(For all my 2016 wine tastings, click the "wine2016" label at the end of this blog, or "recipes2016" for diet recipes; or for all the writing I've ever done on the subject, click "wine" or "recipes.")
A special two-in-one post tonight -- a new diet recipe to share, and a new wine tasting that went with it! The recipe's actually really easy to describe -- simply wrap a salmon steak in a couple of strips of bacon, then broil for five minutes on each side, topped with whatever herbs you have available. It sounds indulgent, but it's only 133 calories, and is a luscious little dinner for those like me who are on a diet.
And to pair with it, a bottle of South African Cabernet Sauvignon! South Africa has a similar history to other New World countries like in South America and Australia; the wine-making tradition there actually goes all the way back to the 1600s, with the original establishment of the Dutch East India Company, but for centuries the wineries there mostly grew grapes considered crap by Europeans, for cheap consumption by local blue-collar workers. After the end of apartheid, though, and especially after the economic recession of the early 2000s, South Africa found itself finally on the receiving end of a lot of new attention from places like the US, and this was combined with South African vintners making a newfound dedication to such "noble" grapes as Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, all of which benefit greatly (or so it could be argued) from the long hot days and short cold nights of these New World countries, which both ripens the grapes faster (leading to much bolder flavors than traditional European wines) and halts fermentation at night (leading to more acid in the wine, and hence a "crisper" taste).
Tonight's wine is from a tiny little winery in Robertson called Excelsior, which is actually a horse ranch as well, and has a Victorian mansion on the premises that's been turned into a 9-room inn with accompanying gourmet restaurant that tourists can stay at. Like many South African wineries, the estate was actually turned into an ostrich ranch in the 1800s, to feed the unstoppable Victorian craze for ostrich feathers; but unlike many of the others, Excelsior still continued to make wines that whole time as well, so survived after the ostrich feather boom was over, unlike most of the other ranches which went out of business. As far as I can tell, most of Excelsior's small output of wine is actually meant to be sold and drank at their on-premise inn, restaurant and deli, with only a small amount of it actually being exported through an "all tiny Cape Town estates" distributor they signed up with, which makes this a particularly delightful rare find here on the shelves of my local Whole Foods in Chicago.
(As you can see, I'm starting to build up a backlog of wines for the first time too, in preparation for my Friday night dinner parties that start on January 29th. I'll be doing them all year, so if you'd like to attend one, simply drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know.)
Cabaret Sauvignon, 2013
Robertson, South Africa
- Look: The darkest and most opaque wine I've had so far in 2016, with the strongest legs as well.
- Smell: Very similar to the New World Shirazes and Malbecs I've tried this year too – a strong and intense aroma, heavily reflecting “not actually sweet sweet” fruits like blackcurrant, as well as what I've been calling in my head a sort of musty smell with some of the wines I've been drinking this year, which I just learned because of online reading is what others commonly refer to as a “oaky” smell, reflecting the oak barrels the wine was aged in before bottling.
- Taste: This is a funny case of my initial thoughts exactly mirroring the actual situation; when I first tasted this, it occurred to me how this is just as strong a flavor as the Shirazes and Malbecs I've already tried in 2016, but how it's missing that kinda bitter, kinda “squeaky” feeling in the mouth that comes with the high tannins of dark reds (if you've ever left a bag of tea in your mug for too long, you know that sorta dry, squeaky feeling in the throat I'm talking about), and when visiting the winery's website I saw them talk about how they “rack” their wine twice a day (i.e. siphon it from one barrel to another to get rid of more and more sediment), specifically to lessen the tannin effect of dark red wines. (It's the skins of the grapes that contain all those tannins; the less the grape juice is exposed to these skins, the less tannins it has, which is why red wines always have more tannins than white.) The result is a powerfully dark yet extremely smooth wine, the first I've tried in 2016 that I can legitimately call “lush” without feeling embarrassed.
- After a Full Glass: After an entire glass with a dinner of salmon steaks wrapped in bacon, I can see even more why getting rid of excess tannins might be so important to a dark red wine; for this mellowed and combined with my dinner in a way that none of the other dark reds I've tried this year have, a sort of wonderfully perfect companion to the salty, meaty treat of fish wrapped in bacon. An extremely pleasant wine, my first five-star rating of the year, and what I consider my first “hidden gem” among $10 wines I've now found*.
- *And it should be noted that this is the very first wine of the year that I bought because of a recommendation from a wine clerk; specifically, a very outgoing Whole Foods wine buyer who asked if I needed any help when I was at the store today, which gave me the excuse to follow advice I read in one of my research books this year, to be honest with a wine clerk about what you already know instead of either trying to claim false modesty or put on airs. I told her that I'm a fan of dark reds, that I like New World wines, and that I didn't have more than ten bucks to spend; so based on this first interaction, certainly this confirms the advice you hear all the time in wine writing, that developing a relationship with your local wine clerks will get you access to amazing bottles you may have never heard of before.