Yet more CWG thoughts

Five local tasters had the chance to blind-taste the wines to be offered at the forthcoming Cape Winemakers Guild Auction. I thought it might be interesting to compare the scores of the three tasters who have made their notes and scores public (Tim James here, Christian Eedes here, Michael Fridjhon here).

Inevitably, winetasting being the imprecise exercise it is, whether blind or sighted, there was a substantial amount of difference of opinion. Sometimes it seems to be a matter of taste – I rather like oxidative wines and remarked how much I liked this character in Teddy Hall’s Mediterranean White, while Michael Fridjhon scored it down for being ‘markedly oxidised … maderised” – and this fits in well with our consistently different attitudes to some Swartland white wines.

Sometimes the difference of opinion seems to relate to different personal threshholds for different components. So that I specifically noted that Keets Viognier finished “rather burny from high alcohol”, while Michael noted “no alcohol burn”!

Stylistic preferences inevitably play a part, although no doubt we all try to allow for what we consider “legitimate” alternatives to our preferences (or are we just pretending to be tolerant and semi-objective? I wonder). Oak flavour is a significant category here. Michael and I both noted, for example, that the Simonsig Shiraz was excessively oaky, and had it comfortably near the bottom of our lists, while Christian Eedes also noted that it was oak-dominated, but had it among his top ten, as this clearly didn’t disturb him as much as it did us. The three of us agreed rather more on wines being over-ripe and lacking freshness (notably Saronsberg).

Christian has offered on his blog a list of the average scores of all five tasters (Christine Rudman and Neil Pendock in addition to the above – though their scores have not been made public). But from the Fridjhon-Eedes-James trio I have consolidated a top-ranked and a bottom-ranked set. To get ten of each would have been nice, but it didn’t work out. So here’s a list of wines which at least two of the three of us put in the respective top or bottom category. Perhaps the most notable general result is that five out of the top-ranking eight are white wines, while all six of the bottom ones are red…. In no particular order:

Joint top (at least two votes)

  • Nitida Aureus 2009
  • Tullie Family Vineyards The Yair 2009
  • Cape Point Vineyards Auction Reserve White 2008
  • Paul Cluver The Wagon Trail Chardonnay 2009
  • Cederberg Private Cellar Semillon 2010
  • Teddy Hall Mediterranean White 2008
  • Edgebaston Cabernet Sauvignon Auction Reserve 2008
  • Kanonkop CWG Pinotage 2008
  • Boplaas Auction Reserve Port 2008

Joint bottom (at least two votes)

  • Kaapzicht Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot Auction Reserve 2007
  • Ernie Els CWG 2008
  • Louis Cabernet 2008
  • Saronsberg Die Erf Shiraz 2007
  • Simonsig Auction Reserve Shiraz 2008
  • Boschkloof Auction Reserve Shiraz 2007
  • Boschkloof CWG Conclusion 2006


The following is the article I wrote on the subject of the wines for the Mail & Guardian (3-9 September 2010)

The wines on the annual Cape Winemakers Guild (CWG) Auction are in some ways, some of them, like bling for the table. Flavours and aromas of new oak barrels function like glitter, somehow convincing at least some wine-buyers and wine-drinkers that oak rather than fruit is what expensive wine should taste like. There are, though, also some excellent wines – as there should be, given that the Guild offers its members as amongst the country’s best winemakers. Which probably the majority of them indeed are.

The CWG was founded in the early 1980s as a meeting and rallying point for winemakers independent of the big merchants and co-ops to share knowledge and experience. An auction was a way of bringing new and often experimental wines to the public. Circumstances and just about everything else have changed since then, and the Auction is now an important event (increasingly putting the Nederburg Auction into deepest shade), and a lucrative, bank-sponsored activity for its 41 members.

It would be unreasonable, probably, to expect great originality or experimentalism in the wines offered. Most are, in fact, little more than barrel selections extracted from standard offerings – and this might be the origin of the big overall problem. To make them seem more special than the standard wines, they are given not only much more wooding than they need, but more than they can bear.

This problem reveals itself particularly in the shirazes selected for this year’s Auction in October (but is evident in everything from chenin blanc to cabernet). Without exception the shirazes are unbalanced and spoilt by oaking which is never going to become part of a harmonious whole; I found it difficult to even pick up any varietal character in the wines, let alone subtler stuff. Potential buyers should rather consider, I’d suggest, some of the shirazes turned down by the CWG selection committee: from Boekenhoutskloof, Luddite and Hartenberg, all of which will certainly be more delicious and elegant. And much cheaper.

Fortunately there are also some fine wines on offer. My favourites this year include, as expected, more whites than reds (there seems less of a temptation to over-oak whites or to make them from over-ripe grapes – another not uncommon Auction trait). There’s a fine classic Chardonnay from Paul Cluver, the Elgin producer which can claim to be among the country’s real chardonnay elite. Nicky Versfeld has made a brilliant sauvignon-semillon blend called Tullie Family Vineyards The Yair: perfumed and lemony, with oak used as it should be, to support and extend the fruit, not dominate it. Nitida Aureus is a rather similar blend, also from Durbanville, just as good, though a little oakier at present.

Cape Point Vineyards winemaker Duncan Savage is best known for that sort of blend too, but offers something in the CWG’s old adventurous spirit. His Auction White is a chenin-chardonnay blend whose light richness has real depth and elegance, lovely subtle flavours and a fine texture. Teddy Hall’s lovely Mediterranean White is also chenin-driven, rather more oxidative and broader in style; savoury, vinous, very natural-seeming.

I can only mention my two top reds: big, grand, modern-classic Edgebaston Cabernet Sauvignon from David Finlayson, and AA Badenhorst Auction Red – serious, rich and lovely.

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