Boiler saga update:
[A phone rings in CookSister's office] "Jeanne speaking, good morning."
"Hello, this is British Gas – we're at your house right now and we have some news about your boiler."
[voice filled with trepidation] "Yeeeeees?"
"We tried one last trick and we have the pilot light lit – so the boiler is running! Shall we leave the hot water on for you?"
"Oh you wonderful man! Yes please!" [already dreaming of celebratory bubble bath] "Goodbye!"
[air-punching whoop of delight]
Approximately 5 minutes later
[A phone rings again in CookSister's office] "Jeanne speaking, good morning."
"Hello, this is British Gas again. I'm afraid we won't be able to leave your boiler on for you after all."
"It's running, but it has failed all the safety & emissions tests so it has to be disconnected for safety reasons. Please contact your landlord. Goodbye."
[Tourette's-like outburst of words that are entirely unrepeatable on a family blog]
5 nights without heating or hot water. Stay tuned.
A few months ago (yikes – where does the time go?) I had the great pleasure of taking the afternoon off from my day job and heading out to London's Excel exhibition centre to attend the London International Wine Fair. Over 3 days there were 14,000 visitors who came to see 1,250 international exhibitors, each of which must have had on average 5 to 10 wines… It's easy to see how things can go fairly drastically wrong! The show is a trade show and, as such, not open to the public but only to e.g. trade buyers, importers, retailers, off-license staff, hotel/catering buyers, agents and press. So of course I went as Press – my first press badge! Once inside, it's quite overwhelming and unless you have a plan you won't get the most out of the day. I met up with my good friend Andrew of Spittoon (who had already spent the morning there) and the first place we headed was to sede our mutual friend wine blogger Rob of The Wine Conversation who was manning the stand for Spanish merchant Dinastio Vivanco.
We started with a Vivanco Viura Malvasia 2007 (green apples on the nose, melony fruit on the palate), followed by the Vivanco Rosada 2007 (80% Tempranillo, 20% Garnacha) (caramel and cherries on the nose; surprisingly not sweet on the palate but with a short, caramelly finish). The Dinastia Vivanco Rioja Crianza 2004 (100% Tempranillo) was a pale brick red with a smoky nose and medium-bodied fresh red cherries on the palate, and didn't taste at all like the 13.5% alcohol it contained. The Dinastia Vivanco Rioja Riserva 2001 (90% Tempranillo 10% Graciano) had a more vegetal nose, but wonderfully soft tannins and notes of vanilla on both the nose and palate. From there we moved onto the Collecion Vivanco Rioja 4 Varietales 2005 (a blend of four grapes namely Tempranillo, Graciano, Garnacha and Mazuelo) which was a stunning wine with ripe, plummy fruit, an almost brandy-like alcoholic hit, and yet remaining fabulously balanced. The final two Vivanco wines made for a fascinating contrast. Both were big, alcoholic reds, coming in at 15.5% alcohol per volume. But whereas the 100% garnacha Collecion Vivanco Parcelas Garnacha Rioja 2005 was a huge, mouth-filling beast with a jammy nose and loads of accessible ripe berry fruits, the 100% Graciano Collecion Vivanco Parcelas Graciano Rioja 2005 had an almost port-like nose with rounded jammy fruit flavours, soft tanins and a long, subtle finish. If I hadn't seen the labels with my own two eyes I would not have beleived these two wines had the same alcohol content. And I have to add that Rob was a most charming and knowledgeable host – thanks Rob!
Since Andrew had already spent the morning at the fair he let me choose what we would be tasting next. No prizes for guessing… I headed straight for the impressively huge South African pavillion (pictured at the top of this post)! The first estate we came to was one that I am familiar with: Kleine Zalze, a beautiful old estate just outside Stellenbosch where wine has been made since 1695. We started with the 2007 Vineyard Selection Chardonnay (9 months in French oak, 14% alc) - stewed apples and vanilla on the nose but disappointing on the palate: too sweet for my taste and not balanced. Next up was the 2007 Vineyard Selection Chenin Blanc (barrel-fermented, 14% alc) which was even sweeter – in fact the sweetness overwhelmed pretty much anything else that might have been going on. Rather more pleasant was the 2007 Vineyard Selection Pinot Noir (14% alc) with a good pale garnet colour, caramelly boiled sweet nose and a burnt sugar palate with smooth tannins and a long finish. The 2005 Vineyard Selection Shiraz (14.5% alc) had a meaty nose and a lingering palate packed with upfront red fruit, but once again there was that caramelly sweetness that seemed to creep into all the wines we tasted. My favourite Kleine Zalze wine of the day was definitely the 2006 Family Reserve Shiraz (22 months in oak, 14.5% alc). Its rather shy nose did nothing to prepare you for the huge berry fruit palate, heady alcohol and smooth tanins. A well-balanced and really delicious wine. Also scoring points with us was the 2005 Family Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (18 months in French oak, 14.5% alcohol) with a more vegetal nose, but still plenty of berry and liquorice flavours on the palate and smooth tannins. But, sadly, other than the last two wines, we found our Kleine Zalze tasting to be rather disppointing.
But from there we moved on to two of the more impressive SA tastings I've had in years. First up was probably my favourite estate in the country – Springfield. The estate is in the lovely Robertson valley and is owned by brother and sister team, winemaker Abrie and marketer Jeanette Bruwer (who was one of the people manning the Springfield stand when we visited). Abrie is known for being obsessed with terroir (the influence of the land where the grapes are grown on the wine) and his philophy is that "terroir is a gift from God inherited by our ancestors". This means that the winemaking process is kept as direct and uncomplicated as possible so that the natural elements in the wine can speak for themselves, with the least possible human interference. Whatever he is doing, let me tell you it works. We started with the 2007 Firefinch Sauvignon Blanc (classic cut grass and green pepper aromas on the nose; slight initial prickle on the tongue giving way to luscious guava flavours) before continuing on to 2007 Life From Stone Sauvignon Blanc (less aggressively green on the nose; a balanced palate full of gooseberries & spiciness); 2007 Special Cuvee Sauvignon Blanc (also a slight prickle on the palate at first and less fruity than the other two, but far more complex and really delicious – my favourite white); Wild Yeast Chardonnay (a promising "cheesy" nose which I usually associate with French wines; but slightly flabby and too sweet for me on the palate); and the Methode Ancienne Chardonnay (a lovely golden colour but shy nose; beautifully balanced palate with both fruit and acid, creamy and mouth-filling with a very long finish). From there we moved on to the reds, starting with the Firefinch Ripe Red, a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon (lots of ripe red fruit and cherries on the palate, easy-drinking), 2003 Work of Time, a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon (jammy vanilla flavours on the nose; beautifully structured wine with restrained fruit and balanced tannins – delicious); 2006 Whole Berry Cabernet with natural yeast and unfined & unfiltered (deep ruby colour; on the palate, the first taste is… red grape juice! This is followed by more complex, smoky, jammy flavours balanced by remarkably soft tannins. My favourite red by a mile.); and the 2002 Methode Ancienne Cabernet Sauvignon (very deep garnet colour; very complex palate – oaky, tobacco flavours but also dark fruit jam and dried berries – delicious but never over the top or overblown).
From there we staggered across to the lovely ladies at Ses'fikile. Now I have to confess that I had never heard of them before, but that's hardly surprising as the company was only founded in 2004, by which time I was living in London. As it turns out, manning the stall were two of the owners and two more charming and passionate people you could hardly hope to find. Ses'fikile, as they told me, means "we have arrived" in isiXhosa and it is an empowerment company in the very best sense of the word, owned and run by women and fully BEE (Black Economic Empowerment) compliant. The women in question are former schoolteachers who set about educating themselves in the wine industry and they have a strong partnership with winemaker Bruce Jack of Flagstone. It is, by all accounts, a winning partnership for all concerned, and Ses'fikile wines are available through Marks & Spencer in the UK. We tasted the 2007 "Rain Song" Chenin Blanc ("cheesy", musty cellar nose – smells like a French rather than a South African wine; uncomplicated palate with hints of stewed fruit – easy drinking); the unoaked 2007 "Folklore" Chardonnay (a musty cellar nose again; quite fruity, well balanced and very pleasant for an unoaked Chardonnay); the 2006 "Rain Song" Pinotage (great colour for a Pinotage; a big mouthful of sweet cherries and soft tannins – about as lovely and accessible as a Pinotage gets); the 2005 Folklore Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc blend (deep colour; luscious, intense blackberries with hints of vanilla & balanced tannins – absolutely delicious); and the 2004 Matriarch Shiraz reserve (intensely purple; "meaty", savoury nose; very intense jammy plum pudding flavours, in fact verging on a good ruby port).
Astonishingly, we still felt up to more tasting after that, so went exploring slightly off the beaten track. OK, so very off the beatn track! H Stagnari is an Uruguayan vineyard known for their Tannat, and seeing as this is one of my new favourite cultivars, we tasted a few wines. The 2008 Rose Dinastia (100% Tannat) started off well with a beautiful coral colour and caramelly nose, but there was practically no hint of rose's customary fruit or sweetness on the palate, makinjg it practically undrinkable. The 2005 Tannat Viejo was an improvement with a smoke, port-like nose, but again the wine was totally unbalanced with intense raisiny flavours but almost no discernible tannin. Our last attempt was the Dayman Tannat (12 months in American and French oak) which had a promising fruity nose but practically no fruit on the palate. And then Andrew insisted that we beat a hasty retreat!
Our final foray into the unknown was Monsoon Valley, a Thai vineyard (yes, really!) that has, for the past 8 years, been making wines 60km south-west of Bangkok. I miust say, the colours of these wines were what attracted me – I can't imagine a more beautiful and girly spectrum of pinks and corals. But as for the wines…. The first one we tried was the Colombard, which had a nose I can only describe as "cheesy" and a palate that was unrelentingly sweet. The White Shiraz was the most exquisite shade of pale coral, but turned out to be aggressively tannic and no fun at all. The only potantial redeeming feature was the Muscat, another beautiful onion-skin colour with a characteristic litchi nose. Although sweet, it was the most balanced wine of the three and I could imagine serving this at a girly lunch party in the summer. For the rest, though, I would probably not dash back to Monsoon Valley!
And the best part is that as we staggered off at the end of the day, Andrew (who has spent many years in the wine trade) confessed that he had been floored by the high quality and restrained Old World style of the Springfield and Ses'fikile wines that he had tasted that afternoon, and that they had probably been his favourites. So a great afternoon of winetasting rounded off with a boost to my patriotic pride – what more could one wish for?