Impressions of new(ish)comer David Clarke

Friday, 25 October, 2013
David Clarke, Via Tim James's blog, Grape.
David Clarke is an Australian sommelier now living in Cape Town. I (Tim James) thought it would be interesting and valuable to have his perceptions of wine-life here. And so it is – see below.
I arrived in South Africa from Australia to settle indefinitely at the end of January 2013  roughly nine months ago. My first visit was in 2006 visiting my Afrikaner wife-to-be. Although I have visited almost every year since, this has been my longest uninterrupted stay.

Three months ago Tim asked me if I could write a short piece about my impressions so far of the South African wine scene. After much procrastination and many a false-start, I have compiled a list of the biggest surprises for this Aussie since his arrival in mid-summer.

A couple of notes (caveats?) before I begin:

- While trying to be as honest as possible, these are generalisations and there are exceptions to every point (the chardonnays of Crystallum being one).

- This list probably reveals more about me and my expectations before moving to the Cape than it does about what I have found here.
In no particular order, the ten biggest surprises for me after 9 months in the Cape (I didn’t try for ten, that’s just how many there are):

1. The excellent quality and diversity of the Chenin Blanc wines (and Chenin-led blends). These wines represent what marketing people like to call USPs (unique selling points). In other words the wines offer something that is not replicated elsewhere in the wine world. This would be useless if the wines were no good, but some of these wines are truly world class and deserve to be viewed (and priced) as such. The much spoken about versatility of Chenin has, perhaps, kept the price low, as style can be difficult to ascertain from the label. In general I am SERIOUSLY excited about these wines.

2. The poor quality of the majority of Chardonnay and sparkling wines. The standard of the wines made from the 4th most planted white variety in the Cape—after Chenin, Colombar(d) and Sauvignon—is not in line with its global reputation as THE white wine variety. On the one hand there are too many wines by aspirational producers reeking of oak and tasting like syrup, and on the other too many austere, angular wines produced by those wanting to cash in on the commercial bonanza that is Sauvignon Blanc. For a country proud enough to have its own laws about quality sparkling wine production (MCC), it is disappointing to witness both winemakers and marketers obsessed with months spent on lees rather than where and how the fruit is grown.

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