Letter to the editor: Wine prices

By , 20 March 2020



The following received via email from David Smith:

“Having recently returned to SA from quite a few years in Canada, I would like to say the following:

1) the prices for the “better” wines are actually outrageous. I see prices ranging for say a Rust en Vrede or Kanonkop up to R1000 per bottle! Are they crazy? That’s CD$100 and would buy me the very top Napa or Sonoma Valley boutique Cabernet which would be steps above the SA wine. I think the SA prices are out to lunch!

2) Secondly where are those full bodied, lovely, chewy Cabs that one used to get in SA? Something like a J. Lohr or a Francis Ford Coppola Cab to name just 2 Californian wines which by the way sell for $25 (R250) per bottle.

Somehow I think that SA wines are missing the boat completely, both with price and quality.”

Any producers care to respond?


10 comment(s)

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    Jonathan | 24 March 2020

    David it would appear you are suffering from both cultural bias and cultural cringe, perhaps cognitive bias too- are you aware, for eg, of the legacy of dysfunctional pricing in the Cape? The structural hangover? Are you confident you could identify the wines you mention blind? Or if you have ‘cellar palate’ could you at least identify countries (if not regions) blind?

    Michael Rathbone | 23 March 2020

    I also want to qualify my first response by stating that we get quite a large selection of South African wines in Ontario but many with names like Big Bill and Sergeant Pepper, the big brands like Two Oceans and Nederburg plus entry level wines from Mullineux and Reyneke. I did pick up a 2016 Ataxaria Chardonnay for the equivalent of R480 which subsequently sold out relatively quickly.
    Otherwise, apart from then Bordeaux 1st growths, there is no worse price to quality ratio than Napa Cabernets and both the Lohr and Coppola wines quoted are entry level wines made in large quantities to tick the ripeness box.

    GillesP | 21 March 2020

    Only perhaps on the price side the author of the letter is not accurate. It is well known that good US wines are on the expensive side

    GillesP | 21 March 2020

    I wonder how many people on this forum have tasted US wines and in which quantity and quality level.

    Personally I have been lucky to be exposed to them fairly and I agree with the author of this article.

    Udo | 21 March 2020

    USD 25 is about R400 now.
    25 Canadian Dollar R300

    But maybe he should try some SA wines and compare? I am sure SA will ‘win’ easely.

    Michael Rathbone | 20 March 2020

    As a Canadian citizen who spends the winter in the USA and visited the Cape area in 2015 buying two cases of a mix the better wines and visiting the likes of Waterford, Haskell and Rust En Vrede, I want to contradict David Smith. Outside of the Scandinavian countries, there is no more expensive large country than Canada to purchase wine with all wholesale and much of the retail controlled by the Provinces so not only are the prices high but the selection leaves a lot to be desired, coming mainly from the big brands. I am a member of the South African wine society in Toronto and it is still my strong opinion that South Africa offers some of the best values with their wine in the world even if we get a very limited selection in Ontario
    I buy many of my wines in the USA where the selection and prices are considerably better and you have a chance of finding interesting South Africa wines and including a bottle of 2015 Kanonkop Paul Sauer, I purchased for U$60 on winebid.com

      Mark | 22 July 2020

      I doubt there are any wines in the whole of north America (Canada and the US) that could rival a 2015 Paul Sauer for double that price ($60)

    Simon | 20 March 2020

    Oh my gawd. Drink your cheap Napa rubbish. If that is your frame of reference, then perhaps top end SA wine isn’t for you anyway.

    Duncan | 20 March 2020

    Kanonkop Paul Sauer sells for about R660. That’s less than 40USD at the current, woeful, exchange rate.

    There can’t be many wines of such quality and age-worthiness at that price in California or anywhere else.

    Kevin R | 20 March 2020

    Responding as a consumer – David, you can’t compare the top end quality of today to even that of 10 – 15 years ago. Yes, some crazy prices, but equally there are also wines where the lengths, detail and care that has gone into making them is of a different world to the premium wines of yesteryear.

    Take for example this relatively recent review by Greg Sherwood, MW:

    “Damascene Syrah 2018, WO Stellenbosch, 13.4 Abv.

    100% Syrah from Polkadraai and Bottelary Hills, Stellenbosch. While both vineyards are situated higher than 300-metres above sea level, planted with SH9 and SH22B Syrah clones, and with soils dominated by decomposed granite, they each bring their own nuance and complexity to the wine. The vineyard on the Polkadraai Hills was planted on a south-east slope in 1996, and contributes most of the perfume and spice. Structure and fruit intensity comes from a vineyard of low-yielding granitic soils in the Bottelary Hills, a ‘mother unit’ planted on a north-west aspect in 2001. To showcase the impact of site in Stellenbosch Syrah, the harvested fruit was separated into numerous smaller fermentation batches, with whole-cluster fraction of each batch ranging from nil to 100 percent per vessel. Open top fermenters and two 1000-litre oak foudres received a combination of pump-overs and pigéage (punch-downs) two or three times per day. The remaining two 1000-litre oak foudres were treated with the ‘submerged cap’ technique to enhance the body and fruit concentration of the wine.

    A unique element in the final blend came from a portion kept as 100% intact whole clusters, that underwent carefully-controlled carbonic fermentation. These were sealed in a stainless steel tank and stored under pressure for 30 days before pressing. Without pump-overs or pigéage during fermentation, this carbonic macerated component contributes enormous purity of fruit and silky tannins to the final blend. All fermentations took place spontaneously with naturally occurring yeast. Malolactic fermentation also occurred spontaneously, with maturation in 1000-litre oak foudres for 11 months. The wine was bottled without fining, to ensure a more complex and authentic expression of Syrah. Total production: 2728 x 750ml | Bottling date: 8 February 2019 Alc: 13.4 %Vol| pH: 3.8 | TA: 5.4 g/L | RS: 1.5 g/L | VA: 0.65 g/L.

    Beautiful intensity and perfume, the nose screams classism and aromatic complexity with an open inviting modern allure. This wine turns the volume up but there is no distortion, only purity and then more purity. Herbal and Rhoney, there are wonderful savoury earthy meaty notes loaded with black berry and blue berry fruits, olive tapenade and hints of German-deli smokey, meaty brilliance. The texture is incredibly fine and focused and personifies the ‘Jean Smit’ wine making style that shines right through his entire range of wines. This Syrah hits a special zenith of quality and brilliance that only a select few South Africa wineries manage to achieve. ”

    How many winemakers in RSA were going to these lengths a decade ago???

    As for chewy cabs, there are plenty around.

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