Neder­burg auc­tion in­vig­o­rated by rig­or­ous se­lec­tion of wines


It’s auc­tion sea­son, with Neder­burg this week­end and the Cape Wine­mak­ers’ Guild sale in three weeks. Both are es­tab­lished events on the in­dus­try cal­en­dar, with enough longevity be­tween them that it’s no longer re­al­is­tic to think of Neder­burg as the “in­sti­tu­tion” and the Guild auc­tion as the par­venu.

Both have had to evolve — a mea­sure of the mar­ket be­com­ing more so­phis­ti­cated.

In its first decade, the pres­tige of the Neder­burg sale pow­ered com­pe­ti­tion be­tween bid­ders and set pric­ing that, tak­ing in­fla­tion into ac­count, achieved lev­els that have prob­a­bly not been re­peated.

As pun­ters be­came more as­tute, they learned to cher­ryp­ick, leav­ing the com­mer­cial lots for liquor chains and re­dis­trib­u­tors, fo­cus­ing in­stead on parcels of vi­nous gems or an­cient rar­i­ties.

About 10 years ago, Neder­burg be­gan los­ing its ca­chet, with more (not al­ways won­der­ful) wine on of­fer than de­mand. Prices fell, im­age was tar­nished and a re­think was re­quired. The past few years have re­vealed the ben­e­fits of this soul-search­ing: vol­umes are down and the rig­or­ously ap­plied se­lec­tion process goes a long way to en­sur­ing that lit­er­ally ev­ery item in the cat­a­logue has passed the strictest scru­tiny.

I must con­fess my­self ini­tially a lit­tle scep­ti­cal about the claims of the in­de­pen­dence of the se­lec­tion process. Would Neder­burg re­ally al­low a panel of largely for­eign wine tasters to de­cide whether its wines would be per­mit­ted on the sale? When you are foot­ing the bill for one of the most sump­tu­ous events on the in­dus­try cal­en­dar, surely you want a say about whether or not your own pro­duc­tion can be in­cluded in the line-up?

I agreed to be­come a 2017 se­lec­tion panel mem­ber, to see the process in ac­tion. Ev­ery one of the pan­el­lists was an in­ter­na­tion­ally recognised palate, all fa­mil­iar with Cape wines, equally at home tast­ing cur­rent re­lease wines from the lead­ing wine ap­pel­la­tions of the Old and New World.

De­ci­sions were taken af­ter dis­cus­sion and with the group (di­vided into two pan­els) cross cal­i­brat­ing to en­sure an even­ness of stan­dard. We didn’t know any­thing about the ori­gin of the wines and the pan­els’ de­ci­sions were fi­nal — so no con­ces­sions even for the pay­mas­ter’s wines.

Look­ing at the line-up for this week­end’s Neder­burg sale, the one thing you can be sure of is that ev­ery wine that made the cut is there on its mer­its.

The cat­a­logue reads a lit­tle like a who’s who of the Cape wine in­dus­try: no longer is it a club­house filled with a cosy net­work of old boys.

The 2010 Al­menkerk Chardon­nay from El­gin sits along­side the 2005 vin­tage of Axe Hill (port) from Cal­itz­dorp; Cather­ine Mar­shall’s 2011 Pinot Noir shares space with David & Na­dia’s 2014 Aris­tar­gos.

A cou­ple of dif­fer­ent vin­tages of DeMor­gen­zon’s Re­serve Chenin Blanc (2005 and 2014) will com­pete against a se­lec­tion from the Old Vines Project: the Sadie Fam­ily’s ’T Voet­pad 2015, the 2004 Boeken­hout­skloof Semillon and the 2011 Al­heit Car­tol­ogy.

The big parcels of slightly or­di­nary Neder­burg Auc­tion wines are an­cient his­tory. In­stead, there are im­pres­sive sin­gle-site of­fer­ings, some cel­lar-aged reds (Bin R121 Shi­raz 2006, Bin R163 Caber­net 2003 and 2011, Bin R101 Mal­bec 2003) and a care­fully com­piled se­lec­tion of the cel­lar’s fab­u­lous dessert wines — Edelkeur back to 1982 and Em­i­nence to 1989.

As for the truly aged col­lectibles, there’s a small par­cel of the leg­endary Stel­len­zicht Syrah 1994, 1970 Lanz­erac Caber­net, mag­nums of 1980 Meer­lust Caber­net and two ex­tra­or­di­nary, still vi­brant vin­tages from Chateau Lib­er­tas — the 1967 and 1957.

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