Greg Sherwood MW: Access to South Africa’s best wine is over

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Exhausted.

The last few weeks have been interesting in the wine business. As I sat sipping a bottle of the recently released Le Riche Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2018, I read with great interest the final thoughts and feelings of the judges involved in selecting Platter’s 5-star wines for the edition. 2022. This will be the next big round of results to excite and tease the wine industry, but in the meantime, wineries, exporters, importers and wine agents around the world are still pondering the plethora of over 95 points awarded by Tim Atkin MW in his latest South Africa special report. Once again, quality is on the menu and iconic producers such as Eben Sadie, Chris Alheit, David & Nadia and Reenen Borman stole the show, and rightly so, with their truly spectacular red and white wines.

Not necessarily known for his Cape Bordeaux Red Blend notes (Paul Sauer 2015 aside), it was, for me at least, refreshing to see Atkin lyrical on so many South African wines in this category like Thelema Rabelais 2019 (98 points), Glenelly Lady May 2017 (97), Miles Mossop Sam 2018 (971, Taaibosch Crescendo 2018 (97) and Stark Conde Oude Nektar 2018 (97). Without a doubt, recognition where recognition is due. I will be the first to put my hand up and point to some reviews, including in this post, which in my opinion just don’t reflect the quality of the juice inside the bottle. It may always have been more easy to distribute in complete safety more than 95 points for Chenin Blancs and Syrahs knowing that there are very few producers outside the Loire for the Chenin Blanc and the North of the Rhône for the Syrah, who can produce the quality regularly seen in South Africa these days (OK, yes, the Austra links make good Shiraz but after the latest rugby results they no longer need airtime!)

The criteria are clear and established globally when it comes to evaluating Bordeaux red blends and with Bordeaux having a complete monopoly on critical best scores, it is perhaps understandable that the relative outsiders of South Africa will tend to be judged with a much more critical and circumspect gaze. eye. But as someone who tastes the Bordeaux En-Primeur releases every year, I certainly don’t hesitate to proclaim the greatness of South African Cabernet Sauvignon and of course the wonders of the finest Cape Bordeaux Red blends. These have always been the wines that moved the South African fine wine category internationally long before wines like Sadie and Alheit existed, and these wines are certainly some of the best bargains available on the market. world market for fine wines. But for how long? They simply have it all … sublime quality, complexity, freshness, structure, classic restraint even in the most mature years, and most importantly, aging capacity – an attribute without which no good wine can ever truly reach higher levels of greatness. and generalized worldwide collection.

But where would all the reviews and critical posts be without consumers? Having said that, I found myself in a tough spot when I commented on Twitter: “Call me mean, but it’s probably fair to point out that if you’re not already a @HandfordWines customer, please don’t email me asking for all 98-100 point wines from @timatkin. The era of picking cherries, even South African icons, is long gone! Thank you.Fair comment, I thought with just a hint of flippant sarcasm in the nuance. But damn it, it generated a lot of debate… most of it polite, consistent, and poignant on reflection.

But seriously, how are we, as wine merchants, sandwiched between ever-decreasing allocations in an ever-growing global fine wine market that is supposed to fairly allocate limited inventory to our customer base. As one avid commentator noted: “Critical ratings are always relevant and probably one of the best ways to build brand value for fine wines. True, but I also argued that this is why the age of the cherry picker for fine wines is over. Establish a relationship with one of the best merchants and buy your everyday drinking wines from them, support them and they will support you when it comes time to award new versions. It is not really unreasonable. The dilemma remains that by trying to be fair and giving your loyal customers the first choice on allowances, it is more difficult for less wealthy / less engaged people to access the Sadies and Alheits of the world “which is. essential for building a palace ”. Undoubtedly a vicious circle where only committed and already wealthy customers can access all the major wine releases.

But I have a different view of the situation. Spending £ 20 to buy Tim Atkin’s tome doesn’t automatically give you access to the best wines produced in South Africa. At best, it may just shed light on the wines you should have been following from the start. Life will never be easy for late beginners and as they always say in the wine business, once a wine starts to be rated well, it’s probably already too late to get an allowance anyway! I also strongly argue that avid drinkers who may be less engaged and slightly less interested wine drinkers don’t necessarily need to drink 98-100 point wines, especially if there is no context. matching quality or collectible / rarity / or unicorn relevance to them. Start with?

Wine is a journey towards pleasure. Very few of us get the chance to start our journey by drinking Bordeaux Premier Crus, Romanée-Conti Burgundies or the best sparkling wines of Champagne, but if we are very, very lucky some of us might end their careers after having had more than one opportunity to indulge in a few bottles from some of the world’s biggest icon producers. In the meantime, be an explorer and look for future affordable icons to drink now before they also become unassignable and unobtainable.

  • Greg Sherwood was born in Pretoria, South Africa, and as the son of a career diplomat he spent his first 21 years traveling the world with his parents. With a degree in Business Management and Marketing from Webster University, St. Louis, Missouri, USA, Sherwood began his professional career as a commodities trader. In 2000 he decided to take a more interest in wine by taking a position at Handford Wines in South Kensington, London and is today Senior Wine Buyer. He became Master of Wine in 2007.

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