Pendock Unfiltered 2

Friday, 12 November, 2004
Neil Pendock
Making lists is often a fraught endeavour as the SABC discovered with its ill-fated attempt to tabulate the top South Africans. The Pocket Guide to Wines & Cellars of SA 2005 has had a similar experience in their attempt to list producers ‘standing out as Top Cape Cellars having the best track records in the 21st century to date.’ The Pinelands pundits from Wine magazine came up with 14 but then made the mistake of asking Tim Atkin, wine columnist for the Observer, to provide a UK take on the SA industry as a foreword to their guide.

Atkin started off by listing his top dozen SA producers, five of which failed to make the Pinelands pick. A who's-who in the salon des refusées is instructive. Perhaps the biggest surprise is the reserve Sauvignon Blanc from Steenberg, consistently best rated Sauvvie in SA. With Platter 5-stars aplenty and top wine of show as voted by the punters at Cape WineX two years in a row, it is a marvelous wine and consistently so. Perhaps its omission is a reflection of an anti-Sauvignon bias freely admitted by some wine judges, or perhaps it was another casualty of last year's illegal flavourant scandal.

Anthony Hamilton Russell is arguably the best performer in the 2005 Platter guide, hitting the top note with his Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Hammo's performance level-pegged with Vergelegen, a remarkable achievement given the much smaller asset base and adspend. Another foreign wine authority, Anthony Rose from the Independent, had Hammo in his list of top twenty Chardonnay producers in the world while his Ashbourne Pinotage is a revolutionary wine.

Charles Back is widely regarded as the savviest winemaker in SA. His Goats do Roam brand is top SA seller in the US and he's often the top SA performer in the host of international shows he enters. Leaving Fairview/Spice Route out of the Pocket 14 is a serious oversight.

Likewise the omission of Eben Sadie and his Columella Shiraz, which consistently earns Platter plaudits, discounts potential. And as followers of Robert Parker's scoring system will confirm, potential is overlooked at your peril. Shiraz from the Foundry likewise has the powerful appeal of youth and the backing of Jancis Robinson, the most respected commentator on SA wine.

While arguing the merits and consistency of cellars fills the pages of local wine magazines and is sure to winkle out a few letters from readers like 'outraged of Oudtshoorn', as the Aussies would say, it's the exercise of a bunch of wine insiders peeing in each other's pockets. Hence the name pocket guide, perhaps.

For the great SA wine drinking public, neither list mentions the wine most people have heard of: Meerlust Rubicon made at the second (after Groot Constantia) most historic wine estate in the Cape. Likewise the only Cape icon wine to have emerged after years of straining is curiously absent. Even Robert Parker loves the Vin de Constance from Klein Constantia (the '97 vintage gets a stellar 93 points - his best rating ever for a SA wine).
For those in need of a list, perhaps another leaf should be taken out of the French winemaking manual. The famous 1855 classification of Bordeaux was performed on the basis of retail price. Which would make the shopping list of Alan Pick, the larger than life proprietor of the Butcher's Shop and Grill in Sandton, the authority.

Pick's pick would produce a third list with very little in common with Atkin or the Pocket with Waterford, Condé and JP Bredell star performers.

Meerlust Rubicon is curiously absent from The Pocket Guide's Top Cape Cellars
Meerlust Rubicon is curiously absent from The Pocket Guide's Top Cape Cellars

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