While my esteemed colleagues have produced lists of their favourite wines from 2017, I decided to express a few thoughts about what I look forward to in 2018. In any event, my list would repeat much of theirs.
Looking forward can be merely reflecting on what might or might not happen in the future; it can also suggest a sense of excited anticipation of the future. Let’s see how much of each follows.
Foremost in the minds of most people is the drought, more widespread than just Cape Town and the winelands, though some areas do have water and recently, I’ve seen vineyards in great condition. But I’ve also seen photos of dryland bush vines really struggling; those in the Swartland and up the West Coast are among the worst hit. Harvest 2018 looks to be small and mixed.
Struggling vines but what about the soil in which they grow? For anyone who has wider interest than what’s in the bottle, I’d enthusiastically suggest a regular read of Jaco Engelbrecht’s blog, Visual Viticulture; it’s informative yet accessible in style with great photos and videos – he’s very into drones!
In his latest post, he writes about soil health (mulching is a big thing in my garden this summer) followed by planting varieties that can better handle our dry summers and extreme heat. I hope such plantings will expand the varietal mix.
It’s clear chenin blanc’s turf is becoming increasingly competitive; good to very good chenins are the norm these days; pricing too is competitive, so to make a mark, the wine has to be distinctive (which doesn’t mean loud or showy) and be backed by a story. R240 is an ambitious price for a first chenin, especially when you’re known for reds, shiraz in particular. It’s also not irrelevant Wade Metzer spent two years in Switzerland before returning for the 2016 vintage, so somewhat out of mind among local consumers. His Metzer Family Wines Chenin Blanc is from old bush vines (planted in 1964), and barrel-fermented – all very à la mode. It’s zippily fresh with varietal interest that’ll benefit from the calming of age – but is it sufficiently distinctive? Does it have enough of a story? at R240 ex-cellar, it has a lot of competition.
Chenin has reached a level, both locally and internationally, few could have imagined some 18-20 years ago; is there a satiation point? Hopefully not, but part of wine’s attraction lies in its variety as well as varietal variety.
Grenache blanc, viognier, roussanne, marsanne, riesling, semillon and albarino (alright, just one on the market so far, but a hit for the Newton Johnsons) are showing potential in the right sites/hands, they too should be pursued; as should be much-abused sauvignon blanc, definitely more than a one-trick pony.
Add to the mix, skin-contact white and gris wines, on the increase and improving (inter alia Testalonga, Intellego and Craven Wines). As ideal food wines, I see an opportunity for more, especially with South Africa Sommeliers Association doing great work training sommeliers and wine waiters, who’ll be able to explain these very different wines to diners. They look to be a trend in the UK according to Fiona Beckett’s Guardian article report on a boom in natural wines on wine lists.
Red wines? Mastering the slimmer, fresher style weighing in at 12%-ish alcohol, which used to be the norm, while achieving ripeness remains a work in progress; a good number of winelovers still prefer the bigger, showier and sweeter (oak generally has been toned down) wines, but even these when balanced can be distinctive and deliver deliciousness. Both Tim and I thought along these lines about Bloemcool Tinto Fino Tempranillo 2014 (a bit of tautology, both are the same grape, depending which region of Spain you’re in); it’s big, 14.5% alc, but with an appealing natural freshness found in best Spanish versions. Just 470 bottles, matured in two very well assimilated new French oak barrels, were made, accounting in part for the price – R450.
Made by Stephanie Wiid, winemaker at Fairview, Bloemcool label was introduced for experimental wines; the name refers to Bloemkoolfontein, the original name of Fairview and dating from late 1600s. Is it worth the price? It’s expensive in terms of older Spanish wines available, but if this example is the sort of quality and point of difference we can achieve here, it should encourage more plantings. Over the border in Portugal, tempranillo becomes tinta roriz, so is usually known by this name in our fortified Port styles and dry red blends based on Port varieties, the latter another improving style.
Price and populism. With a smaller harvest, doubtless increased taxes and wages, wine prices are going to come under pressure. Few can afford to drink R100+ wines every evening, but why should more affordable wines not have character, structure and be proper wine like their more expensive counterparts (well, some of them)? (I refrain from saying cheap, believing the farmer for his/her grapes and the worker for his/her labours should be fairly paid.) For example, Côtes du Rhône provide a delicious, value alternative because Côte Rôtie, Hermitage or Cornas are too expensive for every day.
Wine Cellar’s list reveals the sort of affordable, properly made wines there should be more of: Adi Badenhorst’s Secateurs Red R95, Joostenberg Family Red Blend R90, Leeuwenkuil Shiraz R52 and Reyneke Organic Shiraz-Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 R75. Populism in wine does as little for winelovers as it appears to for electorates.
South African wine has been on an incredible roll in 2017; I’m looking forward to no letting off the pace in 2018.