SA vs Californian Cabernet Sauvignon
By Christian Eedes, 9 June 2015
A sign of the growing confidence among local winemakers is that they are more prepared to put their own wines up against the best from elsewhere in the world in an open forum than ever before. Yesterday, Razvan Macici, until now Nederburg cellarmaster but soon to be Distell’s head winemaker, hosted a benchmarking exercise which saw 13 examples of local Cabernet Sauvignon next to seven from California.
The wines included in the line-up were as follows:
Flight 1: 1. Plaisir de Merle 2012; 2. Alto 2012; 3. Francis Coppola Diamond Collecton Black Label Claret 2012 (Wine-searcher.com average price: R212 a bottle) ; 4. Fleur du Cap Unfiltered 2013; 5. Behrens Family Winery Have You Heard? 2012
Flight 2: 1. Waterford 2012; 2. Neethlingshof 2012; 3. Nederburg II Centuries 2011; 4. Behrens I Am Listening 2012; 5. Rust en Vrede Single Vineyard 2012
Flight 3: 1. Plaisir de Merle 2011; 2. Nickel & Nickel Branding Iron 2011 (R1 077); 3. Spier Woolworths The Hutton Single Vineyard 2012; 4. Uitkyk 2009; 5. Stellenzicht Golden Triangle 2011
Flight 4: 1. Nederburg II Centuries 2010; 2. Regusci Stags Leap District 2010 (R635); 3. Silver Oak Alexander Valley 2009 (R904); 4. Durbanville Hills Rhinofields 2009; 5. Shafer Hillside Select 2008 (R3 117)
We tasted blind and here’s what I rated 90 points or above on the 100-point quality scale:
94 – Waterford 2012
93 – Rust en Vrede Single Vineyard 2012
93 – Spier Woolworths The Hutton Single Vineyard 2012
92 – Fleur du Cap Unfiltered 2013
92 – Nederburg II Centures 2010
91 – Durbanville Hills Rhinofields 2009
90 – Neethlingshof 2012
Some observations: I did not score a single wine from California above 90 although they are all more or less highly regarded Stateside. This is not the first time I’ve encountered this phenomenon – what we are dealing with is two radically different paradigms as to what constitutes wine quality, the US wines favouring power above all else.
The most expensive wine of the day, namely Shafer Hillside Select 2008, makes the point emphatically. This is a wine which proudly bears an abv of 15.5% on the label and has received a score of 96/100 from both Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate and Wine Spectator. I scored it 85 and my tasting note was: “Intense black in colour. Jammy fruit, vanilla and reduction. Super-rich and thick textured, lacks any kind of verve. Extremely difficult to drink.”
If South Africa takes its cue from typical top-end California, then we are still way off the mark – we might think we’ve shifted away from our reds being too “green” but not nearly far enough. I would, however, sound a word of caution – a wine like Shafer is for Americans by Americans and the market is not monolithic. There is a classicism (a freshness of acidity and firmness of tannin) that our best wines are now starting to show that will surely find favour somewhere in the world.