Litmus Test for Cape's Big Reds

Thursday, 25 March, 2004
Graham Howe
Trendspotting at 30th Nederburg Auction
The 30th Nederburg Auction of Fine South African Wines will prove a litmus test for market interest in the Cape's big red blends. Making up almost 25% of all wines going under the hammer on 2/3 April 2004, the prices fetched by flagship red blends will be in the spotlight at this year's landmark event. The selling of vintages from the 1990's by inter alia Veenwouden, Vergelegen, Rust en Vrede and Stellenzicht are likely to set record prices. Or could deflationary trends in current wine prices impact on rare vintages too?

With 42 red blends on auction out of 178 wines, the next biggest categories in the weighty line-up of big reds are Cabernet Sauvignon (36), Pinotage (17) and Shiraz (16). Trophy-hunters and collectors will use the rare opportunity to collect sought-after vintages of South Africa's best-known blends - wines like Kanonkop Paul Sauer 1986, Lord Neethling Reserve 1993, Stellenzicht 1994, Rust en Vrede Estate Wine 1996 and Vergelegen Vergelegen 1998. There will be keen interest in highly-rated blends on the auction for the first time - notably Asara Bell Tower 1998 and De Toren Fusion V 1998.

Of course, there are blends and blends. South Africa's big blends typically divide into Cape blends with Pinotage in the mix - and the more classical Bordeaux style blends. Will standard-bearer Cape blends like Clos Malverne Auret, Grangehurst Nikela, Simonsig Frans Malan and Uiterwyk Estate Wine attract bidding as fierce as flagship Bordeaux blends like Vergelegen Vergelegen, Rust en Vrede Estate Wine and Veenwouden Classic? Buyers, the trade and consumers have a way of sorting out academic debates about the relative merits of the assemblage of a Cape red blend.

Will the old guard - collector's classics like Chateau Libertas 1988-1992, Groot Constantia Gouverneurs Reserve, Zonnebloem Lauréat and Goede Hoop Vintage Rouge - attract as much interest as the newer fusions of Jordan's Cobbler's Hill, Grangehurst's Nikela, Kanu Keystone, Morgenhof's Prèmiere Sélection and Steenberg's Catharina? Every paddle and every lot tells a story on the day. With the largest selection of red blends on auction - a range of Nederburg Private Bin Cabernet/Shiraz/Merlot 1978/1999 in various permutations - cellarmaster Razvan Macici and hosts will monitor price trends with avid interest. The selling of these familiar labels, more than any, reflect mainstream trade interest as they appear on wine-lists and in multiple retail stores around the country.

What says veteran auctioneer Patrick Grubb of the Cape's big blends? His annual tasting notes of the wines going under the hammer are always a delight to read. Of Villiera Cru Monro 1998, he says ‘perfect package of ripe fruit, vinosity, a slim backbone of acidity and voila, you have a great wine.’ Of Zonnebloem Lauréat 1994, he comments approvingly, ‘Akin to old-fashioned Bordeaux, my tipple.’ Then there's Talana Hill Royale 1998 ‘tea-leaf and herbs, great style and elegance, harmonious, perfection’, Delheim Grand Reserve 1998 ‘Very rich with a mature elegance and finesse’ and Veenwouden Classic 1998 ‘So much is there in harmony this will live a long time’.

Staying neutral, the auctioneer is not nailing his colours to the mast when it comes to the great divide in the winning formula for a South African red blend. He likes the Cape blends - Clos Malverne Auret 1998 'Lovely soft wine packed with flavour, good depth and balance. Successful blend.’, Grangehurst Nikela 1998 ‘Perfect balance, rich yet elegant, very stylish’, Simonsig Frans Malan Reserve 1998 ‘Gentle, sweet with lovely balance of fruit and acidity’ and Uiterwyk 1997 ‘multifaceted with depth of flavour’.

The auctioneer also likes the Bordeaux-style blends - especially Rust en Vrede 1996 ‘Loads of fruit flavours and power.’, De Toren Fusion V ‘Soft, silky and really delicious.’ and Asara Bell Tower 1998 ‘Fine truffle and bramble. Ripe and delicious.’.

Of Vergelegen Vergelegen 1998, he swoons, ‘Beautiful velvety approach. Long intense flavour.’ Of Stellenzicht Stellenzicht 1994, a rare vintage of a complex Bordeaux blend, he concludes, ‘Excellent, still youthful, great vinosity and depth of flavour. Lovely. Just let it roll over you.’

Roll on, rather like Patrick Grubb's voluptuously vinous prose.

Graham Howe

Graham Howe is a well-known gourmet travel writer based in Cape Town. One of South Africa's most experienced lifestyle journalists, he has contributed hundreds of food, wine and travel features to South African and British publications over the last 25 years.

He is wine and food contributor for Eat Out and WINE.CO.ZA, which is likely the longest continuous wine column in the world, having published over 400 articles on this extensive South African Wine Portal.

When not exploring the Cape winelands, this adventurous globetrotter reports on exotic destinations around the world as a travel correspondent for a wide variety of print media, online and radio.

Over the last decade, he has visited over seventy countries on travel assignments from the Aran Islands and the Arctic to Borneo and Tristan da Cunha - and entertained readers with his adventures through the winelands of the world from the Mosel to the Yarra.