Excellent wine at the price – yes and emphatically no

I’ve marvelled before at the idea (the presumed fact!) that there are wine-critics (defined here as those who at least occasionally are sent freebie samples of wine) who actually rely on their freebies for their drinking. As I looked at the array of opened wines on Angela Lloyd’s dining-table after our last sampling of (mostly) recent releases, there were precious few that I actually wanted to take home with me. (There were some very good wines included in that dismissed category, I must quickly point out – either I didn’t particularly enjoy them, or they were too young and raw to give me pleasure; I shall find the energy to write about them shortly, I hope.)

I took two bottles home with me. One that I had absolutely no intention of sipping the contents of further but I was fascinated by the dull-gold sticker proclaiming that it was recognised by the “2015 Gold Wine Awards” as “excellent wine at the price” – a judgement from which both Angela and I strongly demurred.

wolftrapThe other was a wine that certainly ranks among the great wine bargains of South Africa – and surely the whole bloody world. Two days later, I have just finished the bottle with my supper. And with gusto. Not that the Wolftrap wines (made under the Boekenhoutskloof aegis) needs my imprimatur: as I understand it they are flying off the shelves (as the cliché has it) in places as far flung as America and Gauteng. It actually gives me a little (very rare) faith in the marketplace that this is so.

The Woftrap that we tried was the 2014 white – Viognier Chenin Blanc Grenache Blanc is what it seems to be called. It’s no doubt made in astounding volumes, yet it manages to be not only beautifully balanced, both easygoing and with some bite, but it also has some interest to it. And a winesnob like me didn’t disdain finishing it. For about R40? Wow. Wow.

Wolftrap doesn’t need little gold stickers to sell, unlike some wines (the red is, in fact, at least partly a sort-of second-label for the famous Chocolate Block). But, unlike some wines, it’s going to sell second, third, fourth, etc bottles; winelovers will return, because it’s good.


Yeah, right.

For more desperate producers trying to seduce the confused customer, yet another cynical, money-making but helpful competition arose fairly recently. If you want to know more about the Gold Wine Awards you can go here and look. The essence of the competition, however, seems to me encapsulated in the following extracts:

  • The wines have to cost R80 plus VAT or less, and should be available somewhere in South Africa to the consumer at that price.
  • the names of the wines that did not receive awards are not published
  • The number of entries will not be made public. For confidentiality purposes, only a list of brands that were designated Top 5 EWP (Excellent Wine at the Price) will be made public and not a list of wineries that had taken part in the competition nor the score assigned to any wine.
  • It costs R490 plus VAT to enter a wine. Gold stickers are available in rolls of 1 000, and cost R170 plus VAT per roll.

That is, it’s about money and there is no indication anywhere that any minimum quality level must be attained – and in fact, no indication that ALL wines entered do not get the award! After all, the point of the competition is to get as many entry fees as possible and sell as many stickers as possible. This is, of course, the real point of all competitions, if not quite as crudely the point of this one. We’re not even told if a SINGLE wine failed to gain the entitlement to bear a gold sticker. Based on the little evidence I have, I’m forced to wonder. The competition website does not, incidentally, bother to list its “winners”, although they were due to be announced on 17 August! Basically, the organisers are interested in producers entering, and buying stickers.

A proud bearer of one of the cheap gold stickers (it’s not even metallic, for God’s sake – even Veritas Bronze looks more impressive!) was Matilda’s Secret Shiraz/Merlot 2014 from Benguela Cove. It costs R65. Over 50% more than The Wolftrap, note well. My tasting note made the other day reads simply: “Lightly fruity aromas, ripe sweet finish, with rush of big acid. Awful.” I’ve just tried it again (and I hope you realise what that apparently simple gesture cost me in trepidation, even fear, though I knew a spittoon was near). I confess I’m wondering whether to modify the “awful” bit somewhat. No. Let me say, rather, that I am sure there are those for whom this will not seem entirely awful. Possibly I must include amongst that number the winemaker and the judges of the competition, which include a couple of respectable names which I sincerely hope will not feature again, as I’m hoping they realise they were hoodwinked too. The Cape Wine Academy is also involved. Oh dear.

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