The usual CWG mix for 2015’s auction

The Cape Winemakers Guild Auction is on Saturday, 3 October, at the Spier Conference Centre in Stellenbosch. There will be some splendid wines on offer – and I’d guess that at least many of the white ones will be excellent bargains. And many of the reds not.

For the past five (is it?) years, the CWG has put on a blind tasting of their Auction wines for 10 or so local wine journalists and critics.

This year’s tasting took place a week or two back (at Catharina’s restaurant at Steenberg, followed by an excellent lunch) and, happily, I was there, my wine-senses, such as they are, either sharpened or dulled by a few months of tiring tasting for Platter. Sitting down to taste 60-odd wines in a few hours, blind or sighted, is always, I’m convinced, a silly and inadequate way of making useful judgements, but still. I’m not going to give notes for all the wines, but rather pick out those I particularly liked.

Guild chair Andries Burger, welcoming us, made the fair point that in recent years the range of Auction wines has come to include more adventurous styles. Overall, however, I’d risk the general remark that this lineup didn’t do a great job of representing the vanguard of the Cape wine revolution – either in terms of style or quality. Many of them were standard at best, some of the big burly reds now seeming even rather old fashioned in their extracted, oaky, ultra-ripe ponderousness and power. But there were some excellent and interesting exceptions.

Of course, my overall somewhat negative impression comes about partly because of the relative paucity of whites. The CWG line-up is invariably red wine-based, reflecting the clear preferences of the auction bidders (judging by the prices achieved – scandalous some of them, both the highs and the lows!). The 2015 line-up fits the pattern: 34 reds and 21 whites (including three bubblies and a dessert wine). Also usually, I and other critics sigh at how much better the whites are, especially given the alacrity with which the rather old-fashioned rump of the Guild delivers burly, ripe and extracted reds.

Some of the whites, though, were rather more disappointing this year, particularly a few of the 2014s suffering from the vintage’s common dilution and weakness of fruit in Coastal areas.

But I thought the sauvignon blancs very good on the whole – perhaps even the best category. I always prefer the wooded ones, and particularly admired Bartho Eksteen’s elegant Vloekskoot 2014 (really, Bartho should also be on any list of the Cape’s best winemakers, I think). The De Grendel Wooded 2015 only just behind, and I must say that I also admire the unoaked “A Thousand Kisses Deep” from Louis Nel, despite the appalling name.

My top-scoring wine of the tasting was Andrea Mullineux’s The Gris Semillon 2014, as reflected in my lengthiest note, some of which says: “Subtle, refined and lengthy. Unassertive but powerful preesence, concentration without intensity, Lovely, almost mild. Should last forever.” Andrea also produced a very good chenin – the Trifecta. The lack of chenin competition was one of the signs of how far from representing the best and most interesting developments in Cape wine this Auction in fact is.

Adi Badenhorst’s Geel-Kapel Muscat de Fronignan 2013 deserves a mention as being, surely, firmly in the spirit of what this auction should be offering: interesting, innovative and fine. Not a great wine, but utterly drinkable, and a sign that there’s much more to be done with this variety than making jerepigos that no-one wants.

The chardonnays were OK, but I think they’d have been better if they weren’t mostly 2014s (while the two older ones didn’t much impress me). Paul Cluver The Wagon Trail and Ataraxia Under the Gavel were pretty good (and the Jordan surprisingly unimpressive), but I reckon you can do better, and probably cheaper, away from the auction.

Paul Cluver’s 2013 was the best of the pinots – but, then, some of the competition was dire. I wonder if some of these pinots were amongst the wines that, I believe, were rejected as inadequate by other Guild members at a tasting but went forward nonetheless; I like to hope so. Meanwhile, there are such lovely pinots around….

For the Bordeaux-variety reds I happily went for some big names (as it happened): Etienne le Riche 2011, Neil Ellis Insignium 2012, and Kanonkop Paul Sauer 2012, in approximately that order. Very good wines, these three. If you’re interested in paying much more than for the regular releases from these fine cellars, and you have lots of money, why not?

Savage Follow the Line 2013 (another ghastly name for a lovely wine) stood out for its lighter colour and charming elegance among the reds. I wrote, tiring at the prospect of all the big bruisers already dealt with and to come: “First bit of perfume on this tasting. No oak, no intrusive power. Joy to have such lightness and elegance, yet well structured, and very well balanced with a natural-seeming acidity and moderate tannins. Fresher.”

But just pipping that as my favourite red was the Boekenhoutskloof Syrah – again joyously without obvious oak, without massiveness, “clean, dry, fresh and delightful”.

There was too much sweetness, oak and power among the shirazes, as usual (though Simonsig’s, while partaking of all that, seemed to me to stand out as also better balanced and approaching elegance, more savoury than sweet). I must say the pinotages that followed were rather better as a class – but I confess I already felt depressed and exhausted by most of the shirazes, and couldn’t give them the attention I think they deserved.

7 thoughts on “The usual CWG mix for 2015’s auction

  1. Really enjoyed reading this article. Straight forward and honest. Is it a fair assumption that the Guild is not a fair reflection of what is currently happening in the Cape? And in your opinion – what purpose do they serve then?

  2. Very accurate reflection overall, can only agree. Except maybe to say I disagree on the Adi Badenhorst wine, it is not for me.
    Some well made wines included Boekenhoutskloof Syrah, Vloekskoot, the Kanonberg wines, and the Graham Beck MCC was a treat.

  3. Will – Sorry to be so tardy in replying.

    I’m hesitant in saying what the Guild does represent. It includes a lot of the Cape’s leading winemakers (as well as a few rather dull ones), if not many of the most interesting ones. It was founded as a rather avant garde institution but it’s a long time since it’s been that. Now it is a conservative institution (not necessarily a bad thing, though it takes a ludicrously long time for differently-thinking winemakers to gain membership) and a lot of the winemaking represented in the Auction seems now rather old-fashioned in international and local terms, where the trend is, at least partly, away from power, ultra-ripeness, big extraction and heavy oaking.

    The Guild does serve a widely-useful purpose, I think, in helping to keep some of its less internationally-aware winemaker-members aware of the rest of the world, thorugh its internal tastings. Mostly, it seems to me to be a commercial institution, focused on the Auction.

    The Guild certainly, in my opinion, does not convey much about the great strides in the Cape winemaking revolution. In a sense, I think the index of the Guild’s relationship to the excitement of Cape wine can be seen in the extent to which the auction wines are merely barrel selections of the winemakers’ standard wines. However excellent both the standard Paul Sauer and the CWG Paul Sauer might be (ditto Etienne le Riche, Jordan. etc), one might say – so what? It’s marvellous that some of the newer members – Badenhorst, Mullineux, etc – are offering wines at the cutting edge of Cape winemaking.

    In brief – it’s a mixed bag. Arguably a Good Thing for Cape wine in focusing on ‘quality’, but I can’t see it as having being of any relevance to the Cape wine revolution other than a bit of a drag, perhaps. Irrelevant would be, in fact, my one word response to your question, Will, if I were able to restrict myself to one word.

  4. Thx Tim for your insights. Another question…are you aware of anyone that has ever rejected the offer of being included into the Guild?

  5. Will, there certainly have been those who have declined nomination for membership (no-one is directly offered membership, as the current members vote on each nomination). Eben Sadie has always declined, for example. I seem to recall that even many years ago Hermann Kirschbaum did likewise There have also been resignations over the years – Louise Hofmeyr, then of Welgemeend, and André van Rensburg of Vergelegen, come immediately to mind. Some resignations, like that of Chris Keet, arise because the winemaker can’t justify the fairly heavy expenses involved.

    I should have added earlier that the Guild’s Protégé programme seems to be pretty useful.

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