While working on some wine study this week (which has not been exactly easy with all of the distractions and works schedule getting tossed about due to the global pandemic), I landed on South Africa, and specifically Franschhoek. I got here due to the fact that I posted a Survey on Facebook and asked folks to vote on which wine I should open and discuss from my cellar. I gave several choices - all from the 2001 vintage.
Why 2001? Well, I had 19 stuck in my head for some reason, and so I went back 19 years to see what I had about. It turns out there are quite a few items in my cellar from that vintage - I was working as a sales rep at the time, and I had the opportunity to accumulate quite a bit of wine from suppliers, personal purchases and the odd sample that never got used. Of the selections offered up for opening were a Barolo from La Spinetta, a Napa Cabernet Sauvignon from Ladera Winery, and the Cabernet Sauvignon from Boekenhoutskloof Winery from the Franschhoek region of the Western Cape in South Africa (ZA). The winner, with 2/3 of the votes, was the Boekenhoutskloof, and was it ever good.
The key points on this wine are: it is from the 2001 vintage, a vintage that was hot and very low yielding - in fact the lowest yields since the 1988 vintage for the most part. Additionally, Boekenhoutskloof had only been making wine for about 5 years, and they made one of the highest regarded wines of the vintage. This wine scored very well in the press and there were many comments from reviewers that indicated long aging was ahead for this wine. As I held this for 19 years or so I would agree upon opening it that there was indeed a lot to be hopeful in this wine. Those predicting agability were definitely correct in their predictions. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, aged for 27 months in French Oak barrels.
Guide to wineries in the the Franschhoek:
The basics on Franschhoek
Terry Theise said that. He did - not sure if it was original, but he did say it, and I heard him.
He also said, "Wine is an especially luminous object of beauty, to which the proper response is to be moved and delighted".
Why do I mention this? Well, this week I was reminded how beautiful wine can be when made in the right place, by the right person, at the right time. It is actually more rare, or at least more challenging, to discover a wine of true beauty these days. Think I am crazy? When was the last time you tasted a wine that made you stop, and nearly (or literally) brought tears to your eyes because of the simple, impossible way it invoked an emotional response in you?
Now, I did not have any wines this week that made me cry. But, I have had wines that did this. They exist, and it is a very personal and exciting thing to experience. Wine writers try to describe this experience every day, although I find it done poorly and very mechanically by most, and done well with rare exception. I suck at it. It is truly the unique individual that can express in words the depth of emotional waves of a particularly singular emotional response, such as to a glass of wine, and its affect on them. It's completely subjective of course, so the difficulty of expression is nearly impossible to convey to others and get a similar impression.
Having said all that, I did have a wine or two this week that expressed themselves in beautiful ways - mostly because of their delicate and delicious drinkability. You need to realize that my days of sucking down big, ferocious Napa Cabs is pretty much over. I appreciate them for being grand wines, but I cannot tolerate them. Same for Double IPA's; sorry, my body-chemistry does not liked to be zapped with high levels of alpha-acids and hop resin - worse hangover than from alcohol. France often is a particular source of delicious and balanced wines that fill a void in my jones for delicious.
I was part of a conversation last week where the group was asking around the cliched question - "if you could only drink one for the rest of your life, what would it be?" Some said Napa Cab, top Cru Bordeaux, Champagne. I said - Chambolle: pure, elegant, beautiful. Right after that would be Chablis for me - simple Chablis - fresh, pure and so drinkable. I did not have any Chambolle this week, nor did I have any Chablis, but I did come close on several fronts to what I consider beautiful, simple and elegant wines, that can nearly make you weep with delicious pleasure...
Here are four wines we covered in last Sunday's tasting group. All Burgundy, and all from the Cote de Nuits, which was our theme. Everything was quite as it should have been and was quite on mark, but the Vosne-Romanee really hit it out of the park for me. Domaine Jean Grivot is considered one of the top Domaines in the village, and this wine, which is at the limit of what I would realistically pay for wine, was worth every cent. Balanced, elegant and full of rich fruit. I enjoyed it - actually the rest of the bottle that evening - while watching Curb Your Enthusiasm, and then the end of Casino Royal - perfect combination of suave elegance and gritty ass-kicking power - kind of like Vosne-Romanee.
The other three wines were on point. All from classic producers, these are wines that are never-going-to-fail-so-just-go-ahead-and-buy-them, kind of wines. The Grand Cru showed why Chambertain is what Chambertain is. The aromatics and flavors just kept evolving out of the glass, and it was a different wine each and every time I went back to it. Complexity, power, richness. I tasted a bottle of Rousseau's Chambertain, the week prior, and all I can say - Chambertain is Chambertain for a reason - there is almost no equal (perhaps Richebourg, which is in Vosne-Romanee).
The other wine that caused an elevated emotional reaction for me this week is the Jacquere from Domaine Demeure-Pinet. Wait, what is that wine, you may be asking? Yeah, I know, not something that rolls off the tongue or is even easily found in this or any market outside of the the Savoy region of France. But a wine that is remarkable for its simplicity, beauty and streamlined elegance at 11.5% alcohol. Jacquere is the grape. The high mountains between France, Switzerland and the Piedmont section of Italy is the place. Just drink it if you do find it. There is a sleek feeling to the wine that glides across your palate. This is perhaps the single most exciting tactile feeling in wines for me - the glycerol, sleek, almost liquid stone sensation; I love it. This is similar to the experience I had in December when drinking a L'Etoile from Domaine Rolet. This happens to be a Chardonnay from the Jura in far eastern France, but a region not too unfamiliar if you know Burgundy. The wine is Chardonnay, grown on light marls similar to what you might find in classic Burgundy vineyards. This wine was so good that it stops you in your tracks and makes you think about it; forces you to appreciate what you are experiencing without taking no for an answer. You may not know why or what, but that's ok - just allow yourself to enjoy it. If I had gotten my act together and wrote my recap of my best wines tasted in 2019 - this was the wine. Its a wine that demands its own emotion.
As I move through the wine world, I find myself more and more drawn to these wines of elegance, mineral undertones, power through subtle expression, and lower alcohol. I still love a glass of Napa Cab every so often, but the reality is that I have never been able to drink the Double IPA versions that some producers continue to promote; I'll take a sessionable cab, thanks. I am more about the Berliner Weisse of the wine world - give me some acid and freshness, and I'll sort out the rest without a headache, thanks, and double thanks.
Terry Theise is an iconic wine importer and promoter of German, Austrian and Champagne sourced producers. Since the mid-80's he has brought Americans closer to the opportunity to taste wines from people who get their hands dirty all year long. If you want a great introduction to his philosophy and thoughts, take an hour and listen to Levi Dalton's I'll Drink to That podcast #237, where he interviews Terry. It will be an hour not unwell spent.
Walk through any restaurant kitchen in the morning and you will inevitably see someone breaking down a salmon. They are smoked, baked, grilled, poached, souped, ceviche, crudo and pizza-ed. Occasionally we serve them on a bagel.
But what to offer for beverage suggestions?
Aside from a cup of coffee to go with the bagel, schmear and lox, there are any number of choices that can work really well with this versatile fish – a lot depends on how it is cooked and plated.
Salmon is a large fish, dwelling in the ocean except when it travels up fresh water rivers/streams to spawn. The part we eat is the muscle, and large fish such as this have much less connective tissue than land animals, as such there is less fat in the meat, and this means it can cook much quicker. It is also “lighter” when compared to beef and other meats. Therefore, when looking to pair with certain wines, it is important to consider what will work best with the various factors involved in the palate.
Important factors with salmon:
Salmon is a fish, and therefore the weight and fat content would almost always mean starting with something in the white wine category.
Texturally, though, it is medium in its overall weight on the palate (this may be obvious or not, but remind your guys that weight refers to the texture and feel in the mouth – not to actual pounds of fish).
Often grilled or cooked like a steak, so the smoke and char from the grill will allow it handle oak.
ABOUT THE Author
Brian Mitchell runs The New England Wine Academy, and is responsible for the content of this blog. With over 25 years of drinks industry experience, Brian has learned a few things, but everyday he is learning more. This blog helps to bring that knowledge to you.