CWG 2017 – A revolutionary basket of greatness

Monday, 28 August, 2017
Wine Cellar, Roland Peens
This year’s Cape Winemakers Guild shows off a profound Cinsaut, an elegant Tinta Barocca, a remarkable Roussanne and a deft Demi-Sec Chenin, as well as two cheeky ‘off-cut’ blends. The eclectic mix includes the annual, solid offerings produced by the old guard that have built the Auction’s success.

The tasting of 60 wines made me wonder what the senior members think of the nonchalant, and sometimes comical approach, that seems to have crept into what was once a stern affair. The swath of new and relatively young members is shaking up the scene, allowing the new peer review system to be more encouraging of experimental, new-wave wines. The Guild is better for it and the 2017 basket is filled with wines for every palate, with quality at an all-time high.

What has changed? Alcohols seem lower, whether picked earlier or removed, there’s a palpable movement to more elegant wines. Less new oak, or at least better oak integration, more interesting cultivars and less obviously sweet and super-ripe wines. Tannin management in the reds has improved dramatically over the last decade; likely a combination of less virus in the vineyards, better farming and better winemaking.

Not only are there 2 varietal Cinsauts, but Cinsaut plays an important role in 4 of the blends on Auction. Ernie Els and Kaapzicht specifically, have blended the forgotten workhorse with their finest Cabernet to shadow the successful Cape Reds of the past; before Merlot and Pinotage took over in the 1980s. Cinsaut is back and it’s being taken more seriously than ever. Andrea Mullineux’s version from 80-year-old Franschhoek vines is a game-changer with huge intensity, perfect structure and fine poise.

Tread carefully with the 2014 reds, admitted by a number of the members as a highly challenging vintage. As can be expected, most have handled the wet vintage well, producing softer wines that will reward earlier drinking. The full-bodied 2015 reds are difficult to taste at this stage. There is real consensus that this is the greatest vintage in modern times and the early release 2015s are extremely impressive. The huge tannins are coated by masses of fruit and balanced by a fresh acidity. Buy, buy, buy!

Broadly, 2016 was another difficult vintage and the Cape Whites seem to lack mid-palate and depth, while the reds are light and elegant. There are a handful of gems however, with Ataraxia shining through once again with striking purity and class. 2016 was certainly no slouch in the Hemel-en-Aarde as we have already seen with the early releases.

The CWG prices have tripled over the last 10 years and few wines will clock-in under the R1,000 mark, pushing them off the charts for most consumers. Many of the wines continue to be ‘souped-up’ versions of classic Cape wines available at half or a third of the price, often not for the better. Others offer a real unique opportunity to capture small cuvées from the best winemakers in South Africa. Either way, the CWG is finally mirroring the South African fine wine revolution!

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  • Auction prices are listed per 6 x 750ml or 3 x 1500ml cases, exclusive of VAT.
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