SA brandies come of age
TO ATTEND a fine brandy festival or any other event of the kind is arguably much like trail hiking - except that the outing is about indulging the palate rather than a sight-seeing exercise.
Though, of course, one should concede that the ambience at the Fine Brandy Fusion Festival, which is taking place at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg, does also appeal to the sense of sight, in addition to the senses of smell and taste. The festival opened to the public on Wednesday night and ends tonight.
Visiting the various stalls at the show is something of a journey through a tradition that has been passed over many generations. Of all the factors that have shaped brandy-making in this country, time has undoubtedly played a significant part.
This is the same drink that inspired Samuel Jackson to the eye-glazed musing: "Claret is liquor for boys; port for men; but he who aspires to be a hero must drink brandy". Of course, there are many anecdotes attached to brandy - one of them being that it often induces tears for an indecipherable sorrow from the imbiber. But the enduring tale is of spirit, sometimes emboldening even a coward to a mock charge or bravado in peaceful times.
What the show underlines is that SA has become a formidable producer of fine brandies of the Cognac style - much to the chagrin of the French, whose Cognacs are the international benchmark.
Local premium brandies have won the world's best brandy title at least five times in the past decade or so.
Tasting the brandies, one will find that the younger ones like three-year-olds or five-year-olds have the brashness of youth. The young brandies definitely beckon a mix while the older ones (beyond 10 years, for example) can be taken neat or on the rocks or with water.
But the older brandies can also be relished with cocktails. Look out for a sizzler called Frankline, which is a concoction of a 12-year-old brandy and ginger ale.
My favourites at the show were Louisenhof Marbonne Brandy (R340), Imoya (R340), KWV 15-year-old, Uitkyk 10-year-old, Oude Meester 18-year-old (R890) and Joseph Barry 10-year-old.
While visitors are spoilt for choice, moderation is advised. Spittoons are provided, as well as water to temper the spirits during walkabouts between the stalls.
Dirk Conradie, chairman of the SA Brandy Foundation, says eating a meal beforehand will help mitigate the effects of alcohol.
Tickets to the show, which starts at 5pm, cost R195.