Cuvée Obscura

My take on wines with unusual labels, in the Sunday Times Food Weekly yesterday.

James Bond, the film franchise, turns fifty this year. In 2013, the fictional secret agent himself turns sixty. Which is all good marketing copy for another James. Former London currency trader James McKenzie has exchanged bucks for barrels and rates for racking and now makes a Mediterranean red blend called Scaramanga, in Wellington. Named after the baddie in the Man with the Golden Gun, the brand honours the farmer who grew the Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. He has a supernumerary nipple, just like Francisco Scaramanga in Ian Fleming’s book. Impressively obscure.

hb 300x224 Cuvée Obscura

A still-born obscure brand

James compares the wine to a red Corvette Stingray. With big fruit from Malbec, tannin structure from Cabernet Sauvignon and spice from Tempranillo, Q could easily jazz it up into a Bond accessory. Although product placement may be a bit tricky for an estate called Nabygelegen. For tongue twisters are a serious no-no for successful branding. Heck, the Stellenbosch De Waals (of De Waal Drive fame) had to rebrand from Uiterwyk to De Waal after foreigners reported pronunciation problems.

Nabygelegen makes Uiterwyk look like lexicographic child’s play and is up there with Vlermuisklip, Buitenverwachting (‘bite me for asking”), Schoongezicht (“sounds like sick”) and Aandedoorns as favourite cuvées for Scrabble enthusiasts. But the prize for obscure branding goes to Hugo Basson of Annexkloof for a Sauvignon Blanc called “Kalanders, Krompokkels en Slakke (het voorgekom)” a title derived from a phrase Anton Espost found in the pages of Landbouweekblad.

Anton owns the Wine Kollective bottle store in Riebeek-Kasteel and his own brands – Santa Cecilia and Tres Estrellas – cause mucho macho confusion among Mexican visitors to the Swartland as Tres Estrellas is the gay cruising neighbourhood of Mexico City.

The Swartland is rich in powerful reds and powerful brand names like Mount Abora Wines made at Meerhof Estate on the slopes of the Riebeek Mountain. Like the creamy Saffrone Cinsaut 2012 blanc de noir I chanced upon at I Love My Laundry, the bohemian laundry-cum-dim-sum-bar-cum-muesli-mecca on Buitengracht, in Cape Town. The wine is deeply flavoured with raspberries and strawberries and remarkably roadblock friendly at 11% alcohol.

Also grown on Mount Abora is a 2011 Chenin Blanc called Koggelbos (teasing bush) with a discombobulated head on the label that looks like something Johann Louw would sketch, with a hangover. The follow-up vintage called Antebellum has a seriously Gone with the Wind label from the Deep South, all mint juleps and decaying plantation houses. A Tennessee Williams metaphor for the Swartland well worth developing now that the Che Guevara/Fidel Castro iconography, developed by Anton and hijacked by the annual Swartland Revolution wine indulgence, is starting to look tacky and frayed around the edges.

The mythical Swartland peak in question, Abora, comes from Kubla Khan and is home to a false paradise sung about by Abyssinian maids. Unfortunately, we don’t know how the story ended as the poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, was interrupted from his opium dream by a Person from Porlock.

Which, in passing, is an excellent name for a Swartland Pinotage. I’d wanted to call my own Swartland icon wine Hyacinth as it is floral in nature and made from Bukettraube. A grape banned by the Swartland Independent group of groovy winemakers whose extravagant facial topiary is sometimes better than their wines.

English actress Patricia Routledge plays Hyacinth Bucket in the BBC sitcom Keeping Up Appearances and my label designer wanted a photo of Pat in floral dress with flying handbag à la Margaret Thatcher, for the label. Alas, not even the offer of a charitable donation for each bottle sold would melt Hyacinth’s endorsement-hardened heart.