Budget Bordeaux

Something unusual: a report in this week’s Financial Mail which I paid to attend, presented by a glamorous retailer with whom I have no commercial connections…
bb Budget Bordeaux

Johannesburg wine tastings are notoriously late starters but the Wednesday evening Bordeaux tasting at La Rustica kicked off on time. It was Cosatu’s National Strike Day and navigating Louis Botha was a breeze. While workers toyi-toyi’d for lower food prices, Gauteng gastronauts were doing their bit for the economy by sipping budget Bordeaux, the most expensive of which was still cheaper than a bottle of Vergelegen’s flagship V.

The tasting was presented by Cape Town’s first lady of the vine, Caroline Rillema and stock came from her shops in the Mother City. She was in town to present a tasting to the Medicis of Rand Merchant Bank who are clearly not letting their recent six month loss after last year’s R3.9 billion profit, get them down. R450 bought you a tasty meal of comfort food, Italian style: divers antipasti followed by the second best steak of the year.

Dinner in the restaurant’s atmospheric cellar (available at no extra charge to large parties) was rounded off by a pear poached in red wine plus generous tastings of ten young Bordeaux including such icons as Domaine de Chevalier, Château Beychevelle and Château Clerc-Milon.

I’d enjoyed the best steak of the year at Belthazar on the Waterfront the previous Saturday along with a vertical tasting of Cheval Blanc (2001-2005) cheekily paired with Bruwer Raat’s Cabernet Franc wines of matching vintages, made from grapes grown in Durbanville and Stellenbosch. Since a bottle of Cheval 2005 costs around R15 000, some form of import replacement is clearly needed. Local hero Raats stepped up to the plate and in a blind tasting, managed to draw a couple of vintages with the French superstar. But alas, not the 2005 contest, which went to the St. Émilion stunner unanimously.

The Battle of Belthazar was arranged by dapper Roland Peens from Cape Town’s Wine Cellar who reran the event in Johannesburg and Durban. Mother city importers are showing a clean pair of heels to their Johannesburg colleagues and the most exciting thing about the R2 500 a glass tasting was the abundance of bright, young twenty somethings, prepared to shell out for the crown jewels of global wine.

Rillema has been in the Bordeaux game longer than her glamorous looks would imply. In fact one of her claims to fame was selling four cases of 1982 Pétrus to Anton Rupert at R95 a bottle. www.winesearcher.com lists stock at the Manhattan Wine Company at R37 077 a bottle, confirming that this lady knows the difference between Bordeaux and claret, as John Cleese is wont to say.

She is currently punting the 2005 vintage but admits anything decent will cost at least R800 a bottle. For bargains, punters should look to 2004. Sandwiched between the powerful 2003s and excellent 2005s, what the 2004s lack in intensity they more than make up for in balance and charm with refreshing acidities recommending them to be drunk with a meal. Which is exactly what we did.

My Pick:

Château Peyrabon Haut-Médoc 2004, R149. Typical Bordeaux: all stones are minerality with an elegant nose and perfect balance.

Château Monbousquet 2002, R450. Wine of the evening. US überpalate Robert Parker calls this St. Émillion superstar “the most exotic and sensual wine in Bordeaux” and although 2002 was supposed to be a rubbish vintage, this wine soars. From an estate owned by supermarket mogul Gerard Perse who is deeply despised by some Bordeaux cognoscenti as a nouveau riche. Perse also owns Château Pavie, perhaps the most controversial wine in the world. This is Pavie quality at ¼ of the price.

Clos de l’Oratoire 2004, R495. Incense on the nose, intense red and black fruit on the palate and serious tannins. A wine to savour in retirement or retrenchment, which ever comes first.