A few months ago, I lamented about the concept of online wine tastings. Basically, I felt that they have become ubiquitous, but it did not seem that the organizers always had a plan or a goal in mind. In fact, it seemed like the purpose of many of the tastings was simply “well, everyone seems to be doing them, so we might as well, too!”
A crappy approach that usually led to rather crappy experiences.
After that first article, I received a bit of criticism from both bloggers and PR people, most of it justified. (There were some that honestly seemed like they were taking me to task because they thought I was trying to kill their golden goose, but I will leave it at that.)
The valid arguments were centered around two main themes:
- Online tastings are designed to create a bit of a buzz about the wine or region in question.
- The tastings are also intended to build and foster a sense of community between regions, producers, and writers.
As a result, I decided to get back up on the horse, so to speak and I participated in a tasting hosted by the Wines of South Africa.
And it was wonderful, easily the best online tasting I have ever experienced.
Why, you may ask?
Well, there were several reasons:
- First, it was small–by my count there were the facilitators, about 12 wine writers, and the producers. Certainly not a “small” group, but there was an intimate feeling to it that was certainly refreshing.
- Second, generally speaking, the event was technically sound. Sure, there were a couple of glitches, but by and large it went off without a hitch.
- Next, the producers were all active participants. By “active” I really do mean engaged. All the producers were represented (despite the 12 hour time difference) and they really seemed committed to answering all questions.
- I learned a ton about the wines and the region. Granted, I did not know a ton going in so just about everything was “new”, but still, the tasting and accompanying information was valuable.
- Clearly more than any other tasting, the producers did not ignore tough questions. Apartheid. Yeah, I went there. And they handled it with aplomb. In other tastings I have asked about more mundane issues (e.g., Stelvin vs. synthetic closures) that go unanswered.
- Last, the wines were really, really good. I guess that sounds a bit petty, but it is really important. I do not care if all the above points are covered in spades, if the wine stinks, so will the tasting. But they didn’t. To wit:
2013 Groot Constantia Sauvignon Blanc: Retail $20. Sauvignon Blanc is the second most widely planted grape variety in South Africa, and has been steadily growing in both popularity and quality. Upon pulling the cork, quickly struck by notes of kiwi and an herbaceous element. Not “grassy” as so many Sauv Blancs can be as it falls more on the herbal, minty side. On the palate, bright and racy with great acidity, but there is also a roundness to it that no doubt comes from the three months that it spent on the lees. Particularly well done. Outstanding. 90-92 Points.
2013 Ken Forrester Chenin Blanc The FMC: Retail $70. This is a special wine, there is no doubt about it. When I first twisted off the cap and poured, I was captivated by the intense apricot, vanilla, and honey on this wine. It’s body on the tongue is remarkable while maintaining a vibrant freshness. OK, this gets a whoa. Maybe two. Of all its remarkable attributes, perhaps the finish is the most noteworthy as the wonderful flavors stay en bouche for at least a minute or two. Whoa. Outstanding. 93-95 Points.
2014 Paul Cluver Gewürztraminer Elgin: Retail $15. I tend to get a bit nervous when I see a Gewurztraminer from outside of Alsace. I studied in Strasbourg for a year and my wine appreciation began there, tasting through countless Rieslings, Pinots (Blanc, Gris, and Noir), and Gewurztraminers (you will notice that I use the Alsatian spelling of the varietal, which has no umlaut). So when I see another region try to tackle the grape, I am more than a bit skeptical. This Cluver, however, erases any unease rather quickly with aromas of lychee and melon, which are paired with a rich, slightly unctuous mouthfeel and just a hint of sweetness. No, it is not an Alsatian Gewurz, nor should it be, but it is decidedly good, in fact Very Good. 88-90 Points.
2013 Creation Pinot Noir Walker Bay: Retail $30. I am not sure if I have had a Pinot from South Africa before, but if this is a good representation, I should certainly move them to the top of the list of wines to seek out. Characteristic tart dry cherry and noticeable smoke invite you in (and a bit of Brett), where there is a fine balance of fruit, tartness, and just the right amount of oak influence. This is certainly a well made Pinot, particularly at the price point and it seems to be right at the crossroads of the New and Old World styles: juicy fruit initially followed by plenty of depth and hints of earth. Outstanding. 90-92 Points.
2013 Excelsior Cabernet Sauvignon: Retail $9-10. Under Stelvin. A bit hot on the nose (14.5%) but big fruit–red berry a-go-go and a bit of licorice. On the palate, I was shocked, yes shocked. This does not taste like a bargain wine. At. All. Initially, I thought this tasted like a $30 Cab easy. A day later? The fruit comes out even more and it masks the depth a bit, but this is still a wine that I would buy by the case, easy. Will it change your life? It might. Particularly since it will make you seriously consider a trip to South Africa. Very Good to Outstanding. 89-91 Points.
2013 Lammershoek Pinotage LAM Swartland: Retail $20. I have a love-hate relationship with Pinotage. For the most part, I see it as what it is: a hybrid grape (a cross of Pinot Noir and Cinsault) that seems to highlight the worst aspects of both its parents. I have had countless Pinots and at least a score of Cinsaults and generally speaking, each on its own is generally better than the offspring. Then there is this wine. It certainly has that Pinotage funk on the nose, but it is extremely light in color and agile on the palate, there is ample fruit, good acidity, and then the funk. I have to say that this is perhaps the best Pinotage I have had, but, well, I am not a fan of Pinotage and would likely not buy it. If, however, you are a fan of Pinotage? Buy it, Very Good to Outstanding. 89-91 Points.
So I think I may have turned the corner on online tastings. Or at least I see their worth when they are done right, and clearly, if this tasting is any indication, the Wines of South Africa and Colangelo & Partners Public Relations know how to do online tastings right.