Opinion: Of chin mullets and Cabernet

Chris Losh

Chris Losh

26 September 2015

Thursday was a 'two-tastings' day. I haven’t done one of those for a while because, frankly, life’s too short. But yesterday was an exception, since it gave me a chance to look at two things that interest me.

One was the 2013 Bordeaux vintage (hailed – if that’s the right word – as a dog almost since the minute the first grapes were picked); the other was the 'funky South Africans' tasting. 

And the fact that you can even use those three words in the same sentence without spellcheck picking it up as non-grammatical tells you something.

Bordeaux first: quiet rooms, 150 bottles laid out in a line, beautiful light, a sense of timelessness and elegance. The gentle settling of dust on tweed.

And the wines themselves? They were ok, I guess. Not as bad as I’d feared, and certainly better than they would have been from a comparable vintage 20 years ago. There was a definite sense of growers and winemakers doing everything they could to make the best of a bad job. And they’d succeeded.

There were a few highlights, and one or two growlers, but mostly it was a competent job. Not exciting, not overpriced, just… There. It was like a roomful of accountants smiling politely, and within 30 seconds of stepping out into the early autumn sunlight, all memory of them was duly gone.

The team at the Cru Bourgeois office are commendably forward-thinking and innovative – not just by French wine standards, but by any wine yardstick. They had the guys at Napa asking them for advice last year, apparently, which isn’t bad going. But if any set of wines needs an outside agency to inject a bit of life and energy into them, it’s these wines from this vintage.

The South-African tasting could hardly have been more different.

Instead of high-ceilinged Georgian elegance and beautiful natural light, we were down in the basement of a Soho record shop; instead of suits we had t-shirts; instead of immaculately-folded handkerchiefs, we had chin mullets.

I’m sure there was no dust, but if there was, it had no time to settle because the place was heaving. Having been approximately 20 years younger than most of the tasters at the Bordeaux tasting, I was here 20 years older. It didn’t feel like a tasting so much as a wine rave.

And once you got stuck into the bottles, the reason for the atmosphere became clear. There was real excitement here. People experimenting in the vineyard and in the winery, searching out new places, blending weird things together, and all in all creating wines that were as different from South Africa 10 years ago as it’s possible to get.

Everywhere were 20-somethings rushing to their buddies with a ‘you’ve got to try this’ expression on their face. When was the last time you saw that at a tasting?

Most stimulating of all was that it was so ubiquitous. What was a minority of boundary-pushing mavericks not that long ago is growing (with 36 producers alone here) into something that can genuinely be called a movement. And, perhaps most exhilarating of all, the guys know that they’re onto something.

They laughed, they joked, they told hilarious stories, they drank beer, they spoke about their wines animatedly, but without arrogance (really!).

All in all, they exuded the confidence of a group of people who know that the eyes of the world are upon them.

Yes, there wasn’t much under £20. But there wasn’t much that was overpriced for what was in the bottle either.

And as I staggered out into the Soho evening, I tried to remember my favourite wines – and gave up after 10…

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