I was given a bottle of the new Neethlingshof Chenin Blanc to taste. Although I thought that it was likely that I would like the wine, I felt that I owed it to my readers to keep the assessment as objective as possible. I decided to enlist the help of a panel of expert wine drinkers – not wine experts, not expert wine tasters, but a group of adept and experienced wine drinkers – my family.
I was headed to the Pilanesberg Game Reserve in North West Province, so I took the bottle along with me, carefully swaddled to protect it from aeroplane-induced bottle shock.
Cast of tasters:
- Dismissive mother: Surely you can’t taste all that cherry, candyfloss nonsense?
- Sceptical brother: There’s no such thing as a bad wine – it’s all subjective anyway.
- Reticent husband
I told them that they had to smell, taste and describe the wine; eat my carefully prepared snack of smoked salmon and then repeat the tasting.
My brother concentrated earnestly on his book and my husband looked through the binoculars at something in the distance. My mother announced she was off to watch the cricket. I trotted doggedly after her, and made a lunge for the remote control. I shepherded her back to the tasting area that I had set up. Once the others were similarly corralled, I poured out the wine, which had a lovely pale straw colour.
What did the wine smell and taste like?
- Sceptical brother: Melon and granadilla. Very refreshing. A pleasant warm weather wine.
- Dismissive mother: Green apples, and something slightly sharp. Refreshing.
- Reticent husband: –
Did they like the wine?
- Sceptical brother: Yes
- Dismissive mother: Yes
- Reticent husband: –
After eating the snacks, what effect did the food have on the wine and did they still like the wine?
- Sceptical brother: The lemon and capers damp down the flavour slightly, although I still like the wine.
- Dismissive mother: I can taste the granadilla now.
- Reticent husband: I like the wine, but that pairing really didn’t work for me. The strong flavours of the smoked fish overpowered the softness and delicacy of the wine. The capers and lemons are also too strong. I think it would go better with grilled fish – a white fish like Hake, Cape Salmon or possibly Cob.
We stared at the husband in awe, and I had to admit that grilled un-smoked white fish sounded like a more plausible match. I intend to try it and will report back to my readers on the outcome.
I allowed the tasting team to spend the rest of the day at leisure, and I took my wine outside to a patio lounger and surveyed the plains in front of me.
What did the wine taste like to me at that moment? It tasted like family. It tasted like friendship and love. It tasted like memories, memories of the many happy holidays we have spent together in the Pilanesberg over many years. It tasted like nostalgia, which brought to mind my stepfather, who shared those holidays with us, but is no longer here. He would have enjoyed my wine exercise, and had something measured and sensible to say about it.
My prediction that I would like the wine was correct, but right at that moment, staring up at the red rocks and thorny scrub, listening to the metallic chucking of francolins, right at that moment the wine tasted to me like Africa, and for that I loved it.