30 Years of Cape Winemakers’ Guild auctions

CWG logoIt’s a pity, for two reasons, that the CWG auction tasting for the handful of us who taste the wines blind, is held mid-August. It is, of course, in the thick of Platter tastings, so one forgoes most of a day of working on that; but since the event is held at Jordan restaurant, there is the delicious thought of George Jardine’s lunch afterwards, enough of a temptation to remain strong through this year’s 62-wine line up. The pity too as I and my colleagues also at the CWG tasting are exposed in our Platter tastings to a much wider range of wines, styles and, I have to say, quality, including some of the Cape’s best.

Whilst it could be seen as unfair to say I was generally underwhelmed by these wines marking the 30th auction, because of the greater variety enjoyed for Platter, on this occasion it was difficult to get terribly excited. I should also point out  that I hadn’t looked to see who had entered what, so my tasting was in effect double blind.

The members do, of course, play to their audience of buyers (and international critics), which has always meant more reds than whites, as they receive higher prices. The wines themselves tend to focus on the classics – cabernet, merlot, shiraz, Bordeaux style blends with sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, chenin and Bordeaux styles among the whites. I was imagining this would have been reflected in the lots on the first auction in 1985, but was surprised to see there were five whites among the just 11 wines auctioned that year.

The problem is there is going to come a time when a different audience comes along, an audience that would prefer to follow the developments with new varieties and styles that are already making waves in the general Cape scene. It’s something the Guild and its members should be more actively anticipating.

If the first tentative steps have been taken by inviting both Adi Badenhorst and now, Andrea Mullineux to join the group, it’s a process that should be beneficially hastened.
My above remarks notwithstanding, my 10 favourite wines are as follows (listed in the order tasted):

Mullineux Semillon Gris 2013 – labelled just Semillon with The Gris underneath to satisfy the authorities as this mutation of semillon has yet to be recognised as a wine grape. What I particularly like are that it’s bone dry with great texture and a pithy finish. Not so much fruity as vinous, the flavours have a subtle earthiness with spice and dried herbs. A wine of great presence and very much in the modern Swartland idiom.

The authorities’ sanctioned semillon under Nicky Versfeld’s Lanner Hill Double Barrel white 2013 I also enjoyed as an unshowy though expressive example. Fruit from Darling was fermented in 3rd fill 600 litre French oak. It is so welcome to find some Guild members are steering away from new oak; Versfeld’s wine is the more elegant and sophisticated for it.

Older 600 litre French oak barrels were also used and to similar positive effect, by Duncan Savage in his sleek, impressive Cape Point Vineyards Auction Reserve 2013, a 50/50 semillon/sauvignon blanc blend. Main points: its lovely mouthfeel and excellent ageing potential.

Of the chenins, Johan Joubert’s Kleine Zalze Granite Selection 2013 stands out (It’ll be interesting to see what he presents for the auction after his move to Boland Cellar) for the concentration of its old vine fruit and really firm, fresh build. Oak is still evident but should harmonise with the fruit with the ageing it needs.

My belief in Elgin chardonnay was yet again confirmed with the lovely Paul Cluver The Wagon Trail from, in Elgin at least, the excellent 2013 vintage. It has lots of energy and tension with depth. Another that will benefit from keeping.

So to the reds.

Adi Badenhorst’s AA Badenhorst Kalmoesfontein Ramnasgras Cinsault 2012  (to give it its full title) has more flesh than his previous auction cinsault and is full of spice with an extra flourish in the tail.

Of the pinots, Bruce Jack’s The Drift Mountain Farm Heartbreak Grape 2013 should win many hearts with its gorgeous perfume and the sort of mouthfeel that makes pinotphiles weak at the knees.

I pass over the Bordeaux-style blends to Neil Ellis’s Auction Reserve 2011, a 75/25 cabernet/shiraz blend, a sadly underrated blend in my view. I noted Rhône style, as the shiraz spice and supple feel is well to the fore, but cab’s grip is an evident finishing touch. It’s well able to cope with its new oak dressing.

Memories were stirred with Etienne le Riche’s Auction Reserve Cabernet 2004. It might be riper than his old Rustenberg cabs, but it has their elegance and gentleness but also their persuasive nature. Just lovely drinking now.

The one shiraz that stood out, unsurprisingly, is Marc Kent’s Boekenhoutskloof Auction Reserve 2012 (as a category, the shirazes were disappointing). The catalogue doesn’t reveal fruit source, but from the freshness, punchy tannins and marked spice, I feel at least some grapes come from Porseleinberg. The colour too isn’t as dense as I’ve noted in Kent’s shirazes from Wellington fruit.

I made no notes on Carel Nel’s Boplaas 1880 Ox Wagon Reserve 8 year Potstill Brandy, it slipped down so smoothly after lunch, it must be pretty good!

Cover of the 30th CWG auction catalogue
Cover of the 30th CWG auction catalogue

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