The scandal that never quite happened

There was a bland little announcement a few weeks back that probably few noticed, but I’m sure it reminded WOSA of some scary times last year when it thought it might have an international scandal on its hands reminiscent of the flavourant one of 2004. (Gosh was it really so long ago that they found that two KWV winemakers – and no doubt others – had been illegally adding pyrazines to their sauvignons?)

This press release announced that “Ashton Cellar has been tested free from Natamycin in our clear and brown grape concentrate”. Not very newsworthy stuff unless you knew that this anti-microbial agent and fungicide (also known as pimaricin) had been found by the alert Germans in some Argentine and South African wines, and that it was an illegal additive in wine in Europe.

No matter that it has long been used, perfectly legally, in various other foodstuffs in Europe.  Scandal threatened. (There are those who think that there are various forces always on the lookout for something with which to lash South African wine.) WOSA and others scurried about frantically and the authorities put measures in place to see that local wines were free of the stuff.

But why the significance of this recent announcement from Ashton? Because, as I understand it, the way natamycin got into South African wine was via sweet concentrate imported from Argentina! The concentrate is added to wine to make it taste sweeter – something that is, sadly, a perfectly legal practice – but rather a dodgy one to my mind. I’d thought that it was only the lowest level of cheap crowd pleasers that used it, until the mini-scandal when Wine mag had to withdraw its five star rating from a Havana Hills Sauvignon, when it became clear that the wine was sweeter than the rules allowed, and then it became clear that Havana Hills had sweetened their wine with concentrate.