Spar Stunners

Lost in the MakPlatter controversy of confusing ratings and vintages is just how seriously SA supermarkets take wine. They have long been the national bottle store. This from the current vintage of the Financial Mail:

danie1 Spar Stunners

The King of Luxury, Johann Rupert, was in fine form at the recent Remgro shareholders’ meeting. “Thank heavens for exchange controls. Do you really think the investment geniuses in SA wouldn’t have been at the subprime party if they could have been?” What a pity then he doesn’t make a supermarket version of his Anthonij Rupert range of blockbuster reds as the terms and conditions of a grocer’s liquor license insist on 14% ceilings for alcohol levels. Antiquated dirigiste legislation perhaps, but rules that exclude a whole layer of powerful putative icons from supermarket aisles.

Which is one of the reasons chains like Woolies and Spar make their own. Ray Edwards and Tinus van Niekerk are the men behind the Olive Brook range presented to the media and some Spar franchise owners at a blow-out lunch authored by Forti Mazzone at his Ritrovo restaurant in Waterkloof recently. Van Niekerk made the point “Spar wines are specifically created for Spar consumers. No wines are just ‘bought in’; there is careful selection, blending, even walking the vineyards and much meddling in the cellars. We have different criteria with balance and elegance important requirements.”

The consumer will also appreciate competitive pricing and national distribution which previously required marrying the winemaker’s sister or owning a holiday home on the Helderberg, to get hold of a well-rated bottle.

These different criteria are clearly working as the Olive Brook Chardonnays from the 2007 and 2008 vintage (made in conjunction with KWV chairman and the King of Chardonnay, Danie de Wet) both won gold at Veritas earlier this month, comprising no less than 2/3 of the unwooded Chardonnays awarded gold. But even more important that show medals was the observation that the match they made with seared scallops in basil infused butter was one made in heaven.

Anoraks will search in vain for them in the pages of Platter as no Spar wines will be submitted to the guide until the sighted tasting methodology is abandoned. Since the Platter sighted pundits including the wine consultant to Checkers, the Spar boycott is a commercial decision.

Keeping an eye on balance sees the 2008 Olive Brook Sauvignon Blanc pulled back from the acidic brink that has ruined so many other wines from this vintage. While the 2007 was a tropical stunner, the 2008 has kept the same approachable style but added a dash of asparagus to produce a consummate food wine that complemented the Carpaccio of Zucchini drizzled with a reduction made from the wine in place of vinegar, a treat.

My personal best was the 2006 Quintette, a perfumed and elegant blend of the five classic varietals from Bordeaux. Van Niekerk dissected it using human anatomy to explain the contribution of each cultivar. Cabernet Sauvignon supplies the skeleton and Merlot the flesh. Petit Verdot is the blood and Cabernet Franc the nervous system (although Danie de Wet preferred the Jeremy Clarkson analogy of oil in the gearbox). Finally Malbec supplies muscle – Marais Viljoen’s wonderfully tight Drakensig 2007 bend of Malbec and Shiraz makes this point most eloquently.

The clincher was pairing the Quintette 2006 with char-grilled tuna napped with artichoke – a tricky vegetable that turns any wine match to chewing on a tin roof – a rough and metallic experience. This was the unexpected exception that proves the rule.