After one near-miss and two full-fledged misses, I was determined to plan for this one well in advance. Hence, a couple of weeks ago, I stepped inside one of the three wine stores that the rue des Martyrs boasts. This one is called Le Repaire de Bacchus (Bacchus’ lair), and it belongs to a franchise of forty such stores in France — when the national leader, Nicolas, has over 400.
I explained to the caviste that I was participating in a wine treasure hunt of sorts, for which I needed to procure a bottle of new world Riesling. He had one match, a South African blend of Riesling and Chenin Blanc from 2001, called Nicole’s Hat. I wondered for half a second if the presence of Chenin Blanc would disqualify it for this WBW, but decided, considering the limited new world choices you get in France, that I would give Nicole and her hat a chance.
I paid the 9.90€ and asked the salesguy if he could tell me a bit about the wine. He said that like most Rieslings it had a mineral and pétroleux taste, that the Chenin Blanc made rounder and fruitier. He recommended I cool it in the fridge for an hour before drinking it, on its own as an apéritif, or with fish and other light courses.
On the label, it said : “This zesty white wine is a celebration of crispy fruit flavours so typical of South African noble white varietals. Blended from selected Chenin Blanc and Riesling grapes of Paarl, Nicole’s Hat is made to be enjoyed on its own and will complement salads, fish and light pastas. Produced and bottled by Ashanti of Paarl, South Africa.” Alrighty.
After letting it freshen up a bit in the fridge, we uncorked the bottle using our tip-top deluxe wall-mounted corkscrew, a housewarming gift from our friend Baptiste a couple of years ago, and a cool home appendage that even your most blasé visitors are sure to comment upon. It just so happens that I have not yet mastered the noble art of wall-mounted bottle opening — I seem to have just a tad less triceps strength than is required and have sent artful splatters of wine onto our eggshell white wall on more occasions than I care to count — so Maxence is usually head of operations in that department.
The wine poured clear and liquid, and it revealed the lovely color of pink gold in the glass. I smelled sweet ripe pears very distinctly, but that smell wore off later, as the wine came closer to room temperature (and no smell of gasoline that I could trace). It was rather short-bodied (court en bouche in French), much more so than the Alsace Rieslings we’re used to, but fruity and fresh, the kind of light wine that’s pleasant for a pre-dinner drink. A wine that “drinks itself” as we say in French — “ça se boit tout seul!”.
I don’t think I would buy it again though, for a simple price reason : as much as I like the idea of drinking wine from South Africa, new world wines are rather pricy here (probably because of the import costs and because they order a small number of bottles to face the timid demand), and I could find a French wine of equivalent or higher quality for fewer euros…