Disappointing stuff

I get surprised sometimes just how much poor wine there is still sloshing about in the Cape – even at fairly high prices. It’s not a matter of fancy stuff like terroir – just of sloppy or unsatisfactory winemaking. I did wonder whether I should avoid naming a name or two, but decided against self-censorship – though I will go out of my way to provide alternative accounts.So Angela Lloyd and I sat down this afternoon to taste through a dozen and a half recent releases, and it was far from being entirely a joyous affair. We tasted “sighted” of course, knowing labels, prices etc. Not to mention bringing our experience, for good or ill, of previous samplings of a few of the wines, but striving to relate honestly to the wine before us and allowing ourselves to be surprised occasionally. As with Groote Post Chardonnay 2011, for example – a wine (and a producer) that previously neither of us have greatly cared for. Angela will report more fully on this, but it was an easy attractive wine that we liked. Whew!

A chardonnay we didn’t like came from Hoopenburg, the Integer 2009 (at R90, R20 more than the Groote Post, but I scored it 14 out of 20, a point less than the Groote Post). Very ripe and rather nondescript, I thought – some citrus, any oak well integrated, but with an insipid and slightly sweet finish. Just 12.5% alcohol according to the label – I seriously wonder if it was de-alcoholised. I don’t know what the sugar level is – I went to look on the Hooppenburg website to see if there were details there, but it’s seriously out of date. The last Chardonnay I see mentioned there is the 2007 and the “latest news” comes from 2010. Why have a website if you’re going to let it get so out of date?

I’m more concerned about the winemaking, however. We cared for the Hoopenburg Pinot Noir 2009 even less than the Chardonnay, I’m afraid (“extracted, clumsy, drying oak tannins” were some of my notes, accompanied by a score of 12.5). And the Hoopenburg The Guru Merlot 2008, with dull, flat fruit was less pleasing still.

I see that Christian Eedes has also tasted these wines recently, and professed himself rather disappointed with things at Hoopenburg – though he rated the Chardonnay and Pinot each about 2 points higher than we did. And I see in Platter that the Chardonnay generally gets rave reviews (most recently from Christine Rudman), though the 2009 wasn’t tasted there; the Pinot 2009 gets 3.5 stars. So, take your pick of ratings. All sighted tastings, by the way, and as different as if they’d been blind….

Can one blame winemaking for Robertson Winery’s Extra Light Merlot 2011? Or is it in the nature of the challenge they’d set themselves? The wine is made for those who for some reason want a wine with 9% alcohol. Presumably there’s a market for this stuff. The aromas are actually rather charming, with a ripe fruit character. The palate? Certainly light, and certainly insipid, with a weedy edge to it. No fruit flavour, lean and dry, offering not a hint of sensual pleasure. Why drink this sort of thing? Beer is much nicer, and so is water. So is just about anything. We generously gave it 11/20.

Doolhof Malbec 2010 came though in the Top 100 SA Wines competition (that is, out of 340 wines, it was rated in the top third or so). In many ways it is a prime competition wine, designed to stand out through its sweetness and fruity power. It declares 14.5% alcohol and 3.5 grams per litre of residual sugar – for Angela and me, the combination of these two factors made it altogether too heavy and sweet to be refreshing. The ultra-ripe fruit had lost vibrancy – although the aromas of mulberry and loganberry were rather appealing, if you like fruity wines. Now, while by no means a star, this is certainly not a badly made wine (though I think the grapes were picked too late, meaning they had to add a whack of acidity in the cellar to give it a temporary illusion of freshness). Whether you can appreciate it is at least partly a matter of taste.

I musn’t grumble too much. We did have some good and enjoyable wines, on some of which I’ll report later. How pleasant it was, for example, to turn to Hartenberg’s new shiraz. They already had three of them, and this new Doorkeeper Shiraz 2010 is the least expensive of them – though at R70 it’s not exactly most people’s idea of cheap. But worth the extra R18 over the Hill&Dale Shiraz 2011, in fact (if you have the extra R18), although that is quite pleasantly tasty in a commercial style.

Doorkeeper Shiraz is more than that, however – despite being Hartenberg’s entry-level shiraz, there’s no dumbing down, and it’s made with the deftness that one expects from winemaker Carl Schultz. Ripe aromas mingling tobacco, spice and fruit. Nicely, rather elegantly structured, well balanced, with a savoury clean finish. We scored it 15 or 15.5, which makes it reasonable value to our minds. If there’s a lot of grim wine still being made, there’s also plenty to celebrate.

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