American enthusiasm for berries and braised fig

When the august James Molesworth of the all-powerful Wine Spectator visited the Cape a few years back, he was right to be enthusiastic about the Swartland, but when he wrote later of the “Poor-Vaardeberg” his spoonerism entered local folklore. Now he knows better, and talks of the Voor-Paardeberg – but, sadly, still seems a trifle unsure about the Wine of Origin system in the area.

He has just awarded (in the 30 April edition) “Sadie Family Columella Swartland 2007” the same splendid 95 points that he gave the “spellbinding” 2005 (the first Cape wine to get such a high score in the influential American magazine), but then spoils things by saying that Sadie “draws on old vines in the warm inland Voor-Paardeberg ward of the Paarl district”. Well, of course, if it’s Swartland it can’t be Paarl, can it Jim? And Columella doesn’t even just come from just the actual Paardeberg (though Palladius does), nor from old vines in fact, but is widely sourced across the southern Swartland….

I offer this carping and trivial observation to comfort any local winewriter feeling sore at having been noticed getting something wrong in an article. Even the famous and foreign don’t always check their facts.

The good news for those who take these scores seriously is that now another wine has joined Columella on 95 points – “De Trafford Shiraz Stellenbosch” (it’s an interesting way that James has of naming these wines, but I’m not going to say it’s anything other than rather original). And De Trafford (Chenin) and Sadie Family (Palladius) come at the top of the white wine scores too – with Palladius getting 93 points, just pipping De Trafford and Ken Forrester FMC on 92. Incidentally, he clearly much prefers local chenin to local sauvignon blanc, which didn’t do very well.

No doubt all of the high-scoring winemakers will be saying earnestly how pleased they are for the image of Cape wine….

In fact, Mr Molesworth seemed to like a lot of the 360 South African wines he says he’s tasted over the past year, and gave 69 of them scores over 90. An alphabetical list of the scores is available online – it’s free, but you have to be a subscriber to the magazine fondly known to many as the Wine Speculator to read the descriptions. I’m not a subscriber, but someone sent me a scan of the article, so I can tell you that the Columella is described as having “a stunning array of loganberry, blackberry, raspberry and boysenberry fruit”. Which makes it sound to me more like the fruit counter at Woolworths than the sort of wine I’d like to drink, but if that’s the sort of tasting note you find useful, well, you’ll probably also be excited by the idea of De Trafford Shiraz: “braised fig, cocoa, blackberry, anise and tar, all layered with graphite and black tea”. Braised fig! Graphite! Why not braised graphite?

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