Meanwhile, back in Makhanda

I’ve always been a red wine drinker. In Grahamstown where I grew up, there were some excellent bottle stores. The best by far was at the Grand Hotel towards the lower end of High street. It was run by Tony Reich and it was a magical place. It was situated in an actual cellar – or rather in a series of small cellars under the old building. These inter-leading rooms had really low ceilings resting on massive beams, rough stone floors and whitewashed stone walls. They were dusty, cool and badly-lit, and they were full of the most incredible selection of wines. Some bottles were ancient – covered in dust, lying seemingly forgotten under the tables and shelves, covered in cobwebs, or in crates that hadn’t been opened and often without prices. Sometimes you could barely make out the label and the cashier would have to phone Tony to get a price and he would have to make one up on the spot. I suspect that he lost a lot of money in this way. The store was clearly a hobby and a passion rather than a money-making venture. I often think of that cellar – what a thing of beauty it was and how little we appreciated or deserved it.
Rocky’s, by contrast, was a modern bottle store in New Street with a small selection, but every now and then you got amazing bargains. The greatest of these involved a wine called Roodepracht. I think it came from a pretty large estate which produced several cultivars. Somehow, through error or deliberate sabotage, their bottled (but yet unlabelled) wines had been mixed up so that the estate had to label it simply “red”. This meant that the wine was sold at a ridiculously cheap price and when you bought it, you didn’t know whether the bottle you were buying was a Shiraz, a Cabernet, or a Merlot. The wine was spectacular, the Cabernet in particular was full and rich and complex and it cost almost nothing. We got through dozens of cases.
Having said this, Jo and I have never been real wine fundis: I didn’t know much about wine at all. I still know very little by most standards but I have learned quite a lot in the last few years. I still drink box wine a lot of the time – Drosdy Hof Claret Select – and maintain that is smoother and better than many bottled wines costing two or three times the price. The truth is we can’t afford to drink our own wine! It costs us considerably more than the shelf price of supermarket wines just to get it into the cellar.