Monday, October 25, 2010

Mama Wine-O-Crat's trip to South Africa

Though it feels like I've become a teetotaler, thanks to my mother's recent trip to South Africa, I still have content to share! Here's what Mama Wine-O-Crat had to say:

"When you travel to South Africa and you have a daughter who is an oenophile, you have to visit wine country. Which I did. I took a half-day's jaunt to Seidelberg Winery in Stellenbosch, outside of Cape Town. Of course, Alli would have visited a dozen wineries, not just one.
Seidelberg Winery was established in 1692 -- yes, that's a "16", not an inverted "19"! The wine industry in South Africa was begun by Dutch settlers in the 1680s, but when the Huguenots (originally from France) arrived in South Africa, they took over the fledgling wine industry, much to the relief of anyone who loves wine. Seidelberg was started by the French, so from its inception it was considered an important winery. Today it exports 80% of its wine and 100% of its estate wine. Charles Dickens and Thomas Jefferson (a true oenophile) were fans of South African wine.
Seidelberg has two labels: Seidelberg and DeLeuWenJagt, its premier wine. We only sampled the Seidelberg wine. Before we arrived at Seidelberg Winery, we were told to be sure to sample Pinotage, a South African red grape. We were told that we would either love or hate it. I hated it. We tasted a 2008 Pinotage, described to us as "coffee with subtle banana undertones backed with cherry and spice on the palate with smooth tannins and a long finish." To me it tasted thin and watery. I emailed "Oenophile Alli" that perhaps the wine had to be "laid down" for a spell, as it was too young. She advised me that most South African wine is likely not meant to be aged and that she too is no fan of Pinotage.
The other reds we tasted were "Un Deux Trois," which to me tasted bitter, and "Roland's Reserve Syrah," which I liked best of the reds. The whites we tasted were a Chardonnay, a Mouvedre Blanc de Noir and a Chenin Blanc, a varietal recommended on this blog a while back. The Chardonnay was too subtle for me. Of the whites, my favorite was the Chenin Blanc (guess it's genetic!)
At Seidelberg, the vines are allowed to produce wine for 25-30 years, then pulled up and replanted. We were told that 80% of Seidelberg's grapes are hand-picked, and 20% are picked by machine. We also learned that in red wine, the skin is left in the juice for one or two weeks after being picked. In white wine the skin is not left in the juice (Alli's note: This is generally the rule of thumb everywhere). In rose (which we never tasted) the skin in the combination of red and white grapes is left in the juice for 10-24 hours. Reserve wines are stored in oak barrels for 18-20 months. The lighter wines are kept in stainless steel tanks. Ironically, before I had visited Seidelberg Winery, I thought highly of South African wines. After my visit there, I found so many of the wines disappointing that my once favorable opinion of South African wine has diminished."
Alli M.'s thoughts: Remember when you were younger and said you would never be like your parents? Well, it turns out our palates have other ideas as my mom and I seem to have similar tastes (dislike Pinotage, like Chenin Blanc, generally dislike South African wines). I'm really glad my mom took the opportunity to visit a vineyard so that she could report back. Like my mom, my experience with South African wines has not been great. I do not foresee visiting their wine region in the near future so it's nice to have a proxy to my work for me! Plus, I love hearing about other regions and learning about a new winery.
Until the next sniff, sip or quaff (by me or a "contributing writer"),
Alli M.

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