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Stellenbosch versus Bordeaux 2015 tasting

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De Trafford Elevation 393 2015 vs Chateau Mouton Rothschild 2015
Us vs them.

David Trafford of De Trafford in Stellenbosch recently hosted a tasting that pitched Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines from Stellenbosch against some leading examples from Bordeaux, all from the 2015 vintage. Five flights of two, those attending asked to identify 1) their favourite and 2) which wine was from Bordeaux in each instance. The wines were as follows:

Flight one
Kanonkop Paul Sauer 2015
Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande 2015

Flight two
Domaine de Chevalier 2015
De Trafford CWG Perspective 2015

Flight three
Chateau Pontet-Canet 2015
Stark-Condé Oude Nektar 2015

Flight four
De Trafford Elevation 393 2015
Chateau Mouton Rothschild 2015

Flight five
Chateau Calon Ségur 2015
Le Riche Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2015

I rated the wines as follows:
97
Chateau Mouton Rothschild 2015
De Trafford CWG Perspective 2015

96
Kanonkop Paul Sauer 2015
Le Riche Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2015

94
Chateau Calon Ségur 2015
Stark-Condé Oude Nektar 2015

93
Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande 2015
Chateau Pontet-Canet 2015

92
De Trafford Elevation 393 2015
Domaine de Chevalier 2015

It was more difficult to differentiate the Stellenbosch wines from the Bordeaux than I had expected – I correctly identified the Pichon and Mouton but mistook the Domaine de Chevalier, Pontet Canet and Calon Ségur as South African. Those attending taken as a group were typically divided down the middle as to which was which.

The Mouton was extraordinarily good. Red and black fruit, a subtle herbal note, attractive oak and oyster shell on the nose while the palate was medium bodied yet still possessing a weightless intensity – pure fruit, fresh acidity and fine tannins. So precise and wonderfully energetic.

The De Trafford CWG Perspective 2015 was a revelation on the night. Whereas the standard-release Elevation 393 always contains a portion of Syrah (Trafford reckons this variety is a better representation of his property), Perspective holds true to the varieties permitted in Bordeaux, the 2015 being a blend of 67% Merlot and 33% Cabernet Sauvignon.  Cassis, violets, fresh herbs including mint in the best sense, earth and spice on the nose. Full-bodied but balanced with a great core of fruit and nicely grippy tannins. A big, powerful wine (alcohol: 14.94%) that should go a long time.

To end the tasting, Chateau Haut Brion 2011 poured next to De Trafford Elevation 393 2012. Here it was relatively easy to tell the Bordeaux from the Stellenbosch wine, the former more intricate and savoury (94 points) relative to the weight and power of the latter (92 points).

25 COMMENTS

  1. I genuinely believe Christian Eedes lives on another wine planet. Let’s ask how james Suckling, Jancis Robinson, Neal Martin or Antonio Galloni would have rated these wines side by side?

    I continuously disagree with you opinions but today is the cherry on the cake.

    • Hi, Gilles. I suppose it’s a bit of a moot point how the luminaries you mention might have rated the wines, because it was a blind tasting and most people – including such wine ‘royalty’ – surprise even themselves in those, when reputations count for nothing. Especially if the tasting is completely blind, which this one wasn’t of course (if you know you’re tasting the best Bordeaux-style reds from the Cape against leading Bordeaux ones, your mind already operates in the 92 – 98 point territory before you even take your first sniff).

    • Don’t lose sleep over it Gilles P.
      Are you disagreeing with the performance of SA alongside such names? Were you there?
      Have you looked up any comments/scores from said writers on these wines?

  2. I am not going to waste my energy time and time again to try to demonstrate to South Africans that their top wines are not on par with top Bordeaux. I think the trading market has already established that for a long time and rightly so. I do drink and enjoy south african high end wines as much as possible but the honest truth is that once you are in the 10 year + window, they can’t match the Bordeaux crus classes from a decent year. The Live Ex index proves that, the international wine market community knows that. I have some very wealthy south africans friends who would not even bother to drink any south african reds. Maybe that’s pushing it far but this is their truch I am telling. Even some people i won’t name from WINE CELLAR told me in confidentiality they don’t think that SA red wines are in any way on par with french wines.

    Like it or not, this is the wine market truth and as a solid wine drinker from all other the world producers, I can only agree to that.

  3. dear Gilles – i agree with you that there is a perception that only French wine is good wine and also, unfortunately , that South African wine is not good. This perception is in fact probably more common among wealthy people , as you mention. Ask Bill Koch. However ,going back to the Judgement of Paris and therafter, this perception does not seem to be confirmed when put to the test of blindtasting. This raises many questions.

    • True, Rioja. And Gilles, to a degree. Rich South Africans who only drink non-South African reds might well be considered proper, utter snobs and definitely no authority on the comparative virtues of SA vs. French reds. Bordeaux has had much more time and opportunity than SA to influence he trading market, which, by the way, is also nowadays strongly influenced by massive sales in the Far East where top Bordeaux is often mixed with fizzy drinks. The top Bordeaux market as a whole, including rich people everywhere, is not exactly entirely made out of connoisseurs. A small sample of wines, especially young ones, could easily yield a warped representation of reality and even you yourself might have awarded SA a slight edge had you been there to taste these wines blind, Gilles. That still doesn’t mean that SA reds are on a par with Bordeaux as a whole. It’s only a small sample of young wines, remember. If you take the top 50 Bordeaux and Bordeaux-style wines from each country at twenty years of age, the picture is going to be different. If your takeaway from this tasting is that Christian (or any other person with decent relevant exposure) thinks that SA makes better Bordeaux-style wines than Bordeaux itself, I suggest you might be extrapolating a bit too hastily.

      • John, I’ve tasted some, over many, many years. Granted, I’m also extrapolating but I’m definitely better acquainted with them than you are with, say, capital letters or manners.

  4. I, to a degree agree with your arguments Kwispedoor. My point is mainly based on personal taste as after more than 30 years of drinking French wines from bottom to top end and about 5 to 6 solid recent years of drinking SA wines from average to top end I am still on the side that french clarets crus classes or good crus bourgeois of 10 years of age and plus, delivers a far better experience than the top end SA reds. It’s just some finesse and elegance that i don’t find present in the SA wines. It’s not even about price comparizon. As for the rest of the world, I had the chance to work in the wine trade in the UAE and drink some of the best from the USA, Chile, New Zealand, Argentina, Italy, Spain and found some very exciting wines in most of these countries which i am still looking for in SA reds. I would say that some of the US reds are absolutely outstanding if you forget about their prices. As “Rioja” outlined with the judgment of Paris which took place in 1976 if I recall correctly, it was a win for Chateau Montelena Chardonnay and for Stags Leap Cask 23 for the reds and having tried these wines, I can relate. Now, one can say what they want about the trade and the chinese or whatever, but the truth is that the rest of the wine world connoisseurs are still waiting for a Penfolds Grange or a Sassicaia or a Vega Sicilia or a Dominus or else from SA. And broadly speaking, they are right as there is nothing outstanding on the red side. It is unfortunately the sad truth and the world market is aware of it. There are surely some improvements but this is still not good enough.

    • Fair comment, Gilles. It may be argued, though, that SA’s reputation is what counts against it when one looks at international pricing. And that it thus offers exceptional value. Blind tastings often suggest that the price gap is bigger than the quality gap. The next 20+ years will also be very revealing in terms of how the ‘new wave’ of SA wines are maturing. For me, that’s one of the cornerstones of fine wine: proper ability to mature with benefit over a substantial period of time. This is one of the reasons that I’m an advocate of Cabernet-Cinsaut blends as a calling card for South Africa. We have well-established vines of both cultivars and just look how well many of the 50’s to ’70’s blends that are dominated by these two cultivars are still showing today.

  5. I forgot to add I was judge at the first Berlin tasting held in Dubai in 2013 where top Chilean wines were faced against top Bordeaux. Sena and Don Maximiano founders reserve were the winners over the likes of Chateaux Margaux and a few other big names. It was entirely deserved on that occasion. Just prooving a point I am not just about french wines.

      • Hi Jonathan. Challence accepted. I would love to participate. I have enough confidence to think i would fare reasonably good in the exercise.

  6. A couple of points: 1) many SA reds of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s are generally considered “world class” when tasted now; 2) the industry lost its way in the 1980s and 1990s due, in part, to isolation but has been on steep improvement curve since the 2000s – it remains to be seen if current-era De Compostella, Paul Sauer, Rubicon et al. will go the distance in terms of age-worthiness but there’s no real reason to suggest that they won’t – viticulture and winemaking has never been more sophisticated.

  7. piet spit , i know your the taste king , always piet has a comment , a real winemaster ( are u yet ? ) , piet i dont keep notes of wines ive tasted , worked in bordeaux for 5 vintages many many moons ago, napa and some other weird spots , stellenbosch included , did the winerat to the winemaker stint , love wine , but hate the wine talkers , christian , angela , michael , – yes they are real commentators , so u being the authority please name the top bordeaux of 20yrs ago – from your notes please ? your a nederburg taste master ?? its always lasagna and salad for lunch with a nederburg sauv blanc , free lunch , enjoy , i submit , your the master from bordeaux to the northern cape u know best

    • Okay, “John”, I’ve deciphered most of your grade four grammar above, though I’m still in the dark as to what a “nederburg taste master” is. I was even about to go look for some old tasting notes so that I can offer to shove them up where the sun doesn’t shine (which is probably a kilometer radius around you, but I think you can understand I had a more specific area in mind). However, I’ve decided instead to make your day, perhaps your decade. You’ve beaten your own drum until it smoked now, something I have no interest in. And since I can’t attain your standards for commentating on this blog (here was I, thinking that mere consumers may also voice an opinion here), I bow out. Please continue to spread your nasty vitriol here. Hopefully you will not be so massively antagonised now that I’m gone. See, that’s the thing about someone like me who is just an obsessive consumer and into wine for fun – I cut out the cancer and go where I enjoy myself. It’s not fun here anymore, so I’m on my bike – easy as that – you’re going to need to seek another target for your tirades now. An aside: you seem intensely unhappy to me, dude…

  8. “John” and “douche” are not so far removed from each other…

    Kwispedoor your comments are appreciated by those beyond fourth grade.

  9. Kwisp, please don’t punish all of us appreciative readers by surrendering to John the village idiot. Clearly he knows absolutely nothing about wine or wine making for that matter and is a poster child troll. John, take a hike. I vote Christian and the team wave the magic wand and block this man from Winemag.

  10. The volume of comments here is certainly low enough for moderation, there are only a handful a day. I think blatantly obvious trolling (especially with clear vitriol directed personally, and consistently, at another) should just not be published. Surely that’s manageable?

  11. Hi,
    I was intrigued by the way the comments went on this.
    Based in London, but I love where SA wine is now heading at its upper levels.
    Quality wine at a reasonable price.
    Exciting to taste some very interesting wines.
    I feel it is unfair to knock a commentary on a blind tasting, if you were not there.

  12. Dear Gilles – going back to the Judgement of Paris , you mention you drank the American wine and concur that they are good. Yes AFTER the fact people will agree that the American wines are good – but not before. That is why the event happened in the first place. If the Judgement was held sighted the FACT that the French wine is better would of course been confirmed. There really is a lot of work out there re- blindtasting and it might change the way you appreciate and relate to wine – in a good way. In my (limited wine) experience it is liberating to enjoy each wine for what it is and not for what is supposed to be.

  13. Hi Guys I’m Franck based in Bordeaux (no body is perfect) I would like to say :
    1- The tasting SA CS vs CS Bx could be a nice exercise. That means the comparison is not silly and the wines cant compete together.
    2- It’s not important to know witch wine is the winner, the most important thing is to ENJOY the wines. You will never compare SA climate and Bx climate.
    3- Compare the wines from different wine areas of the world is nice BUT PLEASE keep your own personality in the wines. Don’t make standard wines.
    4- SA wines are great and you can be proud of that. Working for french barrels and visiting SA wine lands from 1996, I can measure the progress of the SA wines for the last 25 years an specially on the Pinotage side!!!!!
    5-I started a tinny company to import SA wines in Bordeaux area to show how nice are the SA wines. It’s really impossible to find SA wines in France.
    6- Please carry on making wines with your OWN character.
    7- Sorry I forgot : Can you compare the prices of the SA & Bx wines involved for your tasting
    I hate the water drinkers Best regards Franck

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