It’s been a real winter, the kind that a few years ago was remembered with nostalgia when the Cape was without rain and Johannesburg was so warm that everyone feared the seasonal bugs would survive till spring. Inland the weather’s been really icy, so now instead of the cold weather wiping out infections, we fear that the chill could extend the shelf-life of Covid droplets. Meantime dam levels in the Cape are looking distinctly healthy – over 65%, even before last week’s rains reach the reservoirs.
This is not the kind of weather that sees a booming market for sauvignon blanc. If anything, it will do for the moribund Port and fortified wine business what the National Control Command Council has done for the illicit tobacco industry. As temperatures fall below zero, it’s worth bearing this in mind, whether or not you were once a Port drinker – before drink-drive restrictions and the fear of high sugar beverages sent you along the “skinny” latte route. Unlike single vintage Ports, cask-aged “tawny style” wines remain stable for months after you’ve opened the bottle. With nowhere to go, and no need to finish the bottle once it’s been opened, you can use this time to have a glass or two of a 10 or 20 year old tawny Port (or Port-style) wine as a night-cap: it’s more pleasurable and more reliable than Eskom at keeping you warm.
If you’re looking for something to accompany dinner, you’ll find there’s enough decent red wine about to spare you any risk of having to dip into your reserves of crisp dry whites. In the last week or two I blind-tasted my way through several line-ups, sampling forty or fifty current release wines from a number of different producers. There were very few disappointments, and a few wines which performed at least as well as they might have had they been tasted “sighted.” It’s a tribute to authenticity rather than to “spin” when a wine lives up to its marketing message even when you have no brand information to “guide” you.
The standout wine of the two weeks was the Kanonkop Paul Sauer 2017, tasted blind in a line-up of other Bordeaux blends a week or so after I had sampled a pre-release bottle from the estate. In my (ungenerous) scoring system it came in at 93 points (at least equal to a 96/7 of most other critics, almost all of whom taste sighted). This is pretty much as good as young wine score can be, the equivalent of awarding a Best of Breed Trophy to a month old puppy at Crufts.
It wasn’t the only high-scoring red: the Saronsberg Seismic 2017 cruised in with 90 points, also way too young, delivering sumptuous textures to go with the violet whiffs and bright cassis aromas. At 89 points there were a couple of serious candidates – the 2016 Simonsig Tiara now showing a little evolution and reminding us of what a little bottle age can do. There was also the Tokara 2017 Shiraz. Priced at a mere R125 it’s a real bargain. Though a year younger, the 2018 Delaire-Graff Shiraz offers similar value: the same price and only a couple of points shy of Tokara’s score.
Sometimes it’s too easy to be fixated on the rating: the Guardian Peak 2019 Shiraz recorded a respectable enough 86 and it’s already quite delicious. You can hardly expect complexity from a wine which has been in bottle less than 9 months. Still, its purity, intensity and freshness make it a very easy drink – as does the sub-R100 price point.
It’s a different matter finding yourself fixated on price – especially when a wine sells for around R1000 per bottle: the Delaire-Graff The Banghoek Bordeaux-style blend is clearly aimed at consumers for whom £40 or £50 is a mere bagatelle, but at least it delivers a seamlessly assembled, concentrated, plush winter wine for half the price of a comparable Napa red.