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SA’s best luxury red wine?

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Vilafonté Series C 2015
Crowd favourite.

Yesterday retailer Wine Cellar held its biannual “Luxury Red Taste-off”, 37 paying guests gathering in Cape Town and 32 in Johannesburg to blind taste 10 wines with an average price of R1328 a bottle. The price of a ticket to attend was R595 per person, wines selling for R2 000 per bottle and above excluded from the line-up in order to maintain some sort of affordability.

Those attending were asked to rank the wines in order of most to least preferred and the overall result was as follows:

  1. Vilafonté Series C 2015
    2. Kanonkop Black Label Pinotage 2016
    3. Rust en Vrede 1694 Classification 2015
    4. Anthonij Rupert 2011
    5. Boekenhoutskloof The Journeyman 2015
    6. Waterford The Jem 2012
    7. MR de Compostella 2015
    8. Vergelegen V 2012
    9. La Motte Hanneli R 2012
    10. Leeu Passant Dry Red 2016

Here’s how I rated the full line-up:

1. Leeu Passant Dry Red 2016 – 96
2. Boekenhoutskloof The Journeyman 2015 – 94
3. MR de Compostella 2015 – 93
4. Waterford The Jem 2012 – 92
5. Rust en Vrede 1694 Classification 2015 – 91
6.= Kanonkop Black Label Pinotage 2016 – 90
6.= La Motte Hanneli R 2012 – 90
6.= Vergelegen V 2012 – 90
9.= Anthonij Rupert 2011 – 89
9.= Vilafonté Series C 2015 – 89

An observation: Vilafonté Series C 2015 is a wine for those who equate luxury with decadence. I’ve tasted it twice now and have given it the same score on both occasions – I find it overdone (see here for notes on the original tasting). It is mildly concerning when a critic is very much out of sync with the general public but, conversely, it is surely important that said critic be prepared to take a stand rather than trying to please all parties. This taste-off is always a fascinating exercise and in large part comes down to how “luxury” is defined – Tim James provides further reading on the matter here.

Vilafonté Series C 2015 is available from Wine Cellar at R1190 a bottle.

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Leeu Passant Dry Red 2016 is available from Wine Cellar at R1000 a bottle.

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14 COMMENTS

  1. Hi, Christian

    You’re right, a critic will soon lose relevance with consumers if he/she is trying to please producers when rating wines.

    Columella has also “under-performed” in this tasting before. When one looks at the overall results, I think one must be open to the likelihood that the demographics of the tasters that regularly attend these specific tastings might be somewhat different to, let’s say, a tasting with Ryan Mostert or Craig Hawkins. The crowd for this tasting might consist of some usual suspects, plus those who would not generally be able to afford these wines for drinking who take their chance to at least taste them, plus perhaps a few who would just like to boast that they have tasted these uber expensive wines. But a high percentage of the tasters perhaps consist of well-heeled people who can afford to buy these wines – the kind of punters who would also regularly splurge on CWG wines, etc. And although all the wines in this line-up are very good, the tasting theme says it all, doesn’t it? It’s about luxury…

  2. The similarities between the contemporary world (market) of wine and art are striking indication of how social culture has shifted. An esteemed art writer has spoken of art crafted “for the luxury goods market”. Same true for some of these wines. Of course, in both fields, (high) price is everything.

  3. Two points, Christian.
    1) Price of each wine would be of interest.
    2) So, ‘luxury’ also has an affordable ceiling? Does it have a lower ceiling too (see 1) above)? I presume you mean that ceiling was R2000 & above rather than just that figure. I’d have thought price at whatever level, would dictate which wines are tasted. After all, even well-heeled punters want to make sure their R2000 + is being as well spent as R1000. How many do have R2000+ price tag – Longridge Misterie, De Toren Book XV11 (?) & &

    • Hi Angela, Yes, wines at R2000 AND ABOVE were excluded – this now amended. The reason for this, as explained by Roland Peens of Wine Cellar, was that too high a wine price would have pushed the ticket price up driving attendance down. Other wines above R2000 include 4G, Delaire Laurence Graff Reserve, De Toren The Black Lion and the. Cab Franc…

  4. Christian. i was so impressed by your ‘behaviour’ at the tasting. At no time did you try to influence any other taster, and you were prepared to state your assessments whether or not the ratings accorded with the majority. This honesty, this humility, is noted. tasters must trust themselves and you give the example.

  5. I must say that Roland Peens’ reasoning about excluding certain wines, as cited by Christian, is problematic. Either you taste the most expensive wines or your don’t, and give up the no-doubt lucrative tasting (ok, it’s fine to omit nonsense opportunistic stuff like that cab franc with the stupid name). Luxury is luxury. Personally I was pleased to see you rating the Leeu Passant Dry Red so much crucially higher blind than you had done sighted a few weeks back (96 versus 93 is pretty significant, and I myself would come closer to the higher score). And pleased at you admiring The Journeyman more than you generally rate Boekenhoutskloof wines sighted. I also congratulate you on your wide range of scores, given the context (even if I think that Vilafonte wines are excellent examples of their chosen style and therefore objectively worthy of high ratings).

    • Hi Tim, I’m also glad I rated the Leeu Passant Dry Red 2016 as I did because I think it’s an admirable project and needs all the endorsement it can get. Richard Kershaw MW makes the observation that in most instances top-end wines get higher scores sighted rather than blind because knowledge of provenance on the part of the critic causes a bias but I’m quite happy when I’m able to avoid this trap. As I’ve written elsewhere, the Mullineuxs originally showed the Dry Red 2016 in a sighted tasting next to the Sassicaia 2012 which was no mean comparison. As for wines being “objectively worthy of higher ratings”, I think commentators should generally try to respect what’s in the glass regardless of their stylistic preferences but should ultimately take a stand one way or the other otherwise why should the public bother following them? There’s no such thing as objectivity when it comes to matters of aesthetic appreciation, in any event.

  6. I always wonder how much of this is influenced by marketing? Take Kononkop’s Black Label, which is an excellent wine , but 90% of what you are paying for is the marketing they put in to that older vineyard block. Then you compare it to their neighbour, Slaley, who also sells a really good Pinotage from a block only two years younger than Kanonkop’s but at about a 10th of the price. At some point you have to ask how much of this is just a popularity contest.

    • True to a degree, Jenny. Admittedly, I haven’t had a Slaley in a while, but their website claims that “We are looking for maximum extract.” and that they use 30% American oak. The newest version of their pinotage has 15% ABV, according to the 2018 Platter’s. It seems to me that they are pushing a particular style more than they are trying to let that specific site express itself, but of course I could be mistaken. Either way, when one buys the Kanonkop Black Label, one also pays for the best track record for pinotage on earth. That has to count for something. There will always be people that buy wine on price and exclusivity there will always be people that carefully discern what their Rands will buy them amongst available alternatives in terms of intrinsic value. It will be interesting to see what our wine market looks like in a decade or so. Surely prices will be higher, but some wines will no longer be with us (or be more affordable).

    • @Jenny Am also a Slaley fan but in defence of Kanonkop’s Black Lable Pinotage, this is the second time its done extremely well in this taste-off vs tough opposition.

    • Is Slaley still making Pinotage? The last vintage I can see from them on the Internet is 2007. If so, are there any online retailers selling Slaley?

  7. The current preoccupation with the term luxury is, perhaps, a sign of the generally low confidence exhibited by the South African wine industry in standing behind the quality (or value) of their product. The general trend of ‘cheapness’ is a reflection of our demonstrated lack of ability (or willingness?) to charge more. Simple.
    There are many millions of the most serious wine collectors in the world who would never consider a wine selling for less than R2,000 as expensive – and certainly not luxury. Our preoccupation with these terms is likely caused by an internal fixation and long-term preoccupation with an exchange rate inferiority complex. South Africans have become so accustomed to seeing their country value go perpetually backwards that we struggle to find confidence that our local Rand pricing can ever keep up. However – the Rand is keeping up in the short to medium term.
    As time passes, and “expensive” wines become more commonplace, price will become less of a marketing expression and more a true reflection of value. Pedigree-based value will be reflected by booming sales and even more aggressive price escalation from the wines which prove to the consumer that they are backed by substance, gravitas and consistency.
    The current pricing trends in South Africa are most welcome as the industry strives towards profitability across the entire value chain.

  8. It would be interesting to see how these wines would stand up in a global competition when it’s not just the well healed, who can afford the ticket price, but experts from all walks of life assessing their medal worthiness.

    Let’s see the brand owners put them into competitions like International Wine Challenge where they are not only blind tasted but judges have no indication of price. They could find themselves in a flight of wines that are all excellent and still affordable to mere mortals. If they are worth their price tag, surely they will all win gold medals so what is there to worry about?

    South African wine on all levels is improving to a point where it can compete with the best from around the world. It is standing out with its own styles and sense of place. How about entering some global competitions to see how they stand up? If nothing else, it will help drive innovation and quality across the board by realising there is still some work to do on the wine and not just the value of the brand.

    I’ve always believed that if a wine is good enough people will buy it at whatever price. Giving these wines a leg up on the international stage with a gold medal can only be a good thing. Let’s be realistic, the price at the top end of South African wine will lift the price across the board if people see value and not just another premium priced silver medal winner.

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