The Saga: My entry for Wine Blogging Wednesday 6, hosted by Jeanne over at Cook Sister, was hard come by... I originally set out to review the 2001 Rust En Vrede Estate Red (a Cabernet Sauvignon/Shiraz/Merlot blend) which came highly recommended to me at K&L last Saturday. I picked up a bottle post Champagne-tasting, and figured I would get my entry for a South African red started in advance by opening it that night. Hooray for planning ahead!
Then I opened the bottle.
Things weren't looking good, since the cork was soaked almost all the way through. I know that isn't always a bad sign, so I nervously poured some into a glass to sniff. Bad, bad bad. It smelled oxidized and had no good qualities. It was flat and gamey at best. To make sure (and because I am crazy like that), I took a sip. Worse! Nothing good on the palate, just acrid nastiness. The bottle was bad. I even checked some reviews online and determined that none of the qualities the reviewers mentioned were in that glass. Totally oxidized.
Sunday I took the bottle back to K&L and got a new one. I still had plenty of time. Then I opened that bottle and it was also bad. I started thinking this was not meant to be. I took this second bottle back Tuesday and Mike, who was there, opened another in the store. It was bad, too.
This left us both staring at the small South African selection available and making faces. I figured the Porcupine Ridge Syrah would be okay, but I had it not too long ago and was not really excited at having it again. It isn't bad, but it wasn't really exciting, and I wanted to try something new.
And so I ended up with a wild card. I didn't know anything about this when I got it (well, I remember looking at it in the K&L selection online when I was researching wines, and thinking "maybe that"), other than a silly Wine Spectator review we found in the K&L database that used the term "claret". I decided to take a chance and not hold a dumb review against a possibly good wine. And so I present (at almost 11.30 PM-- so much for planning ahead) the 2002 De Toren Diversity Gamma.
Region: Stellenbosch, South Africa
Composition: 36% Cabernet Franc, 31% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Petit Verdot, 8% Malbec
Background: This wine is leftovers, and when I think about it like that, it's kind of funny, even though if you are a winery trying to make a profit, you have to do something with those extra grapes, and that means creating more wine (under a second label, or not) or selling it in bulk. De Toren (Dutch for "the tower") is a small winery about 25 miles east of Cape Town, right outside Stellenbosch, and they have had some relative fame in past years for the one and only wine they made, a Cab-based blend called Fusion, which they first produced in 1999.
One year later they looked at the wine left over after choosing the lots for Fusion and wondered how it would taste if they did something with it rather than sell it off in bulk. They declared the resulting wine to be awesome and named it the 2000 Diversity Alpha. Last year they released the 2001 Diversity Beta (sense a theme, here?) and this year brings us the 2002 Diversity Gamma. Diversity Gamma has the lowest percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon yet (the wine started out as 100 percent CS in 2000 and dropped to 78 percent in Beta, and is now 15 percent in Gamma) and the wine spent 12 months in 2 and 3 year old French and American oak barrels. The grapes are grown in what De Toren claims is the world's only 100% gravity fed vinification process, which means they don't use any mechanical pumps in the winery, but allow gravity to draw the wine in and out of fermenting tanks and barrels and blend and manipulate it. They use a hoisting tower to aid this (hence "De Toren") and claim that the lack of mechanical pumping traumatizes the grapes less.
Notes: Even though it is a pretty ruby in the glass, this has a really weedy green nose, lots of bell pepper, and a slight musty odor that isn't TCA but something like wet dog (some brett, possibly, although this doesn't smell like the brett I have encountered before). There's also some black cherry, but it is really muted. In the mouth it is a slightly different animal... some more very slight black fruit, starting out muted but then bursting into a liquid smoky finish laced with tobacco. There is some nice acid and soft tannins, but the lingering taste in the mouth is one of ashes, which, although interesting, isn't particularly enjoyable. I did not love this wine and am still thinking there is something wrong with the bottle (not enough to make it undrinkable, but enough to make it off), although Matt liked it.
I have to wonder what it is about the terroir and/or winemaking style in South Africa that involves liquid smoke? I know I haven't had a ton of wines from there, and I am making a horrible generalization by saying it, but a lot of the South African wines I've tried have a smoky smell/taste that reminds me of the juniper tar in Kiehl's Drawing Paste. Anyway, this is something I am going to investigate more (I meant to this week, for WBW, but just haven't had the time yet). I was hoping this wine would be different, but alas, no luck. I am not giving up on South African wines, although maybe I should avoid the leftovers in the future.