Tickle your taste buds at half the price

Is there a difference between a R50 wine and a more expensive one?

Cheaper wines are the ones you quaff with friends while waiting for a fire to burn down so you can braai, or with a takeaway pizza after a heavy day at the office.

It wouldn’t be a sin to cook with them and yet they’re also nice enough to take to a friend’s house for a casual dinner. Don’t you just hate it when your host(ess) whisks away one of your most absolute treasured bottles and serves a quaffable cheaper one instead?

Wine enjoyment is a subjective experience and taste is not an exact science. It’s a good idea to have an all-purpose, buy-by-the-case “house” wine. A classic, seasonal, versatile, reliable and affordable wine, one that won’t wrinkle noses or taste like the “dump bucket” (where all the unconsumed wine is poured).

During a recent trip to Root 44, I stretched my credit card and stocked up with nine bottles of red wine from the extensive stock at Mooiberge Farmstall after advice from the salesman.

That night, popping a screw top when a friend came to visit, we tried a merlot 2016. One of South Africa’s larger wineries saw the old branding replaced with “Bonnievale Wines” and the introduction of a one-word slogan – Unpretentious.

This was followed by the arduous task of tasting, comparing, marking of five, with one being bad and five being superb.

Having given the Bonnievale wine one, the next day my tastebuds travelled to Franschhoek and The Wolftrap, a 2015 blend of syrah, mourvedre, viognier. The most expensive of the nine bottles, at R49, the difference was noticeable, smoother with less tannin.

The third night was Doolhof’s Cape Boar 2015, a French-style blend of cabernet sauvignon and merlot. Located at the end of a valley in Wellington where horses roam and mountain bikers groan, this wine is exceptionally drinkable and scored 3.5.

Another great wine producing area is Stellenbosch and Fleur Du Cap, one of the flagships of the Distell group, with their 2015 blend of shiraz, grenache, cinsault, got a three on my scale.

By coincidence I bought two bottles of the Four Cousins range named after third generation wine lovers at Van Loveren Vineyards in Robertson. The 2016 Mulberry Merlot scored 3.5 while the 2014 Cocoa Cabernet Sauvignon came out tops with 4.5.

Only one of the nine bottles, the 2014 merlot from Du Preez Private Cellar, would have been better left on the shelf.

By now I questioned my own shortcomings and the ugly truth of wine: much of what we taste is in our heads and not in the wine. Faced with two wines, the bottles covered in brown bags, would I be able to tell the difference between an award-winning varietal or that of a red wine tinted white one.

Offering wine to friends I’ve noticed that other “elements” that pollute the wine tasting experience. These include label, price, colour, food, ratings and scores but worst of all is personal experience.

Another element is cork versus screw top. Try it. Pop a cork and you can almost see people’s taste buds go into overdrive. Unscrew a cap and they ask for a beer.

It’s not just my opinion. Go online and you will see that several curious scientists, psychologists and winemakers have been proving the power of these influences for decades. Actually, I like the crack that a metal top makes and while my women wine-drinking friends have no problems with screw tops, men appear to prefer the rigmarole that goes with unscrewing a cork.

Not one to turn down a challenge, two weeks later, after much swirling, sniffing, wrinkled brows and sipping some more, I learnt that letting the wine breathe does help. Another tip addresses the powerful element in the wine tasting experience: temperature, although in winter it’s not such an issue.

Wanting to compare prices, I spent time exploring Checkers’ extensive wine range. Seduced by well-known brands tasted on wine farms and sold in this store at comparable prices I stuck to the job at hand. They actually make buying wine easy for us by labelling “Great Value” wines in separate varietals. Here are a few options:

Nederberg 2016 Baronne at R46 is the Platters best winery of the year.

Backsberg dry red at R46.

Stellenbosch Mountain Shadows range includes cabernet sauvignon, pinotage, shiraz or merlot, at R33 a bottle.

Porcupine Ridge Syrah 2015 at R46. At the end of the day, wine is perception and no one is really an expert. If you love wine you tend to love it because it’s a taste adventure. Whether it’s expensive or cheap, something you have shared and discovered with friends, a special occasion or a place, don’t get complicated about it, just try to keep it simple and enjoy it. It could be a salmon pink rose, a ruby red cabernet franc or an aromatic litchi chenin, wine has power to transport us to another place or time. Raise a glass of any wine and drink to that. Cheers!