“I’m curious” I ask her. “Which meals REALLY go well with the wines we had tonight?” She throws her head back and lets out a loud laugh. “I’m so glad you asked!” she animatedly replies. I’m sitting out on the hotel deck. It’s a breezy night and the lights down by the valley look nothing short of beautiful. Kim, the MC who has just finished taking us through an evening of MCC’s, Pinotages and the history of South African wine, is sitting right across me and talking about how traditional rules don’t apply anymore. At least in her world that is. “Back then, the perception was that white wines needed red meats and savoury dishes whilst red paired well with chicken and fish. But, honestly, shouldn’t you just have it with whatever you’re in the mood for that day?!” This time, the momentary chuckle is mine because I’m in full agreement. “It’s like clothes” I pipe in. To which she pops out her eyes dramatically, throwing in a grin and nodding in the most theatrical manner. I like her energy. High spirited and humorous. I recall a moment in the conference room where I turned to the photographer and comically told him how I thought the MC had had enough wine. He painfully had to keep himself from letting out a laugh. I jump off my train of thought and look back at Kim, as she ashes her cigarette, “Which wine is your favourite?” I inquisitively probe her. A non-hesitant “Definitely the Pinotage” comes out. And my smile grows into the Cheshire cat’s infamous grin. It had actually been my favourite for the night. A beautifully understated wine and that’s what I loved about it. But before your curiosity grows any greater, let me take you through the events of December 7th. The Wine on wheels wine tasting held at Mountain Inn.
It had taken me almost two hours to get ready. And before you judge me, please understand that before that night, I hadn’t exactly ever been to a wine tasting. So bear with me when I also tell you that I changed my outfit twice, eventually settling on a blue patterned top paired with 90’s inspired mum jeans and chic brown boots. A hurried face beat and quick tuck of the afro later, I was outta the door and briskly hurrying over to the Mountain inn. Mbabane is absolutely breath-taking in the evening and the easy stretch from the city centre to the hotel has the most scenic imagery. From the orange splash of colour in the sky as day welcomes in dusk, to the cars pushing against the heat of the tar, ferrying their driver’s home. Birds in flight; a skein or two and the conversation on the sidewalk from a long day’s work. It’s hard not to be consumed by it. I make my way up the road, crossing over into Mountain View, pausing for a split second to notice the grey clouds that had snuck up on the city. That’s the thing about summer on this side of the world; scorching heat by day and torrential showers by night. I mentally cross my fingers that it’s only a false alarm and continue up Princess Drive. Arriving at the hotel just a few minutes after the tasting’s starting time.
I wait in the breakfast room for the Photographer, Khaya. I’m standing by the golden staircase and watching people walk in and out of the main conference room. That’s where the wine tasting took place. The hotel’s breakfast room is notably of different character at this time of the day. The common flurry that is familiar with this particular space in the mornings, is replaced by a much mellow tempo now that the sun’s gone down. Out on the deck there’s a millennial clique chatting up a storm. Waiting for their pizza probably. I push back a Monster meat craving. By the far end of the breakfast room, a couple sits having coffee and speaking in a language I can’t quite pick up on. On the other side of the golden staircase, the musician sits at the piano, playing a soft Lionel Ritchie tune. Sounds like ballerina girl. I could be wrong. He looks up from his performance and smiles at me. I wave. It’s definitely a very relaxed setting. Khaya finally shows up and after we order coffee, we walk into the wine tasting room and pick a table by the window; closest to the dinner that’s on display.
The tasting had already begun and I can’t tell which number wine we are on. Tell-tale glasses and flutes with light pink contents sit on every table. Everyone’s deeply enthralled in conversation. The M.C. returns to the podium and says something about the next wine that’s about to be sampled. Her assistant holds up a clear bottle with more pink contents. It’s an MCC. A sparkling wine from South Africa and in layman’s terminology (which was my terminology before tonight) it’s what you would call a champagne. However because champagne ONLY comes from the French Region of the same name, South Africa had to switch to the term MCC, which stands for Method Cap classique. Kim mentions the name of the wine being sampled. It whizzes over my head and I catch the part about it having 43% alcohol. The waitron pulls up beside us and offers some. I watch as he pours it out into my flute, bubbles dancing. I whisper a thank you and I empty it into my mouth. It tastes sweet. And then not. And there are those bubbles again. Now floating across my tongue and falling into the back of my throat. A smooth finish.
Before attending this event, the only things I knew about wine was what it was made from and where I could get it. The in between about it was a very grey area. One that involved knowing that a Shiraz is sweeter than a Merlot and that Spritzers aren’t for everybody. Trust me, I should know. So there I was high-key leaning forward in my chair now, recorder app on my phone running and my note pad sitting on my lap; Listening to Kim talk about Stellenbosch and it being the birthplace of winery in the Republic. Hearing her descriptively speak of the processes from vineyard to barrel and describing each wine in depth and detail. Her humour spilling out every so often and being met by a responsive room full of guffaws. We taste more wines and I’m forced to strategically decline a few. It’s a work night after all. I roll my eyes and scribble something in my note pad.
Eventually we move past the MCC’s and try out some Pinotages. Each one is so different from the last that I find myself struggling to pick a favourite. Towards the end of the tasting, just as Kim is wrapping up, someone hands her a glass with a deep red in it. She lifts it up to demonstrate its richness in colour and it stunningly catches the light; Unapologetically inviting so of course when the waitron passes by and offers to pour some, I don’t argue. The first thing I notice about it is its understated tone, then its nice smooth finish that leaves you wanting more. Kim tells us that it’s a Zimbabwean wine and the room explodes with questions.
Kim’s voice sounds again. “The Pinotage reminds me of the famous words of Billy Preston” She says, gesturing at the glass in her hand before continuing “if you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with” and she smiles. The room melts into candid laughter, just as she moves away from the podium and returns to her chair; Easing into a conversation with everyone sitting there. What a night. “This party is beat” Khaya says, “Let’s go” and he stands, swings his camera by the handle over and around his head and eyeing at the door where others have already begun to file out. I look across the room at Kim. I have a million questions for her and I’m not leaving without having them answered. “I’ll catch up to you” I tell him. Packing my note pad into my bag and moving forward towards her table where she’s actively participating in a discussion about something that I’m not trying to eaves drop on. I apologise for my intrusion and she motions to the chair next to her. “If you don’t mind I’d like to pick your brain about something. I blog for the hotels website by the way” She grins and leans closer to huskily enquire on if this means we get to move out onto the deck where she can finally smoke” I beam and tell her yes. With a childlike energy she picks up her glass, grabs her purse and follows me out of the room and onto the deck.
The millennial clique is still sitting there. Turns out I was right about the pizza. We Immediately dive into a dialogue. One that moves from how wine processes have evolved over time and how Eswatini should leave this Industry to South Africa. This is sparked by my inquisition of what happened to the country’s first ever vineyard. We talk a little about which wines are a must have in the cellar and how a Chenin Blanc is the base wine for brandy in RSA. I had no idea. When I ask her about the meal pairing and traditional rules, she confesses to her modern views on it. She soon opens up on their plans to introduce their wines to our wine list and I get all sorts of giddy excited. Then, she patiently explains how MCC’s are made and which ones are worth experiencing. She makes reference to the first wine sampled for the night which happened to be a Van Loveren Perlet-Dijon. “It’s a Perlet created from the Pinot grigio grape. The pinot grigio is a red grape varietal. You create more of a blush colour with it and it has a bit of fruitiness in it.” She tells me. “It’s absolutely delicious and has light bubbles in it.”. There’s clearly a lot about wine I’m yet to learn, I conclude. We talk a little more and somehow, our conversation finally rests at a place about stomping and how one of the oldest winery’s used to make use of an elephant to stomp the grapes back in the day. I am mortified at the thought of it. We are almost at the end of our conversation when I realise that I haven’t yet told her my name. After explaining its meaning to her and confessing to only growing to like it in adulthood, Kim rests against her chair, puts out her cigarette and says the most hilarious thing I have ever been told. “I never liked mine either growing up. It reminded me of my mother’s friend who had a German Shepard with the same name”. I am in stitches.
Our exchange comes to an end and I thank Kim for her time. We walk back into the breakfast room I notice Khaya standing by the golden staircase leading down into the Friar Tucks. Its almost 10PM and there’s still time to kill before the hotel ‘goes to sleep’ in a few hours. It’s a warm summer evening. The giant chess by the poolside is tempting. We make our way down into the restaurant and out onto the patio. It’s been an eventful night and I take some time to as per custom to gawk at the view. “I love this Job”, the photographer finally says. And I am silent. Internally sighing in agreement. And dragging out the time spent watching cars move up and down along the galaxy like highway. “I love this country” I softly reply. But Khaya’s long gone. He’s already down by the poolside moving giant’s chess pieces around. Waiting for me to join him. What a time to be alive, right? Definitely.