One of the more pleasurable spin-offs of last week’s vertical tastings at Muratie was the chance to sit next to Dave March CWM (below). Dave is a new voice in the local wine choir and his Cape Wine Master dissertation deals with wine investment in SA. This WSET diploma graduate has everything: chatty, witty and evidently a good taster, yet he keeps banging his head against the glass ceiling carefully fashioned by previous generations of tasters intent on protecting their own turf. Rather than import jaded has-beens and never-was’s to select wine for the annual Nederburg Auction or go through the motions at Top 100 SA Wines, the Trophy Wine Show, and so on and so forth, organizers wishing to cut costs and shrink their carbon footprint to smaller than the bound feet of a medieval Japanese babe, should contact Dave.
One of the biggest changes at this year’s Nederburg Auction is to the selection process with a couple of Masters of Wine and foreign palates (below, who dominate Auction video coverage in spite of having faces better suited to radio) added to form a “new look” old look all-white tasting panel of 10 (7 boys, 3 girls). The results will not impress cultural workers, feminists or Pinotage producers with Shiraz outnumbering Pinotage by 2 to 1 if you ignore historical lots from Oude Libertas and the brave ABSA Top Ten Pinotage selection. Which comes as no surprise, given the prejudice shown to the SA USP red cultivar by selectors like Brit “Dr.” Jamie Goode who infamously noted “Pinotage is vile” before going on to say some nasty things about the cultivar. Quite why such bigoted palates are still taken seriously is a mystery. If indeed they are.
What a week for Distell, the elephant in the national tasting room. On Monday CEO Jan Scannell drops R2.2 billion on Scotch. On Tuesday, Business Day calls them a “third world drinks company” and today they refocus the annual Nederburg Auction, biggest event on the wine calendar for four decades. Volumes of wines on offer crash 60% from 28,000 litres to 12,000 with the number of offerings from host Nederburg, SA’s largest premium lifestyle brand, nearly halve from 27 to 15. Confirming a marketing refocus which now concentrates on MasterChefSA and saturation coverage in airports. The event will still be held over two days (6 and 7 September) so proceedings should be less frenetic.
Budgets must be under severe pressure when the Nederburg Auction shares judges with the controversial Top 100 SA Wine Competition to select wines for the annual auction, as happened last month. Far better to have asked Mark Norrish (Ultra Liquors), Mark Robinson (Spar) and Mark Antony (Ancient Rome) I would have thought, as these are the guys who buy the stuff. Especially the Mark in Food Lover’s Market as Mark told me “these are the guys with the best retail offering.” No wonder they laughed off a R1.8 billion offer for the business five years ago from a competitor. If you can sell five bottles of Tin Cup wine for R100, you’re clearly onto a winning formula.
But Nederburg probably wasted their money as tasting is not even necessary these days. It all comes down to labels as the Platter guide confirms and Mike Veseth, Auction speaker last year, noted when he told assembled Marks “when I went to the local wine shop [in Washington State] with the most comprehensive selection of South Africa wines I found that 15 of the 16 wines on the shelf were ‘critter wines.’ ”
When I lunched at Constantia Uitsig with Andre Rousseau in January (his 2012 Chardonnay is a knockout), the valley’s most underrated chef and King of Sweetbreads (kos) Clayton Bell, hurried over to enquire whether Andre had caught his snake yet. Seems that a green mamba had taken up residence, a little early for the Year of the Snake festivities which take place next Sunday. And also the wrong address, as the Cape to Canton party takes place in the garden of the Newlands Hotel & Spa down the road. There are still a few tickets available.
“How often does the tail wag the brontosaurus?” asks wine impesario Michael Fridjhon in Business Day this morning. The brontosaurus (below) being the Nederburg brand and the tail the annual Nederburg Auction “where turnovers dropped significantly for reasons that aren’t at all difficult to discern. The sale has lost its sex appeal — which means it’s not attracting the stocks and buyers that would make a difference in a tough market.
A week later it became clear that the Cape Winemakers Guild (CWG) Auction has usurped much of that polish and gloss — and its turnovers (as well as the average prices paid for a smaller and seemingly more exclusive offering) reflect its current position on the podium.” The only problem with the comparison being the “punters” at each event are quite different.
Perhaps the best autopsy for the recent Cape Wine 2012 jamboree was penned by Dr. Liz Thach MW on winebusiness.com. Liz makes the point that the SA should “lead with Chenin Blanc. New Zealand took the world by storm with its unique style of Sauvignon Blanc. South Africa should consider leading with its Chenin Blancs, which are some of the most beautiful I have ever tasted. Furthermore, except for the Loire Valley, no other region is focusing on Chenin Blanc to the extent of South Africa.
South Africa has a wide variety of Chenin Blanc styles that should appeal to multiple consumer segments. My favorites are the bone-dry Chenins with a peach nose, mineral palate, and clean high acid finish — wonderful food wines. At the same time, I also tasted some exquisite semi-sweet Chenins with aromatic peach and honey notes that make a great sipping wine. Then there are the fuller-bodied and more serious oaked Chenins with complex flavours that have been developed through oak fermentation, battonage, and malolactic fermentation. These wines give Chardonnay a run for its money.”
ZA, a pop-up Chenin Pizzeria at Food|Wine|Design next month, anticipates Liz, as I reported in the Sunday Times Food Weekly on Sunday. Teaming up with Gianni Mariano of Mastrantonio fame, one of the first people we invited was Charles Banks who loves za so much, he lured Paul Gouveia (below) away from the Temptations of Tulbagh to Mulderbosch, were he now does the business.
Forget about 50 shades of grey. It’s 50 shades of amber for proper seduction as we found out yesterday judging 62 dessert wines in the Quixotic annual quest to find the Diners Club Winemaker of the Year. Experienced Aussie international wine show judge, winemaker and reigning IWC White Winemaker of the Year Neil McGuigan (below) had no problem finding 8 of the 10 golds in the golden line-up.
Nederburg Auction speaker and wine economist Mike Veseth yesterday suggested that assembled winemakers, buyers and the media invite Americans to embrace the true meaning of the braai if they want to crack the US market. Fair comment as Mike arrived in SA on national braai day.
Global warming gate crashed the Nederburg Auction this morning when Jack Frost registered and picked up his icy paddle. In the old days, Boland Boykies and Platteland Poppies would schedule their nuptials for auction day, guaranteed fair weather. No longer. But at least auctioneer Anthony Barne (below) is putting on a brave face, dressed in corporate purple like a Pope of Pinotage.