Legends, wild claims and outrageous prices

Too many producers regard wine journalists as badly paid PR people who should follow the advice that my mother wistfully offered me in vain – if you have nothing nice to say, keep quiet. Too often we seem to agree.

Even the most benign wine critic (and I make no exorbitant claims) should be allowed an off-day, however, if only to get rid of the poison and rebuild equanimity. Surely hollow claims of “legendary” qualities, an absurd price, a badly written press release and some misinformation constitute an excuse to ease an enraged spleen?

The legend in this case is rotund Giorgio dalla Cia, former winemaker at Meerlust and pioneer of local grappa. Since leaving Meerlust in 2003 he has sold, under his own name, grappas and wines – the latter (some made by others) riper and richer than his later rather lacklustre Meerlust reds.

More recently he has become involved with a new Stellenbosch winery called 4G, about which I know little – just what I gleaned from the statement announcing the debut of a wine called simply G.

We’re told that the “legendary” Giorgio “adds passion and spark to G, which shall constitute the peak of wines ever influenced by him”. Actually I mustn’t be unfair about this hyperbolic document – it does include some sentences in grammatical, idiomatic English.

The justification for considering Dalla Cia legendary is puzzling until you think about the somewhat iffy relationship of legend with truth.

The claim is advanced, you see, that Dalla Cia at Meerlust “created the first Bordeaux-style blend in South Africa, the iconic Rubicon”. Incidentally, it is incorrectly stated that Dalla Cia was proclaimed South African Champion Winemaker for this wine in 1980. In fact, that honour went to Nico Myburgh, his wine­making boss, whom the awarding authorities clearly considered the creator of the blend.

A claim of a first for Rubicon is, anyway, the stuff of legend and a claim not made by Meerlust itself. Rubicon’s maiden release was 1980, a year later than the first vintage of Welgemeend (following unreleased experiments from both estates). The genuinely pioneering Welgemeend was made by the late Billy Hofmeyr, who is sadly not around to defend his primacy – not that he was one for boastful self-aggrandisement.

I contacted the sender of the 4G Wines information sheet about this and she promised to look into it, but a week later I’d heard no more.

The new wine itself is, in its own way, pretty good – as it should be considering a price of R2 300 a bottle. It’s an attractively packaged blend based on cabernet and shiraz. It is overtly showy – more Californian than classic, with bright fruit tussling with the flavours of new oak; plush but handsomely structured. Undoubtedly, it will have its admirers. 4G Wines will be hoping that they’re very rich and naive.

For much less than the ridiculous price being asked for this unknown, you could buy any number of highly reputed Bordeaux (or Californian) wines. Or, sticking to locals, for the price of one bottle of G you could (I’d venture that you should) get six bottles of the latest release of Anwilka, a more elegant version of a blend built on shiraz and cab. The excellent 2009 is easily the finest yet.

As to the other story, let’s leave it as legend – though a harsher word would also work.

First published in the Mail & Guardian, 11-17 November 2011

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