Posted on 29 September 2011 by davidbiggs
I sometimes think white wines are rather a mystery to most South African drinkers.
Until very recently they have been regarded as the “B team” of wines. We expect to pay less for whites than we do for reds, and we want to drink our white wines when they’re still “fresh and young,” while we assume red wines need to be laid down for a while to mature.
Nederburg winemaker Razvan Macici and David discussing the potential of aged white wines.
I chatted to Nederburg winemaker Razvan Macici after the recent auction of rare wines and he said he felt it was a pity South Africans didn’t appreciate older white wines.
We’re missing out on some of the real delights of the wine spectrum by drinking our white wine too young.
Do we really enjoy sipping battery acid?
A well aged white wine can be truly charming. Weisser Riesling (also known as Rhine Riesling here) certainly benefits from a couple of years in the bottle. Chardonnay (and particularly a wooded Chardonnay) gains complexity and softness as it ages.
I’ve been agreeably surprised by many older Sauvignon Blancs and Chenin Blancs.
For those who appreciate a well-aged white wine, Nederburg Auction produced some real bargains.
Nederburg’s 2009 Private Bin D215 Sauvignon Blanc was a real steal at R60 a bottle.
The 2005 De Morgenzon Chenin Blanc was knocked down for its reserve price of R900 a six-bottle case.
Many wine drinkers will shudder as think: “That’s R150 a bottle! For a white wine! Crazy!”
But they wouldn’t be too shocked at the thought of paying R150 a bottle for a six-year-old red wine. Why the discrimination?
I believe this conception is changing, even if the change is a slow one.
Winemakers like Vergelegen’s André van Rensburg are producing really serious white wines made specifically for ageing. Vergelegen’s 2009 White scored a full five stars in the 2011 edition of the Platter Guide – and deservedly so.
Duncan Savage of Cape Point Vineyards makes only Sauvignon Blanc wines and his award-winning Isliedh (also a Platter five-star wine) is designed for longevity. Given a couple of years in bottle it unfolds in amazing complexity.
Boschendal’s 2008 Sauvignon Blanc is still youthful in spirit and will reach its peak only in another year or two.
Hamilton Russell’s ’09 Chardonnay could stand another couple of years of maturation and De Wetshof’s ’09 Rhine Riesling will benefit from at least two more years in the bottle.
We produce serious white wines of a standard the rest of the world can only dream of, but they’re not fully appreciated here in their country of origin.
Let’s start a revolution. Tell the world old is good. It’s not always the youth that win the prizes.
Photographs: Paula Loe, Matt Stow
Posted on 21 September 2011 by davidbiggs
Last Saturday’s Nederburg Auction, the 37th, was a focused and slick event, different in several ways from past auctions.
For a start, there were fewer “VIP” guests swanning around trying to look gorgeous. Since the fashion show was cut from the programme, everybody can concentrate on the real business at ha
nd – buying rare wines.
Waiters brought a steady supply of drinks and snacks into the auction hall, removing the temptation for bidders to sneak off for coffee or canapés, missing a few lots.
For the first time in many years there were no unsold lots at this auction, largely thanks to auctioneer Anthony Barne’s steady hand on the hammer. He kept the pace up without ever making bidders feel pressurized.
The auction catalogue had been trimmed too, offering fewer wines than last year, but definitely a more exciting collection.
There were many genuinely rare and sought-after wines on offer, as the prices indicate. A single cast of six bottles of 1957 Lanzerac Cabernet attracted a flurry of bidding that didn’t stop until the case was knocked down for R22000. That’s R3600 a bottle!
A case of six bottles of 1949 KWV Ruby Port (probably not very “ruby” by now) went for R20 000, with bidding climbing by R500 a bid.
One of the oldest wines on offer was a 1930 KWV Red Muscadel Jerepigo and the bidding went rapidly to R6500 a bottle. Then the successful bidder took all six bottle on the list.
Chateau Libertas has become a legend in the Cape wine industry. It’s the longest surviving label on the South African market and still going strong.
Three bottles of the 1961 vintage of this old favourite fetched a bid of R20 000 – more than R6000 a bottle. Treat those bottles of Chateau Lib in your cupboard with respect!
One of the breath-taking prices went for a six-case lot of 1948 Monis Collector’s Port. The bidding just went on and on and the hall fell silent as we watched the price rise to R10 000, then R30 000, then R50 000 and finally finish at R68 000 – more than R10 000 a bottle!
Somebody REALLY wanted that port.
There were also bargains for serious wine buyers and retailers of course. Nederburg’s Private Bin Pinotage 2003, for example, was knocked down for R110 a bottle, and Stellenrust’s barrel fermented 2008 Chenin Blanc was sold for R136 a bottle.
Nederburg’s 2009 Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc fetched around R140 a bottle.
At those prices there will be some happy wine drinkers enjoying excellent wines, even after the buyers have added their profit.
Early on Saturday the sales had passed the R4-million mark, and at the end of the auction the total was a record R6,13 million.
Congratulations to the organizers of the auction for a well-run event.
Photograph: Matt Stow
Posted on 14 September 2011 by davidbiggs
To my embarrassment I had never visited Cape Point Vineyards, although they’re situated in Noordhoek, about five minutes drive from my front door.
When I finally made it this week I was even crosser with myself for having waited so long for the experience.
Cape Point Vineyards is a relative newcomer to the Cape wine scene, having been established as recently as 1996, and their first wines were bottled in 2000.
Many wine farmers will tell you their vines are “cooled by the fresh sea breezes from False Bay” but here at Cape Point Vineyards it’s more than just promotional talk. The south-east wind that rips through the Fish Hoek valley strips off almost 50% of the farms potential production. What’s left takes ages to ripen on the chilly mountain slopes. Their grapes are usually not picked much before mid-March, long after most Cape wineries have pressed their last berries.
A unique feature of Cape Point Vineyards is their total focus on Sauvignon Blanc grapes.
“Most wineries seem to want to be one-stop shops,” says cellarmaster Duncan Savage. “We’ve realized there’s one thing we can do well, so we concentrate on just that.” He produces four different Sauvignon Blancs, each from a specific vineyard and each with its distinctive character.
And just for fun there’s an additional label – Splattered Toad – made mainly from grapes sourced elsewhere and sold partly in aid of the campaign to save the endangered western leopard toad. Splattered Toad Red is the farm’s only red wine and is a Shiraz-based blend, very drinkable at R52 a bottle.
Unlike most Cape white wines, Duncan’s Sauvignon Blancs are made for longevity. He recommends that his flagship wine, the Isliedh (pronounced “ilah”) be kept for at least three years before drinking. It’s delicious, so that’s not going to be easy.
These are serious, individual wines, all of which scored four stars and more in the recent Platter Guide.
But the biggest surprise is the farm itself. From the Noordoek main road it appears to be just a rather ordinary building situated on a mountainside. Go there and you’re rewarded with a spectacular panoramic view over the Noordhoek valley to Kommetijie and the sea.
They’re developing areas that will be used as venues for outdoor events, family picnics and concerts. If you’re lucky enough to be taken up the steep track to the top of the farm you’ll never forget the breathtaking view.
Don’t miss it. For more, visit email@example.com or log on to the website.
Photograph: David Biggs
Posted on 08 September 2011 by davidbiggs
I learned an important fact about wine tasting recently – at a beer tasting event!
Experts from SAB Miller led the tasting, first explaining to us wine-tasters how we should approach a serious beer-tasting session.
We were told some of the faults we should be looking out for – staling, oxidation, tainting, bacterial problems and many others – and showed the official tasting score card used at regular tastings at various stages of brewing.
We were told the different characteristics to look for in a lager, an ale, a pilsner and a stout. Every aspect of the beer had an official name.
At one stage we were asked to describe the aroma of a beer.
I said: “Horse shit.” The others giggled. But the expert was impressed.
“Yes,” he said, “it’s a recognized flavour, only we tend to refer to it as ‘farmyard’ aroma,” and he gave it a serious chemical name.
Look, I grew up on a farm and I know my horse shit when I smell it. There was no doubt about this one at all.
And so the tasting went. We tasted 40 different beers altogether.
Then the scores were collected and compared to those of the beer experts present.
And here’s where the lesson came in.
In almost every case, the experts’ top-scoring beer in the category was the same as the one we ordinary tasters had selected. We also scored the worst beers as poorly as did the experts.
To me this indicates that we don’t need impressive qualifications to distinguish good from bad.
Whether it is beer, wine or sausages we’re tasting, most of us recognise a good one when we come across it.
Nobody need be impressed by a so-called “connoisseur” who knows all the right words. If you enjoy a wine – or a particular beer – go for it. Your opinion is as valid as that of anyone else.
Some of the tasters at the beer event confessed they didn’t like stout, or ale, but still they selected the same ones as the experts when it came to scoring.
In wine you may not enjoy, say, Sauvignon Blanc, but you’ll probably know a good one when you taste it.
Never be intimidated in the presence of somebody with a university degree in oenology, or a Cape Wine Master’s certificate. They may be able to recognize the reasons for a wine being good or bad, but you’re just as likely as they are to know whether it’s great, ordinary or horse shit.
Posted on 01 September 2011 by davidbiggs
Any serious wine taster will tell you Pinotage has improved beyond recognition over the past few years. Much of this improvement can be attributed to the work of the Pinotage Association, which was established by a handful of enthusiastic producers back in 1995. Until then Pinotage was regarded by many merely as a sort of wine curiosity.
It was created in the 1920s by Prof Abraham Perold, who crossed Pinot Noir and Cinsaut (also known as Hermitage) grapes and called the result Pinotage. Even then it was not taken serious for many years, although a few winemakers saw its potential and concentrated on making fine wine from it.
Once the Pinotage Association was formed, members set about sharing their knowledge of the grape, finding ways of enhancing its good points and eliminating any bad ones. The grape was studied seriously and the best clones selected.
Step by step Pinotage edged its way into the world’s spotlight. No other South African wine grape organization comes anywhere near to the Pinotage Association when it comes to dedication and enthusiasm.
The annual Absa Pinotage Top 10 competition was launched in 1997 and has become one of the most prestigious events of the Cape wine calendar.
When it began the competition attracted 48 entries. This year’s competition judges were faced with almost 150 entries.
The interesting feature of the contest is that there is no single winner. Twenty finalists are chosen, and from these the Top 10 are announced.
One of the reasons for this is that Pinotage has proved to be a versatile wine grape and it is possible to make several different styles of wine from it.
The organizers recognize that no one style of Pinotage will appeal to all tastes. But the Top 10 will certainly offer wine lovers a range of superb wines to enjoy.
If you don’t find a wine you love among these 10, you should probably be sticking to beer.
This year’s Top 10 winners, in alphabetical order, are:
Beyerskloof Reserve 2008,
Diemersdal Reserve 2010,
Fairview Primo 2009,
Kanonkop Pinotage 2006,
KWV The Mentor’s Pinotage 2009,
Laibach 2010, Naledi 2009,
Rijk’s Private Cellar 2007,
Schalk Burger & Sons Meerkat 2009
and Windmeul Reserve 2010.
Congratulations to all the winemakers and viticulturists concerned.
Photograph: Pinotage Association