Two wines were delivered to me recently that show the good and bad sides of what is available on our supermarket shelves. The one showed progression, innovation (sort of), deliciousness and consideration; the other was a lesson in the typical, the normal and the unsurprising.
Let’s start with the let down first. It’s Neetlingshof’s new unwooded Chenin. It’s just about drinkable, it tastes like the variety it is made of, but the real problem is that there’s nothing right with it. It doesn’t turn heads, just makes them nod to sleep.
It’s Neetlingshof wine maker De Wet Viljoen’s first Chenin at the farm. The press release says:
It’s the first Chenin blanc he’s made in almost a decade since his arrival at Neethlingshof but he is not breaking new ground doing so for decades ago it was by far the dominant cultivar on the farm accounting for almost 70% of production.
That’s great. But on tasting the wine, and even allowing for the fact that it’s brand new and from young vineyards, it just bored me to tears. No character, searing acidity, and a little hint of apple and pear. I have no idea why anyone would want to buy this wine. There are a bunch of R30-R50 Chenins around, and while some offer good value, there doesn’t seem to be a huge amount of development in the segment. Just wine after similar wine. There is nothing wrong with a good cheap Chenin. They are perfect for pool-side sipping. But there are enough of them. And the Neetlingshof? Good lord, I’d rather watch a painting of someone watching paint dry, dry.
The wine’s release comes soon after Eric Asimov – food and wine editor for the New York Times – lambasted South African Chenin after a recent tasting. Asimov wrote:
Instead of finding many bottles that we’d enjoy drinking, we were instead hard pressed to find many that we liked at all.
Ouch. And now Neetlingshof has released another wine, another Chenin, that is very difficult to like at all. I think one of the tasters at Asimov’s tasting summed up the issue I have with this wine perfectly:
‘The grape is not being celebrated here’ [South Africa], Carla said. ‘These have veered into a drink, rather than a wine.’
I tasted the wine on my 2oceansvibe Radio slot (Wine Harry & Song) with Richard Hardiman and Dan Green, we all agreed that while the wine was a good enough drink, it is hardly a very good wine.
Look, you can’t expect sheer brilliance from a wine that is under R50, but I’m tired of seeing so many similar wines being released vintage after vintage. They are like crocs. People buy them. They want something comfy rather than stylish, something that is more functional than aesthetically pleasing. This, again, is fine. But dear me we really don’t need any more crocs, and we really don’t need more “drinks” – we need more wines.
Thankfully the second wine that I received gave me a big, lip-smacking smile. It’s Nederburg’s Grenache 2010 made for Woolworths. It was made as a collaboration between the two brands as they both co-sponsored the recently completed Master Chef South Africa.
I don’t have a TV so I didn’t watch the show, but I am terribly happy it occurred, as it resulted in this delicious wine finding its way to Woolworth’s shelves for the remarkable price of R59.
Grenache is all about fleshly fruit and spice – more allspice and cinnamon than pepper – and is able to produce fresh fruity young wines, perfect for early consumption. Nederburg’s version has all of this. Well judged acidity, the oak (18 months in second, third- and fourth-fill French and Romanian oak barrels) is also managed excellently resulting in a wine that, for me, is wonderful to drink right now. It’s a wine that you want to drink more of after each sip. Not because it’s just a simple ‘drink’ but because there is quite a bit going on in the glass.
I love fresh, primary red wines where fruit purity comes before oak derived flavours. Thankfully more wines like this are finding their way to our shelves. I’m also happy that varieties other than Cab, Merlot, Syrah and Pinotage are being bottled alone for South African drinkers, allowing us to expand our palates a bit. Let me also remind you that you are getting all of this for a mere R59. Well played Nederburg, well played.
I hope you don’t leave this article thinking that Neetlingshof make kak wines and Nederburg make lekker ones; that really is not the point. Simple easy going Chenins are fine. They are there for your summer days by the pool. Drink them and be merry. There are, however, many better options than Neetlingshof’s attempt. For only R20-odd more you can get a wine that is not only delicious, but also allows for contemplation. It isn’t that often a wine for under R100 does this. My point is that we need more wines like the Nederburg Grenach 2010 – more wines that are as informative as they are delicious, – and less ‘croc’ wines like the Neetlingshof Chenin.
Have you tasted either? What do you think?
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