Wine Tastings are a little like men. There are the Wine Magazine Tastings which, like a rather stuffy guy from private school, you date because they dress nicely, open the car door and pay for dinner: Good on paper, but dreadfully dull. There are the wine clubs at your favourite restaurant (Carlyle’s Wine Club being my staple), where you cram your jegging’d bottom onto a barstool while a roguish lad makes you laugh like a banshee, pours tequila down your throat and gets you hammered. And then there the tastings like Under the Influence. They’re gorgeous, smart, easygoing and, above all else, fun. It’s at tastings like these that you get to drink fantastic wine, enjoy beautiful views, meet interesting people and maybe even learn a little in the process.
Hosted at the Roundhouse Restaurant in Camps Bay (with other tastings in Somerset West and Joberg), The Under the Influence team offers themed tastings pretty much year-round and tonight, myself and some girlfriends find ourselves at Under the Influence of Great Whites which, as the name suggests, will offer us a taste of both pure varietal and blended whites.
The tasting takes place on the rolling grassy hills outside the restaurant while hens, their chicks and two baby piglets (named Prosciutto and Crackling), play at your feet as the sun sets over the Twelve Apostles. Heaven. We begin with a teaser taster of a pretty damn delicious white blend while we wait for the tasting to start. It’s soft, creamy and fragrant with hints of white peach. Viognier, I guess? With a little Chenin? Or is it Chardonnay?
It turns out, this little gem is Bouchard Finlayson’s Blanc de Mer (or “White of the Sea”) ’09 – first created because the farm had no grapes and had to buy in whatever they could get their hands on so that they could actually make wine. And boy, did they. With an eclectic mix of Viognier, Riesling, Chenin, Chardonnay and a touch of Semillon, this so-called entry-level wine was named ‘Best New World White Wine’ by Decanter in 2009.
Our tasting officially kicks off with the Sauvignon Blanc flight, comprised of the Steenberg HMS Rattlesnake ‘09, Lismore ’09 and Elgin Heights ’09 (I don’t think we’re supposed to read the labels as they pour, but I’m an awful cheat and I do). What I love about this flight is the vast difference in the nose and flavour of each wine. The HMS Rattlesnake is somewhat flinty of the nose with characteristic hints of green pepper and a crisp, lingering palate while the Lismore has almost botrytis apricot notes and an earthy, fruity taste. The Elgin Heights baffles me until I realize that the rubbery pungent nose reminds me exactly of G’s armpit after a particularly sweaty game of touch Rugby. While this may be attractive to me, I doubt it would be to anyone else. Luckly, a wine afficianado across the table overhears hears my comment and assures me that ripe grapefruit can smell suspicially like wet armpit… and anyway, the wine soon settles and is just as delicious as its counterparts.
As the second flight arrives, we are treated to ciabatta with butter, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. We’ve also been given the option of ordering pizzas at the start of the tasting and our Margarita (at a very reasonable R40) is crispy-based, cheesy heaven with fresh basil.
Our second flight is one of my favourite varietals: Viognier. We sample the Creation Viognier which bursts with floral notes, rosewater and jasmine but is sadly lacking in acidity. It’s followed by the Spice Route (Fairview) Viognier, which soon becomes the table favourite with its flavours of jasmine, honeysuckle and the butteryness that comes from subtle oaking.
The second flight winds down. The wine aficionado has taken to scoring the wines out loud (how he manages to score colour in the pitch dark eludes me), but the girls and I have given ourselves over to the irrepressible urge to tickle the piglet’s bellies and smoke obscene quantities of menthol ciggies.
The third flight continues to impress as we move onto Chenin or blends dominated by Chenin. The Raats Original Chenin ‘09 is shy on the nose and, while satisfyingly consistent, it’s put to shame by its successor: the sublime Lammershoek Roulette Blanc ’09. When asked what we smell, one of my girlfriends pipes up, “Heaven.” And she’s right. It’s a beautiful, beautiful wine, made from a blend of Chenin, Viognier, Claret Blanc, Grenache Blanc and Chardonnay and has gone on to win the coveted 5-star rating in the Platters Guide.
Finally, with our third and final white, the Under the Influence team pulls out something really quite interesting: The Library White from a secret location in Swaartland. (The aficionado and I guess Eben Sadie but, much like the meaning of life, I guess we’ll never know for sure). A sip of this wine is like drinking liquid velvet with a finish that seems to linger on indefinitely.
Chris, our host of the evening, describes it perfectly: “Take a sip, sit back, and think about life and where you want to go.”
My friend and I, both starving teachers, go halvies on a case before we call a cab and head back to Greenpoint. As I put myself to bed on my friend’s couch, I can’t help but hear the Jaws-like theme tune of the Great White hangover closing in. And so it does. But I guess I saw that one coming.
Tastings are priced at R120 per person (including the bread). For details on upcoming tastings in your area or more information on their fantastic wine specials and mixed cases, go to www.undertheinfluence.co.za
For another take on the evening’s proceedings, check out the awesome reviewbar.wordpress.com