The varietals revolution continues
01 January 1970
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Welcome to Old Mutual Live Wine edition, on mobile, on digital on demand and thanks for listening, I’m Jenny Crwys–Williams. A couple of days ago we were drinking two gorgeous varietals that actually came out of a very special wine fair and it was called The Unusuals. Because these are varietals that none of us are really used to and yet they’re coming into the mainstream of South African winemaking. So I asked Corlien Morris who put on The Unusuals; Corlien, you are going to do it next year, aren’t you? It was a really interesting first wasn’t it?
Corlien Morris: Absolutely, yes, we were blown away by the fantastic support from winemakers and also from the public who clearly has an interest and are curious about these things. I think when they heard about The Unusuals first of all, nobody knew what to expect. It just confirmed for me that people don’t know what to expect when they see all these labels and varieties on the shelf. Yes, this is an opportunity to come and explore and learn.
JCW: I think that what you’re highlighting and I can see two bottles that I’m definitely going to have to try. It’s about 9:30 in the morning and what better thing could you be doing than tasting different varietals. But it does highlight the importance of this new trend in the Diners Club Wine List of the Year. Which is to do wine by the glass.
What they’re recommending is that you have six Chardonnay’s on your wine list and you’ve got 20 Cabernet Sauvignon, a third of those should be wine by the glass. So that you are not prejudiced in many ways, which I think you are, when you go into a restaurant and you don’t want to buy a bottle. I just think it’s a stunning idea.
Hear, hear to more wine by the glass
CM: Absolutely and I sometimes wonder why it took so long. But yes, I think the restaurants really have a job to do. They really are the platform where people can experiment, so you don’t have to buy a full bottle and take it home and then not like it. You can be in a restaurant and buy a glass and see how it works with food. Be educated around that specific wine.
Yes, cause wine really, at the end of the day, is so much better when enjoyed with food. If you’re in a restaurant where the restaurant really puts a lot of effort into making sure the dishes that they cook are complemented by the correct wine, that really enhances the flavours of both. That’s just, it kind of feels to me like it should be their duty and not the few chosen restaurants that end up doing it.
JCW: Also, I think you need someone, you need a sommelier, depending on the size of the menu, to help take you through it. Because I’ve been introduced to wonderful wines by sommeliers who were just delighted that you were buying it by the glass. Tasting it and loving it and coming back for more.
CM: I think also, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a sommelier. If you go to a small restaurant where the owner is putting effort into training his staff, it could be the simplest waiter. But if that waiter was explained and got the opportunity to try it for themselves and they can carry that passion over to the customer. It’s all about just educating and training from the staff level up all the way to the consumer.
JCW: You’ve got two bottles here, two different varietals. What we’re trying to do is make you familiar with the different varietals and the sort of tastes that you might expect if you decided to dip your toe in to the water. Which I hope you will do after these conversations. This is a very striking bottle.
CM: We’re not going to speak about it.
JCW: Aren’t we?
CM: No, because it says so.
JCW: It just says Omerta.
CM: Yes, so Omerta, I think maybe Jenny should explain what Omerta means, being the more literate –
JCW: No, I’m not!
CM: Omerta is a mafia saying that basically means, we don’t speak about it. Something happened and nobody shall ever speak about it.
JCW: Otherwise you’re in concrete.
Omerta Carignan – a red grape variety
CM: You’re doomed! But we’ll speak about this one because it’s been on the market for a while. It’s not the first vintage, Omerta is Carignan, is the name of the variety. It’s made by Francois Haasbroek who makes his wines under the name of Blackwater Wines. He used to be winemaker at Waterford for many years. A few years back he moved onto his own and making his own wines. Yes, let me pour first of all… that sounds so good at 9:30 in the morning, doesn’t it?
JCW: And it looks so good.
CM: For those of you that might be wondering, this is red wine. Carignan is a red grape variety and it originally used to form part of the Rioja wines actually, in Spain. Here’s a variety that you’ve said so many times, this is the kind of stuff that we should be planting in SA.
It actually, interesting enough, by the year 1988, it was the most widely planted variety in France. But at that time there was just far too much wine. So they pulled out a lot of vineyards in France and Carignan is one of the varieties that lost the most plantings. There was just too much of it.
If you look at the south of France, the area that’s sort of south of Rhone, you start going into the Languedoc area. All the way through to Catalonia in Spain. There’s that strip, there’s a lot of Carignan down there. Some of it’s made for jug wine really.
Some very light wines and some of it, depending on what oaking you use, what barrels you use, you can make it a much fuller, richer, serious wine. Let’s taste it. In Sardinia, which is a very hot island belonging to Italy but really sit right next to France, there’s a lot of Carignan planted there as well. So it just proves, it needs hot summers, which we have. Let’s taste, cheers.
JCW: It’s a lovely colour.
CM: It’s sort of a deep ruby colour, I’d call it. But it’s not thick, you can see through.
CM: That’s a good sign. For me, you can tell me what you think. But I find lots of fresh red berry flavours, not strawberry things, sort of your blackberries, but the fresh blackberries and fresh berry flavours.
JCW: Maybe redcurrants almost.
CM: Even a bit of plum as well.
JCW: I think you could drink this comfortably any time of the day couldn’t you?
A beautiful little spiciness
CM: I think this is one of those varieties that you should put in the fridge for a little bit before you’re going to open it. If you serve this a little bit more chilled, then certainly yes, you can have this lunch time, easily. Don’t you pick up that beautiful little spiciness?
JCW: Without a shadow of a doubt.
CM: Spice note to it, it’s just so interesting. You can taste that there’s oak been used, so the oak has given this wine a little bit of a fuller body, a bit of those tannins. You can definitely comfortably put this wine away for a few years too.
JCW: Is there a vintage on this, there isn’t really is there, not on the label.
CM: Omerta says we’re not allowed to tell. But if we believe the cork, the cork says it’s 2014, so let’s believe that. The cork also tells us that it’s made by Blackwater. The previous vintage of this didn’t even have a back label at all.
It literally only the word Omerta and it was screen painted, that stencil paint kind of look. It had that on the bottle, so it really was kind of just marked for the person who gets the bottle and nobody else would know. But at least now they’ve given us a back label that tells us the alcohol level and who makes it and that’s about it.
JCW: It’s lovely and easy to drink. How alcoholic is it? 13%, so it’s not bad.
CM: This variety, where he gets his grapes from is from the Swartland, the little buzz word, ‘Swartland’. You’ll see in a lot of those Swartland red blends, there’s a bit of Carignan in there. Shiraz is often the main variety, but Carignan is a variety that’s often in the blends.
There’s a few Carignan’s now, coming into the market, not many. I think for some people, if Carignan is not made well, it has a bitter note sometimes. It’s sometimes very hard to understand the variety. But the reason why I chose this bottle is because this is the wine that opens your mind saying: Wow, it can be quite interesting.
It’s okay to chill a red wine
JCW: I think the wines we’ve tasted so far are absolutely love and Omerta, it’s gorgeous. It looks good, as you said, it’s not thick, and it’s sort of see-through. Chilled, I would definitely chill it, but I’ve taken to chilling all my red wines.
CM: We should really in SA because our room temperature is too high, we can’t keep our wines at room temperature. If you are fortunate enough to have a good cellar at home that’s air conditioned. Sure, you can take it out of your cellar and serve it straight away cause your cellar should be running at around 18 degrees and that’s perfect.
But if you just have a wine rack that’s maybe not that chilled, then yes, definitely, put it in the fridge for a little bit. Especially if you serve it over lunch time. The wine warms up in our glasses so quickly that I often see people making the mistake of pouring each person almost a full glass of wine. By the time you get to the second half of the glass, it’s warm already. I think that’s why people end up putting half a handful of ice in their glasses.
JCW: I think it is and also if you look at the hot summer we had both in Cape Town and in Johannesburg last year. We had temperatures in Jo’burg of 40 degrees, so at night, you have to put it into ice.
CM: Keep your red wine in the fridge or in an ice bucket if you like, but pour little bits at a time. Rather pour yourself tiny bits in your glass. Because at the end of the day, when red wine warms up, all you end up tasting is the alcohol becomes quite volatile. So it hits you in the face and you just get the ripe fruit, it kind of almost becomes too ripe. You don’t get the beautiful freshness that the wine can give you, if you just chill it a little bit.
JCW: I love this, I really love it, I would buy it.
CM: It’s not a heavy wine, yet it’s not light. It’s not Cinsaut Pinot Noir lightness, it’s got a bit of body to it, yet it’s not heavy, so a nice in-betweener.
JCW: Lovely wine and the rough pricing for this?
CM: Around R200 a bottle, also again depending on where you buy it. There’s a few other examples out there, also Kloovenburg makes a beautiful new Carignan, I’d say look out for the Carignan’s out there. Try a bottle, they’re not generally all that expensive because I think people also, the guys who make the wine realise that the market isn’t used to it. It’s pointless out-pricing it and then nobody is going to buy it because why would I spend R600 –
JCW: It’s good value for money.
Don’t look a Gift Horse Barbera in the mouth
CM: Good value for money. Now I’m going to contradict myself altogether when it comes to price. We are now looking at the most beautiful label, it looks a little bit like we’re playing a poker game. It’s called Gift Horse Barbera, so the name of the variety is Barbera.
It’s made by Bruce Jack and he planted this vineyard, the area that we call Overberg, so closer to Napier. A lot of people said to him, you’re crazy to plant this where you’re going to plant it. Because that area gets a lot of wind and it kind of gets a bit chilly there sometimes.
Barbera is one of those varieties that really likes heat. Bruce said: I’m going to do this, I think I can do this and he planted it on quite a high area, sort of on the Plateau, quite high. It gets good sun in the day and he created this fantastic wine.
I shouldn’t speak before we taste, but I really love this wine and this wine was the most popular wine at The Unusuals festival that we recently hosted. People just kept coming back saying: Oh, that wine is so amazing, so I thought I must share it with you because if everybody else loves it so much…
JCW: Oh, goodness! Tell us.
CM: So quite opulent in flavours coming, all the nuances filling your nostrils here. You pick up immediately a little bit of that toasty note, which is from toasty oak. But I think the strong berries come through so beautifully. You can do this kind of oaking on a wine where you know your grapes can handle it.
I think in years gone by a lot of winemakers just thought, we’ve got to add all this oak because that’s the style that people like. The oak is going to help the age ability of the wine and we ended up making wines that were so big. Very few people had the patience to keep it long enough.
The oak doesn’t always integrate and disappear the way you want to. If you have really good grapes, you can do oak. But if your grapes are not that good, you’ve got to be careful with your oak. Here they had really good grapes, they worked their oak cleverly, a lot of oak, but cleverly. You end up with this, what do you think?
JCW: I think it’s just gorgeous. It’s not a light wine in the sense that you can see through it and it’s kind of Rhone style, but wow.
An Italian grape variety
CM: It’s an Italian grape variety, a name that most people might immediately recognize is Barbera d’asti, that’s sort of the appellation where it’s best known. So it grows in that Piedmont area. The two varieties there would be your Nebbiolo and your Barbera. The Nebbiolo is used for the Barolo’s and then the Barbera is usually the lighter wine.
The Barbera, usually they harvest a little bit before the Nebbiolo as well, so it’s sort of the slightly fresher style that they generally come through. But if they do serious stuff, then they can do this and they can make it a much heavier wine as well.
JCW: I can remember quite clearly on one of the walking trips that I did in Italy, in Tuscany and Umbria. We went to a restaurant, it was the beginning of the boar season, beginning of the truffle season, autumn in the vineyards and everything. We went to one restaurant at night and we had boar, I would actually drink this with boar.
CM: Yes, interesting. If you think about cured meat as well, that whole, so your boar, maybe some of the typical Italian cured meats, would work fantastically well. But what’s interesting on this, when you smell the wine, you get that oak, you sort of immediately think this is going to be heavy, rich wine. But when you taste it, it’s fairly fresh in your mouth. That’s because Barbera is also a variety that’s got a natural high acidity, so it helps. It just freshens that wine up at the end. It retains its natural acidity quite well.
JCW: Again, it’s a slight salt feel, I’ve got it on the top of my palate, somehow or the other.
CM: Not as much as some of the white wines that we might have, the minerality, saltiness, maybe doesn’t come through as strong on the red. But yes, definitely. I can’t really tell you where that’s coming from. I’d like to believe it’s maybe because of lots of wind that they get, that’s coming in from the ocean, that maybe carries a little bit of salty air from the ocean, that could well be.
JCW: I insist on calling it Napier, but if it’s Napier, of course you would get that sea.
CM: Yes, it’s not far from the ocean and it’s known for its wind coming in from the ocean. So yes, because in SA, we don’t quite have the same mineral richness in our soils that you get in certain parts of France where you just pick up oyster shells in your wine, it’s in your face. We don’t quite have that, but we certainly have the ocean breezes.
JCW: Would you drink this with oysters?
JCW: I’m just asking only because you mentioned it.
CM: I don’t think so.
JCW: Because of that slightly salty taste.
CM: I think it might be a bit heavy for that.
Partners perfectly with meat
JCW: What would you, obviously perfect with a roast, of almost any kind.
CM: Yes, I think a perfectly good steak with a nice bit of salt and pepper on it, not necessarily a thick pepper crust. But you just need that little bit of salt and pepper to come with it. Cause these days, I also see how people, and I absolutely love it, the restaurants cook your steak. They don’t add any bastings and stuff to it, but then on your plate you just have fresh coarse salt and a bit of black pepper. You can almost dip your meat in it yourself to your taste. Just that fresh meat with a bit of salt and pepper, I think that’s a good one.
JCW: Is this the only wine farm that’s growing this varietal or are there other people who are investing in it?
CM: There are other people, not a lot though, but there are some other people growing some of this. Again, small plantings of Barbera, it really hasn’t taken off in SA yet in a big way. But maybe wines like this would open people’s minds and eyes to it.
We’ve spoken about it before, that it’s these Mediterranean varieties that should do really well in SA. Bruce Jack has proved it, that it’s doing really well and where he’s planted it, it works really well. We shouldn’t be so scared of these other varieties. The market is ready to explore new things. We are getting out of our rut of Cabernet and Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay.
JCW: And also, I think there is a trend, but you would know this much better than I, of drinking red wines in summer, providing they’re the right ones.
CM: Correct, yes. I think our temperatures and our climate has changed so much that yes, our summers are what they are. But our winters are so short that we can’t just stick to red wine in winter. Because then we’re going to drink very little red wine. Once again, just make sure your red wines are the right temperature, as long as your wine is not hot. As long as you keep your red wine nicely chilled, you can enjoy it any time of the year.
JCW: I think so as well and I think it’s high time we got more of these wines for summer drinking. I’ve absolutely loved this Omerta and the name of this wine?
CM: It’s called Gift Horse, it has a little nick tag that tells you the name of the wine because the label doesn’t actually have a name, it just looks like a trump card. Then on the back, Bruce Jack. The other thing about Bruce Jack, apart from the fact that he’s a fantastic winemaker is that he also is a fantastic marketing person. He has stories in his head like you cannot believe. Each one of his bottles always has a beautiful story and if you look at the website, it’s just all these lovely stories. Yes, he always has a reason for calling things what he calls them.
JCW: I love that because it’s just like an extra gift and of course you’re never going to look a Gift Horse in the mouth! I’ve absolutely loved these wines, I’m convinced that I’m going to go and buy them. But people can, as you’ve mentioned before, can happily come into Wine Menu at the Bluebird Center and say: I’m going to do roast pork and lovely crispy crackling for a Sunday lunch, what should I have with it. You could actually recommend this, I think.
CM: Quite right. Look, there’s plenty of things that you could play with and it’s not just about matching the food and the wine. It’s also about establishing from the customer what style wine they normally enjoy as well so that you don’t steer too far into the unknown and lose them. Yes, we try and strike that balance of offering something unusual and maybe that they wouldn’t have chosen necessarily. Yet keeping on their path and gently taking them onto the path into the unknown.
JCW: I hope this has helped you, I hope it convinces you that we need to try some of these different varietals and I’m putting up a photograph so that people will be able to recognise the labels. If that fails, of course they can come and talk to you and just bend your ears. Join us again for another episode of Old Mutual Live Wine Edition, on mobile, on digital, on demand. Corlien Morris, thank you very much indeed.
CM: Thank you Jenny.