A happy whiff of change wafts over the wines to be sold at the Cape Winemakers’ Guild auction in October.
About time. This prestigious annual event, which began over 30 years ago as, primarily, a showcase for experimental, ambitious wines, has had depressing features.
Although white wines have generally offered the most interest and variety, reds have outnumbered them, too many in blockbuster style: overripe, overoaked, overdressed. And overpriced – reminding me not to blame the winemakers alone.
Buyers have ignored exquisite white wines, leaving them to get derisory prices, whereas even second-rate reds have reached absurd levels compared to what arguably better, non-auction wines are getting on wine-shop shelves.
Promisingly, this year a larger proportion than ever before (though still just a third) of the nearly 60 wines are white. Given the more lucrative pickings to be gained from reds, this in itself argues ambitious integrity on the winemakers’ part. Also cheering is that many more than before (though not all) of the reds eschew fruit-packed massiveness in favour of elegant, savoury drinkability.
Moreover, as the guild’s chairperson, Jeff Grier of Villiera, says, “there is definitely a more creative edge to the line-up” this year – with some interesting varieties and blends peeking over the shoulders of the usual suspects. The lovely, delicate (if alarmingly named) Grenache Gris Vuilgoed from Badenhorst is an example, and a rather overblown Roussanne from Simonsig.
That said, chardonnay (six of them) remains the biggest category of white wines – and an impressive one, with Ataraxia, Paul Cluver, Jordan and Teddy Hall offering superb examples, reminding me just how good Cape chardonnay is.
Those four were among my top wines when I last week tasted (blind, labels unseen) the auction line-up. Other favourite whites were Nitida’s Sauvignon Blanc, and two splendid blends of sauvignon blanc and semillon: John Loubser Thirteen and Tokara Tribute.
Four red wines joined those seven whites as my standouts, though others of both colours were close behind – and I confess I wouldn’t swear to the indelibility of my choice, given that sampling 60 wines in a few hours is hardly an undertaking likely to produce results that are unchallengeable, including by the taster him/herself.
That said, I’m pretty confident about the quality of my top scorers. First, two Bordeaux-style blends: Haskell Vineyards Paradigm and that old auction stalwart, Jordan Sophia; then the shirazes from Badenhorst and Boekenhoutskloof. Significantly, neither wine had seen a new oak barrel, allowing the freshness and purity of fruit to stand out in the largest category of all – one that also harboured a few overemphatic wines.
Whether you’re buying at auction or waiting for the wines to appear on shelves or restaurant winelists, I have never felt as confident to make a general recommendation as I do this year.
There are throwbacks, but let’s welcome the Cape Winemakers’ Guild to the great South African wine quality revolution!
Next year, let’s hope even more winemakers will show the evidence of having picked their grapes that bit earlier, worked them less hard and reused some of those old barrels instead of new ones.
Cape Town winelovers have already had a chance to taste and judge the auction wines for themselves.
Gautengers can still do so at the CWG auction showcase on August 29 at the Atrium, Nedbank Sandton. The auction takes place at Spier in Stellenbosch on October 5