Lessons of die Berge


“The most exciting tasting of my career” was how experienced taster Dr. Winnie Bowman (below) described judging the Checkers Battle of die Berge last month.  Panel chair Danie de Wet concurred. “Looking for the best wine of a competition is boring. When its cold outside, the bold, fat wines get gold and the elegant ones, nothing.”

Which makes you wonder about climatic conditions when the Platter visualizers chose their infamous ***** 80 which were announced to hoots of scepticism last week. Andre van Rensburg had six of his Vergelegen wines nominated and went home to Somerset West empty handed.  If wines are high-fived randomly (a good approximation to the behaviour of Platter panel), there is less than a 2% chance of achieving this extreme result.  Guide dog owner Diners Club should get their parent Standard Bank to ask their actuaries as it smells like rank rat pie to some commentators.  Does ***** perhaps stand for “scams”?  One winemaker commented that Platter is starting to look like Wine magazine and will be gone in a year or two.

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It must have been the climate for white blends as no fewer than 13 were blinged up with five stars – over 16% of the planetarium. As Danie commented “people who don’t know who to judge wine judge a black hole and find a ghost with white blends” and give it five stars. Judging at the Checkers Battle of die Berge event was different, with 5 points out of 20 reserved for a sense of place which Danie described as a golden thread linking producers on the two mountains.

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For the Helderberg, that thread was granite and a crisp salty (not sea salt) character that gives wine elegance. For the Simonsberg, ripe tannins are the thread and his point was well made by the six wines chosen by the panel: Vergenoegd Runner Duck 2011, Vergelegen Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Alto Shiraz 2011 that Danie called “a R500 wine” – its actually a quarter of this price – the Glenelly Glass Colleciton Syrah 2010, which was my wine of the day, Delaire Graff Chardonnay 2012 and an opulent Warwick Trilogy 2010.

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The terroir arguments were set out by Warwick winemaker Nic van Aarde (above) and Andre who used to live in Nic’s house in the early 1990s. He joked that if he ever had to leave the Helderberg, he would love to make wine at Rustenberg, an estate that started to lose focus shortly after the Wine Lizard stepped in with some advice a couple of decades ago. Losing Etienne le Riche as winemaker was a blow from which the estate is still struggling to recover. So politics and the greed of consultants is one factor both mountains have to deal with.

Andre identified wind as the other big problem on the Helderberg while Danie mentioned proximity to the sea which reduces diurnal temperature variations although the reduction of daytime maxima is a huge plus from Neptune.

The six mountain wines go on sale in Checkers and the overall conclusion is that these wines make Stellenbosch, Stellenbosch. Johann Loubser (below) from Delaire Graff added his vote of confidence to the process which ensures a fighting future for Battle of die Berge which bravely attempts to change the direction of SA wine tasting tourneys.

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