Trading down and staying happy

It’s not just the top, pricey wine that’s better than ever these days. For the cost, say, of two editions of a serious weekly newspaper you can get some good stuff. Not that I’m suggesting the swop, of course. Just saying.

This real plausibility of trading down without too much suffering, in times when money’s tight even for many middle-class winelovers, must worry the fancier end of wine production. If we ever did, we now certainly don’t need to spend heavily to drink reasonably well. It probably helps explain why so many grand producers have good “entry-level” ranges, so that even if they can’t as easily sell the expensive wines, they can at least tempt smaller-spenders too. Waterford’s Pecan Stream range, for example, or Rustenberg’s fine pair of modestly priced bargains – Ida’s Red and Ida’s White.

mont_du_toit_les-coteaux-shirazA little more expensive, but still a great buy at approaching R100, is Tokara’s Cabernet Sauvignon 2011. At that level too, the Les Coteaux range from Mont du Toit provides some perennial favourites of mine – though I seldom see any on wine-shop shelves, unfortunately.

An irritating attitude sometimes intervenes, however, (though not in the examples mentioned above) when it’s somehow assumed that people with less money to spend on wine are novice or unsophisticated drinkers who invariably want easy-going sauvignon blanc or off-dry chenin for whites, and soft, sweetish, fruity reds (preferably merlot). Which is only sometimes the case.

Nonetheless, as well as these condescending, dumbed-down versions of the grands vins, there are also many thoroughly respectable, seriously-styled wines at around R50 per bottle (including the occasional merlot).

Petit_RougeVondeling Petit Rouge, for example. Vondeling is a sizeable winery in the Voor-Paardeberg region of Paarl. The area’s strong points are shiraz and chenin blanc, and Vondeling’s Erica Shiraz 2009 is pure-fruited and lively, more “linear” than “broad”, if you’ll allow that distinction to have some intuitive meaning. Best is the Babiana 2010, a fresh, lightly oaked white blend based on chenin, with viognier adding its peachy perfume to the complex, well-textured ensemble.

But those two are over R100, so I shouldn’t mention them here. The Petit Blanc is a junior version of Babiana, tasty and gently succulent. The Petit Rouge is, a bit surprisingly for these parts, a happy blend of merlot and cabernet. The 2012 (R45) is ready to drink now, pretty and friendly, but with a serious element, and the structure to mature a few years if you wanted.

A good source of decently priced and interesting reds is the Goede Hoop estate on Stellenbosch’s Bottelary Hills. Winemaker Albert Ahrens came here from the Swartland, bringing the fruits of the stylistic revolution of that region. His goal is drinkability rather than obvious impressiveness: sheer power is reined in, oak used supportively rather than as a flavourant; the wines are ripe but not over-ripe, dry, balanced and elegant, with a feeling of lightness to them. They are modest wines in the best sense – unassuming, unpretentious and honest. And rather delicious too.

The cheapest is the Domaine Red at a silly R35, a sweet-fruited, juicy but not negligible cabernet-shiraz blend. The Merlot, Shiraz and Pinotage in the Estate range are about double that (and the Cabernet more), but reasonable value for such attractive wines – especially the Pinotage, which is rather richer than the others, but sharing their charm.

From the Mail & Guardian, 12-18 July 2013

One thought on “Trading down and staying happy

  1. Interesting article. Being a wine fanatic with generous friends and a desire to taste great wines can lead to some amazing experiences
    but unless your wine budget reaches into the stratospheric one must find proper “house wine” for everyday stock.
    Thankfully the R60-R100 bracket is gradually getting populated with very decent “un-spoofy” (to use an English friend’s descriptor) wines. It’s definitely becoming much easier to have good wine wine in the house to drink between the odd superlative wine shared among like-minded friends on special occasions. With certain producers the second wines can be, in my humble opinion, more enjoyable than the grand vins as they are less “made”, fresher and more honest due to budget constraints as well as a more hands-off approach. In general a recession here and abroad has made second wines a financial necessity but as wine makers and drinkers we have a lot to learn from making and drinking them.
    A humble second wine that is picked fresher, naturally fermented, made without expensive and detrimental additives, aged in older oak (if at all) that turns out delicious and easier to drink than a grand-vin will hopefully make it more difficult to justify releasing big, expensive wines that depend on yeasts, acid, badly judged oak (general largesse) and turn winemakers and back to finding special vineyards and treating them in a way carries the vineyards quality into bottle. There are a great many producers
    doing this already but hopefully it will become the norm. In any case its a great time to be a consumer of every day drinking South African wine.

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