Wine is often described as one of the world’s most important beverages, with as many as 60 centuries of contribution to human enjoyment, and it’s also a beverage that has in recent years quite rightly been recognised for its beneficial qualities.
This week we divert from culinary adventures into a wine experience, sparked by a superb evening of wine tasting hosted by leading wine distributor Albert Nhau. Sadly, the once-promising Zimbabwean wine industry has shrunk to tiny proportions, and it is really to our southern neighbour that we look for supply of the bulk of our wine requirements.
Wines from further afield attract very high, almost punitive, taxes and duties and they are, unfortunately, not available to us in the numbers they were back in the 1990s. I have seen a few Italian, German and French wines, as well as some Chilean, too but nothing like the enormous variety we had just 20 years ago.
The Grapevine wine group was formed about 13 years ago to create a platform for wine enthusiasts – beginners and serious imbibers alike – to learn more about wine and find out what wines are available to us on the local market. It meets almost every month for some kind of event, usually a wine tasting but sometimes linked to a different beverage; in January each year, for example, it hosts a whisky tasting linked to the annual celebration of Burns Night, when Scotland’s famed poet is commemorated.
This past week a gathering of folk from the diplomatic and NGO community was convened by the Grapevine, and Albert Nhau of Danai Wines very kindly gave his home to the occasion and supplied a remarkable selection of quality wines for those present to enjoy. This is the third or fourth time he has done this, and the events have always been pleasant and enjoyable for all involved.
Albert was for many years head of one of this country’s biggest and busiest advertising agencies, and it was his plan to spend years of retirement on the golf course. Well, the golf definitely still happens, but he has reached out into the world of wine and runs a respected and discerning wine distribution operation called Danai Wines. Not only is this a supplier to the retail and hospitality sectors, but it also now has its own retail operation, situated in the Chisi Walk shopping complex in Harare’s Chisipite suburb.
At this week’s event there were folk who have been in Harare for several years, while the “newest” was a senior diplomat who has been in Harare only two months. A total of eight wines came forward for tasting, selected on the basis of having different types and styles, as well as different home estates; all were South African.
We started with a sparkling wine, the traditional opener at a tasting. Albert’s choice was a Hoopenburg Integer Methode Cap Classique. If we were allowed to call all top-end sparkling wines Champagne, this would be a Champagne.
However, as the French have quite rightly enforced the rule that is respected worldwide to restrict this description to sparkling wines from the Champagne region of France, this is not a Champagne but a sparkling wine. To show it as being top-end and produced in the same manner as Champagne it is called MCC.
This one was well received, pitched by the winemaker, Helanie Olivier, as being suitable for accompaniment with cheese, seafood, salads and pastries. All wines from Hoopenburg, situated in the Stellenbosch area, are what are known as bush vines, and this “wild” feel is often felt to be a factor of increased enjoyment by enthusiasts.
Our second sampling was a blanc de noir. As the name says, it is a white wine made from a dark grape – usually but not always pinot noir – meant to produce red wine. Ours was from Hillcrest estate in the Durbanville area north of Cape Town, where the grapes are grown on the Tygerberg Hills. This super wine had many of the characteristics of a red wine, but it was a salmon pink colour, gaining minimal exposure to the skins at the start of fermentation. This was followed by our first white wine, a False Bay chenin blanc. Grown on the Waterkloof estate overlooking False Bay, the grapes are exposed to excellent sea winds off the bay and this enhances their quality.
The fermentation of this False Bay wines is inspired with wild yeast, as opposed to refined yeast, and the result is often a mix of bready aromas and herbaceous notes. Winemaker suggestions for culinary accompaniment: shellfish, fish, spicy food and mild or soft cheeses.
The second white was a Noble Hill sauvignon blanc from the Simonsberg-Paarl area of the Cape, where the sauvignon blanc grapes come from the oldest vines on the estate – 30 years of age. This estate has the highly-desired twin attributes of being at high elevation and with access to maritime breezes off the Atlantic, and this wine was very elegant and smooth, suited to partying, drinking while watching the sunset or matching with seafood dishes.
Our first red was a Niel (yes, the correct way he spells his name) Joubert merlot. As a young red, only two years in the bottle, it had a purple tinge that will disappear with maturation, but it had a delightful plum colour and also some plum notes on the nose. Its producer recommends it is a perfect match for roast chicken or black mussels.
Next up was a De Meye cabernet sauvignon from 2015, so a wine well on its way to maturity; reds are considered to peak at five or six years. The De Meye estate goes back to the mid-17th century, when the first Myburgh settlers came to the Cape from the Netherlands, so the heritage of the estate is a fine one. The wine was excellent: very complex and full bodied with, as promised by the winemaker, a touch of coffee on the nose and palate.
We next tried a DeMorgenzon syrah, which was in itself a treat but made more so by a doubling helping; the first was served straight from the bottle but the second came through one of Albert’s specialised which create in the nano-seconds of pouring the essential “breathing” input that usually takes an hour of swirling and sitting. The difference was phenomenal, the second helping being even more remarkably smooth and enhanced.
DeMorgenzon is one of South Africa’s most respected estates, with wines grown at 400 metres above sea level in the Stellenboschkloof area. The syrah – also known as shiraz – was superb on the eye, nose and palate; deep purple in colour with lots of red berries on the nose and unusual hints of spice, pepper and even vanilla on the tongue. This wine spent more than 12 months in French oak and the effect was absolutely inspiring, with a product that is gentle and charming.
Our final wine was a real eye-opener: a wine brand new to Zimbabwe, brought in after being discovered by Albert while in South Africa. It’s called a Louis57 Private Collection Pinotage Oosthuizen – quite a mouthful! International golfer Louis Oosthuizen – winner of the 2010 Open Championship – decided to get into business and gave the name Louis57 to his collection of products: wine, craft beers, coffee, clothing and golfing accessories.
The Louis57 winery was opened in 2009, in the Stellenbosch area, and now has a respected range of labels. We tried a pinotage, mainly because this is a wine ‘invented’ in South Africa, when the first professor of viticulture at the University of Stellenbosch created a new variety from the difficult-to-grow pinot noir and the more easy-going cinsault (then called hermitage in SA). From this came pinotage, South Africa’s own wine.
The 57 of the name refers to the excellent score from a game of golf played by the champion on his home Mossel Bay course in 2002, when he played a round of 57 – 15 under par. Our wine was 100 percent pinotage and, described as suited to pairing with all beef, game and poultry, was plum and mulberry in colour, with strong red fruit flavours and silky tannins.
Louis57 wines are produced under licence by Boschkloof Wines of Stellenbosch, a business headed by well-known father-and-son team Jacques and Reened Borman. For me this was a classy and classic end to the evening and this discovery was one of the most enjoyable I have had in years, especially as it featured a varietal I have previously never really enjoyed.
Well done, Albert Nhau, on a superb selection, and for making the group of guests so welcome in Zimbabwe. Danai Wines can be visited at Chisi Walk shopping complex, adjacent to Spring Fever restaurant and situated on Shortheath Road, Chisipite.