Auction season is upon us, and this year it is bigger and better than ever before: expect to be flooded with a mind-numbing tsunami of tasting notes, purchase guides and industry hype as everyone in the high-end wine game aims to squeeze whatever discretionary spending power is left in the pulverised economy.
The season opens with the second of the Strauss & Company/Wine Cellar “curated” offerings, generally small parcels of the more collectable local wines. The launch auction was in Johannesburg in June; this follow up is on 14th September in Cape Town, where it is hoped that Capetonians will rise to the somewhat optimistic estimates which seem to have constrained the uptake of what was in the Johannesburg catalogue.
A word of advice for first time buyers: reserves are generally 10% below low estimate, and the auctioneer is allowed to “bounce” bids from non-existent buyers until he reaches this threshold, after which the practice is expressly prohibited. Don’t assume that, as the auctioneer appears to picking up momentum en route to the low estimate, there are any other bidders in the room. Up to this point it’s theatre, smoke and mirrors: the auctioneer needs someone to commit at the 10% below low estimate mark, so he will be holding the bid one step below this. Only once the lot is in play is there any need to bid at all. Also be aware that phone bidders may simply be savvy producers calling in to support their brand, and to ensure that there is at least the appearance of competition.
These words of caution aside, it’s worth paying attention to the wines on offer: Wine Cellar has been laying in wine collectables for many years, as have its clients. Its wines are well stored, and the Wine Cellar team does its best to certify quality and at least verify the current cellar conditions of what is accepted for sale.
Problems relating to storage do not afflict any of the offerings at the next big auction: the 5th October sale of wines from members of the Cape Winemakers Guild (CWG). The organisation has been around for almost 40 years and the current members represent some of the most talented (generally mid-size) producers in the industry. Over the past few years the Guild has vastly improved the selection process which determines what is accepted on the sale: it is no longer the shoe-in it used to be ten years ago.
As a result there were virtually no disappointments in the line-up of over thirty of the wines I tasted about a week ago. At least 90% of what was on offer was well-made and, if not edgy, then certainly built for the fine wine rather than the hipster trade. Probably 20% was pretty much as good as any young wine you could lay your hands on in any of the country’s premium cellars. For a full list of my notes and scores go to https://winewizard.co.za/article/700
Highlights include three very good bubblies (two from Graham Beck, the other John Loubser’s Silverthorn), some fabulous chardonnays, most notably from Mullineux, Ataraxia and Newton Johnson. There is also an extraordinary sauvignon blanc from Charles Hopkins (De Grendel), and a very good single site chenin from Bruwer Raats. The Paul Cluver Pinot Noir has wonderful concentration and intensity, the Jordan Sophia 2016 is superb and worth laying down for several years to get the most from it.
There are a couple of very fine shirazes: Cederberg’s Teen Die Hoog is a real keeper, while the Hartenberg will reward cellaring and give years of drinking pleasure. Both the Rijks and the Beyerskloof Pinotages were quite exceptional (with the latter my highest scoring red wine of the tasting). The Boplaas (Port) was accessible and dangerously delicious.
The final auction in this battle of the gavels will be the newly launched Cape Fine & Rare wine sale, to be conducted by Christie’s at the Rembrandt Museum in Stellenbosch on 19th October. about which more in due course.