ABSA Top 10 Pinotage 2011

The results of the annual ABSA Top 10 Pinotage competition have been announced in Stellenbosch. Although Pinotage is planted outside of South Africa it remains the red grape most often associated with the country where it was created. The ABSA Top 10 is one of the most highly regarded wine competitions in South Africa, thanks to it’s simple formula and a track record built up over many years. The sponsorship from banking giant ABSA has assisted in keeping Pinotage popular at home. The competition does not decide on a winner but simply a top 10, which allows for a range of wine styles to be recognised. Of course as with any competition there will always be some that don’t agree with the results, but that is inevitable. On the commercial side, an ABSA Top 10 award can have a very positive impact on sales in South Africa. And of course the winners get a little hand-blown glass trophy too! The 2011 ABSA Top 10 Pinotage winners are: Beyerskloof Reserve 2008 Diemersdal Reserve 2010 Fairview Primo 2009 Kanonkop 2006 KWV The Mentor’s 2009 Laibach 2010 Naledi 2009 Rijk’s Private Cellar 2007 Schalk Burger & Sons Meerkat 2009 Windmeul Reserve... read more

Gary Vaynerchuk calls last rounds on wine videos

As I read first on Jamie Goode’s Wine Anorak blog, Gary Vaynerchuk has announced his ‘retirement’ from the online wine world. GaryVee has been one of the most inspiring online wine personalities over the past five years, and whether you love him or hate him his impact on wine marketers and wine drinkers has been immense. Gary Vaynerchuk grew his New Jersey based family business, Wine Library, from a turnover of about $5 mil to about $45 mil largely on the back of his intense and off-the-wall online wine videos. Largely based around wine tasting videos, Wine Library TV created a new vocabulary for passionate punters and aspiring tasters. It landed him on various US television shows and provided Gary with an entrepreneurial launchpad into various other avenues. After calling a day on Wine Library TV earlier this year (after 1000 episodes) Gary Vaynerchuk started up Daily Grape but now after 89 episodes he is switching off the camera. Personally I think it is a good move for him. His insight and passion for marketing and online entrepreneurial initiatives is clearly not limited to wine, and his books ‘Crush It’ and ‘The thank-you economy’ will likely prove to be required reading for many in the future. Gary Vaynerchuk is moving off the wine screen before his star begins to wane, and as they say, it’s always better to go out on top. Thank you for bringing the thunder Gary. You’ve brought many smiles, plenty of entertainment and a lot of inspiration. Wine people should never limit their inspiration to others that they interact with in the wine trade, and as such Gary Vaynerchuk will remain a regular source of information and inspiration for me both in wine and outside of it. Do yourself a favour and check out some of his clips from both the sites or follow Gary on Twitter. Cheers. Here’s a look at his last Daily Grape clip: Image source: Global... read more

New Chateau Libertas label

I only noticed the news item today, discussing the new look label for one of South Africa’s oldest and best-known commercial wine brands, Chateau Libertas. This easy drinking wine was the aspirational option for new wine drinkers who had just moved up from Tassenberg! It’s a consistent quaffer and some years is actually surprisingly good. The fact that it comes from a huge producer has also meant that it has managed to remain a good value option. The old-school yellowy label is instantly recognizable… and now it’s been changed. The wine is part of South African wine culture and you’d be hard pressed to find a wine lover who hasn’t enjoyed a few bottles around the braai or with a steak. In South Africa it is probably second only to Tassenberg in terms of that odd-shaped place in a wine-lover’s heart for the cheap and cheerful bottles that started their journey into wine. Chateau Libertas first hit the scene in 1932 and according to the website this Cabernet Sauvignon based blend was served to the British Royal family on their visit to South Africa in 1947! It is part of the Distell portfolio of wine brands and clearly someone decided that it was time for the packaging to get a facelift. A packaging change for a well-known brand. You can create a new wave of supporters or risk alienating your existing ones. The old Chateau Libertas label has not changed much in the time I can remember and had just enough of that 70s/80s kitsch that South Africa does so well! But… the marketing and design gurus have spoken and from August the label will look like most other generic, sanitized wine labels around the supermarket shelves. Sure, the font-style of the Chateau Libertas name remain’s identifiable, but the new label looks like someone took the old label and put it through the washing  machine with their towels and duvet cover. In what I assume is the press release that has been on a number of sites, it is said that the Chateau Libertas label has “been given a dramatically (sic) new look as it gears up for its 80th birthday next year”. The makeover is described as ‘glamorous’ and spokesperson Jackie Olivier stresses that the intrinsics remain virtually unaltered as they are retaining the cork closure and the style of the wine itself. Ok. What do you think of the new look? Personally, unless the brand was struggling I see... read more

WINE Magazine shuts down print edition

South Africa’s WINE Magazine has announced that its September 2011 edition will be the final print run of the publication, which will now shift all its activity online. It will be interesting to see how the shake up will affect the journos and staff on the books. Press release from Ramsay Media: “While we are excited by the possibilities of the core offering moving from print to digital – and using it to support a range of established projects – the decision to stop producing a printed magazine was not an easy one,” explained managing director Stuart Lowe. “But the reality is that the small niche audience of Wine magazine, together with a lack of advertising support from the industry combined with the expense of print and delivery has always created an extremely challenging environment for the magazine. Add to that the impact of the proposed liquor advertising legislation and the publication of a monthly physical product becomes an untenable business proposition.” While Wine magazine’s circulation has remained static for the past decade, its digital audiences have grown substantially. Between website users of and the Wine e-mail newsletter subscribers, Wine’s online audience is currently in excess of 30 000 a month, indicating the general market appetite for wine-orientated digital content. Regarding the thinking behind the move to digital, Lowe went on to say, “In the current economic environment, we believe that it is vital to formulate strategy based on the best prospects for long-term growth. Part of that is a commitment to a 360-degree offering to our audience and advertisers that maximises the benefit of a broad range of media platforms. But an equally important part of that involves an understanding of the need for niche publications to adapt to market forces. Consequently, our future digital content will be substantially different from what we currently offer – and more... read more

Rubis Chocolate wine

At the Imbibe Exhibition I came across a stand that was proudly selling and promoting ‘Chocolate Wine’. It is called Rubis and is technically a fortified Tempranillo that is spiked with chocolate essence. Rubis is slightly viscous and is 15% alcohol. It basically tastes like the kirsch chocolates that my Dad used to get from one of his colleagues each Christmas, which I would steal out of the box as a kid, pour the liqueur down the drain and eat the chocolate. Sorry Dad. It’s tastes more like a liqueur but is promoted as wine and the guy behind the stand was very keen to reaffirm that it was 100% Tempranillo. Actually it tastes like a coffee/chocolate Shiraz on steroids. Of course it is not ‘wine’ as we know it, as someone has added an artificial flavour to it. But it does beg the question of where the line is when it comes to the coffee Pinotages, mocha Malbecs and Vanilla Chardonnays that have popped up over the last few years. The distinctive ‘flavour’ on those wines is created primarily through the use of oak, which has been part of tradtional winemaking for many years. But when used in such extreme ways and with the sole aim of creating a specific flavour, how different is that really to Rubis adding chocolate... read more

Imbibe Sommelier Wine Awards 2011

There’s been quite a lot written about the slide in South African wine sales in the UK off trade and supermarket sectors over the past year. This is not a unique situation. However on a positive note, we’ve seen the strong performance in the on-trade, where the bargain basement prices are not as prevalent as the high street and where the story behind many South African wines can be communicated with diners. In light of this I was interested to read through the results of the 2011 Imbibe Sommelier Wine Awards, which were announced a couple of months back. The awards were judged by a team of wine consultants and journalists as well as 60 sommeliers from some of the top restaurants in Britain. No high street wines are allowed which which the results book claims “means you can call in samples of the medal-winners with confidence”. The awards may be quite new (2011 was only the fifth year) but surely there is some merit in being proactive within this group of people – the sommelier who is at the coal face, putting winelists together and selling to consumers? It may well be the importers /agents who enter the wines into these sorts of smaller competitions, but I would think that more South African producers should be considering this event. Well, unless they did and simply didn’t show very well… There were no South African Gold Medals for Shiraz or Sauvignon Blanc and no real surprise to see Pinotage off the sommelier radar, with just one Bronze, for the excellent Warwick Old Bush Vines Pinotage 2009. There were four Gold medals for South Africa: Iona Chardonnay 2009, Elgin Enotria Spier Private Collection Chenin Blanc 2009, Stellenbosch PLB Group Klein Constantia Vin de Constance 2005, Constantia Metzndorff & Co Devon Crest Devon Valley 2006, Stellenbosch (Cabernet, Merlot, Cab Franc) Enotria South Africa also won all four medals (1 Gold, 1 Silver, 2 Bronze) in the New World Chenin Blanc... read more

Two Alsace wines from Domaine Mittnacht

Domaine Mittnacht Frères is a biodynamic producer from the Alsace region of France, run by cousins Christophe and Marc Mittnacht. Yesterday I tasted two of their wines  in the French Wine Zone at the Imbibe exhibition held at Earl’s Court. Both were marked in the guide book as being organic wines and from checking up online it seems that the 20 hectares of vineyard that they work with are farmed organically. The first was the 2010 Cuvée Gyotaku, a blend comprising 40% Pinot Blanc, 20% Riesling, 20% Pinot Gris and 20% Gewürztraminer. It was really well balanced. There are some floral aromas (which I assume are courtesy of the Gewürztraminer) with plenty of red apple and honeysuckle. It has a clean acidity without being too dry (just over 5 grams residual sugar apparently) and delicious fruit flavours. I’d be happy to order it at a sushi bar, but just as happy to drink it on its own. Gyotaku is a Japanese artform that involves applying ink to a fish and then using it to stamp an image onto paper. The artform apparently originated as a means for fisherman to record their catches. As you can see from the picture, this method has been used to create the label. This may seem far away from the Alsace, but winemaker Christophe’s wife is Japanese and Domaine Mittnacht Cuvée Gyotaku has been specifically positioned as a wine to pair with sushi and sashimi, which is detailed on the back label. The second wine was their standard 2009 Riesling Les Fossiles. It is an off-dry wine with around 10 grams residual sugar, and had the freshness and clean fruit that I like in this varietal. A bit of ripe grapefruit, if that makes sense. Grown on calcareous soils there is a cool mineral, slate edge to the wine adding to the fresh appeal, but it is not OTT on the flint. Again, a really good all around wine that is expressive and complex without being ‘too much’. These two Alsace wines are clearly made for the on-trade market and either would be welcome on my table. Again they emphasize the strength and potential of off-dry whites when it comes to food-friendly styles. I’d like to try them with fragrant curry dishes or some spicy prawns. Domaine Mittnacht Frères is imported into the UK by Thorman Hunt & Co Ltd.... read more

Charles Back’s new Fairview label

What do you think of the new label from South African wine producer, Fairview? The label was designed by renowned South African wine label and packaging guru Anthony Lane and wines with the new design have recently been released. Having previously worked with Charles and Fairview I am probably a bit biased, but I like the new label, and the rationale behind the change. I look forward to seeing the label on a bottle, to compare, as the difference between a digital image and the physical item can be quite significant. Fairview owner Charles Back comments on the producer’s website: “The crest which forms the heart of the new label is unpretentious and devoid of heraldic devices. It has a distinctive agricultural feel and conveys the essential elements that encompass Fairview.”       UPDATE: After reading this post the guys at Fairview sent me this picture which shows the new labels on the bottles for the standard range and their single vineyard wines. I like it more now that I see it on the... read more

No pity for Platter palates

It’s that time of year again when the crew of 15-odd tasters (ie. about 15 tasters, not 15 tasters who are a bit odd) responsible for the Platter’s South African Wine Guide are getting stuck into the thousands of of samples submitted by South Africa’s 600+ wine brands and wineries. The Platter’s is widely acknowledged as one of the leading wine resources in the world. Updated annually, it provides cellar door details, industry and tourism information, and an overview (and rating) of just about every wine in the country. The 2012 edition will be the 32nd since it was first created by John and Erica Platter. While the guide has its critics and detractors (the wines are tasted sighted – meaning that the tasters know exactly what brand and wine they’re tasting at the time) what cannot be denied is that the popular Christmas stocking stuffer is valuable to wine lovers and winelands tourists alike. Even if it’s just for the phone numbers as some critics like to claim. The Platter’s team of tasters include some of the better-known South African wine personalities; writers, judges, winemakers and sommeliers. Many of these are active on social media platforms or their own blogs, and in the next few weeks we’ll start to see increasing comments about the process and the tough task of tasting all of those wines that they have to get through. Some updates will give insight into the process, others will say a lot of nothing, while perhaps hinting at a few of the wines possibly going through for a coveted 5 Star rating. But what is inevitable will be the ‘woe is me’ comments about having to taste loads of interesting wines all day. Oh come on. Yes, it’s not an easy task. Yes, you’ll have stained teeth and probably a headache or two. Yes, coming up with another description for a Wine of Origin Western Cape Cab Merlot blend is not inspiring stuff. But remember us poor shmos reading your blogs and tweets, who would love the opportunity to be tasked with doing nothing but taste wine for a month. We’d be more than willing to step in for a year (probably just one!); try wines that we rarely see or could never afford to purchase with no buyers’ remorse! Imagine having cases of wine arriving on your doorstep, in desperate need of opening and drinking. Hell, I could think of worse jobs!... read more

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