Get the 15% Mongrel Out of SA Wine

Many wineries have begun putting their 2011 red blends together. After a day or two’s mixing, matching, scratching of heads, agreeing, disagreeing, the winemaker will make a call as to how many percentages of each varietal component will make-up that particular vintage’s Red, Bordeaux, Rh?+¦???+¦?+¦????ne, Cape or whatever blend.

Sitting in on these blending sessions is always a great privilege and a wonderful learning curve. Watching the wine-maker, for example, declare the 6% Petit Verdot a bit overpowering in a wine filled with bigger percentages of expressive varieties never ceases to amaze me. Some of these guys are truly amazing!

Going through a line-up of forty year old South African red wines the other evening with Danie de Wet, the discussion leapt to the permissiveness the industry allowed its wine-makers to practise in the 1960s and 1970s. We were tasting some great Pinotage and terrific Cabernet Sauvignon when Danie reminded us that when these wines were made, only 50% of the variety that appeared on the label had to be used to make the final wine.

Say what?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-+?-+.?

Yes sir. A 1971 South African Shiraz wine, for example, only had to have half of the stuff in the bottle comprising actual Shiraz. The nature of the rest of the wine did not have to be disclosed.

Move ahead to 2012, and things have improved. Today only 85% of the wine labelled under a grape variety has to be made from that variety stated on the bottle. Your Pinotage, Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon could be dollied up with 15% of some other grape without declaring the foreign component on the label.

Anyone who has sat-in on a wine-team creating a blend will realise that this 85%-rule is something of an insult to wine-making integrity. If 6% Petit Verdot is, in the eye of a skilled, qualified and experienced wine-maker able to change the total structure of a wine, what can 15% of, say, ripe Shiraz do to a terroir-inspired Merlot?

Especially now that site-specific production and more focused clones are producing more piercing varietal expression?

And let’s not forget that this bit of bullshitting is an affront the consumer. Don’t know about you lot, but if I am forking out R180 for a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon I would prefer it to be unadulterated Cabernet Sauvignon.

It would be interesting to see how the new Consumer Protection Act would handle a query from a consumer who states that he or she is not getting the pure Cabernet Franc he or she thought was in the bottle because 15% of Malbec had been added without stating this fact on the label.

If the South African industry is celebrating its move to terroir-integrity and site-authenticity, this little 15% side-show has to end.

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5 thoughts on “Get the 15% Mongrel Out of SA Wine

  1. Hear hear!!

    I suppose it doesn’t make such a big difference with regards to the more boring producers that make wine for rich people with ego problems (over ripe, over extracted, over wooded, 14.5% and higher alcohol bombs – where individuality gets lost and most cultivars taste roughly the same), but it certainly still needs to stop.

  2. Mostly, only wine geeks are aware of it. The whole premise of proudly proclaiming a wine is only made from one cultivar and then certifying that claim to boot, is rubbished by this 15% elephant in the room.

  3. Not sure re all EU rules but South Africa’s label laws are stricter than the US or Aussie rules. A California Cab for instance only needs to 75% Cab!

    In Australia they are allowed to add 15% wine from another GI (similar to our wine of origin) where in SA we are allowed zero!

    In Aussie the wineries have a 1.5% alc/vol tolerance.

    So when you see a 15% on the label it may actually be 16.5% and run for cover when you see 16.5% on the label as I have at Greenockcreek. Parker rated it 97 pts. Go figure!

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