In July of last year, I almost absentmindedly entered my first writing competition. Like most people who enjoy writing and blogging, but have never been published or formally acknowledged for their scribbles, I always assumed my work was perfectly average. Not horrible, but let’s just say there won’t be a Pulitzer in my future. After some prodding and poking from a few people, I sat down and wrote two pieces. One was to be 800 words about the difference between wines enjoyed as “quaffers” and wines that do justice to a certain cuisine. The other, a short blog post on the most unusual wine I’ve ever tasted.

Turns out someone rather liked my scribblings and I was chosen as the winner. This wildly unexpected turn of events lead me to pursue the idea of Incogvino, my own little platform on the interwebs where I can write about wine. Which is all I really want to do, really. There will be a bit more on how this website came to be in a future post. For now, you can read my original entries (written in Afrikaans) here. After a number of requests, I translated my entries to English. You can read that below.

Quaffers and their counterparts

Wine. Making it, selling it and enjoying it is a fluid and ever-changing world. A world that is becoming increasingly diverse, inhabited by all kinds of people. From students enjoying little boxes of wine in pubs to true connoisseur who attend auctions and travel to all corners of the earth for new oenological discoveries. The spectrum in between is vast, surprising and never boring.

As diverse as the people who worship at the feet of Bacchus may be, the precious liquid that they all enjoy is what brings them together. Countries and regions. Styles, colours and tastes. Cheap as chips or eye-wateringly expensive. A lifetime can be dedicated to the knowledge that comes with a passion for wine. Some do just that. Sommeliers. Winemasters. The rest of us do what we can, learn what we can, decide what we like and what we don’t care for.

Often, two types of wine are distinguished. Quaffers and wines that were made to pair with food. The former created for easy drinking and the latter demanding to be carefully combined with just the right flavours.

Quaffers are everyday wines for everyday enjoyment. Simple. Without pretense. Your glass of sweet relief after a long day at the office. The start of the weekend. A holiday staple. Quaffers are easy to drink. They don’t make you think too much about what’s happening on the palate. The vintage is not important. Ageing potential is irrelevant, because the bottle won’t see next week. Quaffers also won’t really break the bank. Soft red blends, a fresh Sauvignon Blanc, a lovely Merlot that wipes out a long, difficult day.

At the other end of the spectrum are the quaffers’ counterparts. Fine dining wines. Table wines that were made for haute cuisine, special dishes or specific flavour combinations. These wines need something to complete them, challenge them and bring out the best in them. They speak to you. They tell you what should be on the plate, what they need and what they’ll work with. They demand planning and careful, considered choices. A little time and a bit of effort is necessary to ensure that the wines and the feast are perfect a perfect match.

And yet, while these two types of wine seem so vastly different, they have more in common than you may think. It may be more challenging for a serious, fine dining wine to pass itself off as a quaffer, but there’s no reason the latter can’t take a well-deserved place at the table.

Antiquated notions about wine and pairings expect red wine to be paired with red meat and chicken to be paired with white. These ideas are being replaced with new, exciting and adventurous combinations. Heavy reds are no longer solely destined for big, juicy steaks. How about a Pinot Noir with that tuna steak? Or some luxurious, rich Chardonnay to go with the oxtail curry?

The emphasis is shifting to balance of flavours between the wine and the dish. Pair the main characteristic of the wine with that of the food, rather than trying to match the wine as a whole with the entire dish. Of course a few golden rules will ensure a successful pairing, but the hard and fast “rules” of pairings are falling away in favour of a fresh, new approach. A good approach is to focus on the wine and match the food to it. As long as the wine is sweeter than a sweet dish, or more acidic than a zesty one. And try to avoid bitter-bitter combinations.

Ultimately, the best way to find the perfect match is through trial and error. Experiment with unusual combinations, contrasting flavours and those that are complementary. Food and wine were made for each other and complete each other.

In South Africa, quaffers and their counterparts are often found in the same price class. Local producers fill the market with high quality, premium-class wines at affordable prices. Wines are made in many different styles, sometimes classic, sometimes new-world and sometimes according to their own initiative. These wines are comfortable at any table, with or without a fancy menu. They make finding the perfect pairings even easier, and considerably more budget friendly.

The supposed rules around drinking wine are slowly changing and disappearing. Wine is more affordable, drinkable and accessible than ever before. The line between quaffers and fine table wines is fading. Producers and winemakers are making their own rules, as they see fit. The end result? Creating wines that can be enjoyed whenever, wherever and however you please.

Joostenberg Long & Late

(My short blog post on the most unusual wine I’ve ever tasted)

When in search of an unusual wine or wine type, people often chase after them in the farthest reaches of the planet. French Bordeaux, Argentinian Malbec or German Riesling. Sometimes you look so far afield that you end up missing the gem that was right under your nose.

I discovered such a gem in a small bottle with a content resembling that of a brandy. No label. Just a name, written in Tip-Ex. Joostenberg Long & Late.

“A rarity,” I was assured.
“Uniquely dry-sweet,” I was told.
“Perfect cheeseboard wine,” was the advice I was given.

And it was exactly that. All of that and more.

My dad used to buy Hanepoot sweet wine, in those big bottles with the little ear on. A light straw-colour. He has a small, old wine barrel in the kitchen. Just a few liters. The sweet wine would be put in the little barrel. And it would be left there. Until we’d almost forgotten about it. Then one day, a year later, as winter creeps around, the barrel will be opened. Sweet, syrupy goodness would come out, almost the colour of Port. My mom’s favourite.

The Joostenberg Long & Late is nothing like my dad’s little creation. But the story behind it reminds me of it. It’s an experimental wine, a single barrel of 2004 Chenin Blanc. Harvested late, fermented in the barrel for 3 months and then just left for 8 years.

The winemaker isn’t entirely sure what to make of it either. The closest description is a Vin Jaune-style wine. Strong sherry character, but it isn’t fortified. Lots of sugar, but the sweetness is masked by something that dances around the edge of your consciousness, but you can’t quite put your finger on it. An earthy, nutty taste that just barely eludes you.

It’s a damn shame it was such a small bottle.

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