There’s something nicely symmetrical, in an anarchic kind of way, about Mines and Wines. Turn the M of Mines upside down and Pluto (Greek God of mining) morphs into Bacchus. Which must explain why some many miners pack a corkscrew along with a geological hammer on field trips. And also explains my hangover after too many Italians with Scott Jobin-Bevans, past president of the PDAC, at Gusto 101 (below) in the Fashion District of Toronto on Tuesday.
While the octopus was admirably succulent, I searched in vain for a maritime Sauvignon Blanc on the wine list, settling for a mountain version from Alto Adige which was more Riesling than Cape Point. In fact, SA wines were conspicuous by their absence in Toronto. But then why a civilized society needs a Liquor Control Board like the one in Ontario, escapes me. As does why SA wine needs WOSA, who purport to promote SA wines overseas.
For connecting Mines and Wines is a no-brainer (even for WOSA) as geology is the starting point for all discussions on terroir. Clearly wines made from grapes grown on clay soils versus limestone versus granite versus sandstone has been done before but the whole bigger picture has perhaps been overlooked.
I’m talking about a broader classification and imagine a triangle, a bit like a phase diagram, with vertices maritime (blue), mountain (green) and inland (red) wines from which every style can be fashioned. No wonder the South African Winelands form a geographic triangle.
I’d originally wanted to call inland appellations “continental” until a Stellenbosch marketer remarked “continental sounds too European” like those Viennese cafés that washed up in Hillbrow in the seventies. Still Europe was the mother block which supplied the first alien invader vines for a wine industry at the southernmost tip 360 years ago.
The English language needs five vowels to make all the words that Shakespeare wrote although Wikipedia does list 310 vowelless words with “twyndyllyngs” meaning twins the longest. Interestingly enough, the French decadent poet Arthur Rimbaud (called “an infant Shakespeare” by Victor Hugo) who visited the Cape for a brief shining moment in the 1880s, assigned colours to the vowels with the three that interest wine lovers: O (for Ocean) coloured blue, U (for Uplands or mountain) coloured green and I (for Inland) coloured red in the poem Vowels:
I, purples, spat blood, smile of beautiful lips
in anger or in the raptures of penitence;
U, waves, divine shudderings of viridian seas,
the peace of pastures dotted with animals, the peace of the furrows
which alchemy prints on broad studious foreheads;
O, sublime Trumpet full of strange piercing sounds,
silences crossed by Worlds and by Angels:
O the Omega! the violet ray of His Eyes!
Some appellations are located near a Vertex of Terroir: Lambert’s Bay is exclusively maritime and is thus blue (a point recognized by Thys Louw if you consider the colour scheme of his Sir Lambert Sauvignon Blanc) and Calitzdorp is totally inland (and inbred in that forgotten valley called Die Hel) while others are mixtures. Stellenbosch is maritime and mountain and the corresponding colour is yellow – green and blue while the Swartland, literally “black land”, is a mixture of all three archetypes (white), negated.
Food can be represented in a triangle which corresponds to a wine Triangle of Terroir™. Shellfish and salmon trout work best with fresh maritime wines as does pork belly, as the high acids hydrolyse the fats. Game is paired with intensely flavoured mountain wines as the high tannins are antioxidants which aid digestion of protein while higher alcohol continental wines are indicated for grilled beef and chicken or sweet sauces, as sugar and alcohol molecules are similar in shape.
Wine may be chemically decomposed into a triangle with vertices tannin, body and structure at the top, sugar and alcohol bottom right and acid freshness bottom left. The trick of matching food and wine is to align the triangles. A task for a Pythagoras of the Palate. One day all restaurant wine lists like the one at Gusto 101 will recognize that the owner’s favourites or at the other extreme, pages of Sauvignon Blancs, are like those palate cleansers from the eighties served between courses: a waste of time. You need a maritime model like Fryer’s Cove 2011, a mountain goat like the Cederberg 2011 and an inland identity such as the Du Toitskloof 2012.
After all, if you expect some of the +30,000 delegates at this year’s PDAC to patronize your establishment, meeting them halfway makes sense, both geological, vinous and marketing. Triangles of Terroir in a Mines and Wines context, is the key to understanding terroir, or pay dirt as miners call it.