South African wine – the latest Scottish tipple

Peter Jones is giving nothing away. I’m trying to do likewise, but when you’ve pitched to the fiercest of the Dragons Den panel (who’s built like a lock forward, which doesn’t ease the nerves), then staying calm is challenging. Every week hopeful entrepreneurs see their start-up dreams shattered by Jones’s brutally precise voice of reason, and I’m shaking ever so slightly at the response I’ll get. But after an eternal wait, the fiercest of the Dragons breaks into a smile and nods in approval: he likes the wine I’ve chosen for him…

I’ve just got back from my favourite week of the year: the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, a celebration of golf across the Old Course at St. Andrews, Kingsbarns, and Carnoustie, three of the world’s great homes of the game. The world’s top professionals – this year led by Rory McIlroy, Ernie Els, Justin Rose and John Rahm – are joined by golf-mad celebrities, in 2019 including Justin Timberlake, Vinnie Jones, Wladimir Klitschko and Bill Murray. (I played the Old Course with Bill on Monday, a surreal experience that would require a book, rather than a column, to cover the full entertainment value.)

It’s not just golf, though: the event is built on a platform of camaraderie and friendship, and celebrates the people involved as much as the game. Feeding nicely into that celebration is South African wine, which plays a prominent role through the week, but particularly on the Thursday night, when a small selection of estates are on show for an evening of wine tasting. Which is how I found myself nervously choosing wine for the biggest star of the BBC hit Dragons Den.

I needn’t have worried, though, for Jones has played the event before, and we’ve shared many glasses together, including a tasting last year, when he supplied a couple of excellent bottles of Bordeaux, which I countered with equally good South African blends at a tenth of the price. So which wine did I successfully pitch to Dragon Jones? The splendid 2011 Anthonij Rupert, a sweeping blend of dark, rich, supple majesty; the cabernet sauvignon base enhanced in particular by a splash of cabernet franc. The television star was thus a very happy man; so too was Linkin Park bass player Dave Farrell, who’d done some tasting with me at Ellerman House last year on a visit to South Africa. Farrell found love with some chenin with plenty of history. 

The first was a nine-year-old bush vine from Welbedacht; owner and former Springbok Schalk Burger happily pouring the lush, creamy 2000 vintage from those enormous hands into which bottles simply disappear. And the second, slightly fresher and crisper and full of delight, was the work of passion that is Die Ou Bosstock from L’Ormarins. It’s made from 55-year-old bush vines transplanted in small chunks from the Paardeberg and rehoused in Franschhoek, with an 85% success rate. The resultant wine produced makes for less than a thousand bottles, but each one is a singing endorsement for the wonder that is old-vine chenin blanc from South Africa.

Farrell wasn’t the only devotee: actor Matthew Goode, of Downton Abbeyand The Good Wifefame, is also the host of a wine show, and we’ve spent many hours together being wine anoraks (and sharing our dislike of truffle oil). Die Ou Bosstok in particular got approval from Goode (an outside bet as the next Bond), in a room full of big names and big wines, all overseen by Anthonij Rupert’s Gareth Robertson.

La Motte’s Hanneli R, Ernie Els’s Signature, Rust en Vrede’s Estate, Welbedacht’s Number 6, Rupert and Rothschild’s Baron Edmond – all found favour through the evening, doing a collective job of showcasing South African wine to the assembled audience in Scotland. And then there was one last wine that met with particular approval from Jones and Goode: the newly released 2014 edition of The Jem from Waterford, the regal red kaleidoscope that embraces the breadth of Waterford’s variety, and under Mark le Roux’s expert eye combines for another of our iconic wines. On that Thursday night in St. Andrews, the real stars on show were being poured from bottles to extremely happy recipients.

What I’m drinking this week:The other big night of the week in Scotland is the Saturday night gala dinner, which I’ve now hosted for ten years: fireworks, dancing, and a band that this year included Ronan Keating, Brian McFadden, Mike Rutherford, and the aforementioned Schalk Burger, a surprisingly gifted musician. I watched Schalk sing ‘Knocking On Heaven’s Door’ with Ernie Els over a glass of wine – not Ernie’s own excellent selection, but instead the Cape Of Good Hope Sneeukraans pinot noir. Gentle red fruit, with a silky, slightly creamy feel and a lingering finish, it’s both soft and powerful at the same time. Does that sound like the golf swing of anyone familiar?

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