Panic in the wine show aisles


Wine show entrepreneurs are running scared as it looks like the new liquor legislation may bring an end to their hugely profitable retail party. Already organizers of the Gugulethu Wine Festival, the best show in town, are warning exhibitors to stand-by for a ban on show sales, which may make many a wine festival unviable. For a hard hitting critique of the new legislation, consumers can catch the owner of WineX, Michael Fridjhon, on the subject in Business Day earlier this month. Although the subs did pull Michael’s punch for not flagging potential conflict of interests. But with dead-tree media depending on liqour marketing in many ways, perhaps this is all taken as read?

gugs 300x104 Panic in the wine show aisles

I set out my own stall in the columns of Food Weekly on Sunday with unrealistic prices in my sights.

The remarkable outpourings of clichés that followed the death of Iron Lady Margaret Thatcher were led by US president Barack Obama who noted “as a grocer’s daughter who rose to become Britain’s first female prime minister, she stands as an example to our daughters that there is no glass ceiling that can’t be shattered.” Which is what he would say, having shattered a few in his time.

Smashing glass ceilings was popular back in the 1980s when natty pioneers like Anthony Hamilton Russell would demand the unthinkable: R100 for a bottle of Walker Bay Pinot Noir in the days when Benny Goldberg would discount serious Burgundy in his Louis Botha Avenue liquor hypermarket on the fringes of Alexandra Township. Economics is nothing if not cyclical and in the current age of austerity, R100 looks set to return as a ceiling consumers are prepared to pay for a bottle.

Walker Bay may now be called Hemel en Aarde and while it is still a mission to find Pinot Noir under R100, increased plantings of the heartbreak grape are seeing wine insiders shorting the cultivar faster than shares in a Cyprus bank. The De Bos Pinot Noir 2012 is a case in point.

Made from upper Hemel en Aarde Valley grapes grown on vines planted 7777 to the hectare, the yield is an accountant’s nightmare of one bunch per plant. Two thirds were fermented and matured in stainless steel, the rest in second and third fill barrels.

It is a thoroughly modern social media wine, as electronic advice was received by winemaker Corlea Fourie from Peter-Allan Finlayson (of Cuvée Cinema fame) via Twitter: how to make wine in 140 characters. Stems were added during fermentation to ramp up the mouth-feel and German yeast was employed to ensure precise flavours. At R95 a bottle, this is a miraculous Pinot and being a Fair Trade product with an abstemious alcohol level of 12.5%, a righteous one too.

If Pinot is the passionate grape then Cabernet Sauvignon is for eggheads and one of the best is a Vondeling 2011 made by winemaker Emile van der Merwe. It retails at R85. Made in an elegantly floral Wellington-style, it comes from grapes from the original Bowwood block that Bruce Jack and Julian Johnson used to put the Voor-Paardeberg on the map, a decade ago.

In spite of much whistling past the graveyard, sales of French Champagne are in serious trouble, with shipments down 3% last year to 2005 levels. Yet local bubbly prices remain scandalously high when many a French supermarché discounts fizz to €10 a bottle and below.

Until local retailers come to their senses and discount, consumers with something to celebrate should look local to the Mirabilis 2009 Méthode Cap Classique from Spar for R99. A Graham Beck bubbly in art nouveau drag, it is a classic blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir which rested on its lees for four years and will shortly rest on its laurels if entered into the annual Amorim Cap Classique Challenge.

To help celebrate the centenary of Kirstenbosch Gardens, Neethlingshof have launched a stonker of a white blend called Six Flowers 2012 for R80 a bottle. One of the best places to enjoy the wine is the tearoom at Kirstenbosch along with the classic boerekos of chef Pamela Shippel.

Her beef bobotie would make a Sheik shiver while her falafel, tehina, hummus, tabbouleh and best of all, a spicy Turkish tomato salad, would get an Emir excited. It all works like an eastern charm with the rich and dense six-way blend of Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Gewurztraminer and Riesling.

The wine is well balanced as each cultivar was aged separately in new Hungarian and French oak barrels with the first two fermented in oak, too. If the big step-up in quality of the 2007 vintage Vin de Constance from Klein Constantia can be ascribed to Hungarian oak and savvy marketing by the new foreign cyclist owners (no, not Lance Armstrong), then the sudden popularity of Eastern European wood comes as no surprise.

So much so, that Neethlingshof winemaker De Wet Viljoen has started complaining of the rise in barrel prices. But then that is probably VdC pumping up production after a record 97/100 point rating by Robert Parker, court taster to America’s tony consumers.

Stellenbosch cult winemaker Bruwer Raats has devoted the last decade to making quality Cabernet Franc and the price demanded by his flagship Mvemve Raats de Compostela 2011 of R800 confirms that he has achieved it. So the chance to buy a bottle of Dolomite Cabernet Franc 2011 for R100 looks like a serious mismark. If you want to see what all the fuss is about and don’t have a gravy train ticket, try the Dolomite which is getting geologists more excited than an erupting volcano.