Chutzpah from the striped horse

One of the exciting wine-things in recent years has been to see the fine wines that have been saved, as it were, from the jaws of the enormous blending vats of the huge wineries we still call co-ops, even if most of them are technically not that any more. Robertson Winery was one of the first to start reserving their best grapes for individual winemaking and bottling – usually grapes from vineyards which had been observed to consistently give better fruit. It‘s a great way of encouraging farmers to invest in better viticulture and lower crops and go for the higher prices they therefore get for their grapes, and a great thing for winelovers, of course. Some of the Robertson Winery specials are pretty good.

Perdeberg Winery – on the edge of the Swartland but still in the Paarl District, with 40 contributing farms – has long been one of the best of the “co-ops”, especially well known for their Chenin Blanc. They have only bottled a smallish percentage of their production under their own label, but have fed good grapes and wine into a number of prominent brands. Recent hints at producing more ambitious wines were not notably successful (I recall a diappointing, heavily wooded “Icon White” 2006, for example).

Then a few years back they started producing an excellent range in collaboration with London-based retailer Bibendum. Those Saam Mountain Vineyards wines are available here (see the Perdeberg website), and offer an attractive quality:price ratio – especially the top Vineyard Selection wines from individual vineyards.

ut now, things have gone to their collective head, unfortunately, with the small range of high-priced wines under their own label, but in a separate range called Rex Equus (“Horse King” in Latin, the language that Eben Sadie brought to the Perdeberg area with his somewhat pretentious label for Columella). The Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz are priced at R240 per bottle; the Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc are R180. None are noted as coming from particular vineyard sites.

There are some ludicrously priced new wines around these days, especially Shirazes, but you have to have a lot of confidence – or something – to bring out a Cab at a price in excess of what you would pay for similar varietal wines from, say, Kanonkop, Waterford and Boekenhoutskloof. I hope it is, in this case, merely marketing aspirational chutzpah rather than confidence in the wine (and that judgement goes for all four), as I’d like to think they have people at the winery with sufficient capacity to assess the wines’ quality.

Your attitude to the Sauvignon Blanc 2007 will probably depend on whether you like your wine to taste as though it’s been heavily dosed with asparagus extract. The Saam Phisantekraal had a similar character, but nowhere near as excessive, but perhaps that’s just the effect of the year since I tasted that wine – and in fact this one would probably have been fresher a year ago. The mercaptans apparently responsible for the asparagus character, and most generally noted in some New Zealand examples, seem to have been a little more present in the Cape in recent years – but not to this extent; clearly Perdeberg values the character, but I have no idea how they induce it – it’s hard to believe it occurs without some prompting in the cellar. Nonetheless, I did find a lilting gracefulness in the wine, and some dusty minerality. Angela Lloyd (this was at a sighted tasting of recent releases with her and Ingrid Motteux) found it duller than I, but I’d rate it 14.5 (out of the usual 20)

The Chenin Blanc 2008 was perhaps predictably the best of the lot (though I was the most enthusiastic about it at 16): powerful and intense, brandishing some new oak, but with plenty of ripe peachy and tropical fruit, and in balance apart from the oak.

Of the reds, we liked the Rex Equus Shiraz 2007 the better (15.5), with its spicy, well-fruited aromas and flavours coping well with the oak, and it even had some light-footedness despite the 14.3% alcohol. Lovely smoothly ripe tannins. The Cabernet 2007 (15) was okay, with a pleasing fragrance and reasonable flavour intensity – again not overoaked – on a firnmly structured palate. Powerful without being heavy, but the tannins less fine than in the Shiraz, and a rather over-drying finish. I think I’m not persuaded to shift from Kanonkop at two-thirds of the price.

If this all sounds a touch harsh, remember that when a winery asks this sort of money it is implicitly inviting serious judgements. I have no doubt that Perdeberg can and will do better than this one day, but it is doing itself no service by asking these prices until its work in the vineyards and the cellar matches the aspirations.

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