Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Melvyn Minnaar on the 2012 Nederburg Auction; "Vilafonté Series M 2005 ... competed for top spot..."

To revitalise custom when age sets in, and tradition treads water or sinks, is tricky. The annual Nederburg Auction, to be 40 years old in  a few years’ time, is certainly a Cape winelands institution. But the last decade or so has been one of starts and stumbles to reinvent the excitement it had for the first quarter of a century. Once the place and event to be invited to – as wine producer, buyer or dazzling socialite – recent years have been ho-hum in all fields: the party, the prices – and plenty of the wines.
All that chopping and changing, and the daft add-ons (fashions shows, music, odd food, whatever) often seemed like ad hoc marketing strategies: panic in the face of the success by the Cape Winemakers Guild young-ones, who got buyers to pay outrageous prices for their wines. As if silly high prices were the be-all and end-all of quality or innovation.
That the wines on offer at the Nederburg were not always the kind of stuff that suited the tradition of prestige didn’t help. (Probably too much producer politics and corporate intervention.) Boring.
Any way, if the cheerful tasting this week of some of the wines in the upcoming September auction is any indication, the Nederburg Auction may have turned the corner – at least as far as wine custom is concerned. On balance, most of the 52 wines offered to media and some trade people were fair game for auction.
Of the Nederburg offerings, none could be questioned. In fact, some of the best wines tasted, were the Nederburg auction specials: the Private Bins and the noble late harvests. This is thanks to cellar master Razvan Macici, who has been looking after the enormous Nederburg portfolio for eleven years.
The line-up of Nederburg wines, made for the auction, is a key factor in the business of the event, and some 27 are on offer this year, including those Private Bins which have historical stature. Judged from the 14 we tasted, Macici’s wines are going to play an important role in the turn-around of the event.
With a track record of ten plus years, his wines can now play the role that they should in the original reason for the auction: to offer wines of age that are truly excellent, with even more maturation potential.
The Nederburg Private Bin R115 (shiraz/cabernet sauvignon) 2000, for example, was one of the finest at the tasting and has plenty of aging ahead, The Nederburg Private Bin Edelkeur 2007, beautifully balanced and bright,  promises to be one of the famous of the famous. The sauvignon blanc 2010, under the well-known, if eccentrically-numbered D234 Private Bin mark, may well develop wonderfully as well, and the Private Bin R163 2004 cabernet sauvignon is one to keep and watch.     
Other white stars of the tasting going on auction include sauvignons blanc from Delaire (2009) and Durbanville Hills Biesjes Craal (2008), Rustenberg’s sensual roussanne 2008, and the Stellenrust 45 chenin blanc 2009.
Among the reds, Vilafonté Series M 2005, and the gloriously Burgundian Groot Constantia pinotage 2000 competed for top spot with the mentioned R115. The old Chateau Libertas 1968 was sensational beyond its curiosity value - heaven knows how much more than the reserve price of R3 000 for the single six-bottle case this will fetch at auction.
The latter is really what the Nederburg Auction ought to be all about: heritage, authenticity, elegance and superb winemaking that outlives the present. If decent prices are part of the deal, that’s fine, but not the only or ultimate measure.
Carina Gouws, overall in charge of Distell’s wine business, hinted at this at the tasting, as strategy for the turn-around. So finally, perhaps, the 2012 Nederburg Auction ‘of rare wines’ may well live up to custom. It’s the wines, stupid!

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