently completed an internship with Waterkloof. Lara (AKA “The Dutch Dynamo”) went full-throttle in our tasting lounge, cellar and once returned home, alongside our importer in The Netherlands – the organic specialist Coenecoop Wine Traders.
During her time working in Amsterdam, Lara had noted a heavy leaning towards French wines on the lists of this great city’s finest restaurants. Waterkloof Custodian Paul Boutinot started his career working in a French restaurant, then his wine-import career selling only French wine, and his winemaking career began in… you guessed it! So, we are only too aware of how fine and food-friendly this country’s wines can be. Nevertheless, as a newly adopted ambassador for South African wine, Lara took the initiative to arrange a blind tasting of Waterkloof, alongside some French classics, for some of the Netherland’s most respected sommeliers.
Held at the excellent Café Modern in Amsterdam, the spirit and focus of the day was not one of competition, or even to guess what came from where. The simple objective was to take advantage of a rare opportunity for us all to blind-taste and appreciate a selection of well-respected wines, without the preconceptions that sometimes arise (subconsciously or otherwise) when viewing their labels. I for one have been guilty of making such preconceptions more often than I care to admit.
FOUR BLIND TASTINGS
2. Sauvignon Blanc
3. Mourvèdre based red wines
Waterkloof Cape Coral Mourvèdre – W.O. Stellenbosch
Le Rosé Du Chateau De Pibarnon – A.O.C. Bandol
Domaine La Suffrene Rosé Tradition – A.O.C. Bandol
Waterkloof Sauvignon Blanc – W.O. Stellenbosch
Benjamin Dagueneau Blanc Fumé de Pouilly – A.O.C. Pouilly Fumé
Pascal Cotat Sancerre Les Monts Damnés – A.O.C. Sancerr
MOURVÈDRE (or Mourvèdre dominant blends)
Waterkloof Circumstance Mourvèdre – W.O. Stellenbosch
Les Restanques de Pibarnon – A.O.C. Bandol
Domaine la Suffrene Rouge Tradition – A.O.C. Bandol
Waterkloof Circumstance Syrah – W.O. Stellenbosch
Alain Graillot Crozes Hermitage – A.O.C. Crozes-Hermitage
J.Boutin Hermitage Arena Mica – A.O.C. Hermitage
No doubt all the attendees came away with their own distinct conclusions, but herewith a few personal reflections:
TRANSCENDENT SAUVIGNON BLANC
A grape variety still loved by wine-drinkers (the numbers don’t lie), but often derided by the trade. Yes, there is an ocean of one-dimensional Sauvignons out there. However, after this tasting there was little doubt that when planted in the right site and handled with respect in the cellar, some spectacular results can arise: Wines that transcend the typically expected characteristics of this ubiquitous grape variety and instead transmit the land into the glass. Surprisingly, many of the attending sommeliers felt that the line-up of Sauvignons was the most exciting of the four blind tastings.
WE LOVE MOURVÈDRE (BUT IT DOES NEED FOOD)
We love the wild and vigorous character of this underrated grape. But when made the old-fashioned way (without cold-soaks and micro-oxygenating out all the tannins) the wines do generally require time in the bottle/glass and really need food…flavourful red meat to be precise (sorry veggies). We didn’t have the Mourvèdre with food on the day, so I took some of the leftovers away with me (perks of the job) and enjoyed them with dinner over the following two evenings. Having had some time to aerate and once placed alongside food, the same wines that were (to some) quite difficult during the blind tasting, really began to sing.
KNOW YOUR PRODUCER
Wine is complicated and diverse. A marketer’s nightmare: A sea of un-pronounceable places and grape varieties all made by thousands upon thousands of different producers. Matters are now made even more complicated for consumers by the diversity of wine styles within a given region. One can find numerous big, bold, fruity wines from the “Old World” and many a fine, light, savoury wine from the “New World”. Has the world turned upside down? No, but there are more surprises to be found in unexpected places than ever before. The country with the lowest average alcohol level for the wines tasted on the day was actually from the “New World” (over 350 years “New”). Is alcohol level an indicator of quality? No again. But this fact was quite a surprise nonetheless. Perhaps we (consumers and professionals alike) can be a little too loyal to a preferred country/region, rather than discovering more about the particular producers, their background, vineyard sites and winemaking techniques. Know your producer.
WINE-DRINKERS: USE YOUR SOMMELIER AND INDEPENDENT WINE SHOP
OK, we get it: Not everyone wants to spend their lives reading books and visiting producer websites in order to find their ideal wine. Did we hear someone shout – “It’s only a flipping drink!”? The diversity of wine can be daunting to many. That being said, doesn’t its diversity also make this “drink” beautiful and rather unique, especially in these globalized, commodified and big-brand led times we live in? There are so many surprising discoveries (and bargains) to be made if, with minds open, we delve a little deeper. You needn’t be a wine nerd to make these discoveries. Those attending the event in Amsterdam dedicate their professional (and often personal) lives to helping demystify wine and to leading their customers to hidden gems. Don’t be afraid. Use your sommelier and local, independent wine shop.
PROUDLY SOUTH AFRICAN WINES
As mentioned, the day was not about winners and losers, although we would like to think that we were by no means guillotined by the French. Were there some similarities between the wines of France and South Africa? At Waterkloof, we work with living soil and make wines with a gentle hand. It could be said, therefore, that they are truly reflections of our windswept, ocean-facing vineyard site. We have a farm with its feet in the sea (like many in Bandol), rocky granite soils (like on Hermitage hill) and a growing season as long as in The Loire. But Waterkloof’s winds are fiercer than the mistral and where there is garrigue in Bandol, we have fynbos. So, there are some similarities, but also many differences and this is reflected in the wines.
Of course, a wine’s character is not solely derived from the place where the grapes are grown. The hand of the artisan will inevitably leave its mark. Waterkloof custodian, Paul Boutinot, learnt to make wine in France and our Cellar Master Nadia Barnard has also done many vintages there. So, whilst it is not our aim to imitate Europe, a combination of circumstances (place and people) does often lead many customers to declare that Waterkloof wines seem “European” in style. To us, however, they will always be proud South African proteas rather than European roses. We’re out to create some new classics at Waterkloof.
Thank you for your open-mindedness and continuing thirst for discovery. It was a pleasure to share the day with you all:
Ed & Robert – Café Caron
Eva – Mr Porter SteakHouse
Floris – Librije’s Zusje
Niek – Café de Klepel
Niels – Restaurant de Bokkedoorns
Nina & Jim – De School
Ralph – Restaurant Bureau
Simon – Restaurant Vermeer
THE HOST – CAFÉ MODERN
A restaurant serving a happy combination of simplicity, authenticity and very high quality. Wholehearted thanks to Frederic, Sander and Olav for hosting us. Readers: When in Amsterdam and if you can get a table, we would highly recommend a visit: http://modernamsterdam.nl/
Wine can live a long time, but a photograph can live forever. Our thanks to Rolf Jonker / Studio Loupe for capturing the day.