One of the issues wine has as a ‘brand’, is the very thing that makes it so exciting: it’s so vast, variable and impossible to get your head around. Think back to when you started drinking wine. What did the label say? Could you tell where it was from? Did it say the variety, how it might taste? Or did you even care? Probably not; it’s all a bit baffling. But as we further our drinking education, we learn more about varieties and the importance of place. And that helps you feel comfier with wine…and it’s a great feeling. But with knowledge comes taste, opinion and judgement. I’ve avoided wines based on their geography, their variety, even their price (that’s too cheap to be delicious…) and more fool me.
In 2001, three scientists in Bordeaux investigated the power of the mind on wine. Gil Morrot, Frédéric Brochet, and Denis Dubourdieu studied the flavour descriptors used by oenology (wine science) students to describe a couple of French wines. The students tasted a white wine, describing it as “lemon”, “peach”, and “floral”. They also tasted a red wine which had “raspberry”, “cherry” and “cedar” aromas. After a week of studying and partying, the students returned to taste the same white wine, though this time with added red food colouring, and surprise surprise, it now smelt of cherries.
“Clothes maketh not the man; judge my wines on what's in the bottle, not the varietal on the label”
The brains preconceptions influence the way you taste. Try arguing with it, but it’s hard. One man who is well aware of this is Pieter Walser, winemaker and label-maker extraordinaire. All of the wines Pieter Walser produces are mysterious, nameless, and low on information: they are ‘blank bottles’.
Pieter produces wines using grapes from throughout South Africa, using unusual grape varieties, native yeasts and minimal interventions in the cellar. His catalogue is around 30 wines annually, some straight varietal examples, along with interesting and thoughtful blends. We’ve long been advocates of Blank Bottle, usually with a few on the shelf and at least one open by the glass. After recently going to a tasting with Pieter at Butlers Wine Cellar, we’ve come back very well stocked with some amazing wines to share with you.
One such example is a release of 6 Cabernet Sauvignon wines, sold as a set. Each bottle is made with grapes from a different microclimate (altitude, soil, aspect, wind) which produces a unique wine - did somebody say terroir? In particular, the altitude impacts the development of aroma compounds, one group of which is key to Cabernet: methoxypyrazines, or pyrazines for short. Pyrazines give varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc their key ‘greenness’, with herbal aromas or, green pepper, which Pieter notes is greatly different between the 6 wines.
Pieter keeps his cellar interventions minimal and pretty standardised, so the wines truly reflect their origins. With his red wines, he limits ‘pressing down’, creating wines with style, finesse, intense fruit flavours, which are incredibly easy to drink, and not overly heavy or tannic.
So leave your judgement at home and come try a glass, a bottle - or a box set.