Lifestyle journalists get, I think it’s fair to say, a good share of more-or-less desirable freebies. For some, it compensates for our modest incomes. Those specialising in wine are probably pretty much the poor relations in the business, understandably, as they have comparatively little chance of lucrative coverage in the glossy and almost-glossy magazines. Nonetheless, we can do OK if we try hard – though nothing like our brethren in important places (ie markets) like England, where it’s been said that a wine-journo could eat out handsomely every day of the year for free. Some do, I suppose.
I turn down many more invitations than I accept, but even if I accepted them all, I’d be slimmer than I am if I only ate what wineries and their PR companies offered me. I might also be poorer, as driving out to Stellenbosch or Franschhoek is by no means a cheap thing these days. They’re starting to offer transport to journos (largely, I suppose, because of the fear of the negative publicity that is overdue to arrive one day when an over-indulgent wine-journo does something dreadful in the traffic on the way home); but generally the lift is offered from some central point – which only partially reduces the danger of drunk driving, and has the added inconvenience of obliging one to wait for the bus and not get away quickly when the event palls even beyond the point of being seated next to someone whose conversation doesn’t improve one’s appetite.
Drink though, is a different matter. If I were less fussy (and spent less than I did on buying wine, both local and imported) I could probably get by on the samples I get sent, even with my escalating capacity. Certainly considering what I could get sent if I did a bit of hustling.
But, compared I suspect with some journalists, I am fussy about what passes my lips (without a speedy reverse movement via a spit). So is Angela Lloyd, the person with whom I do a lot of tasting of the samples sent to us. After such a tasting (generally 15–25 wines), frequently the only wines one of us will want to continue with are these which we dutifully feel might benefit from being tried over a day or two. The rest of the opened bottles go to local dentists, vets and other un-fussy contacts, or down the sink if nothing else avails.
Our last tasting, though, was a rare, veritable embarrassment de richesse, and if we’d been less civilised we might have come to blows over (some of) the leavings – though that’s a weak joke, as there was enough to share.
Had there not been others, we might have been interested in pursuing Charles Fox’s prestige bubbly, Cipher 2011 (WO Elgin; R450). It’s a good, serious MCC of the richer style, full of flavour and very lengthy in its impact; but it is a touch broad and ponderous, just missing the incisive, fresh finesse that the Cape’s very best bubblies possess. Maybe just a bit too ripe?
There were three wines from Avontuur in Stellenbosch. Sarabande Sauvignon Blanc Reserve 2014 (R110) was the most interesting of them, with a nice mix of citrus and tropical characters, and a good fleshy weight to it, partly thanks to some sensitive oaking. Distinctive – which is a rare quality in sauvignon. The Luna de Miel Chardonnay 2013 (R120) appealed less. It seems that only older oak was used – but it must have been very toasty, as there remained too many charry, smoky, roasted coffee notes. The Avontuur Minelli Pinot Noir Reserve 2011 seems initially a good pinot buy at R165, but no, there’s no charm or generosity – rather some stalkiness and a big whack of tannin. (By contrast, I had the cheaper Newton Johnson Walker Bay 2012 recently – eminently drinkable.)
Another Stellenbosch offering was the cheapest wine of the line-up – Yonder Hill Inanda 2013, a big, decent, good value, cab franc-based Bordeaux-style blend, at around R90. Also from Stellenbosch, vastly more expensive (R745), was Spier’s Frans K Smit 2009, which I’ve written about elsewhere with a mixture of admiration and dismissal.
Just room for one each from Franschhoek and Elgin. Landau du Val Semillon 2013 does justice to one of the Cape’s most venerable vineyards: lemongrass, honey; supple and interesting, with a notable but balanced intensity together with a light-footed freshness. Lovely stuff; one of the best local examples of this variety, and should develop for a good few years.
The same can’t be said, unfortunately, for Shannon Rockview Ridge 2013 (R250), made from Elgin* grapes by the estimable Newton Johnson team, though it’s hard for me to believe that, noticing the continuing over-influence of toasty oak (albeit less than earlier vintages). Balanced, OK, but where’s the purity of fruit? I’m always surprised that this isn’t a better wine given its vineyard and cellar origins.
Accounts of Sequillo and Mullineux (treats all the way, and take-home delights) will have to wait.
* Corrected from my previous careless reference to Franschhoek.