Pick’s Plonk

Tuesday, 2 March, 2004
Neil Pendock
A passion for wine that confirms him as one of South Africa’s icons
Alan Pick is the larger-than-life proprietor of the Butcher’s Shop and Grill on Sandton Square. The largest bidder at the Cape Winemakers Guild for the last couple of years, as well as a major force at the Nederburg Auction, Pick is a power in the Cape wine industry.

With the largest stocks in the country of some of the Cape’s most sought after labels such as the Ernie Els and Vergelegen red blends on his shelves, Pick is both trend spotter and setter as well as providing a de facto shop window for Cape wine to the hundreds of international businessmen, heavy hitters and high rollers who frequent his restaurant and wine bar Wine on the Square on a weekly basis.

On the subject of maturation, Pick favours the new generation of upfront, approachable wines typified by producers like Rust en Vrede that are typically drunk within five years of vintage date. Pick is definitely moving away from offering older vintages, which is bad news for gerontologists in general and the Nederburg Auction in particular, as its raison d’être is to provide aged reds to the restaurant and retail trade. This year’s event sees a large parcel of Auction Cabernet Private Bin R163 from the highly regarded 1995 vintage on offer but will find no taker in Mr. Pick who has his eye on a parcel of Vergelegen Vergelegen 1998.

De Trafford is his current top estate with the Vin de Paille, a particular favourite. Jordan get full marks for their Cobbler’s Hill and Sophia CWG blend while Stark-Condé Cabernet also tickles his fancy. Given the small production volumes involved and Mr. Pick’s habit of cornering the market, Condé connoisseurs, be warned. Pinot Noir as a cultivar doesn’t do it for him, although it does have one advantage ‘at least you can’t tell if the wine is corked.’

Ports and Cognac also have little appeal as they play second fiddle to single malt whiskies which are the fashionable digestives in Sandton at the moment, while inexpensive wines are Pick’s public enemy number one.

With mayor’s son and millionaire businessman Mutle Mogase (who is more sensitive than most to cork taint) and Michael Fridjhon (recently dubbed ‘the crusading critic’ by Time magazine for his ongoing efforts to unmask users of illegal flavourants) the only two patrons allowed to bring their own wine to dinner, there is little danger of an inexpensive tipple ever polluting Pick’s range of crystal stemware or the battery of Riedel duck decanters used to soften up the most unyielding red.

From an in-store vinoteque, to horizontal and cultivar specific tastings staged 1 000 km from the Winelands, Pick has a rare passion for wine that confirms him as one of South Africa’s icons.