Went to the Wine Cellar in Observatory today, in whose capacious, air-conditioned halls I keep the larger part of my wines that need storage for more than a few years. A wine fridge at home and some kindly lent space in Angela Lloyd’s cellar host the rest, while stuff destined to be drunk within a few years (or that I think pretty robust anyway, or, frankly am not too concerned about) must endure fluctuating room temperatures.
Today I was collecting some wines, especially those wanted for a tasting-cum-party I’m organising for Friday, and doing a bit of re-packing, including of some foreign wines I’d recently bought from Wine Cellar. Which is, of course, also an importer of note as well as providing cellar space and having a good offering of local wine, including the more avant garde end. Whether it’s the leading general importer of wine into South Africa, I’m not sure – I’m pretty sure it must be, in terms of number of bottles anyway; and the range is very good, given the problems.
The problems. Yes. And they are multiplying, for importer and purchaser alike, of course, and the basic reason is a plummeting exchange rate. Add the rising cost of transporting wines here from (mostly) Europe, and things are getting tougher for those who like to drink internationally. I had a chat about this today with Roland Peens, who’s the one primarily responsible for building Wine Cellar’s range over the last decade or so can it be as long as that, Roland? maybe not quite).
The worst news is probably, as I already knew only too well, the ridiculously upwardly-spiralling cost of burgundy. I have a small annual allocation of smart burgundies from Great Domaines (the snootiest of the importers), and it’s getting very hard for me to take it up – whether, when the 2012s are offered, I’ll be able to afford them, I don’t know. Three small but very good vintages in Burgundy have added to international fashion and – for us – that disadvantageous exchange rate, meaning very bad news indeed for lovers of fine burgundy who aren’t rich. Like me.
So Roland is working on to some extent changing the shape of his stock. He’s looking, for example, for the good bargains to be had from some of the less fashionable, less discovered parts of Europe, like southern Italy, parts of Spain, the south of France…. Trouble is, as he laments, that so many local customers for foreign wine are either ignorant or unadventurous, and want to stick with the more famous names: Chateauneuf-du-Pape, for example, while Gigondas, Rasteau and some other appellations which offer much the same style of wine, at pretty nearly the same quality level though half the price, are shunned.
Well, Roland’s a good buyer and I’m sure he’ll make some useful purchases, and I’ll hope to be able to afford some of them.
But there are already consequences of coming prices for the local buyer. For this local buyer they mean that I’m buying what I can reasonably afford of existing stock, given that the prices are going to rise dramatically with the next container-load that comes rolling in, and again, probably, for the one after that.
The bright side for serious winelovers these days is that the quality of local wine has risen so greatly in recent years, and it’s seeming increasingly cheap. Roland mentioned the new Kershaw Chardonnay as one example, along with Hamilton Russell Vineyards Chardonnay, that could rival white burgundies at three times the price (I admit that when I wrote about the Kershaw I wondered about the high price asked for it; Roland vehemently disagrees with my doubts).
I have also wondered in the past if some of, say, the less grand Swartland reds provided good value (at about R100) compared with similar wines from the Rhone and Southern France at much the same price. Well, the foreigner equivalents are soon going to be 60-70% more than the locals, and the bang for your buck is not going to be any way comparable. (Of course, one isn’t looking elsewhere primarily for value, but for variety and interest, and difference.) And take something like Mullineux Syrah at R230 – the price seems a joke compared with that of a decent Northern Rhone which is as good as that.
Or a whole host of fine locals under R200 (especially whites, of course). Increasingly their value is incomparable.
It’s plenty of consolation. But not quite enough for this unpatriotic cosmopolite.