I’m not sure why the Cape industry hibernates through winter and beyond (but I have a few theories). The result is that, at the first whiff of spring, everyone is galvanised into trying to catch up the lost sales of the so-called green season. New product launches, trade visits and pre-festive-season distributor bashes come thick and fast. Over a ten 10-day period in early September, over more than 120 producers descended on Gauteng, most armed with at least six6 different wines from their current offering.
Even for those of us conditioned to (and given to) excess, this is something of a challenge.
Of course I threw myself into the scrum with unbridled enthusiasm. What struck me as I made my way through line-up after line-up with almost super-human dedication was how easy this has all become.
Gone are the days of wines so vile that guests drop like flies at these events. Were it not for the discipline (built up over years) of swirling, sniffing, tasting and spitting, I could quite easily have succumbed to the urge to consume.
This reflects an enormous transformation within the basic wine industry. There were always brilliant high-end producers — cellars which that could be relied upon to deliver quality and consistency. Not all were necessarily positioned at the premium end of the pricing spectrum, though the concepts of "popular pricing" and "unrelentingly ordinary" often came hand in hand. Now many of the truly affordable wines (retailing at R60 or less) are at least as good as the R100 offerings of a few years back.
For those seeking out this kind of vinous value, look no further than the Landskroon Chenin Blanc 2012, for example. This is a R35 bottle of wine that is fresh, clean, mouth filling — and, while still very primary, — rounded and without aggressive acidity. Reynecke’s Organic White 2011 is another such example: more expensive (you have to pay for the risk of chemical-free viticulture) at R60 but equally bright, fresh, limey, zesty, and just as evenly textured. A blend of Chenin, Chardonnay and Sauvignon, it may even show into greater complexity over the next few months. If it’s inexpensive Sauvignon Blanc that blows your hair back, the Porcupine Ridge 2012 at R35 should do the trick. It has enough of the more tropical gooseberry notes layered with fresh whiffs of green fig to meet the spec of "refreshing". At the same time, the steely, almost lime-like mid-palate makes it the ideal wine match for dishes such as prawns with a lemon butter sauce. On the other hand, if you’d prefer Chardonnay, the Kumala 2011 is equally enjoyable. As fFresh as many a Sauvignon, but with more evident citrus notes, it doesn’t pretend to complexity. Instead, at R32 a bottle it delivers the genuine flavours of the cultivar.
A slightly more generous budget — about around R40 — buys the Wolftrap White 2011, made to satisfy the expectations of those who like Rhône-ish blends. The 2010 vintage was the Platter Guide’s Superquaffer of the Year and the latest release won’t disappoint. If you go beyond the sub-R60 range, the Altydgedacht Gewurztraminer 2012 is a perfect example of this most fragrant of all white varieties.
Aromatically more litchi lychee than rose petal, with finely managed almost mineral acidity, and completely dry, it’s great value at R75. A nudge up on this buys you the best Chardonnay I’ve had from Dewetshof for years. Called The Site, it retails for R130 a bottle and delivers a classically styled, slightly severe, remarkably perfumed (in a restrained kind of way), flinty, lime-citrus and intense glass of wine. At half the price of the cellar’s prestige offering, the Dewetshof Bataleur, you would be expecting something less, rather than more — and that depends on your preferences.
The Site is about purity and concentration while the Bataleur is more about technique (there’s a lot of barrel work in that price) than fruit. For me, the old vine intensity of The Site is the message in the bottle.