Joy at Really Tasting the Difference at Esona
ESONA BOUTIQUE WINE ESTATE
Thursday 31 May 2018
Esona was the second estate that I visited on the first day of my second Wacky Wine. I planned my arrival for the start of the ‘Taste the Difference’ tasting as I expected it to be one of the more popular activities for the Wacky Wine Weekend too. It was a Thursday too which is the quietest day of the annual Festival. My planning proved perfect was I alone, even after a delayed journey by a 15-minute Stop/Go for road works. This gave me the full attention of owner Rowan Beattie and tasting host Daneen.
Esona was but a short drive South-West along the River Breede from the Rietvallei Wine Estate where I had started my day. It was a glorious sunny morning with the autumn vines showing their golden colours in vineyards on the valley floor, with the foothills of the Riviersonderend Mountain beyond. I parked beside the road and walked down the dusty path between the vines to the Tasting Room with its distinct black and white striped roof. The setting is magnificent and even more so from Caryl’s Bistro upstairs, with its view over the vineyards and the valley.
I sat with Rowan as the staffs were busy with Wacky Wine final preparations. I was offered a welcome glass of Blanc de Noir which was a lovely touch on my arrival. A blanc de noir is a pink wine made from red grapes. This differs from a rosé which is a pink wine that is made from either red or red and white grapes. This distinction is relatively minor. It was a deep salmon to medium copper in colour (deeper than many a rosé) due to extended skin contact. The vibrant and inviting wine was, unusually, made from Pinot Noir. Semi-ripe strawberry aromas with sweeter candy beneath showed good intensity. The wine was not fully chilled but was dry on the palate with a medium to high acidity and a decent length.
The main part of the tasting was in the candle-lit cellar. The open, underground fermentation ‘kuip’ tanks date back more than a hundred years. The cement tanks were dug into the ground using stones transported by donkeys from the river below to provide darkness and a constant temperature for the wine and brandy produced at the time. The cellar with its tables set out with different sized and shaped glasses made a magnificent setting for the tasting.
We began with 2 Sauvignons Blanc from different vintages. The wines were paired with fig preserve and a creamy Lindt chocolate, each in their own mini glass bowl. Believe it or not, according but some recent research, music affects the way wine tastes. I am not simply taking how music generally can affect our mood – and of course it does – or how the type and volume of music and can affect how fast we drink (and drive also). It has apparently been shown that the perceived sweetness, smoothness and even acidity can be altered by the type of music playing. Sweetness and fruit-forward flavours are said to be heightened by consonant, flowing, smooth and cheerful, high pitched piano notes. Harmonious major chords, it is said, give wines greater depth, robustness and smoothness whereas dissonant, high-pitched, sharp, staccato notes give a fresher and more herbaceous taste, and thus perceived acidity.
De Morgenzon plays classical music in the vineyard, perhaps but not solely as the owner is the founder and Chairman of Classic FM. It is claimed to improve the wine; a blind tasting controlled experiment would be interesting. However, Esona is the first wine tasting I have experienced that plays different music with each wine. The Sauvignon Blanc was ‘paired’ with some gentle rock from Simon & Garfunkel. I am not sure where that fits into the findings above except that it might have enhanced the sweetness and fruity flavours. Suffice to say, I rated the 2 wines equally. The younger (2017) vintage, from vines grown in mineral-rich river soil, was made in a fruity style with aromas of lime, melon and guava. The older wine from the hot summer of 2016, by comparison, was more complex on the nose with tropical as well as some herbaceous notes and a smooth, bright acidity. The fig preserve gave a sweeter finish whilst the chocolate made the finish sharper.
Chardonnay formed the next wines for comparison, accompanied by the country music of Weber McIntyre together with orange zest and orange Lindt chocolate. Served in a larger and more rounded Riedel crystal glass, the 2015 wine paired well with the orange flavours for a peasant finish. The pale straw wine was lightly oaked (10 months in 3rd fill barrels) that balanced sweeter apple and citrus flavours. The texture on the palate was good, showing creaminess and elegance. My favourite wine was the 2014 Chardonnay that showed a more golden appearance due to bottle ageing. The yellow apple and lemon flavours were more intense to give a richer, creamier wine. I then had the chance to compare the wine using a standard tasting glass. This gave less room to swirl the wine in the glass with the result that the Chardonnay was duller o the palate and sharper on the palate. I am not a fan of country music but perhaps it did contribute to the smoothness and depth of the wine.
Esona makes only 4 wines, the last being Shiraz. The first pairing was the 2016 vintage that was poured to the sound of slow classical music. It was served with a prune and a strawberry chocolate in 2 glasses, one from Riedel and the other a regular tasting glass. The effect of the different glasses surprised. The Riedel glass emphasised the cherry and cassis fruitiness of the wine ahead of pepper spiciness on the nose. It gave an Arendsig Wines elegant, fine style in which the tannins were integrated. By comparison, the standard glass gave the wine more spiciness but less fruitiness on the nose together with sharper and more pronounced tannins on the palate.
The ‘Riedel’ effect was apparent for the 2014 vintage too. The higher quality glass brought out the intensity of the Shiraz on the nose, of white and black pepper, dark mulberry, bramble and smoky blackcurrant. The ‘joker’ glass gave a duller and colder character of wine with more pepper than fruity aromas. The feel of the tannins differed too. The tasting glass made the tannins appear tighter and more bitter than the Riedel glass in which the tightness remained but the wine was smoother and less bitter. The prune took away the pepperiness of the Shiraz to emphasise its fruitiness.
Esona offered a unique and different tasting experience and in a beautiful setting. The estate lies close to the river and is well worth visiting. I am very much a purist when it comes to wine tasting and prefer simply to taste the wines without distraction. It is the reason why I rarely choose any pairing although I well understand the marketing to differentiate the many wine estates that are competing in a saturated market for our Rand. Further, chocolate is often included which in my opinion pairs notoriously badly with table wine.
As for the music, the concept is interesting and the research is thought provoking. It would be foolish I think to believe that our senses are not interconnected and so entirely plausible that our ability to smell, taste and hear is affected by each other. The limited sample afforded by this Wacky Wine Tasting is clearly not enough. The tasting felt rushed too as there was not enough time to analyse and write detailed notes. That is the journalist and writer’s problem.
Far more interesting for me was the tasting of the wines from different quality and different shaped glasses. I have long wanted to do the Riedel comparative tasting and this proved to be the best part of the tasting experience for me. The impact of glass shape and size was greater than I expected and one I wish to repeat again. I well recommend that others do the same at Esona but choose a time when it is less busy (it is why I went early to Esona on the Thursday morning). As I conclude, I wondered whether the meaning of the word ‘Esona’ is related to that of ‘sound’ or ‘sonar’. That would be fitting but it is not the case. ‘Esona’ stems from Xhosa to mean ‘a gift that brings joy’.
The Esona tasting certainly brought me joy on my first morning of the Wacky Wine Weekend ….
Wines tasted (bought *):
2017 Sauvignon Blanc – R80
2016 Sauvignon Blanc – R80
2014 Chardonnay – R125* FAVOURITE WINE
2015 Chardonnay – R125
2017 Frankly My Dear Pinot Noir Blanc de Noir – R80
2016 Shiraz – R145
2014 Shiraz – R145