Most of the recent rantings about South Africa’s wine-pricing have flown higher than my comprehension level, but these opinions, too, have missed a basic and elementary point. Namely, the only correct price for a bottle of wine is that price which a consumer is willing to pay for it.
Just as a person of fifty has the face he or she deserves, so any bottle of wine bears the price-tag reflecting its worth in the eyes of the only entity to which it is beholden, namely the paying punter. This point seems to have been missed by the tides of opining critics, columnists, blog-commentators and essayists lamenting the apparent cheapness of South African wine, falling just short of asking God to declare low-priced wine an affront to human-kind and a mortal sin worthy of public flogging and impalement on sharpened Cap Classique bottles (magnum).
A few hours mingling with the common man or woman, witnessing purchasing patterns and listening to arguments used for selecting a specific wine will, however, lift the veil to show something many who breathe the rarefied air of wine opinion have long forgotten, namely reality. For wines are selected to satisfy a desire caused by neither hunger, thirst nor need, but by the seeking of simple pleasure without which life would not cease and our species’ survival not threatened.
To obtain this delight, we pay whatever we feel necessary. Be it R30 for a bottle of Orange River Cellars Colombard, cold and bright; or R3 000 for a deeply moving Simonsig Garland while eating a 700g T-bone in Sandton.
The right to decide what to pay for this pleasure is sacrosanct to the consumer, without whom wine would not exist. Therefore the calls for South African producers to charge more for their wine so as to raise image, feel better about who we are or for fear of being deemed common and – even worse, normal, is as contemptible as it is laughable.
I love having the choice between modestly priced wines and those worthy of paying four figures for. And I enjoy both with relish.
A huge part of the wine-lovers’ delight is discovering cheap wines of exceptional quality, and I can’t possibly see what harm these gorgeous things can do. The public is happy, and these wines contribute to creating a wine culture by ensuring people drink more wine, more often. And despite all this self-pity about waiters making more money from their tips on a bottle of wine than the producer, good margin is to be had by producers who have command over the chain of production and are consistent, thorough and honest in their wine-making.
Slanghoek Cellar out in the Breedekloof is an example of a winery able to put magnificent wines on the market at a price that makes it possible to be a regular wine drinker without resorting to having to practise as a lawyer, donating one kidney or selling favours of an illicit and self-degrading nature.
I am used to good white wines from the Breedekloof. Merwida Sauvignon Blanc. Doohof Chenin Blanc. And so on. The Slanghoek Chardonnay 2015 in the Private Selection Range flew the flag for the region’s whites, and then some. About 30% barrel-fermented, there is a persistent citrus track along this wine with a shady coolness and cracked sidewalk lined with white flowers and honey-comb. Dry, but flowing with sappy fruit and sunny character. At R40 a bottle, this is what I call democracy.
But it was the Slanghoek reds that shook me all up. The Merlot and Pinotage, both 2014 and both in the Private Selection Range, come in at well under R50 a pop and attest to superb quality fruit and pin-point accurate wine-making.
The Slanghoek valley attracts over 1 500mm of rain a year, damp alluvial and clay earth remaining cool, bunches ripening long and even. And late. Grapes are black-skinned purses of tannin. The flesh, pure balanced acids and sugar levels. Give each wine judicious French oak – about a third new – and the result is assertively delicious with a real stamp of style and sense of place.
Now, that Merlot wine is fragrant and brisk, racy with bright red fruit and as alert as a teenager who has lost wi-fi connectivity. Purple plums can be tasted, the morsels lying on a bed of dried mountain flowers with a delectable savouriness on the finish.
Come the Slanghoek Pinotage and the varietal-characteristics are understated, with just a slight feral funkiness on the nose which, as with the Merlot, entices and invites in a fragrant waft. The palate weight, too, is graceful and kind, allowing a showy flourish of black-fruit, dried figs and adorable tanginess.
These two red wines are as deceptive as they are delightful, able of passing off the blue-blooded pedigree and polish of wines five times their price. But seeing they don’t have to, they just are what they want to be: themselves.