On Friday the opportunity to taste The Bilton 2006. At R3 000 a bottle, it’s South Africa’s most expensive current-release wine by some distance and its launch earlier in the year caused a commotion with many observers of the local wine scene expressing indignation that this relatively unheralded Stellenbosch property could deign to bring such an expensive product to market. That the wine, a straight Cabernet Sauvignon, features 500% new oak, only reinforced the notion that here was an outright gimmick designed to separate the affluent but gullible from their cash.
Given the hullabaloo that had gone before, I didn’t quite know what to expect of the wine. The 2010 edition of Platter’s where it is billed as “Super Bilton” describes it as an “icon contender… [which] strives (too hard?) to be an Italian-style ‘Super Tuscan’… (P)orty, inky, tannic leviathan needing many years to unwind, soften”, while still rating it 4 Stars; elsewhere it has been portrayed as akin to the dry dried grape wines of Italy’s Amarone region.
Having now checked out the wine, it seems to me much more like Left Bank Bordeaux if it has to be compared to anything outside of South Africa but really I think it’s most helpful to view it first and foremost as Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon and a pretty good one at that.
How prominent is the oak (fermented in one set of barrels and then matured in a further four different sets of new barrels over three years)? Not surprisingly, it’s a pronounced feature but I have to say this is not unattractive – more “cigar box” on the nose than obvious coffee/chocolate while the tannins on the palate are firm but fine. In addition, there’s well delineated dark fruit and bright acidity and the wine comes across as more classically styled than I imagined might be the case prior to tasting it.
As for the analysis, abv at 14.2%, residual sugar 1.8g/l and total acidity over 6 g/l are all quite respectable with only pH at a relatively elevated 3.74 being less than ideal but high pH values are apparently a feature of all Bilton wines. The wine was made by Rudi de Wet with advice from Giorgio Dalla Cia, previously of Meerlust, and whatever else you might say about Dalla Cia, he’s not one to make spoof wines…
Regarding the price, Bilton general manager Johann Diedricks is unapologetic. “How to put a price on something that has just about never been done before?” he asks rhetorically. He points out that total production was a mere two barrels and given that the wine has good ageing potential, there’s no time pressure to sell it. In any event, it was not conceived of as a commercial proposition but is rather a concept wine, the insights gleaned in making it influencing general production. Whether or not it’s really worth the money is largely academic. If you’re into wine and you’ve got the disposable income, then I’d say it’s a curiosity worth seeking out.