Warm climate Paarl hosts some of South Africa’s best-known wine brands. Situated east of and inland from Cape Town, Paarl produces nearly every type of wine: still, sparkling, bone dry or sticky sweet. As with many regions known primarily for quantity, pockets of quality do arise. Glen Carlou, founded in 1985, was acquired by Hess Family Estates in 2003, and now produces three ranges of artisanal wines, all based on international grape varieties, most of them French. The Hess Collection sent me a red and a white, both from their mid-level Classic line, each imported in limited quantities and retailing for a suggested $19.99.
The Glen Carlou 2009 Grand Classique is perhaps the only wine I have encountered of late in which I have seen a blend of precisely all five of the so-called “Bordeaux” grape varieties: 43% Cabernet Sauvignon, followed by Petit Verdot, Malbec, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. This wine is aged 18 months in 40% new French oak, 60% once-used French oak. Beyond being a tribute to the breadth of wine that is Bordeaux, this is truly a skillful blend. The color itself begins to tell the story: the deep red you get from a prime ripe cherry exactly in season; dark, but you can see the outline of your finger when you hold the glass up to the light. I realize I go on about the appearance, but I rarely see this combination of clarity and depth. I need to take my glasses off to take in the nose. The fruit here is more black cherry, with a touch of nutmeg and a vanilla note. The palate brings pomegranate, cranberry, and cherry with lively but friendly acidity. The wine is medium-bodied with a smooth mouthfeel, ripe tannins, and in fact, a sense of ripeness all around. The finish has reasonable length, with flavor at every point. As French as its constituents may be, and as sophisticated as this wine is, let us call it a New World success (and that is a compliment).
The Glen Carlou 2010 Classique Chardonnay is, in the French tradition, 100% Chardonnay, aged 10 months in a combination of first, second, and third-fill oak. Color is a bright straw yellow with tinges of green. On the nose, I found warm aromas of white flowers, crisp pear and a hint of white pepper. On first attack the wine shows a sprightly acidity which continues through the mid-palate. Flavors are of green apple, fresh lemon, along with some well-integrated oak. Finish is clean and refreshing. I need to note here that I pre-matched this wine with my (unforgettable) Maryland crab cakes. Unfortunately, Whole Foods Market was out of crabmeat. I substituted a ground turkey terrine with a sourdough bread-morsel base, used a bit of spice (some Cajun seasoning and grains of paradise) and still got good empathy between the solid and the liquid. Paarl may have a warm climate, but the crisp cool-climate acidity and fruit notes made this a versatile food buddy.
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Paarl in South Africa is bringing us promising wines
James Beard Award Nominee Elliot Essman
Glen Carlou winemaker Arco Laarman
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