Posted on 12 June 2013 by David Biggs
Are we charging too little for our wines?
Wine lovers will probably be appalled by this suggestion. Most of the wine drinkers I know are continually grousing about the high prices they have to pay.
An interesting point was raised at a recent tasting of the wonderful wines of Waterford. “Could it be that our wines are regarded as being cheap and cheerful in overseas markets?” asked one taster, “and could this be why we are not always taken seriously?”
Waterford’s owner and cellarmaster, Kevin Arnold, replied that he had set the price of his flagship blend, The Jem, at the equivalent of 100 US dollars, because that was the price overseas buyers had suggested to him. It sells at around R740 from the cellar. That might seem to South African consumers like an enormous price to pay for a bottle of wine, but buyers in Europe and America are prepared to pay more than double that price for a bottle of really top class wine.
No wonder our wines have the reputation of being cheap.
Its a catch-22 situation, though. About 95% of the sales of The Jem are to South African buyers. Would they still be as enthusiastic at R2000 a bottle?
Maybe they would.
I remember when Hamilton Russell Chardonnay was launched and at that time it was (I think) the most expensive wine on the South African market.
“Outrageous!” We said here in the Cape.
“Amazing!” They said in Gauteng and bought as much as they could lay their hands on.
There definitely is the perception that a high price indicates a high quality, and some people are prepared to pay anything to be seen to be enjoying high quality goods.
It would be interesting to see what would happen if Waterford doubled the price of The Jem. My guess is that they would lose a number of local buyers, but I suspect they might gain European and American buyers who would say: “At this price it must be good.”
And of course they would discover it really is good.
Maybe that the sales strategy we need if we want to put our top wines up there with the best in the world.
Which they are.
On the other hand, it would be a pity for us local buyers.
Posted on 27 May 2013 by David Biggs
If you’re serious about food and wine (and if you’re reading this you probably are), now’s the time to book for what promises to be THE food and wine event of the decade: Chefs who share – the ART of giving.
A star-studded, black-tie gala evening in Cape Town’s City Hall on September 5 will feature 14 of South Africa’s best known chefs, seven adept sommeliers and seven celebrated artists all under one roof.
The event is in aid of youth development, and the money raised will go to underprivileged children.
Presented by Mercedes-Benz South Africa, ‘’Chefs who share – the ART of giving’’ will treat guests to an evening of glamour, culinary artistry and fine art – all for a worthy cause. All the money from the ticket sales and the proceeds of an art auction will go towards two youth development charities – Make a Difference Foundation (MAD) and Laureus Sport for Good Foundation.
The chefs are from all over South Africa and will work in pairs to share their culinary genius and individual menus with small groups of guests. Each chef duo will be joined by a highly respected sommelier who will ensure that every dish is paired to perfection with a top South African wine. The evening will culminate with an auction of original works of art donated by participating artists.
The chefs and sommeliers, all acclaimed masters of their craft, have been paired as follows:
Margot Janse (The Tasting Room, Franschhoek) & David Higgs (Five Hundred at the Saxon, Johannesburg) with sommelier Francis Krone (pictured above) of the Saxon.
Bertus Basson (Overture Restaurant, Stellenbosch) & Peter Tempelhoff (Greenhouse at the Cellars-Hohenort, Cape Town) with sommelier at large, Higgo Jacobs.
Rudi Liebenberg (Planet Restaurant, Cape Town) & Christiaan Campbell (Delaire, Stellenbosch) with sommelier Carl Habel of the Mount Nelson
Jackie Cameron (Hartford House, Mooi River, Kwazulu-Natal) & Reuben Riffel (Reuben’s, Franschhoek) with Chairman of the SA Sommelier Association, Neil Grant.
Darren Badenhorst (Grande Provence, Franschhoek) & Chris Erasmus (Pierneef at La Motte, Franschhoek) with sommelier Pierre Theron of Pierneef at La Motte.
Harald Bresselschmidt (Aubergine, Cape Town) & Chantel Dartnall (Mosaic at The Orient, Pretoria) with sommelier Germain Lehodey of Mosaic.
Marthinus Ferreira (DW Eleven-13, Johannesburg) & George Jardine (Jordan Restaurant, Stellenbosch) with sommelier Isabella Immenkamp of Jordan Restaurant.
“Chefs who share” is destined to become one of the most talked-about events on the Cape Town social calendar. The evening will allow guests to get up close and personal with South Africa’s finest chefs, sommeliers and artists and offers companies the opportunity to treat clients to a very special evening whilst supporting a worthy cause.
Tickets to this rare culinary showcase are available at R3 000 per person. Early booking for individual tickets or entire tables is recommended to secure your preferred chefs for the evening.
For more information visit www.chefswhoshare.com, follow #ChefsWhoShare on Twitter, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (021) 433 1699.
Photograph courtesy GC Communications
Posted on 15 May 2013 by David Biggs
It’s a funny thing about sweet muscadels and jerepigos – most of your sophisticated wine friends will tell you they like only dry white wines, or maybe an occasional Noble Late Harvest at the end of the meal. But pour them a glass of jerepigo and it vanishes like the morning mist.
Leave bottles of various wines out and invite your guests to help themselves and you can be sure the muscadel or jerepigo bottle will be empty at the end of the evening.
Some might say jerepigo is not a true wine at all. Wine is defined as the “fermented juice of the grape (vitis vinifera)” and jerepigo isn’t fermented at all. It is made by letting the grapes ripen very fully and then pressing them and adding grape spirit to the juice to prevent any fermentation.
What you’re getting is actually preserved grape juice.
Which is just fine by me.
Badsberg’s 2011 Red Jerepigo is made from South Africa’s own Pinotage grapes that were left on the vine until they were almost raisins. The sugar content of wine grapes is measure on a scale called degrees Balling. To give some idea of the ripeness of the Badsberg jerepigo, grapes for table wines are usually picked at about 24 degrees Balling. For sparkling wines the grapes are picked very young, at around 19 dergree. The Pinotage grapes for the Badsberg Jerepigo were allowed to ripen all the way up to 30 degrees Balling.
This sweet delight has harvested awards and accolade by the barrel-full. It received a gold medal at the 2012 Veritas Competition, a silver at the 2012 Michelangelo Awards, four stars in the Platter Wine Guide and was voted Best Value in 2013.
It has a deep ruby glow to it and the flavours that flow across the tongue remind me of plum jam and sweet tomato jam. There’s an almost savoury hint to it.
Very more-ish indeed.
I think it’s a very versatile wine to have around, too. Apart from just enjoying a glass on a chilly evening, you could pour it over ice-cream for a delicious dessert, mix it in equal proportions with vodka to make a “vodkatini” cocktail, or pour in over a tall glass of crushed ice to make a refreshing poolside drink.
No wonder Oom Schalk Lourens needed a sip of jerepigo to get his story-telling tongue in good shape.
Photograph: alluvia wine estate
Posted on 25 April 2013 by David Biggs
A visitor to Muratie wine farm near Stellenbosch would be excused for thinking time has stood still on this gracious old estate. The homestead oozes history and nothing has changed for generations. Even the cobwebs seem centuries old.
Well, nothing on the surface, anyway. Since 1987 the farm has belonged to the Melck family and CEO Rijk Melck has ensured the timeless charm remains unchanged, but under the surface there have been significant improvements. Cellar equipment has been updated and replaced and the wines being produced by cellarmaster Francois Conradie are truly delightful.
I was delighted to attend a tasting of the last six vintages to come from Muratie and it was exciting to see how the wines have developed and grown in stature. Also to see how well they are ageing. I think the 2012 Isabella Chardonnay, for example, is only setting out on its road to greatness. It was fermented naturally in large barrels and spent 10 months in oak after fermentation. Rich with flavours of apple and honey, it looks set to last a good many years.
The 2008 Muratie Chardonnay is still drinking well. It’s worth buying for future pleasure.
The red blend labelled Ansela van de Caab was named after the daughter of a slave woman from Guinea, who was freed and married the first owner of Muratie back in 1699.
The 2005 Ansela van de Caab is a wonderfully complex wine with hints of cigar box cedar and ripe red berries and plums. Sadly, there’s not much of it left. The good news is that the 2010 vintage is available and every bit as splendid. It was fermented in the tradition way in open concrete “kuipe”, then given 18 months in oak barrels. Again, the flavours are layered and concentrated, juicy and spicy with a savoury undertone.
Shiraz has long been a favourite of mine and the Muratie Shirazes certainly live up to my expectations. The farm’s oldest Shiraz vines were planted back in 1975 and the 2006 vintage is packed with spicy dark berry ripeness. It looks set for at least 10 more years of ageing, although it’s pretty wonderful right now.
The Ronnie Melck Shiraz 2010 follows in its previous vintages’ style; wafts of meaty biltong, maybe a touch of tobacco and plenty of dark plum sweetness make it a very satisfying drink. I’d go further than that and say it’s a stunning wine.
I’d love to pair it with a rich venison hot-pot in winter. Maybe I’ll take a couple of bottles up to the Karoo during the hunting season.
Posted on 20 April 2013 by David Biggs
I suppose it’s the dream of every winemaker to produce wines under his or her own label.
It’s not an easy dream to fulfill, though. Even with the finest wine, the biggest challenge is to get it out there in the market-place and from there on to the tables of wine lovers.
It’s a crowded market. Just look at the rows of labels on your wine store shelves, all winking at you seductively and saying “Buy me!”.
A newcomer has the enormous task of convincing buyers to choose his brand rather than those with established reputations and followers.
It helps, of course, to come onto the market with a reputation, so I was delighted to learn that Duncan Savage, highly respected winemaker at Cape Point Vineyards, has launched his own range of wines under the Savage label.
His first two creations are blends – a red and a white – made from grapes he has sourced in several areas of the Cape. His Savage White 2012 originated in Villiersdorp and is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc (for which Duncan does has a stellar reputation!) and Semillon. It’s been fermented and aged for almost a year in big barrels and has a fresh, crisp character with a suggestion of grapefruit on the palate. It’s a big, sophisticated wine and (I think) far too young to be drunk now. Hide it for a couple of years and you’ll have a real stunner.
The Savage Red 2011 is a lighter and more accessible wine, delicious right now, but also with good ageing potential. It’s a blend of Shiraz, Grenache and (hooray!) Cinsaut. It has a delightfully soft mouthfeel, nice ripe fruit flavours and a hint of pepper on the tongue.
I am delighted that several young and trendy winemakers are rediscovering the potential of Cinsaut, once South Africa’s most widely planted red grape variety and the backbone of almost all the legendary old reds from Stellenbosch Farmers’ Winery, even though their labels referred only to the Cabernet in the bottle. It was the Cinsaut that held it together for decades. It was a sin to pull out all those precious old Cinsaut vines.
Congratulations to Duncan for a bold new step into the market. I wish him many fine vintages.
I do have reservations about his label, though. Sure, it’s very elegant and discreet, with nothing but the word Savage on it. But will it catch the buyer’s eye when it lines up alongside the more gaudy opposition?
I do hope so. It deserves your attention.
Photograph: Savage wines
Posted on 13 April 2013 by David Biggs
My apologies for the long break in conversation. Sometimes life gets in the way.
However, all is well and I am back in the saddle again, ready to pass on snippets of wine news wherever I find them.
From my chats to winemakers it seems to have been a good vintage all round. The problem is wine sales are dropping as consumers tighten their belts and law-makers make it as difficult as possible for us to enjoy our favourite drink.
With huge increases in the price of petrol and property rates and electricity we have to cut down on our spending somehow.
Added to this price squeeze is the fact that farmers’ costs have risen steadily – labour, fuel, electricity have all gone up, so there’s not much chance of wine prices dropping significantly.
The question is: Do we switch from Vergelegen V to Tassies, or do we stick to our V and drink wine only once a month instead of every evening? I don’t think there are many of us in a financial situation that allows us to “carry on as usual”.
I think the practical plan is to vow to be far more value-conscious when buying wine. We need to go to wineries and taste their ranges, then select those which offer us the most drinking pleasure at the best price.
We’re fortunate in South Africa to have a large number of very reasonably priced wines. The trick is to find them.
You’ll find some great wine bargains coming from the West Coast, for example, where they harvest huge tonnages from irrigated vineyards and can make wine more cheaply than the cellars of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek can.
And the Robertson Valley has always been a source of good value wines.
So my wish to all South African wine lovers is “Happy Hunting to you All”.
Posted on 20 January 2013 by Gail Alswang
Those of us who are involved in the wine business, whether as winemakers, marketers, wine-writers, vineyard managers or whatever, sometimes seem slightly out of touch with the majority of wine consumers.
We believe we know what wine drinkers should be buying.
We pontificate about “balance” and “mouth-feel” and elegance and maturation potential. We judge and score wines and award gold and silver medals and hand out stars, but I have a sneaking suspicion most of the customers have only one consideration – price.
Of course there are the five percent or so who really do buy on quality and style, but the other 95% don’t care, as long as it isn’t actually undrinkable.
I often hear friends enthusing about having discovered a new wine: “It’s amazing! It costs only R19.50 a bottle. I bought two cases of the stuff.”
Ask them “What’s it like?” and they’ll probably say: “Not bad, really. Well, maybe a bit acid, but it’s perfectly drinkable.”
I once asked an experienced restaurateur what kind of wines sold best on his wine list.
His reply was simple: “The second cheapest in any category is always the best seller.”
The reason for this, he said, was that most diners looked at the wine list, were shocked at the prices but unwilling to be seen choosing the cheapest wine in case they were considered cheapskates by their dinner companions.
So they went for the second cheapest.
Quality and style simply didn’t come into it.
(Of course, one assumes the wines on a restaurant wine list will not be too dreadful to start with.)
I often ask for the restaurant’s “house wine,” when I dine out. This is not only because it’s probably the cheapest, but because I trust the restaurateur to choose a house wine that goes will with his (or her) style of food.
Ordering the house wine should be a vote of confidence in the palate of the chef.
Sadly, the so-called “house wine” in many of our restaurants is simply a box of the cheapest available plonk tucked away under the counter.
This shouldn’t ever be the case. The establishment’s house wine should be a matter of pride.
Photograph: teresaksheeley.typepad.com (prints available on Etsy.
Posted on 02 January 2013 by Gail Alswang
Traditionally we greet the New Year by popping the cork of a bottle of sparkling wine and enjoying the delicious tickle of a million tiny bubbles.
More and more people are discovering that bubblies are not only for special occasions. A glass of good sparkling wine puts a smile on any occasion.
And who needs an occasion to be happy anyway?
I have been known to pop a happy bottle of bubbles for no other reason than to celebrate the first Tuesday of the week.
Ever since wine pioneer Frans Malan made South Africa’s first “Methode Champenoise” sparkling wine at Simonsig, about 40 years ago, our winemakers have been getting better and better at producing this delicious wine.
Today we have an enormous range of good bubblies (Now called “Methode Cap Classique,” or simply MCC, because the French objected to our referring to Champagne on our labels) and at prices to suit every occasion – or no occasion at all. New ones are popping onto the scene every few months.
I was delighted to discover the new Genevieve, made from Chardonnay grapes by Melissa Genevieve Nelson, who’s a pretty bubbly character herself. It’s a crisp and tingly dry bubbly with a suggestion of green apple friskiness to it.
Another new label I’ve enjoyed is Silverthorn, from the Robertson area. They produce three MCC sparklers – the Genie Non Vintage Rosé, made from Shiraz, The Green Man Blanc de Blancs, elegantly biscuity and fresh, from Chardonnay, and the stunning Jewel Box, made from the traditional Champagne grapes Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. It’s deliciously rich and creamy, with an enticing floral note to the aroma.
It’s a good time to watch your wine shop shelves for special offers. Some dealers may have over-ordered and be happy to move surplus stocks at affordable prices.
I’ve seen Krone Borealis on special in supermarkets, and a very good bubbly it is, even at it’s full price.
Pongracz (rosé and brut) is a reliable favourite and you can’t go wrong with any of the Kaapse Vonkel range from Simonsig. After all, they were the first to get it right and they’ve certainly maintained a high standard.
I’ve always enjoyed Pieter Ferreira’s Graham Beck bubbly range. His enthusiasm for this style of wine seems to come bubbling through every one he produces. If you like a fruity style of bubbly you’ll enjoy the Graham Beck Brut Rosé, with its lovely fresh strawberry character. For those who go for the more classical style, Graham Beck Brut Zero is bone dry and very refreshing on a summer’s day.
Reserve their Cuvée Clive for a special occasion. It’s rather to grand for a casual bubbly breakfast.
And if you’re on a particularly tight budget after the Christmas cash-bleed, remember not all sparkling wines have to be made in the MCC way.
There are some delicious budget bubblies like Nederburg Brut, Du Toitskloof Sparkling Brut, JC le Roux, Van Loveren, Beyerskloof Rosé and many more that are priced within the average pocket range.
So get out there and greet the New Year with a Champagne cork salute. What better way to celebrate 2013?
Posted on 28 December 2012 by Gail Alswang
Just in case your social diary looks a little bare after the bustle of the summer holidays, make a note not to miss the annual Stellenbosch Wine Festival, which takes place from January 25 to February 3.
The dates have been moved slightly to include February 2, the day on which the Cape’s winemaking tradition officially started, back in 1659. On that day Commander van Riebeeck famously wrote in his diary: Today, praise be to God, wine was made for the first time from Cape grapes.”
Things have certainly come a long way. This year more than 150 wineries will be offering their products during the festival.
It’s the perfect time to visit the Cape’s best known wine region, because the annual grape harvest will have begun, tractors and trailers will be buzzing through the town carrying ripe grapes to the presses and there will be the usual air of busy-ness everywhere.
The whole of Stellenbosch joins in the fun at festival time, with special sporting events planned, restaurants going the extra mile to provide festive menus and wine farms offering events and tours for all the family. With the abundance of musicians in the University town, there’s always a live music performance being presented somewhere.
The festival ends with a three-day gala programme on the historic Braak near the town’s centre. The official Blessing of the Harvest will be on February 26, followed by a parade of member wine farms through the town.
Bedouin tents will provide shade to the many food and wine stalls on the Braak and more than 130 wine farms and caterers will have their wares on sale. A central stage will be the venue for sundowner concerts each evening.
A more detailed Festival Guide will be published by the organisers in early January and details of the entire programme will be made available on the Festival website over the coming months.
For more information, visit the website or call 021 886 4310.
Posted on 21 December 2012 by Gail Alswang
Eikendal Winery seldom hits the headlines, but this elegant cellar on the slopes of the Helderberg consistently produce wines of extremely high quality and at reasonable prices.
I’ve been watching the winery since its establishment by the Swiss Saager family back in 1981 and have always been impressed by the lack of hype and advertising surrounding the wines.
The word that exemplifies Eikendal for me is honesty. The wines speak for themselves, and although they whisper, rather than shout, they tell the truth.
I was delighted to taste the latest vintages in the Eikendal range recently. Obviously the event was enhanced by the setting, under the whispering trees beside the lake, but it was the wines that were the stars.
I know many wine lovers will enjoy their unwooded Chardonnay, labeled Janina. It’s one of the purest interpretations of this complex grape I know.
This is the sort of wine that could convert the ABC (Anything but Chardonnay) brigade. It is complex and fruity, with added dimensions from lees contact. Deceptively simple at first, but it keeps unfolding and revealing new sides to its character.
Of course, if Chardonnay is already your thing, you’ll probably go for the Eikendal Reserve Chardonnay that offers the whole wooded schmeer. But even here you’ll find surprises. This wine has subtlety hidden in its layers of complexity. It’s never cloying or overpowering. A very cleverly made wine. I’m not a great Chardonnay fan, but I could drink this one all evening.
For red wine enthusiasts there’s Eikendal’s elegant red blend, Classique. It has all the full fruit flavours of a classical Bordeaux style blend, but everything is held in check, well-mannered and elegant. Just when you think you’ve got its measure it reveals another facet of its character.
Ekendal’s range is large now (don’t miss their Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot) , but each wine has been designed with care by cellarmaster Nico Grobler, who, I believe is carrying on the tradition of long-serving winemaker Josef Krammer, who established the cellar’s excellent reputation.
Eikendal’s a good place to visit if you want to chill out for an hour or three. There’s an air of tranquility, a good restaurant that not too formal and a sense of unhurried calm.
I always have a secret (and selfish) hope that Eikendal won”t become too popular.
It’s a place to go to get away from the crowds and I wouldn’t like to change that.