‘Cheap’ does not mean hiding behind sugar and oak
Anyone attending a wine show or trade tasting in SA must be aware of how many good wines are available, often at prices that appear embarrassingly unkind to the primary producers.
I recently made my way around an event in Port Elizabeth where there were more than 200 wines on offer. At least half the wines were available at R60 or less.
Some of the listings included widely discounted commercial brands. Even here, it was hard to fault the intrinsic quality. Very few tasted “cheap ”—a euphemism for a little too industrial, and where the sweetness isn’t there to add to the consumer’s enjoyment but to conceal a multitude of sins.
The Robertson unwooded chardonnay was clearly never intended to be “classical ”— it certainly wasn’t limey and citrus-like. There, the hint of sweetness served to make it accessible to a wider market. Sweetness also worked for the Boland Talent & Terroir Chenin Blanc, but at least it was supported by real varietal fruit.
Not everything targeted at the under R50 per bottle market depends for its appeal on a Mary Poppins solution to the world’s problems.
Serious chenin blanc often comes with some richness (not always sweetness) on the palate. The Oldenburg 2015 is one such wine. It’s bone dry, with a faint honeysuckle note, great nuance and balance, as well as real freshness.
It shows the same kind of poise and tension that is evident in the Jordan Inspector Peringuey Chenin.
I was surprised to discover there are still stocks of the even fuller, and significantly richer, 2016 Spier 21 Gables on show. It has won a raft of awards at several very credible competitions, the second or third vintage in a row to top the ratings at places where chenin is properly judged. (To make matters more complicated for the folk at Spier — and a reason to shop now while stocks last — most of the equally wellreceived 2017 vintage was destroyed in the fire at Stellenbosch Vineyards. There will be very little 21 Gables about until the 2018s are released later in 2019.)
A little sweetness might have been expected in the Neethlingshof Gewurztraminer yet it was actually quite dry and extraordinarily perfumed. It’s the best gewurztraminer available from among the diminishing band of the cultivar’s producers left in SA.
The same surprising avoidance of the glib use of sugar was evident in several rosés, notably the Durbanville Hills Dry Merlot Rose and the Bonnievale Cinsault Rosé.
Still, for me the real white wine excitement remains chardonnay. At around R50 per bottle there is a delicious unwooded example from Bonnievale, full and textured and entirely free of the use of oak as a flavourant.
Glen Carlou has always been a great chardonnay source. The range runs from an unwooded to a delicious oaked example and then a single vineyard (Quartz Stone) bottling. This full spectrum of styles comes with a full spectrum of price points: from about R100 per bottle up to more than R300.
Those looking for oaked chardonnays are spoilt for choice. Zevenwacht’s Barrel Fermented Chardonnay 2017 is settling down well (it needs a few more months for the wood to integrate) and it comes to market for R100. Jordan’s Barrel Fermented has edged up to almost R200 but it delivers much of what you get from the estate’s ultrapremium Nine Yards for a fraction of that price.
The one wine you should buy now (while stocks last) is the latest release (the 2016) of the Springfield Methode Ancienne. It has extraordinary fruit intensity, plush creamy textures, precise rich citrus and tropical notes and a fabulously persistent presence.
At R350 per bottle it may not be your Tuesday evening wine, but that doesn’t mean you should go through life without once drinking it.
MOST OF THE WELL-RECEIVED 2017 VINTAGE WAS DESTROYED IN THE FIRE AT STELLENBOSCH VINEYARDS