‘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.


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