Review: UnWined Wine Appreciation Course

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UnWinedGiven Cape Town’s outstanding wine routes, it is an excellent idea to take the opportunity to brush up on the art and mystique of wine. Many wine courses can be intimidating, but Karen Glanfield’s UnWined wine course adopts a spontaneously social approach to improving one’s wine knowledge, bringing out the fun of delving deeper into the complex world of wine.

The course runs over a period of six weeks, from about 6pm to 9pm every Tuesday evening. Each week a prominent wine maker or sommelier discusses the origin and profiles of a red and white wine, with participants partaking in a ‘vertical tasting’ – an exciting yet accurate technique of experiencing the differences between vintages, giving a precise feel of each, and highlighting the evolution of nuance as the wine progresses in age. Glanfield herself was very insistent that, yes, we should try to soak up all the insights shared by the experts, but it was also important that we should develop and trust in our own individual palates. Her success was proven by the noticeable divide in the group regarding personal taste of many of the vintages.

The charm of UnWined lies with its accessibility and diversity. Our group of 24 ‘students’ was made up of different age groups from mid­20s to mid­60s from a variety of career fields. Some were impressively knowledgeable already, others – like me – knew only that they liked wine. A reassuring aspect was the number of ‘repeat offenders’ ­ students who had already attended one or more courses (each course presenting different wine estates) and were back for more.

After each session a dinner, paired with the wines of the evening, was an optional extra (at an additional cost). These dinners were a great end to the evening: an agreeable and relaxed mingling session, discussing everything from wine to politics to careers.

Winemakers and experts for our course included Nitida’s boy wonder Brendan Butler ­ a young yet avid winemaker with an enthusiastic New World approach to winemaking. He offered an interesting and witty glimpse into his background and daily life before extolling the virtues of the unpopular Semillon and the highly popular Merlot. Zandvliet’s marketing guru Werner Els took a different approach, providing extensive food pairings and storage tips for the two wines which he presented: the popular Shiraz and my all­time favourite, Viognier.

Haskell’s leading lady Rianie Strydom ­ one of the country’s leading female cellarmasters ­ was charmingly down to earth, and described her participation with UnWined as a chance “to utilize the business input of my experience as sommelier”. With that she launched straight into the gemini of all wine varieties: Chardonnay. With a distinct hit­or­miss allure, Chardonnay was initially met with grimaces and pursed lips. What more could there possibly be to a wine that tastes like licking a tree? But after Strydom had exalted the oak trademarks, the underlying nuances, and the multi­faceted appeal, Chardonnay enjoyed a renewed interest within the group, and many successful converts. Until then I had had limited experience with whites, but by the end of the Unwined course I was raving about the simple to complex qualities of Chardonnay.

The elusive Pinot Noir also got its fair share in the spotlight. A chilled red that is subtler and more delicate than Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir’s flavour profile usually contains heavy berry, musk and earthy overtones. For a wine that I had only seen met with muted indifference wherever I went, I was fascinated to hear that among wine connoisseurs, Pinot Noir is often regarded as the go­to wine for insight into Burgundy wines, as it is one of the original single grape varietals. Patience and diligence is required, we learned, when tasting wines made from a single grape as opposed to blends. If we were lucky we’d be able to identify a distinguished and dignified sense that the wine is just… unravelling at its own pace. I found it with Felton Road’s tantalizingly sensual 2011 offering. And if the saying ‘God made Cabernet Sauvignon, but the devil made Pinot Noir’ (André Tchelistcheff) is to be believed, then just this once I will be siding with the Angel of Darkness.

We learned of the imperative elements which come into play with every vintage, from fruit yield, to weather conditions, to barrel types and more. The experts also settled some of the age­old debates such as cork vs screw top, controversial food pairings, ageability of white wine, and price vs quality theory. At times some of the more technical details – the evolution of barrels, the implications of terroir et al – were daunting, but there was little that Glanfield, with her vast knowledge and easy manner, was not able to translate for the eager – if tipsy – novices.

Benn Van Der Westhuizen

Benn attended the UnWined Wine Appreciation Course at The Vineyard Hotel in Claremont from 6 May to 10 June 2014. More courses are scheduled at this venue for 1 July to 5 Aug and 16 Sept to 21 Oct 2014, at a cost of R 750 per course. More info at www.kgbwine.co.za.

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