A wine magazine – at last

The demise of Wine magazine early this year forced few tears from anyone seriously interested in wine in South Africa – it had been many years since it was even a pretty decent magazine. But it forcibly reminded us how shocking it is that the country had no decent consumer-oriented magazine for winelovers. (I have genuine respect for many aspects of Wineland, but it is sufficiently directed at producers as to limit its appeal to non-producers.)

But out of the grave of WIne has risen Classic Wine, its first issue (December-January; it will be a bi-monthly) now on the shelves. General expectations of it were not great – why should they have been? The editor, Cathryn Henderson, had ingloriously seen Wine into its grave; the publisher of the new magazine – Dominic Ntsele of the Classic FM radio station – was a name largely unknown to wine-lovers and his motives in taking on this project uncertain.

My apologies, anyway, for my lack of faith – or even hope. The first issue of Classic Wine is weighty, physically as well as content-wise. I’d say it’s the best issue of a glossy wine mag that this country has ever seen. Congratulations to the editor, and to the publisher – who seems, wonderfully, to want to avoid the conflict of interrest inherent in carrying winery advertisements (the ones there are mostly about luxury goods, and I’d guess the accountants’ hope is that their relative paucity will soon change).

I should hastily point out – talking of interests – that I wrote an article in this first issue (on Swartland Independent, the dynamic new organisation of some Swartland wineries). In fact, my first indication that this magazine was going to be rather more ambitious than Wine was that (apart from it being a slightly geeky subject, with not a shred of lifestylism about it) I was given a word-count of 2000 – much longer than the trivial articles that had dominated Wine for so long. The new magazine seemed to want substance.

My own contribution is one amongst many, of course. Some pieces are written by well-known names, some not. And some, of course, are better written and more knowledgeable than others. In what marks something of a continuation with Wine mag, three of the articles relate to the winners of the category tastings. Oh yes, there are tastings of course, with most of the results no more absurd than results usually are for these big-line-up affairs (with the sauvignon blanc ratings noptably eyebrow-raising taken as a whole). Rather a pity that this sort of tasting seems to be as far as imaginations stretch.

There’s a bit about food, but not too much, and it’s well done. An international element too, with a well-known Brit, Matthew Jukes, presenting his largely predictable top 25 SA wineries of the year, and there are some visits to international wine destinations.

And some articles of genuine interest and revelation about local matters – looking at the planting of unusual grape varieties in the Cape, for example. A number of shorter pieces, too, instead (so it appears) of regular columnists – again some a bit dull, but some nice and rather attractively quirky ones – like a riff on Apollo and Dionysis (and Handel and Wagner and sauvignon blanc) by a journo called Colin Bower.

I’m not sure this lack of regulars is a good idea, incidentally. After the initial relief of finding the magazine to be certainly a good one, and one that deserves to get a better following than Wine‘s, I started getting more critical, and perhaps one of the problems with Classic Wine is that it doesn’t seem to have much in the way of individual character. There are almost too many articles, too many points of view and tones, the structure too loose. Perhaps an element of identifiable personality will emerge over the next few issues, and I suspect a few good regular columnists could help establish a tone – if the editor and publisher are indeed quite sure of the tone they mean to maintain.

But one mustn’t ask for too much (though there are occasional minor typos and mistakes that shouldn’t be there). We have, at last, a decent glossy wine magazine, and I’d encourage everyone out there to look out for it. But where you’ll find it I’m not sure. Unforgivably, there doesn’t seem to be a website for Classic Wine yet – not even a place where you can take out a subscription (in fact I couldn’t even find subscription info in the magazine itself), so I’m not sure how they’re planning on selling it.

This first issue costs R60, which is good value for something that’s more than twice as thick as the paltry old Wine mag, and many many times as valuable.

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