Successful South African wine producers are victims of the law of diminishing visibility: wine editorial is driven by new discoveries. You are only interesting when no one knows who you are. Two corollaries flow from this. One is that the better you are at what you do, the less editorial credit you will receive for this. The second relates to competition results and blind-tasting scores: the more readily available the top-rated wines, the less exciting these outcomes appear to be.
This reality affects more than the last few blog-spots left for the Cape wine scene: its real knock-on is the retail environment. Newly discovered vinous “rarities” tend to sell out before they get into distribution – so wine merchants, unable to supply them, are often dismissive of their virtues. By the same token however, specialist retailers also can’t afford to be that interested in the long-established and reliable names: after all, these are the wines which land up becoming the promotional items in the Xmas catalogues of Makro, Checkers and Ultra Liquors.
Without the cachet of rarity, many of high quality and reliable producers get caught on the retailers’ discount treadmill, where price is the primary selling strategy. (No deal, no listing: if you’re a mid-size producer, you can’t afford an existence outside this space.) Since at the best of times taste is subjective, quality (within certain parameters) is a matter of personal choice reinforced with perceived brand value. Extended discounting diminishes brand value, leading consumers to shy away from stock which has been around too long in this kind of trading environment.
I’ve just reviewed some of my highest scoring wines of the year. I removed from the list wines which are auction-only cuvées, special releases (which are generally tasted sighted and are not readily available) and non-current stocks. I then went over what remained. It’s a safe assumption that most of the wines listed below are on-shelf wherever there is a reasonable range of Cape wines – except perhaps for some where the vintage I tasted in the first half of the year is now out of stock.
Mostly they are well-priced, except for categories like cabernet, which South Africa does very well, and where the market has become accustomed to super-premium wines at deluxe prices. Here my list includes the Delaire Graff Laurence Graff Reserve 2014 (at almost R4k per bottle), the Boekenhoutskloof Cabernet 2015 and the Le Riche Reserve 2014. But ranked very close in terms of points you will find the Nederburg Winemasters 2016, the Two Centuries Cabernet from the same cellar, the Kleine Zalze Vineyard Selection 2016, the Durbanville Hills Collector’s Reserve 2016 and the Alto Cabernet 2014. Most of these wines are accessibly priced and readily available.
Amongst the shirazes there’s the Guardian Peak 2017, the Landskroon 2015, the Zandvliet 2015, the Allée Bleue Black Series 2014, the De Grendel 2016, the Cederberg 2016 – all out-performing vastly more expensive and less-easily found collectables. With sauvignon blanc naturally you’ll find Springfield and Diemersdal: they’re consistent and widely distributed. However, you shouldn’t ignore the value and drinking pleasure offered by the Nederburg Winemasters 2018, the Hill & Dale 2017, the Durbanville Hills Collectors Reserve 2018 or the Spier Creative Block 2.
Moving on to Chardonnay – a particularly strong class with higher average scores than all the categories – there are of the usual suspects: the Waterford Single Vineyard 2016, several De Wetshofs (The Site 2015, Bateleur 2016, Finesse 2017), Groot Constantia 2017 (it’s probably consistently the cellar’s best wine) Meerlust 2017, Tokara Reserve 2016, Glen Carlou Quartz Stone Single Vineyard 2017 and Rickety Bridge 2017.
Among the high scoring chenins are the Kleine Zalze, the Delaire Graff Swartland, the Cederberg, the Nederburg and the Simonsig. With pinotage there’s the Allée Bleue Black Series, Beyerskloof, Kanonkop, Kaapzicht, Arendskloof and Rijk’s. It’s evident that not all of these are cheap and cheerful, but it does suggest you can drink very well without having to take out a mortgage for your Xmas dinner.
16 December 2018