And then there are the grim wines….

There’s a school of thought requiring that if you have nothing nice to say about a wine you should say nothing at all. It’s an idea eagerly endorsed by those who think that winewriters should actually be PRs for the wine industry (just less well paid than the professionals), rather than acting in the interests of wine-drinkers. And of course there are a couple of people who manage to combine being PRs and wine-writers, so for them there’s no problem at all.

It’s also much nicer writing enthusiastically about something than panning it. Which is the main reason, apart from laziness, that has kept me back from publishing notes on the wines allocated to me in the tasting that the usual Grape team (me, Cathy van Zyl, Angela Lloyd and Ingrid Motteux) held in December. Most of them – though not all – ranged between dull and pretty bad. But they were all submitted by eager PRs, and Angela (who convenes these tastings) keeps on reminding me of my duty, so here goes.

The useful thing was that they gave some perspective – serving as a reminder that the South African wine industry still has enormous gaps. When I don’t give scores below, it’s out of kindness; those are, basically, wines that it is impossible to recommend in any way. Incidentally, they’re not all cheap.

The decent ones first. Riebeek Cellars in the Swartland is, like many former co-ops in their new corporate guise, trying to up quality and price. Price is no problem (until the wines don’t sell, that is), as you can see from the R88 tag for the Kasteelberg MCC 2008 and the Kasteelberg Viognier 2009. The bubbly is a lovely pale gold, with a little marmite on the nose, a nice crisp bruised-apple length of flavour (a touch oxidised?) – but rather too close to off-dry for elegance. Cathy and I rated it 15/20, Angela and Ingrid a bit less.

The Kasteelberg Viognier could appeal to those who like heavily oaked wines. But not us – especially at R65. There seems to be some nice fruit desperately trying to get out from under all that toastiness, but not quite managing. We agreed on a score for this one – 14/20.

A good bargain at R19.50, and an altogether more drinkable wine is the unvintaged Viljoensdrift Driftwood Dry White, an unpretentious semillon-sauvignon blend from Robertson – even if we didn’t quite agree with the Wine mag panel that had given it 4.5 stars; we thought something like 13/20 more appropriate. Pleasant modest fruitiness and some vinosity too, with a pretty well calculated bracing acidity. Just 12.5% alc, which is handy.

The Villiersdorp Dam Good range is new, the name referring, I suppose, to the enormous Theewaterskloof Dam, which gives its name to the WO area where most of the Villiersdorp Cellar‘s members farm. It’s a lovely part of the Overberg, but as wine-growing terroir, I have real doubts (unless you go high into the mountains where there are some fine, cool vineyards). These wines don’t begin to persuade me otherwise. The chenin-based White 2010 is best, with some shreds of flavour; soft and short I found it, coarsened by a clumsy, off-dry finish. 12/20 for me, though Ingrid and Cathy found it a touch pleasanter.

I wanted to give the Dam Good Rosé Natural Sweet a second sip to see if it was as awful as I’d first thought, but couldn’t quite bring myself to do so. It’s sickly, with no refreshment value whatsoever. The colour is splendidly luminous, however, if that counts in its favour. The Red 2009 shiraz/cab blend was as bad in its own way. Deep-coloured, with ultra-ripe aromas; fruity in an unappealing way, hard from the acid which they despearately added to try to give it a bit of life. We didn’t even like the labels much.

Most disappointing, given that Stellenzicht usually produces good wines even if one doesn’t always admire the style, were the two “No Added Sulphites” wines in their Cellarmaster’s Release range. If nothing else they remind us how useful sulphur is in winemaking (and it’s only a problem for very few people at the levels it’s generally used at nowadays), and how difficult it is to make decent wines without it.

It’s very possible, especially with high- acid wines – Villera’s Brut Natural bubbly is excellent, for example. Guy Webber hasn’t pulled it off, and how these wines managed to make it past the Wine and Spirit Board, when you think of the good interesting wines they reject, is difficult to understand. No doubt having Distell behind you doesn’t harm the process. You won’t find more info about these wines on the Stellenzicht website, because they don’t seem to even mention the wines there, which is perhaps tactful of them.

The Chardonnay 2009 is the less bad of the two. A sulphurous colour, ironically; strange malty flavour, rather oxidised and rather insipid. Just 12% alcohol, perhaps indicating some of the processes that this wine had gone through to distance it from natural charm. Not having sulphur added doesn’t mean naturalness necessarily. The easy thing to say is that it is absurdly overpriced at around R90.

The Stellenzicht Cellarmaster’s Release Petit Verdot 2008 also showed a malty character, along with some volatile acidity. It is tannic and bitter (no doubt being kept on the skins for a year helped all this) and totally unattractive. But if it’s your sort of thing, you can buy it for R115.  Myself, I’d infinitely rather drink water.


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