One reason why the Cape’s white wines are generally so much better than the reds, I’ve thought, is that (for whatever reasons) they are widely considered less important, so that winemakers interfere with them less: there’s less determination to leave the grapes hanging to the point of over-ripeness in the vineyards, the wines are less overworked in the cellar, and less money is thrown at them in the form of new oak.
This little theory recurred to my mind last week at the launch of the latest addition to Nederburg’s most expensive range, Ingenuity. Originally there was just a pair of Ingenuity wines: the White (2002 was the maiden), a superbly achieved blend of eight varieties from wide-ranging origins, with sauvignon blanc the largest component among them; and the Red (2005), of sangiovese, barbera and nebbiolo. The latter is now called Red Italian Blend, allowing for the new wine, Red Spanish Blend – mostly tempranillo, with 10% graciano, a high quality but comparatively rare variety in Rioja.
Tasting the original pair for their first Platter’s outing some years back, I nominated the White for five stars – which it got, as did all subsequent vintages up till the most recent 2013, which somehow failed. That 2013, tasted last week at the launch, is a lovely wine, delicately intense, balanced and graceful with a lingering freshness, fit to stand alongside the many very fine blends that play such a great role at the highest end of South Africa’s white wine offering.
I gave the Ingenuity Red 2005 four stars back then, complaining that the engaging, bright cherry fruit was nearly smothered by all the new oak. That’s the sort of rating I would give the 2012 now, and I’d still complain about the oak, though it’s somewhat less egregious these days. It’s a very well made wine, big ripe, powerful, with quite a bit of structure, though the tannins are smooth and plush; it should keep and probably improve for a good few years – though the problem of how to store the silly skittle-shaped bottle (stylish for rosé) persists.
The new Spanish Red 2012 is made in much the same spirit, thought the flavours are rather different, with deeper-coloured fruit: ripe, moderately showy, succulently soft (the tannins a bit less insistent than in the Italian job). I did find the nose rather squishily ultra-ripe, but the palate is better balanced despite being big and pushy and bold, with a reasonable acidity, and generally good support for the lingering sweet fruit. That sweetness is made a touch excessive by the heavy oaking (three months in new American oak, then 14 months in new French oak), which of course also adds a notable vanilla element. Unsurprisingly, the info sheet informs us that the wine weighs in ponderously at 14.56%.
I know my description is effectively a negative one, but this is one of those well-made wines that I couldn’t possibly drink more than a small glassful of – though I’m sure many will enjoy it more than I do.
Fortunately, they’ve avoided putting the Spanish red in the skittle bottle; less happily, it’s in one of those big, ultra-heavy bottles that is now for me touched with the same sense of overweight old-fashionedness that the wine itself conveys. The tradition of downplaying the vintage continues, however. I don’t think Nederburg’s designers generally do Nederburg wines many favours. (And, as a futile blow in a doomed campaign, I register regret that they don’t rather use the noun “varieties” in the tiny-print message that tells us the wine is a “fusion of two Italian varietals”. Sigh.)
The two reds cost little short of R300, while the (in my opinion) much superior white is nearly R100 less. Go figure. Go buy (the white).
Cellarmaster Razvan Macici (with winemaker Wilhelm Pienaar for the reds and Natasha Boks for the whites since 2013) has done marvellously well for Nederburg in the 15-odd years he’s been in charge of the cellar. It’s difficult to over-estimate Racvan’s contribution to rescuing and building the reputation of Distell’s flagship range, primarily in the cellar, but also in deploying his engaging personality in marketing the wines. But I think it’s time for the excellent winemaking team to start being less heavy-handed in the cellar, and to ask for less ultra-ripe fruit from the vineyards.
How about a lovely, fresh, old-oaked cinsaut at 12.5% alcohol, Razvan, to at least give a little balance to the top-end range of Nederburg reds?