After a long day of writing, I turned off the computer, rose from my desk, left the office, walked down Pine, made a left on Ninth, opened a door on the side of the Paramount Theatre, walked down a set of stairs, entered the Paramount Club, and, after some small talk with an attractive woman and a handsome man, began tasting the wines displayed on a table at the back of the room. The occasion was the Paramount's first ever preshow wine tasting. The show that night was the numinous Neko Case (for once, I have a good reason to use the word "numinous"). The wine selection was provided by Garagiste, a locally based retailer founded by the eccentric Jon Rimmerman (eccentric in a posh way—the shoes he wore for the event that evening were odd, but did not fail to say "classy").
This is what the New York Times had to say about Rimmerman and his wine empire a year ago: "Rimmerman is the founder and sole owner of Garagiste, the world's largest e-mail-based wine business. With 136,000 subscribers, Rimmerman says that Garagiste does, on average, $30 million in annual sales offered exclusively through his long, florid, self-mythologizing daily e-mails... 'At some point, the land gives up. It must be resuscitated over decades to fully escape the poison (similar to smoking—the body eventually cleans itself and regenerates, but a certain scarring remains).'" All of the wines presented on the Garagiste table were great—but it does not take a lot to please me. My only request is that a wine be drinkable. Undrinkable is where I draw the line, and it's very easy to extend that line into most mini-marts and gas stations.
However, one bottle got my attention during the wine tasting: a 2009 Raats Cabernet Franc. What made this wine special was not only its excellent quality, but the simple fact that it was South African. And what makes South African wines special, even the bad ones, like the Zaràfa Pinotage that Trader Joe's used to stock (I haven't seen it at the Madison branch in a long while), is that rustic, deeply earthy, musky/musty taste. It's easy for a wine slob like myself to miss an Australian or even a Chilean wine, but missing a South African one is impossible. The soil of that country does something profoundly strange and singular to its grapes. I once wrote that a good Bordeaux tastes like the muddy feet of a pretty French peasant girl, but all South African wines taste like the muddy feet of a shine eye South African country gal.