By Tim James
I’ve been a bit short of wines to taste, so yesterday I joined half-a-dozen other hacks to sample 60+ offerings on the forthcoming Cape Winemakers Guild Auction at Jardine Restaurant at Jordan estate. True, the attraction might well have been the subsequent lunch – and I must confess that George Jardine’s cooking came closer to sublimity than did the wines. That is, both lunch and wines had excellent moments, but Jardine’s lunch dipped under excellence scarcely at all, whereas the wines… well, I wish.
To note first a few continuities from the great tradition of CWG Auction offerings. Firstly, many more reds than whites (the former always get absurdly high prices, the latter absurdly low ones; if it’s bargains and quality you want, stick to the whites, on the whole). Secondly, many too many reds are overoaked, over-ripe, and generally over-everythinged. Of course, this will help the ramping up of the rands showered on them at auction, and also help those wines get good ratings from the grand American tasters who’ll be sampling them soon and reporting their scores (which will, if usual practice obtains, be in an extremely narrow range between approximately 88 and 94 out of 100. Safety generally rules for them, as does appreciation of the most egregiously vulgar ultra-reds).
As to the locals who publish their notes on the tasting, if things go to form we will all have favoured and disliked different wines. Hardly surprising really, given that we rushed through the line-up in absurdly short time – about 90 minutes (some tasters were even more cursory!), meaning about 1.5 minutes per wine to assess it and jot down a note! How serious can one get! No chance for deep consideration, let alone any retasting.
The way I approached the line-up this year was to move between whites and reds, to try to keep my palate a little fresher: the sauvignons, then the lighter reds (cinsaut and pinot), then back to the semillons, then the bordeaux black grapes, then the chards, etc… I think it helped me, though I would certainly not swear by my judgements of wine made in the absurdly rapidfire fashion that also characterises most wine competitions.
Nonetheless, some trends stood out, as well as some wines, for better or for worse. As usual, I preferred the whites and found most of the shirazes and pinotages pretty awful: these latter seem to be the categories that attract the winemakers who revel in ultra-ripeness, massive alcohols and heavy oaking. Only one shiraz did I really like (Boekenhoutskloof – a blend of Wellingtom and Swartland grapes).
My very favourite wines were these four (in alphabetical order):
- Ataraxia Under the Gavel Chardonnay 2013 (Kevin Grant)
- Mullineux The Gris Semillon 2103 (Andrea Mullineux)
- Etienne le Riche Cabernet Sauvignon Auction Reserve 2004 (Etienne le Riche)
- The Drift Mount Farm “Heartbreak Grape” Pinot Noir 2013 (Bruce Jack)
My other favourites were (again in alphabetical order, and I’m surprised and pleased to see so many more reds featuring this year):
- Bartho Eksteen Vloekstoot Sauvignon Blanc 2013 (Bartho Eksteen)
- Badenhorst Kalmoesfontein Dassiekop Steen 2012 (Adi Badenhorst)
- Boekenhoutskloof Syrah 2012 (Marc Kent)
- Cape Point Vineyards Reserve White 2013 (sauvignon-semillon blend; Duncan Savage)
- De Trafford Perspective 2012 (a Bordeaux blend; David Trafford)
- Etienne le Riche Cabernet Sauvignon Auction Reserve 2012 (Etienne le Riche)
- Grangehurst Auction Reserve 2009 (a Bordeaux blend; Jeremy Walker)
- Kanonkop Paul Sauer 2011 (a Bordeaux blend; Abrie Beeslaar)
- Neil Ellis Auction Reserve 2011 (cabernet-shiraz; Neil Ellis)
- Simonsig The Red Ox White Roussanne Chenin Blanc 2013 (Johan Malan)
- Spier Auction Reserve Frans K Smit 2010 (a Bordeaux blend; Frans Smit)
- Tokara Tribute 2010 (cabernet sauvignon-malbec; Miles Mossop)
So, clearly, of the reds my preferred category was Bordeaux blends and cabs, which seemed to bring out the bit of elegance that most of the shiraz and pinotage winemakers clearly abhor. Of the whites, I’d go first for the semillons for the highest general quality. But I doubt if the punters will. For non-punters generally, I’d suggest that you don’t despair, or curdle with envy. Let the showy rich buy this stuff; with a few exceptions (and they lurk especially among the whites), for much less money you can get much better value, and often better quality, from many standard-issue wines, icluding some from winemakers and estates not featured here.