Portuguese wine guru Aníbal Coutinho and I have a running joke. Every time we hit a quintessential Portuguese wine producer/village/appellation on our annual tasting trips around the land of presunto and octopus rice, it becomes “the St. Émilion of Portuguese Wine.” There are several so far: Santar, Estremoz, Baccalhôa… The back of Hall B at last weekend’s Stellenbosch Wine Festival – which for a while was billed as the 10th when it wasn’t – convinced me that the Helderberg is the St. Émillion of SA.
For starters, the earnest young pourers in their buttoned down preppy shirts from Rust en Vrede and Ernie Els have a smart self-confidence and bushy tailed enthusiasm that goes a long way to justifying the prices asked, which are not cheap. But what wines: the Rust en Vrede 2008 red blend narrowly beat the Meerlust Rubicon 2007 and Kanonkop Paul Sauer 2008 as Red of Show in my humble opinion – but then it does contain Shiraz, which is outrageously promiscuous when young. Perhaps the others will be more attractive with some bottle age, so it looks like I’ll have to buy all three. Forget about using terroir to sell wine – testosterone is so much more effective.
But those on a budget can take a look at the Ernie Els Rugby range – a 2011 Sauvignon Blanc (R60) and a 2010 Shiraz/Cabernet blend (R80) released just in time for the Rugby World Cup that kicks off in five weeks. The first thing that stands out is the retro springbok on the label. Give it some wings and this was the buck SA Airways put on their lurid orange tail in the days when they flew around the boep of Africa to Europe.
The Sauvignon Blanc has the racy acidity of a Jannie Engelbrecht streaking down the left wing while the red has the muscle of a Hempies du Toit in a heaving, sweaty scrum. Ernie has picked up the ball dropped by Chateau Libertas who recently abandoned their atmospheric label in burnt umber for a paint brushed SimpleMind version for the iPad. No wonder Cape Town is trying to become the design capital of the world!