Adi Badenhorst’s colleagues on the Cape Winemakers Guild (no, they don’t like apostrophes) possibly thought he was bringing a rosé to their upcoming auction. Ramnasgras 2011 is certainly a wimp by the usual macho standards of Auction reds. Extreme ripeness and massive alcohols are ubiquitous – of the 38 reds to be offered in Stellenbosch on 6 October, nine have ABV levels over 15%, with most of the others in hot pursuit. Ramnasgras (named for ‘a kind of wild mustard weedy thing’ growing on Adi’s Swartland farm) has a mere 12.5% – so 1970s! And not a bit of new oak was used in its making, which is another rarity for CWG wines of any colour.
A wine made from cinsaut rather than cabernet, shiraz or pinotage…. and with a profile like this. What is the man thinking of? Is he trying to make a point? Oh, I do hope so, and that it’s taken. Ramnasgras is delicious, delicately fruit-filled, fresh, sophisticatedly modest and, as Adi says, “you can drink a bottle and still stand up”.
Of the other reds I tasted at a ‘blind’ (no labels) line-up of all 52 Auction wines, from bubblies to port, I confess that some of the big bruisers were also seductive – though whether these would be wonderful for more than a single glass is less certain. Tasting wine is different from actually drinking the stuff.
I am now a trifle aghast to see how much I liked Haskell Paradigm 2008, a cabernet-based blend that not only has lots of alcohol but is also technically off-dry. My note was made, however, and must stand, as further indication of how good a winemaker Rianie Strydom is (she’s currently the only female granted Guild membership). It says: “Serious, powerful and ambitious. Well balanced on good big scale. Succulent tannins. Rich but graceful. Good future.’ Not all my notes are so staccato; this wine clearly stunned me. I didn’t much care for Rianie’s other wine, The Expatriate 2010, which I found showy, oaky and sweet-finishing in more typical Auction style, despite its vital statistics being a touch more respectable than Paradigm’s.
Another impressive cab-based blend is Neil Ellis’s Auction Reserve 2007, although, hopefully proving that I’m not only liable to be bowled over by massiveness, the alcohol is more reasonable and the wine is admirably dry – amongst the more elegant of the reds.
It’s also good to see wines like this with a few years on them. Tokara Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 will be better in three years (better still in eight), but is already splendid, showing harmony and some freshness, unspoilt by oaking.
In fact, over-oaking was less of a problem for me this year than in the past – but that restraint just emphasised the prevailing ultra-ripeness and power. I was troubled by those factors in the De Trafford Perspective 2009, whereas I was not in David Trafford’s second Auction wine, the well structured Syrah 2009 – the bottle containing most alcohol of all, apart from Carel Nel’s port, which had a little more. Other shirazes I admired were those of Graham Beck and Groot Constantia.
The white wines were, as always, more exciting, and I’ll return to them. But few will get anything like what’s paid for the blockbuster reds. Nor, probably, will Ramnasgras. Nothing at the CWG Auction succeeds quite like excess.
First published in Mail & Guardian, 14-20 September, 2010