For those who have wondered about my lengthy absence from these pages, my sight has been severely compromised by a cold virus in my eye (the other responding in sympathy). It was like a normal cold affecting throat, chest, nose etc, but contained to an eye. On several occasions, I couldn’t drive. This impediment considerably slowed my Platter work – tastings and indexing; I had no option but to abandon thoughts of other writing.
Thankfully I’m on the mend, but my sight issues did get me thinking how little attention is paid to wines’ colour. It can reveal so much – health, age, style, yet too often gets no more than a cursory glance. So the photos accompanying this article give you some colour to look at: all are of the CWG auction wines.
The blind tasting of CWG Auction wines started some years ago and is a particularly useful exercise, in part due to the high profile of Guild members.
In his introduction to the tasting, Chairman, Andries Burger, cellarmaster at Paul Cluver, told us the 53 wines offered much more stylistic diversity. This is true, though the more worrisome one of quality is also evident.
Until a few years ago, auction wines were selected at a blind tasting, the members voting for or against each one. The problem here was if a member failed to get a wine on the auction three years’ running, he or she (I doubt there were lady members in those days) was out of the Guild. Some strategic resignations avoided this actually happening but it did lead to a change in the method of selection. A blind tasting is still held, recommendations made, but if they are to withdraw the wine, the member isn’t obliged to do so.
Have Guild members become over confident with the success of the auction? Does the vibe get to bidders? It’s easy to get carried away in the atmosphere of the auction and over the past few years prices and overall income have risen considerably. Then there’s a faithful core of buyers, notably Alan Pick of The Butcher Shop & Grill, but others too see the wines as something special; there’s often a scramble to get the relatively small lots on offer. High ratings from international commentators too hasn’t dissuaded punters from raising their bid paddles.
Will there be a reality wakeup call this year? I hope for the Guild’s sake there will be.
It’s widely acknowledged 2014 wasn’t kind to sauvignon blanc in particular, as witnessed by the auction pair. Of course, 2015 is a different story, but who submits raw 2015 sauvignons, one pinking (not even as good as some I’ve tasted for Platter) on an auction of this stature? Colour was also an issue with a chardonnay, when two bottles of a 2014 looked more like 2004, it tasted dull too.
Among reds, the pinot noirs generally do a disservice to the strides made with the variety. Can winemakers really not smell when a wine has a problem and not take the advice of their colleagues who do? And are the bigger, the oakier really still better?
Burger’s confirmation of stylistic diversity is borne out though, much of super quality.
One can always rely on Adi Badenhorst to attack from left-field, never more so than with his Geel-Kapel Muscat de Frontignan, whole bunch fermented, aged in an old cask for 18 months and bottled without fining, filtration or sulphur addition. To quote Adi: ‘Yes, SAWIS approved. They commented the wine is turbid, hazy, tannic and astringent. I can’t agree more.’ Yes, but it also has wonderful texture, grainy and rustic. Rustic? Well, it’s not supposed to be highly polished and just another wine. Attention-grabbing, clearly from muscat, thoroughly intriguing and enjoyable. I hope there’s a bidder who pushes it to a really decent price.
Less whacky but, in terms of the usual conservative line up, interestingly different and top-class quality, stand up Mullineux The Gris 2014 even more distinctive than last year’s wine; textured, firm and with flavours of delicious ripe red apples. Andrea Mullineux is spot on the money too with her Trifecta Chenin Blanc 2013, a wine positively influenced by oak and lees without either shadowing chenin’s pure fruit. A gem. Miles Mossop’s Saskia-Jo 2014 is the only other chenin, different from Mullineux’s but demonstrating the grape’s versatility and also delicious. So, given the grape’s growing popularity, why only two chenins?
My favourite red by a country mile is Boekenhoutskloof Syrah Auction Reserve 2013, clearly including fruit from Porseleinberg, Wild, exhilarating, bursting with energy, wind-swept garrigue and everlasting. Fabulous.
Barely a few yards behind Marc Kent’s wine comes Duncan Savage’s ‘Follow the Line’ 2013, an equal partnership between cinsaut, grenache and syrah. It’s all that’s great about new-wave (or should that be retro-) reds: fresh, flavoursome, circa 13% alcohol with clay amphora and older large oak the only vessels used. I’m not sure how it differs from his commercially available label (which I bought) but it’s equally enticing.
Other favourites, some falling within the Guild’s more traditional vein, are: Silverthorn Big Dog MCC 2010, Ataraxia Under the Gavel Chardonnay 2014, Strydom Family Vineyards Paradigm 2012 (a Bordeaux-style red, which I thought highly of when I tasted it for Platter; this confirmation was pleasing!), Jordan Sophia 2012, Kanonkop Paul Sauer 2012 and Boschkloof Epilogue Syrah 2013,
How the wines are received on the auction and what prices are achieved will be known only on 3rd October, when the event will again be held at Spier Conference Centre.
If I were asked for advice on buying this year, it would be buy the WINE not the GUILD.