Every year the Cape Winemakers Guild – that organisation of 48 of arguably the best winemakers in SA – put on their Auction of fine wines made especially for the occasion. This year the Auction will take place at Spier Wine Farm on Saturday 1st October. Lots of rare treats from lots of great winemakers – here is what I would buy if I had the cash.
Firstly – a general observation. I’ve been tasting these wines blind for the past few years now and I must say that when you gather together such an affable bunch of talented winemakers, it really is best to try and view the wines without hearing all the engaging and interesting chat which usually accompanies them when tasted sighted. Wines I expect to love, I don’t always, and ones which I might have passed over, leap off the page and make their presence felt.
Over the years, I’ve been fairly harsh to some of the wines, in particular the reds which I often find over-worked, over-ripe and over-oaked. I have to say that there are still a few like that, lacking finesse and being (I imagine) very difficult to drink, but on the whole, the message of elegance over power seems to be getting there. Those who submit white wines to the Auction, pretty much got that message a while ago and there were very few of the white wines which I wouldn’t happily buy and quaff. Still, here we go anyway.
The line-up kicks off with 3 very different MCCs and I loved them all. The Simonsig Cuvée Chêne 2007 is rich and savoury, spending almost the same amount of time on the lees as on the cork. Barely a year younger but much fresher in style suggesting lots to come, is the Graham Beck Non Plus Ultra 2008 and the baby of the pack was the Silverthorn Big Dog 2011 which is showing lots of lovely salinity & flinty minerality and will only improve over the next 10 years.
Sauvignons and Semillons next – a lovely oak-kissed Sauvvie from Nitida and a stonking version from Bartho Eksteen followed by a very shy Clairette from Mullineux. Whilst I appreciate that Andrea is championing these lesser-known varieties, I doubt if this grape is the best vehicle for her talents with the wine being quiet to the point of neutral. The 3 Chenins were also very different from each other with my vote going to the Beaumont Moerse Moer Chenin 2015 and the Kaapzicht 1947 Chenin coming a close-run 2nd.
The Chardonnays were almost universally outstanding and it seems nitpicking to choose just a few. If you put a gun against my head, I would go with Paul Cluver Wagon Trail – always excellent – Ataraxia Under the Gavel and the Groot Constantia, all of which achieved wonderful balance, intensity and length. But the star of the white wines came from Simonsig who have the Mediterraneo white Cape Blend from Roussanne, Grenache and Verdelho. Immediately attractive, rich and round with wonderful balancing acidity and a freshening orange peel twist – this would be my first bid.
Onto the reds. I’d heard a lot about the Newton Johnson Seadragon Pinot Noir 2015 after it did so well in Tim Atkin’s guide and there was no mistaking which wine it was. It simply shone out from the others, oozing class and confidence and was my red of the day. I enjoyed the Cederberg Shiraz as well as the Teddy Hall version, whilst the Sijnn Wines /awa (no, I don’t know how to say it either) blend of Syrah and Mourvedre was lovely.
Two Cab/Shirazes from Louis Nel and Strydom Family Wines were both delicious and will bear keeping for a few years whilst I enjoyed the classic Bordeaux blends from Jordan (the Sophia 2013) and Frans K Smit from Spier. Finally, the Beyerskloof Pinotage 2014 and both entries from Boplaas (a 2009 Cape Vintage and the 8 Year Old Potstill Brandy) were definite keepers.
So what didn’t I like? There were a few reds I wasn’t keen on, not having any real taste for jammy black fruit and low acidity but the only wine I disliked to the point of not even being able to taste it was, I’m afraid, a Stellenbosch Pinot Noir. My immediate impression was that the wine was faulty, but I have been assured that the very strictest procedures and tests are in place to ensure that although it may have been a close-run thing, it was still within ‘acceptable boundaries’. To my taste, it wasn’t acceptable, but I guess it’s all horses for courses and I hope that there are lots of bidders out there who like these strongly earthy/farmyard/plaster-y aromas. It certainly won’t be me.
- Cathy Marston