When good isn’t good enough

I’ve been lucky to taste a number of great wines over the past few months; the names behind them won’t come as a surprise. Sadie Family Wines, David and Nadia, Mullineux, Savage, Crystallum, Restless River, Hogan, The Foundry, van Loggerenberg and more – but you get the idea. What makes these wines exciting? They are not only among South Africa’s best but also individual, whether they are from a single vineyard, a soil type, or a region, whether they’re a single variety or a blend.

As well as the above, I had the opportunity to taste the numerous chenin blancs and shirazes nominated for five stars in the upcoming 40th edition of the Platter wine guide; this year’s format arranged the wines that qualified in bands at each level of scoring, a useful approach in calibrating quality. The quality that shone through in the best and the line-ups generally, confirmed that these two are our strongest varietal suits. The bar in both is set extremely high, as it is in other categories, even if some don’t have similar numerical depth.

New CWG Auction labels. Hand signed, more bling, textured paper

When the competition is so strong, wines have to be exceptional to compete at premium prices. Which brings me to the Cape Winemakers Guild Auction wines. I and a few colleagues were kindly given the usual opportunity to blind taste the line-up for this year’s event. The only information presented was variety or blend and vintage.

After my Platter tastings, both of individual producers and the five star wines, I was particularly interested in the CWG chenins and shirazes. As I learned after the tasting, the chenins come from some of our top producers: Raats, Beaumont, De Trafford and Spier and yet, with respect none stand out as being better or vitally different from their excellent offerings on the open market. I doubt this will hinder them receiving the usual elevated auction price levels, although it will be interesting to see what difference two new auctioneers make. Richard Harvey MW and Giles Peppiatt of Bonhams Auctioneers in the UK take over from Henré Hablutzel of Hofmeyr Mills Auctioneers, who retired after enthusiastically wielding the gavel for 21 years.

The old CWG labels

Shiraz fared better; Boekenhoutskloof Syrah Auction Reserve 2017 was my star of the tasting and easily among the country’s best. ‘A big wine’ I noted but more in depth of flavour and texture than alcohol. Just two barrels, one from Porseleinberg, the other Stellenbosch fruit. Boschkloof Epilogue 2017 is another striking individual, a little more openly expressive than Boekenhoutskloof but as satisfyingly confident in style and potential. Cederberg Teen Die Hoog Shiraz 2017 was matured in new oak and it shows; time will tell whether fruit and oak forge a happy partnership.

For the rest, it’s a mixed bag, as it usually is. There are some wines which are immediately recognisable in a positive way; Jordan Chardonnay, Kanonkop Paul Sauer and Pinotage. Others which are different from any other; Miles Mossop Jo-Saskia 2017 a chenin-clairette blend, understated yet compelling; Mullineux Le Gris Semillon, Boplaas Daniel’s Legacy 8 year-old Potstill brandy (most certainly a delicious flag bearer for our excellent brandies), but does it do the CWG or sauvignon blanc any favours to include a 2019 which hasn’t had time to shed its still-gawky youth?

What the CWG members and we all need to remember is that the pace of improvement in Cape wines is relentless, regular recalibration is essential to appreciate the great from the good.

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