Something for the rich suckers

There’s still time, if you want to book for what is possibly the most ludicrously overpriced winetasting ever. It is, says the little leaflet, an “invitation only event”, but seeing that the Mail & Guardian newspaper (for example) recently received one, with the suggestion that it get published, I reckon you’ve got a good chance of being invited – as long as you stump up your R25000. In fact, I have seen two rather different invitations from the apparently Europe-based “World of First Growth Tastings” organisers, but I’ll come to that.

First I should point out that you can choose whether to waste your money in Johannesburg (at the Saxon) or in Cape Town (at the Taj). You can, as the invitation quaintly and illiterately puts it, “participate where it fits you best or at both”. The wines are somewhat different at each event.

The wines? Oh yes. They are “first growths from around the globe”, and they’ve been “collected for your pleasure and enjoyment” – not to mention the organisers’ huge profit. The first invitation I saw, some weeks ago, gave the two lists of wines without vintages – something which immediately aroused some suspicions, of course. And apparently very impressive lists too – mostly Bordeaux (many of the fanciest names) and Bordeaux-style wines, some other of the showier European wines (superTuscan, for example) and an Australian and Californian blockbuster or two.

Presumably someone pointed out to the organisers that not indicating vintages was a bit iffy, so the second invitation does give them (most of them – it seems they’re still unsure about some!). At which point, a lot becomes clearer. The tasting would be overpriced even if it was of expensive vintages, but the grand Bordeaux listed here are carefully selected from some of the grimmest (and cheapest) years of the past few decades: 1991, 1992 and 1993.

I did a little research on prices. Below are the fancy Bordeaux names from the Johannesburg tasting, for example. The price indicated is the average price of the wines as available in the UK (but without tax) – that is, shop around and you can get the wines for much less. In brackets I have indicated the average price for the 2000 vintage – far from the most expensive, but a good year. The comparison tells the essence of the story.

  • Château Latour 1991 – R4 169 average in UK); (2000: R10 520)
  • Château Haut-Brion 1992 – R3 035 (2000: R6 692)
  • Château Mouton Rothschild 1990 – R3 328 (2000: R10 532)
  • Château Ausone 1993 – R3 157 (2000: R15 969)
  • Château Pétrus 1997 – R11 373 (2000: R42 848)
  • Château Lafleur 1996 – R3 767 (2000: R13 238)

No need for further comment, surely. What might have seemed an extremely expensive tasting but at least offering some great wines is revealed as – well you chose a description. At least you can be reasonably sure that the wines will not be fakes like so many first growths on offer – no-one bothers to fake these vintages.

If you want to see all the wines available, and some should certainly be very good, you can find them on the website of the organisation called Vino Visitas. Actually what they have there seems to be most of the text of the first invitation, not of the latest version. So it tells you that the dress code is “Black tie”, for example, whereas the latest version says “Business smart”.

More interesting is the different text about one of the two South African wines included (the other is Vin de Constance). What do you think they’ve selected as the South African “first growth” red? Kanonkop Paul Sauer, perhaps, because of its great international reputation and its fine track record? Or maybe Sadie Columella, probably the most internationally famous and fashionable local wine?

No, what is offered is G 2010. Which you might know (I wrote about it here, for example) is a Californian-style red (pretty good of its type), made with the involvement of, they say, the “legendary” Giorgio dalla Cia. The first “World of First Growth Tastings” leaflet declares this wine to be not only “amazing” but “clearly the best wine in South Africa”. It also declares that (at R2300) it is the most expensive local wine – which Bilton, who sucked an even bigger number out of their thumb will dispute.

A modicum of rationality come into force by the time of the second leaflet. Now G is merely “Possibly one of the best wines in South Africa”. Which is indisputable: so too is Four Cousins Rose – possibly.

Who knows how many people they want at their tastings – they don’t say. Are there really going to be enough ridiculously rich and innocent suckers around Cape Town and Johannesburg to make these events fly even with single bottles (out of which they squeeze how many servings – again they don’t tell us)?

Presumably the organisers think that South Africa is the place to offload dubious vintages at enormous prices and make a lot of money. I have serious doubts about whether the tastings will come off. But if you want to book your seat for 25K, this email address should see you right.

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