Tim James: On white wine in winter

By , 30 May 2016

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In a fit of virtue last week I was tidying up kitchen cupboards when I made the happy discovery of a rather battered cardboard box with a dozen bottles of rather nice wine. Clearly I’d collected the case from storage and forgotten to do anything with it except put it out of the way “for the time being”. I mentioned a fit of virtue largely because it’s pleasant to think of virtue being rewarded, but in fact the tidying was less virtuous than a way of finding more space in my small house for the flood of wines that will soon be coming in for me to comment on judiciously (or at least judgementally) in the 2017 Platter’s guide.

If I mention that the wines I found included some Mullineux Syrah 2008, but that I was even more pleased to discover that the rest were all whites, it might convey how much (still surprisingly to me) my pleasure in white wines has increased over recent years. Even as the cold evenings have come, I’ve continued to open white wines perhaps even more often than reds (mind you, I’m perfectly happy to drink port in the middle of summer, so why not?). Seldom, though, to the same almost sublime effect as my bottle of Sadie Ouwingerdreeks ‘T Voetpad earlier in the week. A rich, profound wine it was, from perhaps my favourite vineyard: one of the country’s oldest, and surely one of its hottest (“at the gates of hell!” Eben once remarked), in the northernmost Swartland. Despite the warm origins, and the rich power of the wine, it had a glowing acidity – not exactly vibrant or even particularly fresh, but very effective in the balance. I’m glad I still have most of the case of that left, as the wine is still growing in stature, I think.

Mentioning that wine points the obvious reason why I’m drinking so many more white wines these days. Unlike with reds, they’re nearly all local, the ones I buy and drink, and they offer remarkable value: in terms of quality, some of them, the equivalent of good burgundies, say, at a small part of the price. Even the Alheit single vineyard wines, which are creeping up relentlessly, are very good value here (if you can find them)…. I wonder if anywhere in the world a (very moderately well-off) wine lover can get such fantastic wines at the modest prices we’re charged for the Cape’s brilliant-best white wines?

TJIn my box there were four bottles of 2005 German Mosel riesling, both Auslese and Spätlese, in the sweeter style that is now starting to seem emphatically old-fashioned – I love them, but confess I am now tending more to the dry style that the Germans themselves have preferred for a few decades. (I think the Germans would admit that they’re now making their dry wines better than in the earlier days when their acidity was often searingly offputting.) I couldn’t resist immediately putting in the fridge a Zilliken Saaurburger Rausch Auslese: it later proved to be every bit as youthfully lovely as I expected.

Next night, another bottle from the box, one of a few Sequillo 2009s. Still drinking very well, though with noticeably bottle-developed flavours – but I wonder if I might have enjoyed it even more a few years back, when the freshness of a younger wine would have predominated? Definitely less concentrated and complexly magical than the Voetpad of earlier in the week, but a fine example of a Swartland blend.

Apart from more riesling and Sequillo and the Mullineux syrahs, there are other interesting whites still to come from my bonus case: Solms-Delta Amalie 2010 and Landau du Val Semillon 2008. I think they’ll be drunk by my fireside, long before next summer arrives.

  • Tim James is founder of Grape.co.za and contributes to various local and international wine publications. He is a taster (and associate editor) for Platter’s. His book Wines of South Africa – Tradition and Revolution appeared in 2013