Wines+Crime of the Week

(by peter & susie)

What with one thing and another, we’ve been tasting quite a bit recently.

Big generic tastings, smaller retailer tastings, wines with cheese, wines with lunch, wines with Saturday Kitchen dishes, wine school courses, miniature wines (more of which anon)…all of which is enormously instructive as well as slightly tiring.

(But we certainly wouldn’t complain: sometimes we have to pinch ourselves to check we really do this for a living.)

Of all the wines we’ve been tasting, a few stand out.

One stood out for the wrong reasons. It was the Vergelegen Sauvignon Blanc 2009, 13.5% (from 8.79 until 1st Nov, Majestic).

This bottle, which we tasted on 3rd September at the Majestic tasting, was profoundly disappointing. My tasting note reads: ‘Horrible ashen notes…utterly dilute.’ Susie’s note simply reads: ‘no’.

We did query the wine as to whether another bottle would be different – we were quietly informed that another bottle would not be substantially better.

It’s disappointing because Vergelegen for so long has been one of the leading estates in South Africa, famous for its piercing Sauvignon Blanc and elegant, peppery reds. Its provocative and straight-talking winemaker, André Van Rensburg, has been a dynamic force at the winery.

In short, people have come to trust the brand. So to be disappointed because the basic brand has gone downhill means that Vergelegen is risking not only devaluing its brand, but also putting punters off South Africa. Which would be a crying shame at a time when South African wine is as diverse and intriguing as it’s ever been.

Maybe we had a bad experience. In any case, we’ll be keeping a close eye on Vergelegen in the coming months and will report back.

Turning to more positive wine experiences, it’s only fair to add that, in the main, Majestic’s was an impressive tasting, as ever.

There are many wines to recommend – the best bargains will be featuring in our School News bulletin shortly – but one of picks of the bunch was the Château la Dournie 2008, St Chinian, 13% (from £6.99). Scented, floral and with savoury black pepper notes, this was a joyous wine to lift the spirits, perfect for autumnal food, mid-weight and elegantly bittersweet, and a great price.

Another top drop to have passed our lips recently was the Tahbilk Viognier 2009, Nagambie Lakes, 14% (£9.99, Wine Society, Jeroboams, Posh Plonk, Cambridge Wine Merchants and other independents).

We’re not normally Viognier drinkers – it’s often a difficult wine to place, not ideal as an aperitif, tricky with food, hardly a digestif.

So we were surprised when, in a line-up of wines we were road-testing for a Saturday Kitchen dish that Susie is doing this week, this wine really shone.

The wine itself showed lovely aromas of peach, apricot and white pepper, as well as hints of lime. On the palate, it’s slightly spicy and chewy – but pleasantly so – with a succulent balance of juicy acidity and clean fruit and pepper weight. Even at 14%, the alcohol is well integrated.

Without giving too much away, the dish involves sea bass with wild mushrooms and Serrano ham – full of savoury density – and the obvious options like white Burgundy just didn’t quite work.

Step forward the whites with more fruity, scented weight, such as Falanghina, and this Viognier. Their succulence really helped refresh the palate and balance the savoury richness of the dish, as well as complementing the white.

Just delicious. But you’ll have to wait until Saturday to find out how the story ends…