Three things, only two of which are connected

The two connected ones are perhaps one, and relate to the Wines of South Africa Mega Tasting being held in London on Monday and Tuesday this week – “the South African Wine fair in Europe”. There are a lot of exhibitors – about 165, more than any one person can cope with (even fancy London tasters), from a tiny producer like Crystallum which makes a few pinots in the Hemel en Aarde, to gigantic Distell.

This last weekend I’ve been asked for advice on two counts from significant people attending the show: firstly, which of the new or newish producers should certainly be included in an itinerary; secondly, to get an impression of pinotage, which are the best on show in London? I was sent the list of producers who’ll be there.

I did my best to respond, on the basis of what I happen to know (which is, sadly, an increasingly small proportion of the ever-growing number of wineries and the ever-growing numbering of wineries which are not really the same places, for better or worse, than they were five years back). But in both cases I was asked about, I had to respond the same way: there are some excellent ones there, but a lot of the best are not.

I don’t know if it’s the same for other countries that have mammoth generic tastings like this, but I wouldn’t really want anyone to definitively judge Cape wine (or South African pinotage) on the basis of what’s available at the Mega Tasting. Or, I should say, I wouldn’t want anyone to think that they will necessarily find all the cream of Cape wine there, although I suppose there’s an average sampling – at the top end, for example, no Vergelegen, Kanonkop or Sadie Family, but there are Meerlust, De Trafford and Hamilton Russell and I guess much the same applies at all quality levels.

And there’s also a Platter Guide stand, showing the five-star wines from the forthcoming edition (not the Woolworths contingent, I think, as they are by definition only available here). For Pinotage, the Pinotage Association will be there, presumably showing the latest Top Ten. Fortunately. I suppose my point is really this: it’s no doubt an expensive exercise to take a stand at a show like this. WOSA doesn’t choose who’ll be there batting for South Africa: it depends on whether a winery can afford to participate and thinks participation is worth the money. (For a winery like Lammershoek which retrenched its winemaker only recently it must be a close and strange call.)

It’s a good thing that Platter and the Pinotage Association are there. But why are the other varietal or regional associations not there showing off their best? Why not the Cape Winemakers Guild? Is the politics of selection just too horrible to handle? It seems a pity, and a sign of unfortunate fragmentation that so many of the best Cape wines are not on show.

Red semillon

The third thing – connected only by London, which is where the World of Fine Wine magazine is published (by an American-owned publisher, with American spelling; printed in Singapore – like Platter) – is to point to an article by me which has just appeared in the magazine, on the interesting matter of red semillon and the old vineyards up the West Coast from where Eben Sadie has made wine this year. The article is one of the few from the current edition of Fine Wine made available from their website – so click here if you’d like to read it.

I’d been hoping to talk now about the wine made from this now rare grape (but one which was extraordinarily important in the history of Cape wine) by Stony Brook in Franschhoek – who actually have clearly not been aware of the significance of what they have done by making what is now the second vintage of it (about ten years after the first!). But the Stony Brook Rose de Vert 2007 is not yet available, so I’ll save that for later. As I will another interesting development related to Eben Sadie’s projected Old Vines Series of wines.

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