If you try different wines, you are bound to figure out what works for you. Welcome to our third wine of the week! Our journey continues, as we explore South African wines. You shouldn’t feel excluded from the world of wine, simply because you don’t live near a wine region. Our wine this week, is a red wine, and it is a Merlot. I chose a single varietal to try, as before we get into blends, we need to have some sense of how some of those grapes taste individually. Merlot is one of the more popular red wine varietals in the world, just behind the Cabernet Sauvignon. Both came into being originally from Bordeaux, which is why Merlot makes up one of the primary grapes in a Bordeaux Blend. Introducing the Spier Signature Merlot 2015!
This is also a Category C wine, similar to our previous two, albeit they were both white wines. If you don’t know what my reference to Category C means, please refer back to the first of our series of wine tasting, which was the Thelema Sauvignon Blanc. Before we climb into the wine, I need to just gauge the temperature on what you believe. I was always taught that red wine is to be served at ‘room temperature’. What was omitted from that story, is that it was before global warming became a problem. More importantly, it referred to room temperature in Europe, not room temperature in Africa!
Red wine is better served slightly cool, which is anything from 17 degrees to 21 degrees Celsius. You can therefore chill the wine to get it to that ideal temperature. That won’t serve you much though, if the wine is stored at temperatures above 25 degrees Celsius at the retailer. Wine starts to “cook” and it can get spoiled if stored at a temperature that is too high for an extended time before consumption.
For that reason, I find small bottle stores tricky to buy wine from. Stores without cooling and ventilation, tend to be very hot in South Africa, well above 25 degrees. Depending on how quickly they sell their stock, you are at risk of buying a ‘cooked’ wine from them. A boutique wine merchant on the other hand, who typically has air-conditioning to safeguard their merchandise, is more reliable if you decide to go with small retailers. Big retailers, for example Woolworths and Pick n Pay carry a different risk in that regard.
What made me think of this, was when I bought this Spier Signature Merlot 2015. I bought it at the local Spar. It was on a shelf which was on the same row as the perishable food, which is in fridges. It makes for a significantly cooler spot for storage of the wine, than the Tops store next door, which did not have an aircon. It was boiling hot when I stepped in there, hence I went next door to Spar. I often get put off in restaurants where the shelf to show off the wine is above eye level, right below the beaming electric lights which for me interferes negatively with the wine. Temperature and light are risks to wine when it is resting in the bottle.
Buying wine at Retailers like Spar, Woolworths and Pick n Pay has it’s advantages, in that their stores have to be at cooler temperatures to safeguard their food. I feel terrible for highlighting that as I am a supporter of small businesses, but if the air-conditioning is not cranked up, then buyer beware, when in the corner liquor store. Particularly when you find the ‘not so everyday wine’, as it will have been sitting there for a while. That is the long round about way for me to say, be choosy about where you buy your wine and don’t be ashamed to pop it in the freezer for a good fifteen minutes, particularly in summer, to get it to the ideal serving temperature. We’re in Africa, it’s hot out here!
Back to the Spier Signature Merlot, 2015! According to the National Institute of Health, 80% of our sensory information the brain receives comes from our eyes. That’s why when you pour your wine, take your time to look at it. See it! Yes, you can simply say it’s a red wine, but what else comes up in your vocabulary describing the colour of the wine? If the sight of this wine in your glass does not tickle your taste buds, then you are a tough customer. This Spier Signature Merlot was a rich, dark, red. I found it to be a pleasing colour, almost a burgundy shade (the colour not the region in France).
After you see the wine, you sniff the wine… Swirl it first. This is not simply about looking good. It releases the aromas making it all that much easier for you to distinguish and pick up the different volatile compounds. Growing up, I was taught that it was rude to smell ‘food’. Now I have to unlearn that, and I smell food at every chance. I guess now I am smelling more for the aromatic effects, than to determine if something is off. So for some of my Black brothers and sisters, you might need to rewire your brain that the struggle is over, we can smell without feeling like we are insulting the winemaker. There was a hint of mint in the nose of the wine. Floral notes on the one hand and yet quite fruity as well.
After smelling the wine, we sip it. I definitely picked up the tannins, but they were not at all harsh. You can feel them grip the side of your tongue, an almost dry mouth sensation where you might feel like your tonge is stuck to the roof of your mouth. At 14% alcohol, it’s a full bodied wine, but I would not say it is bold. The finish is long enough, but it’s not a complex wine, with fruity flavours consistent when drinking. This is a R63-00 bottle of wine, so the lowest price point of the wines we have tasted thus far. The price point does not correlate to where I rank it out of the three wines. There is value to be had in this Spier Signature Merlot 2015 as far as everyday wines go.
I am a big fan of the Spier wine farm, and have explored their plethora of offerings on multiple occasions. If ever you come to The Cape, this is a stop you must make, even if it’s for a day trip and you don’t stay at their hotel. They have a fantastic model and approach which resonates for me in terms of their consciousness of the environment and community around them. They have also not lost themselves as they grew, becoming more and more popular. While the farm is in Stellenbosch, the grapes for the Spier Signature Merlot are sourced from the Swartland and Darling area.
I am of the view that South African wines in the Category C band are streets ahead of similar price points for international wines. I could be wrong, but my little experience of drinking wine in England, Spain and the USA, as well as some foreign wines I have bought locally, leaves me with that impression. Next week, we will be tasting another red wine, only this time it’s in Category B. As you may have noticed, Jordan now has full creative license on the photography work, while I stick to my lane of seeing the wine for what it is, having also sniffed it and sipped it. I hope you are giving it a try, and slowing it all down from simply consuming the wine, to looking to understand why it is you enjoy the aroma, taste and flavour in the glass.