Three Steps to Blagging it in the Cape Winelands

Be an instant ‘wine expert’ with our guide to sorting out the cigar box from the gooseberry nose

Ah, wine – the sweet elixir of Capetonian life, gloriously tasty and frightfully dangerous after the second bottle – is the modern-day drink of choice enjoyed as an aperitif or as an integral part of lunch and dinner. That's all very well and good but when you're surrounded by wine enthusiasts making horrible slurping noises the tipple suddenly becomes a mine field of leather cigar box and gooseberry noses.

Relax. We’ve teamed up with Warwick's Sales and Marketing Manager James Dare and Black Pearl Wine's Assistant Chief Winemaker Dr Lance C Nash to bring you three easy steps to blag it in the world of Cape wine. After all, they reckon that wine is open to interpretation so you're free to make up your own mind.

There's more to wine than plonking grapes in a bottle

If you pick out the separate components of a musical score it makes listening to a concerto all the more interesting," exclaims Lance, "It's the same with identifying the smells and flavours of wine. The more you know, the more you will enjoy it."

"Wine is naturally fermented grape juice with added yeast and sugar to transform it into alcohol. It can be enjoyed alone but if you're serious about wine you'll always have food in the back of your mind," says James, "Pairing food and wine is a case of trial and error and can depend on many factors including the time of day, your mood, the sauce on your steak and even what you ate for breakfast."

"The rule of thumb is that big wines go with big foods and delicate wines go with delicate foods," adds Lance, "With white wine, creamy foods pair well with Chardonnay whilst acidic foods pair well with Sauvignon Blanc."

Step 1: Become as one with the bottle of wine

"You can make bad wine out of good grapes but you can't make good wine out of bad grapes so what happens in the vineyard is important. The winemakers are equally important as they take the vineyard to the bottle as naturally as possible," says James.

The juice derived from grapes is always white. Red wine derives its colour, tannins and structure from the skin of the grapes. Bunches are taken to the cellar, de-stemmed and fermented with their skins. We've all seen people jumping up and down in barrels on TV but they are actually pulverising and fermenting grapes. The skins are then taken away to leave a red juice which is matured in a cask.

"The cask is very important," exclaims James, "It adds complexity to the wine when it leaches flavours from the barrel. French oak achieves a spicy flavour whilst American oak achieves a creamy, buttery taste."

The age of wine is also important and indicates when the grapes were picked. Red wine ages in barrels better than white as grapes have more skin contact for stronger structures and will carry on aging even after it has reached the bottle. In the barrel it will pick up farmyard flavours and the very ammunition the experts need to say, 'I'm getting dark chocolate with a hint of brambles'. Want to know your Shiraz from your Pinotage? Read our Short Guide to Grape Varietals in the Cape Winelands.

Step 2: Taste Wine

"Tasting wine is a very impolite business so don't be polite, suck in the air and swill it around like mad," advises Lance.

That doesn't sound sophisticated in the slightest but its all part of a wine tasting process that promises to indulge all of the senses. There are an elite bunch of wine tasters who have purist pallets but James says it all comes down to personal taste – you either like it or you don't.

"There is certainly snobbery in the wine industry," admits James, "I personally have enjoyed a R20 bottle of wine just as much as a R500 bottle of wine and look for a good balance between fruit, acidity, oak and sugar."

The first thing you should do is look at it. You'll notice that oaked wines tend to have a yellowish tint whilst un-oaked wines tend to be greener.

The second thing you should do is stick your nose in it and inhale, swirling it around just enough to release the flavours yet not enough to toss it over the person sitting next to you.

The third thing you should do is taste the wine. If you think of a bottle of wine as the band U2 the fruit would be lead singer Bono and the oak would be the background drummer whose name nobody really knows but still plays an important role in 'Where the Streets Have no Name'.

Step 3: Fool the experts

Armed with your wine know-how you could easily have your sommelier thinking: 'this guy obviously knows a thing or two about the almighty red'.

James says it's all about asking the right questions including 'Is this a cool or a warm vintage?', 'What type of terroir does this wine come from?' and 'Is this an estate or non-estate wine?' The sommelier will assume that you understand the styles of wine produced under varying weather and conditions.

"To impress a lady come up with a flavour so outlandish she won't be able to argue with it," advises Lance, "Tread with caution though as you run the risk of making a fool of yourself if they catch you out."

By Lisa Nevitt

When you're done learning about wine you'll be surprised to know that rewarding yourself with a trip to the Cape Winelands isn't actually bad for you. Read more about the Health Benefits of Drinking Wine and The Story of Warwick Wine Estate.

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