South Africa

Unusual And Undrinkable

21 November 2012

Most wines I write about on Odd Bacchus receive pretty good grades. I prefer to write posts about wines which excite me, because I like to think I’m helping bring unheralded wine regions and grape varieties to light. Even more important, I hope I’m helping my readers find some great values, since delicious unusual wines and spirits tend to cost less than delicious well- known wines and spirits.

But a regular reader of this blog could be forgiven for thinking that I am happy with almost any alcohol that passes my lips, an opinion shared by most of my family, friends, coworkers, acquaintances and neighbors. Indeed, I do try to be charitable with wines — a very non-snobby French sommelier shamed me into that — but a recent selection really rubbed me the wrong way.

My husband returned from Whole Foods last week with a bottle of 2011 Jam Jar Sweet Shiraz from South Africa, thinking it would work well with the red-wine pickled pears he planned on canning. Mixed with vinegar, cinnamon and other spices, it made a perfectly lovely pickling liquid for the pears, and I gaze at the Mason jars of pears with no small measure of anticipation. Drunk on its own, however, this wine was an offense to the palate.

A simulacrum of raspberry jam pervaded the nose, and something artificial marred the flavor as well. It started a bit flabby before coalescing into acidic, chemically-tinged fruit. An unpleasant tomato note took over before the wine climaxed into a diabetic, teeth-coating finish. I don’t know what Jam Jar did to make this Shiraz “sweet,” but I have a feeling it didn’t happen in the vineyard.

What a waste of money. My husband spent $12 for this bottle of raspberry sugar water. Don’t be suckered in by Jam Jar’s cutesy font — behind the innocuous label lurks an unpleasant, saccharine wine, offering yet more evidence supporting my theory that the cuter the label, the crappier the wine.

SUMMARY

2011 Jam Jar Sweet Shiraz: Certainly sweet, but marred by chemically fruit and abrasive acids. Barely drinkable.

Grade: D

Find It: If you want to experience this charmer yourself, you can find it at Whole Foods. At the store on Halsted in Chicago, it’s on sale for $10 as of this posting. Still a poor value.

Rosé In The Desert (Part 2)

6 November 2011

Guests arriving at Six Senses Zighy Bay, a resort on the coast of Oman’s Musandam Peninsula, can descend the mountains to the hotel by road, or, for those inclined to flinging themselves off a cliff strapped to nothing but a piece of fabric and a Bulgarian fellow, by paraglider. I found myself in the latter camp the day we arrived, and after catching an array of “awesome thermals” followed by a death-spiral descent to the beach, a drink seemed to be in order.

I later learned that the resort tries to avoid “common labels” when stocking their cellar, so it comes as no surprise that the house rosé was something unusual — a 2010 Fantail Pinotage Rosé from South Africa’s Stellenbosch region.

Now, I have long tried to like Pinotage, a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault (also known as Hermitage), but I usually find them rather off-putting. It’s been a while since I’ve had one, to be honest, but I recall an overheated quality, with notes of heavy red meat that weren’t to my taste. It was a bit of a relief then, to read Tom Stevenson argue in The Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia that Pinotage “does not have half the potential of either [Zinfandel or Shiraz].”

But the variety certainly worked in this particular rosé. It had an herbal, almost oregano-like nose, and bright, fruity flavors giving way to some spiciness and a minerally finish. I liked the journey this rosé took me on — just the antidote for the more adventurous journey I had just undertaken.

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Honeysuckle and Tobacco

23 June 2011

Before some friends came over to dinner the other night, they thoughtfully called to offer to bring a bottle of wine. I planned on making some Southeast Asian-inspired dishes, which always seem to cry out for Gewürztraminer. I have a soft spot for floral, aromatic whites, and a good Gewürztraminer can work wonders with fresh herb-heavy Lao, Cambodian and Thai recipes.

My friends obliged with a 2009 Robertson Winery “Special Late Harvest” Gewurztraminer (they spell it without the umlaut) from South Africa, far from the varietal’s most well-known home of the Alsace. I’d sampled German, Australian, French, American and even Spanish Gewürztraminers, but never one from South Africa. I was intrigued, but concerned that “Special Late Harvest” might just be a fancy way of saying “cloyingly sweet.”

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