By Billet Magara
Six years ago, I told myself I would never drink alcohol before 2pm. Otherwise, because of the nature of my profession, rare tastings are an exception. So, it was with a trim of disdain that when Martin Smith disrupted my early morning set up and coffee exercise in the tasting lounge at Paserene on this morning, I was somewhat unimpressed. Still, a boss is a boss.
Brimming with excitement and obvious enthusiasm, he leans over the bar counter and motions for two glasses completely ignoring my “Good morning, Martin”. It must be something special and now my indifference is slowly shifting towards sheer interest. “I brought you something,” he says pouring a generous helping of a young deep-coloured red wine from an unmarked bottle and in an instant, he has all my attention. I lean the glass towards the sun to get the best position to assess colour. Yes, it is indeed deep with a purple rim. An expertly executed swirl and I am on the nose. Then, slowly I drift into an almost magical, inexplicable trance and here, nothing matters more than unravelling the hidden mysteries and charisma of the contents of the glass at this point. Welcome to my world.
The wine had an honest black fruit character with whiffs of iodine and red cherry notes, but the palate offered a refined elegance and finesse that would make it an instant hit with both easy and sophisticated modern-day imbibers. “Where is the spice?” I probed. “Well, this was the best Cabernet we have had in years and I thought it was only fair to let the grapes showcase their beauty and purity with no supporting acts”. How noble is my unsaid response? This is an excellent wine. The tannins are big, but they are far from being scrawny and harsh. Rather juicy and polished with fresh acidity guaranteeing the wine one distinguished career. An absolute king among king’s kind of wine. How the hell does he do it? To this day, I wish I knew.
Anyone who has had the Paserene Marathon before this 2018 vintage would know that the wine would normally come in the form of Cabernet Sauvignon blended with excessive proportions of Petit Verdot and Carménère. The first 2 vintages didn’t even have any almighty Cabernet Sauvignon, but the quality of each vintage has been phenomenal and within benchmark territory to say the least. I think to create a powerful wine with that trio of grapes would not be much of a challenge especially with the generally forgiving South African terroir. However, the holy grail is elegance, and this is where Martin has consistently shown his special winemaking skill of creating a wine that carries that special staying power yet still managing to retain impromptu relevance for the impatient lot.
Admittedly, it would be both gratifying and flattering to indulge in a bottle that has withstood the test of time in the cellar but in this age, we tend to see oenophiles constantly on the go to an extreme extent where they can’t even predict which country they will be living in the following year. Whether they stay or hop on is another matter for another day, but at least they should be able to travel light and be able to call for a good wine when they feel the urge to do so. This is an area where Martin Smith has managed to triumphantly bring the wild horses back to the stable. His wines come with that signature supple complexity only arcane cellar skills can perfect.
It looks like the Marathon will maintain this single lane if all goes as planned and Mother Nature plays along henceforth. Having plied his trade in Napa Valley for almost a decade was always going to influence Martin’s work. While his bravery in creating a statement wine with the likes of Carménère and Petit Verdot was an adorable feat, one ought to acknowledge a man who has found love. There is contagious zeal and passion as he chats on about local Cabernet Sauvignon clones and their distinct characteristics. There is no doubt this new version of the Marathon will wow many palates and take the fame of this renowned grape even further.
Long live the Marathon!