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A shift in the Pride Lands...to happy hour.
The humidity was hovering around 'The Passion of the Christ' levels of comfort and subtlety.  It was a classic, DC July evening that forever flipped the coin of one of my longest surviving prejudices: South African wine was non-potable. In a years-long bout of nothing less than "grave stupidity bordering on half-pubescent mental illness", I wouldn't have paid a rug burned elbow to the wines of South Africa.  As a wine buyer, I had tasted gallons of juice competing for the coveted $7-$12 spots on my retail shelves, none of which did more than give my face a stroke.

Then I met Sean Coetzee, a classically styled South African with equal parts surfer affability, double windsor knot manners and a zealous patriot's pride for his homeland.  We were introduced by a mutual colleague at 'Plume', the Jefferson Hotel's lavish ode to the former White House occupant's Versailles tastes.  He could count barely three decades of life to himself and given his own job description, Regional Manager for Cape Classics (the largest US importer of South African Wines), I had expected him to be slightly less fit and grossly more cranky.  The responsibility of regional managers is to promote the wine brands of their agency at Concorde pace in a large territory, often at hours-long, indulgent affairs including six course dinners at top restaurants, multiple tastings and receptions per week, in addition to visits to the wineries themselves.  Consequently, these same managers are among the purchasers of car/airplane seat belt extenders to fit these many grand nights beneath, while seeing sleep a few months after death.  As Sean was my age and a rare find -- his South African rugby star looks hardly a deterrent -- I agreed to a later meeting to taste the highlights of his portfolio, negotiate pricing and possibly purchase a few brands for my shelves.

DC's demanding social calendar and 'round the clock work ethic bore ample missed calls and cancellations between us until desperate, covered in horse poop and clad in a satire's outfit, I called Sean on my way from dressage lessons and asked him to meet at my place a few hours later.  I'd cook. We'd Taste. I'd negotiate and purchase on the spot.  He'd be a breath's pace from my bedroom.  Everybody wins.  As I drove home after a number of errands, it dawned on me that, not only was I running about an hour late, I had invited two other friends for dinner earlier that week for the same night!  In an attempt to save my professional posterior as well as not make my friends feel like they were being entered in an involuntary focus group, I called both parties, asked if they'd mind meeting one another and whether the already booked friends would mind tasting 15 different wines.  After I hung up, I realized how stupid the last question was but applauded my consideration. 

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Home nearly an hour late, I welcomed my waiting friends in from the frothy air.  Sean had cups in his traveling wine cooler; whatever knives may have greeted me were subdued by the sacrifice of sobriety.  As I prepared a minimally spiced, roasted chicken with steamed spinach, simple flavors to allow such an expansive litany of wines to show their true colors, Sean laid out 15 wines, decanting the larger reds first and plopping the whites into a large pink metal tub of ice water (WT! Fastest way to chill your wines: fill a vessel with 3/4 ice and the rest with water to cover a larger surface area of the bottle).   

While cooking, I enjoyed a '10 Beyond Sauvignon Blanc ($10) from the  sea mist covered slopes of Constantiaberg, one of South Africa's coolest growing areas.  This wine exhibited the zipping smack of New Zealand, the subtlety of Sancerre but the wholey unexpected flavors of passion fruit, kiwi(!) bathed in a lemon squeeze, causing a stove-side jig to come over me. 

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  Next came '10 De Morgenzon 'DMZ' Chardonnay ($13), a first of its kind Chardonnay I've tasted.  Perfectly balanced (not too much in any direction, whether, oak, sweetness, toast, etc.) it tasted neither like Burgundy nor California, again South Africa was having a diva moment and shouting with apricot, white peach and a massage of exotic vanilla that wasn't your grandmother's.  This was vanilla for which chefs mortgage their wives.  I was then romanced off my feet with the perfect, true narrative: DeMorgenzon is located on the Stellenboschkloof with views of Table Rock (cue bawling sentiments in 'The Lion King') and Cape Point, where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet.  I was pregnant.  

After a few more whites, it was dinner time.  The red decanters were trembling with expectant "Wow!" factor...(To be Continued in Gedeelte Twee...)