Bit of a hoo-haa brewing about South African red wines, with Jancis Robinson and Tim Atkin both saying they lag behind the whites, and unsurprisingly many – from the Cape, but also from elsewhere – disagreeing. Yes, there are some great SA reds but there are also some extremely clumsy wines. Evidence on the tasting table this weekend is Le Riche 2003 Cabernet, Waterkloof Circumstance Merlot 2005 and Clos Malverne Auret 2004. All are ambitious wines, selling for £10+, yet having tried them all a number of times over the course of 48 hours, at no point have I ever felt like actually drinking as much as a glass of any of them. I try to give ‘big’ wines a chance to calm down, and for extra layers to emerge, but in all three instances, I’ve been disappointed. The Circumstance Sauvignon Blanc 2006 however has shed its initial gawky green-peppery reticence and become a very nice drink – it’s fuelling this post.
It’s often said that South Africa sits at a halfway house between the New and Old Worlds of wine, the idea being that the wines offer New World ripeness with Old Word finesse. And in some cases they do. But I’d take the Old World comparison a stage further. With the New World you know with a reasonable degree of certainty what to expect. A sweeping statement, I know, but if the wine list just says Australian Shiraz or Chilean Cabernet or New Zealand Sauvignon, there’s a fair chance that it will be at least drinkable. However, if that same list featured a Stellenbosch red from a producer I’d never heard of, then just as with Burgundy, Tuscany, the Mosel, Rioja, etc, I’d approach it with a fair degree of caution.