23 December 2013

17. - 23 Dec.: Wine tasting in Stellenbosch and Paarl

It was a Belgian friend of mine who strongly recommended I visit Beyerkloof when in Stellenbosch for a tasting of their great pinotage. This is a typically South African cross between Pinot Noir and Hermitage, and Ivo told me Beyerkloof was famous for it. Ivo is Flemish, Bruxellois, Belgian, European and, when it comes to wine, a real citizen of the world. I guess you have to be if you are Belgian and love good wines. There are maybe a dozen or os good vineyward in Belgium but not enough to satisfy a lifetime of oenological tastings. After learning the three official languages of his home country, as well as English, which is a sine qua non in the financial world where he works, he decided to pick up Italian, just for fun. He lives in Brussels and so we meet often to discuss the oenological merits of fermented grape juices from around the planet. He is one of the relatively few Flemish who still lives in Brussels, the capital of Belgium and of Europe that has progressively become almost completely francophone.

After the disappointment of two days ago, when Yan and I were bounced at the door because it was end of business, this time I make sure I get there during regular business hours, and after parking in the scorching sun I walk through the gate to the tasting room. It is a dark room, made even darker by a slick black counter on top of which an endless succession of glasses is filled with wines.  It is a bit noisy, which does disturb me as I try to concentrate on the aromas of the first whites that are served to me, but after all this is where wine lovers from all over the world come to have fun, and we should not take ourselves too seriously.

Prices are really attractive, but unfortunately local prices have little to do with what I would pay for the same bottles in Europe. It's not so much trasportation costs that weigh in here, as freight charges by sea are quite reasonable, it is tax. Excise tax and Value Added Tax to be precise. So an excellent quality/price ratio in South Africa (say 8 to 10 euro for an upmaket vintage red) becomes a think-about-it 25-30 euro per bottle when delivered to Europe. Nevertheless I request more information about having a few bottles sent to my address in Europe.

And by the way while I did like their Pinotage I thought their cabs were better: powerful yet velvet soft on the palate. Perhaps not the best to age for decades but easily enjoyable a few years after harvest. "Cabs" is South African short hand for "Cabernet Sauvignon", perhaps the most successful varietal in the world, originally from France but now universally used either alone or in the classical combination with Cabernet Franc and Merlot. The name? It was, they say, by chance that sometime in the XVII century some southern French vintner accidentally crossed Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc and realize the outcome was going to be a hit.

A most kind lady shows me a chart with final consumer prices for all European destinations, each taking into account trasnportation and tax. I can see that Switzerland is the best country to live in if you are going to import wine from South Africa to Europe. Belgium is not on the chart at all, and the lady can't really tell me why. I am very curious now and she goes and calls the manager, a blond very Dutch looking thirty-something that is more than happy to explain.

I am startled to learn that they do export directly to all of Europe except Belgium, because the local importer objects. I can't believe that of all European countries only the distributor to Belgium holds such blocking power but that's exactly it.

Well so much for sending Beyerkloof wines to Belgium. I shall have to buy it from the importer. Or maybe not, I don't like the fact that residents from all other European countries can order their wine from the producer except Belgians. As I think through my options for retaliatory action I continue to sip away and notice that most staff and patrons are white but there are a few blacks and colored in bith sides of the counter. I ask the lady who is serving me and she says rhe schools for sommelier and university agronomy are now completely mixed.

Ryno tells the Fairview story
My next stop is the Fairview estate, in the nearby Paarls region, just a few km away, where I enjoy wonderful tasting of wines as well as excellent olive oil.  Ryno is the somelier guiding me through the range. He explains that the olive oil is done in the Italian tradition and that is why it gets Italian names. I get my very own table in a spacious and airy room with high ceilings and mirrors. One by one Ryno proposes half a dozen wines which I have selected from the house's production.

Here they can and do export direct to Belgium though at a price, because of the notorious VAT and excise tax, of course. Final price is about double what I'd pay here but prices are so convenient that I can't resist ordering a couple of cases. And why should I resist anyway: part of the pleasure when I drink this wine in Europe will be recalling this wonderful time at the vineyard.

I then move on just a few hundred meters to another property by the same owner. It's called the Spice Route and here it's chocolate and wine matches that are on offer. It's a serene hillside with a farmhouse sitting on top. You can park and walk up a few steps to a huge terrace where the friendly staff will bring you the chocs and the wines.


The odd couple: wine and chocolate
It's almost closing time and the sun is gently dropping lower over the horizon but there is still plenty of time. I always found it difficult to match any wine with chocolate. In Europe my favorite combination is dark chocolate with Banyuls. A couple of times I tried a young Barolo, a combination I learned from Pierre Marcolini in Brussels at one of his tastings. Here I find that it is Syrah that is the best match for the intense flavor of Fairview's chocolates.

It's the end of the day, I am sorry it's over but it's been a satisfying experience. I have hardly eaten all day but the wines and the bits and pieces of bread have filled me for the day and I look forward to a quite evening in my Clermont attic with warm decaffeinated coffee and a good book.



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