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How to enjoy your tipple

Apr 10 2011 10:16 Robin von Holdt

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THE clocks strike eleven on this fine Sunday morning.  

Despite some wind and grey clouds during the week, this is fast heating up as a gorgeous late summer day, wind-free and balmy. A quick dip in the nearby tidal pool gets me in the mood for something tasty.  

The condensation on the bottle of Pepsin Condé Sauvignon Blanc 2010 sets me thinking as I pour a little glass for myself.  

The scent is subtle and inviting with hints of gooseberry, green melon and then a snatch of tropical fruit. The promise is alluring.  

I take a sip and contemplate as the subtle flavours of ripe fruit, gentle framing tannins (which enjoyed a brief moment in old oak barrels) and bright, fresh acid coat my mouth, both satisfying and fresh at the same time.

Precise and pleasurable, a lovely medley of flavours and textures remain long after I have swallowed. But then that is what Jose Condé specialises in.

A little witogie stares at me, bemused head slightly cocked, quizzically eying my contentment before darting off to feast on something more to its taste.

So what is wine appreciation really about?  How can you assess a wine and confirm your own enjoyment of it?

First things first: price, name, label and noise factor don’t really come into the equation, nor, to be frank, do witogies, so if these are starting points, go back to the starting blocks.  

There are really very good affordable wines, like the one above, and very poor expensive ones too, so let your own enjoyment set the tone rather than allowing the jingle of the till on the retailer's counter to drive your decision.

As easy as one, two, three

The lesson therefore is a simple one. Drink what you enjoy.

While made confusing by stuffy language, wine is simply meant to have a pleasing colour, a scent or bouquet that you fine attractive and an appealing taste and texture as you sip it, with a remaining enjoyable flavour left in your mouth after you swallow it. That’s it.  

You now know more than 95% of the world’s population; not a bad start for 15 seconds of work. If you can remember these three simple points, you’re off to a good start.

Of course, the characters of different wines are intended to offer individual subtleties and a spectrum of different characteristics in all of the above three areas of pleasure.  

Thus a red wine is typically fuller, richer, and indeed heavier than a white wine. Then within the category of red and white wines, there are a number of different grape types as well as blends that offer sub-categories of style.  

So a Cabernet is more powerful and structured than a Merlot or Pinot Noir. Similarly, a Chardonnay is bigger and fatter in character than a Sauvignon Blanc or a Chenin Blanc. 

Blended grape varieties typically offer greater complexity. Yet the three areas above remain constant, and in all cases provide a reference for your enjoyment of each and every wine.

The question is really to find what works best for you. Is it one size fits all, or do different wine characteristics (colour, scent, flavour) work well for you at different times, in different company, or with different food dishes?

There are some rules best applied at an early stages of learning in order to appreciate wine or, more importantly, to start to understand your own enjoyment of wine. A glass of wine before food sets the mood; the freshness, acids and alcohol relax and prepare one for upcoming enjoyment of a meal.  Typically a rosé, light white or glass of bubbly does this job well.  

It also lightens the mood, encourages conversation and stimulates laughter.

Big food kills a light wine and vice versa. Stick to lighter whites or a lightly chilled red with salads, light pastas, quiches and so on. If spare ribs, pepper steak or rack of lamb fan your flames then a robust Shiraz or Pinotage might be a better partner for these rich flavours. Remember, it’s the job of neither wine nor food to dominate one another.  

The unfolding story of enjoyment should be about elegance, balance, harmony and context.  The mingling should be noticeable and enjoyable. Flirting, really.

Back to the wines: appreciation of wines can be put into a neat little structure if this is helpful for you. It is for the wine professionals.

If you get this one right, you will fall into the unique camp of the uber elite, given that less than 0.001 % of the global population know the following little formula, which is: a wine should be scored out of 20 points.  

Firstly, 3 points for colour - remember, it’s meant to look attractive, so bright red is bright red, not tawny, brown or dirty.  A white wine on the other hand is clear, engaging, perhaps with hints of bright green, perhaps yellow, shimmering with specks of gold.

Secondly, the scent should allure. This can get a maximum score of 7 points – fresh, fruity notes but not Ribena or jelly; possibly some white, green or orange fruit notes for whites, with a hint of toast if oaked.

Red wines can be more complex and indeed spicy, with cedar, whiffs of tobacco and occasional mushroom or pine forest notes that add complexity and interest in addition to the red berry or stone fruit pleasures.

Thirdly, the flavour is scored out of 10 points, with high marks as ever for a pleasurable experience – the mix of fruit flavours, tannins from the wood and crushed skins adding richness and backbone, then the natural acids, and even mineral-like character kicking in to freshen and uplift your taste senses. 

Gentler, subtle yet brisk flavours for white wines; fuller, bolder, more assertive flavours and post-swallow finish for reds.

Try this formula tonight. If you give any wine 17 to 20, rush off and buy a few cases. The rest of the year will look bright.

- Fin24

* Von Holdt is CEO of Top 100 SA Wine Challenge.

robin von holdt  |  wine
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