As far as I know, I have not been snuck any Ritalin of late. I must therefore assume that the concentrated attention I managed to maintain throughout a recent tasting of 29 wines from this year’s Cape Winemakers Guild Auction line-up was due to the diversity and quality of the splendours on offer. It was riveting. It was tasty. The winemakers presenting their wares were spirited and keen. And all the parts formed a whole of greatness, a showcase of Cape excellence.
Of course, the Guild has in its four decades of existence managed to claim and maintain an image of rarified excellence. The overall image is slick and professional, but with enough personable soul and character to prevent it slipping into corporate dullness. For this one has largely to thank the hearts of the characters who are Guild members and who share a commitment to truly further the organisation’s values by putting fantastic wines forward. Wines that not only offer the auction buyers an opportunity to obtain collectible good stuff, but also reflect the heartbeat of the top echelon of South African wine.
From the 43 wines to be auctioned in October this year 29 were selected for last week’s tasting of a tantalising line-up. Each wine was presented by its maker, who provided a brief glimpse into the glass at hand. Without peeling off into long-winded pontification of the “wine is made in the vineyard” and “minimum intervention” variety – the kind of drivel that is all too popular at other winemaker events and needs to be fought-off with the same aggression with which leaf-roll virus is being tackled.
Having diligently listened, tasted and noted and been impressed, singling out any bits of magic is a hard ask. But in pursuit of communicating and informing, it must be done.
On the white side, the Chardonnay offering was so enthralling and beguiling that it almost left me in a state of semi-arousal. What an incredible result the Cape is getting from the players in the Chardonnay game, with the CWG offerings being among the best one could find anywhere on the planet.
Andries Burger’s The Wagon Trail Chardonnay was the first wine I ever bought at the CWG Auction, and we’ll be going large this year, too, after tasting the 2021 vintage. Burger sees acidity as the lifeblood of both his Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and the way he manages this in The Wagon Trail lies at the heart of a vivacious, lively and taut wine that allows one to experience the full extent of Chardonnay complexity. White flowers, bergamot citrus and sorrel make for a tasty palette, but delicate puffs of yellow fruit give a satisfying fullness. All this hangs on the long wire of acidic vitality that allows the various elements to reverberate in an unrushed and captivating finish.
The other Chardonnay that made me weak at the knees was Samantha O’Keefe’s Valkyrie 2021. Boldness and flesh are terms largely avoided in modern Chardonnay speak, but when they are achieved to the right degree of finesse, poise and style, things become memorable and intoxicating.
The Valkyrie clambers out of the glass, the nose intoxicating and pronounced in volume and beauty. If Coco Chanel made a scent from Chardonnay, she’d use this wine as the base. I was sniffing the glass like an extra from the movie “Scarface” and had to begin tasting to avoid running out of time before the next pour.
Hefty in the mouth, with lime, nectarine, green plum and a slight crunch of grilled hazelnut. But an icy frigid spike kept the flavours in a corral, bringing the strays together with a delicious display of Chardonnay showing opulence, exuding confidence and seducing with kindness and grace.
The other American winemaker, Andrea Mullineux, also bought her A-Game in the form of The Gris Sémillon 2021, an acutely interesting white wine cracking with hard white pebbles and tasting of just-ripe quince, the tartness of which was subdued with a slight dollop of honey-comb. Shuddering with cold and a sinewy leanness, this fascinating wine from a somewhat rare variety is a prime example of the kind of alternative, adventurous wines one expects to find at a Guild Auction.
Looking back at my notes on the red wines, a clear observation is how bright and refined these were compared to what was being tasted under the CWG banner a decade ago. Back then, extractions were about as delicate as a carpet bomb over Kiev, followed by enough new wood to build a Russian oligarch’s Monaco-based motor-launch.
Gordon Newton Johnson’s Windansea Pinot Noir 2020 threw the typical Newton Johnson Family Vineyards plush, wild-flower and blossom perfume. On the palate, however, the wine had a commanding grip with sour-cherry, plum and pimento forming a firm core. I thought this to be a very capable and accomplished Pinot Noir with dramatic seriousness off-setting its flirty drinkability. Loved it.
David Finlayson’s Edgebaston Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2017 does not hold back, an expressive confident Cabernet Sauvignon with presence and muscle. However, the clear and precise classic Cabernet notes of cedar, blackcurrant and fynbos cloak the wine in elegance and class, ticking off all the requirements for pedigree Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon in a hugely satisfying wine, the kind one can open in the car on the way back home from the auction.
Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Cinsaut come together in the Ernie Els CWG 2019, a blend from CWG stalwart Louis Strydom. The wine has 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and shows the dominating character this variety has from Helderberg terroir. Cool and long, with typical fynbos and pine-needle notes, Cabernet rules the roost, with the Shiraz providing a prod of all-spice as well as adding broadness, while the coy fruitiness in the background comes courtesy of Cinsaut.
The Shiraz wines were juicy, succulent and very fine, but if I had to select one it would be Johan Malan’s Heirloom Shiraz 2020. A distinct whack of mocha on the nose, the wine runs a long line of civility with firm, sappy dark fruit ending in a wild dustiness and a life-affirming breath drifting petrichor. A great wine, too, for Malan to end his tenure at the CWG and to make way for the new generation of legends this organisation has been blessing the wine world with.
Long may it last.
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