The best and worst whines of 2005

Wednesday, 11 January, 2006
Graham Howe
Graham Howe looks back on the ten highlights of 2005 in a humorous review of the major controversies and trends that shook the South African wine industry.
On Show During 2005, the tally of wine competitions climbed to 23, almost two per month. Faced with the high costs of participating – and running out of bottle-space to stick all those medals - many wine producers talk about a no-show in 2006 when they’ll get more selective than the judges about which competitions they enter. Even winemakers join the fray with the new Winemakers’ Choice Diamond Award 2005. Will the wine industry run out of show sponsors, varieties, venues or judges first? You can call me 'Brett' Brettanomyces becomes the most unpronounceable word to enter wine-speak. CSI findings in the lab suggest unacceptable levels of this type of yeast in a few icon wines – slightly over the 0,62 mg/litre threshold perceptible to the lay-drinker. Some producers argue Brett is perfectly acceptable at low levels in fine Burgundy and Bordeaux wines. Most of the debate passes way over the average wine punter’s head – but Brett blew the savoury winds of change over the wine additives controversy of 2004. We hold our noses and wait for a new chemistry lesson in 2006. Auction Savvy Warwick’s Professor Black Sauvignon Blanc breaks records at the 2005 Nederburg Auction, raising the highest price for the variety – and perhaps for a South African white wine. Going under the hammer for R4300 (per case of six) at an astronomic R716 per bottle – albeit to their own distributor NMK Schulz – it topples Chardonnay from its pedestal as the top-priced white on the auction. The new-age bio-dynamic Nederburg Auction doubles the 2005 prices for red and white wines - and raises R7,49m, the second highest take ever. Will 2006 raise the bar even higher? Boom or Bust The John Platter SA Wines Guide 2006 counts a record 72 new wine producers since its 2005 tally (featuring 57 new entries) – and tops the 600 page mark to fit them all in. Statistically-speaking, that’s a new wine label every five days in 2006 – though less than half are new brick-and-mortar cellars. All the attendant wine launches keep wine hacks and public relations consultants scribbling away – but will the bubble burst in 2006 once Franschhoek fever is over or the Cape sold out of vineyards? Aristocrats, financiers and developers continue to invest in the winelands, opening new cellars and labels like De Grendel, Haut Espoir, Idiom, Solms-Delta and Lomond. Cool climate, maritime vineyards are the flavour of 2005 – followed closely by new Rhone blends and southern Mediterranean varieties in hotter inland areas. The Longest Wait In a dance of the seven veils, Tokara tantalised wine watchers with an elaborate tease over the last five vintages. Planted with new vines in the late 1990s on a farm acquired in 1994 with a showcase winery completed in 2000, Tokara took its time with its wine. The long wait ended on T-Day 17 September 2005 with the release of four maiden white and red wines at one of the glitziest launches in the winelands in years hosted by merchant banker and keen wine farmer GT Ferreira. Comeback of the Year Under new foreign ownership, Grande Provence of Franschhoek – formerly known as Agusta - wins Platter's inaugural 'Superquaffer of the Year 2005' with its Angel Tears Red. The unbundling of Boschendal sees DGB acquire its wine interests under a dynamic new team – watch this space in 2006. Most Innovative Packaging Matuba, owned by Cape Coastal Vintners, launches a premium 'vineyard specific' wine range in a square bottle. The novelty certainly makes the wines stand out – though the jury is out on how square bottles will fare on a round shelf in an international target market. More and more wines come out under screw-cap in the Cape including brands like Flat Roof Manor, Kumkani, Zonnebloem and Elgin Vintners – while De Wetshof experiments with a glass stopper (used by over 250 wineries in Europe) in its Rhine Riesling. The closure debate ain’t over yet. Highest Alcohols Alcohol by volume levels rise astronomically in Cape wines with many winemakers arguing the case for 'full phenolic ripeness' while strict drink and drive laws mean consumers are obliged to drink even less wine. Take Idiom, a new wine label launched in November 2005, which notches up high alcohols in its SMV blend (15%), Zinfandel (15,19%), Sangiovese (15,01%) and Bordeaux blend (14,7%). There are many other examples from other producers. Where will this end? (Possibly, by selling wine in half-bottles, a clever innovation on the wine-list at the Grande Roche.) In the search for lighter, lower alcohol wines over the summer, I’ve rediscovered aromatic Riesling and Gewurztraminer from Paul Cluver, delicate white wines from Wildekrans – and the Goiya D-Lite-Ful wine range including a sparkler. Best Ad-Campaign of Year Klipdrift’s 'Met Eish' and 'Worcester Sous' series reinvent an old South African product like brandy and put it on the cutting-edge of the cross-cultural divide in consumption in the spirits industry. When it comes to wine, the Craighall brand is on the comeback trail with a simple but clever “wines with balance” ad-concept that balances the halves of two bottles in a dual-varietal wine. Best Rebranding of a Wine Region The new Durbanville Wine Valley guide shows the way forward for marketing the strengths of wine regions. The brilliantly conceived landscape map combines farming heritage, terroir, wine cellars, restaurants, guest-houses and tourist attractions in a campaign focused on Sauvignon Blanc as a signature wine. The heart of Route 62 and Breedekloof brochures are similar examples of how to promote wine tourism by marketing the diverse attractions of wine regions.

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.