Stephen Tanzer recently tasted a selection of the 2009 CWG Auction wines for his International Wine Cellar website (click on this link to visit the website). The International Wine Cellar provides extensive coverage of the world of fine wine. This critically acclaimed, independent, bimonthly publication is read by wine lovers in 28 countries. Every issue includes in-depth articles and interviews, plus tasting notes on over 500 wines. Stephen Tanzer has served as Senior Editor and wine columnist for Food & Wine magazine and wine columnist for Forbes. Here's what he has to say (read below for his ratings of these wines):
"As in recent years, I leaped at the opportunity to taste the South African wines that will be on offer at this year's Cape Winemakers Guild auction, to be held at the Spier estate in Stellenbosch on October 3. This annual event is sponsored by Nedbank, one of South Africa's largest banks. The Trust established by Nedbank supports the education and social needs of farm workers, their families and their communities.
The limited lots of wine that will be sold at the CWG auction theoretically represent the creme de la creme of South African winemaking. They are unique wines that are different from those offered under the standard labels of the wineries. In some cases they represent a separate vinification of a favored parcel; in others they are special blends from a winery; and in still others they are comprise a selection of a top barrel or two.
As I noted last year, in order to be invited to become a member of the Guild, winemakers must have established a track record for making outstanding wines for at least five years. Members of the CWG are invited to submit samples of wines for the Auction, and at a blind tasting prior to each year's auction Guild members select a limited number of wines that show particular technical excellence and aging potential.
Most bottlings are extremely limited, typically just a half barrel or so of wine, often less and are sold in lots of 2, 4, 6 or 8 cases of 6 bottles. The 2008 auction featured a total of 2,520 cases of 6 bottles, with prices ranging from $53 for a case of 6 bottles to as high as $714. The bad news is that you are unlikely to see these wines in the marketplace, although a small percentage of these wines typically end up in the U.S., going mostly to private buyers.
However, if you are interested in bidding on any of these items, it's possible to accomplish this via proxy. Here's how to proceed: You must complete a Purchasers Card and a Bidding Form indicating the number of cases of each wine you would like to buy and the maximum amount per case you'd like to bid. Proxy bidders will then bid on your behalf at the auction. If your bid is successful, you can ship purchased wines either using your own shipping agent or through the Guild's courier company, The Vineyard Connection.
Interested bidders should contact General Manager Kate Jonker at 27 (0)21 852 0408 or email@example.com for further details and to obtain a copy of the Purchasers Card and Bidding Schedule.
Below I offer tasting notes on most of the wines on offer this year."
2007 Cederberg Shiraz CWG Teen die Hoog Cederberg
(100% shiraz, aged 15 months in new French oak) Bright red-ruby. Enticing high tones to the aromas of red raspberry, spicy herbs and white pepper. Tightly wound, even imploded, today but already showing superb inner-mouth energy and subtle peppery, floral lift. Not at all a thick style of shiraz: this reminds me of a cool-climate version from Australia. A fascinating, polished, distinctly modern-style wine with subtle finishing notes of minerals, dark chocolate and flowers. Very distinctive and built to age.
2007 Neil Ellis Wines CWG Rodanos Jonkershoek Valley/Piekenierskloof
(a 61/39 blend of shiraz and grenache) Good bright red-ruby. Sexy smoky oak over redcurrant, sandalwood and lily of the valley on the nose. Silky on entry, then suave and spherical, with an almost pinot-like texture to the juicy flavors of sweet berries, spices, incense and minerals. A very classy blend, finishing with soft, fine-grained tannins and impressive clarity of flavor. A beauty.
2007 Louis Nel Cabernet Sauvignon CWG Neighbour's Wrath Stellenbosch
(with 4% merlot) Bright ruby-red. Sexy, complex nose delivers berries, smoke and a hint of oak. Wonderfully sweet and silky, with perfectly integrated acidity giving energy to the broad, seamless middle palate. According to my tech sheets, this is one of the driest wines of the entire set of auction items this year (and one of just a few that carry less than two grams per liter of residual sugar), and yet it conveys an impression of compelling sweetness. Very long and broad on the aftertaste, with big, fine-grained tannins that are perfectly integrated with the wine's fruit.
2006 Boschkloof Shiraz CWG Reserve Stellenbosch
(15.2% alcohol) Bright red-ruby. Red berry aromas are lifted by sexy spicy oak and floral notes of violet and rose petal. Juicy, lively and deep, with lovely clarity of red berry and spice flavors. Blacker fruits emerge as the wine opens in the glass. A real spice bomb of a shiraz, and not at all overly sweet. Finishes with a broad, fine dusting of tannins and a surprisingly light touch. This offers very good aging potential.
2006 Engelbrecht Els CWG Engelbrecht Els Stellenbosch
(a blend of 60% cabernet sauvignon, 30% shiraz and 10% merlot) Bright red-ruby color. Very ripe, sexy aromas of blackberry, chocolate, leather, cinnamon, mint and pepper. Broad, dense and very intense, with rich plum and cherry fruit flavors showing a surprisingly light touch. The wine's noteworthy sweetness (3.7 grams per liter r.s.) are nicely buffered by strong underlying mineral structure. The dusty, fine-grained tannins build with air, but without showing any hardness.
2005 Villiera Wines CWG Terre Rouge Stellenbosch
(a blend of cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc) Good bright medium red. Sexy aromas of berries, smoke, tobacco, iron, mint, pepper and dusty herbs. Sweet, juicy and complex, with an enticing light touch to the flavors of redcurrant, tobacco, spices and lavender. There's something Graves-like about this firmly structured but pliant wine. Finishes firmly tannic and long.
2007 Saronsberg Viognier CWG Die Erf Coastal
Bright, pale yellow-gold. Funky, old-school nose shows a distinct leesy, smoky reduction initially, then some higher-pitched grapefruit and spices; I might have guessed mature white Burgundy rather than viognier. Then fat and ripe in the mouth, with varietally typical flavors of peach, apricot, candied violet and honeysuckle. Slightly sweet and impressively full but with a light touch. Finishes with a subtle dusty phenolic quality and terrific breadth and subtle persistence. A fascinating viognier that could be tasted against some bigtime Condrieus.
2007 Luddite Wines CWG FIGJAM Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon Western Cape
(an 86/14 blend) Bright red-ruby. Captivating aromas of blueberry, mulberry, dark cherry, spices and dried flowers, all lifted by a whiff of orange peel. Juicy, brisk and initially closed, with the wine's classy dark fruit and bitter chocolate flavors currently dominated by some spiky acidity. Not a fleshy style but very fresh and nicely restrained, with a tangy quality that reminded me of pinot noir. Finishes with tight tannins that call for patience and a lingering suggestion of licorice. Very interesting wine, and not at all exaggerated for shiraz. This was aged entirely in French oak.
2008 Cape Point Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc CWG Barrell Fermented Sauvignon Blanc Cape Point
Good pale yellow-gold. Knockout nose offers pineapple, grapefruit, orange blossom, spices and pepper. Densely packed and penetrating, with brisk acidity and good mineral cut giving a penetrating quality to the wine's flavors of lemon thyme, lime and dried herbs. Finishes long and graceful, with a captivating saline minerality and a lovely light touch. This beauty saw plenty of oak (it was 100% barrel-fermented, then aged in one-third new and two-thirds once-used barrels for 11 months), but you'd never know it.
2008 Badenhorst Family Wines CWG Kalmoesfontein Noble Late Harvest Semillon Coastal (half bottle)
(offered in 375 ml. bottles) Good deep gold. Knockout nose combines peach, tangerine, orange, clove and flowers, with distinct red berry hints and some honeyed high tones. Densely packed and very sweet but youthfully tight, with a high pitch and energetic acidity serving to intensify the very pure flavors of candied fruits and clove. This boasts terrific lift for a wine with just over 200 grams per liter of residual sugar.
2008 Cederberg Semillon Private Cellar CWG Elim
Pale silvery-yellow. Aromas of grass, pepper and fynbos; I might well have picked this as sauvignon. Then juicy, intense and penetrating, with complex, bracing flavors of white grapefruit, lime, shiso, pepper, spices, herbs and minerals complemented by a whiff of smoke. Almost dusty on the very long, palate-saturating finish. Fascinating wine, and much more pristine than the 2007 I tasted last year.
2008 Jordan Winery Chardonnay CWG Reserve Stellenbosch
Yellow-gold color. Precise aromas of lemon, lime, tangerine and spices, lifted by sexy oak and orange oil. Structured, firm and serious, with underlying minerality giving shape to the flavors of orange, tropical fruits and spicy oak. Beautifully delineated, energetic chardonnay that finishes with excellent subtle length and lift. There's plenty of underlying richness here but right now it's partly hidden by the wine's acid cut.
2007 De Trafford Wines CWG Persepective Stellenbosch
(one-third each cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon and merlot; to be offered in standard 750 ml. and 375 ml. format) Bright red-ruby. Very ripe aromas of currant, tobacco and pepper. Supple and rather suave on the palate, with black and red berry flavors complicated by minerals, black cardamom and wild herbs. At once plump and serious thanks to its underlying minerality and firm, dusty tannins. I find this more refined than the 2005 version sold in last year's auction.
2007 Beyerskloof CWG Cape Blend Stellenbosch
(28% cabernet sauvignon, 28% merlot, 22% pinotage and 22% shiraz) Good deep red-ruby. Blackberry, boysenberry and smoke on the nose; this smells powerful! Then lush, velvety and sweet, with an utterly seamless texture to the very ripe flavors of dark berries, chocolate and smoky oak. Finishes with harmonious, perfectly buffered tannins and subtle hints of herbs and game. This big boy has the sweetness (actually 3.6 g/l r.s.) to give early pleasure but the material and structure to age.
2007 Le Riche Wines Cabernet Sauvignon CWG Reserve Stellenbosch
(100% cabernet sauvignon) Good bright red-ruby. Classic cabernet aromas of currant, cherry skin, tobacco, spices, iron, graphite, smoke and herbs; smells like a Pauillac. Rich, sweet and concentrated, with lovely inner-mouth energy and clarity to the tight core of primary red and blue fruit flavors. As youthfully backward as this is, it finishes with very suave tannins and noteworthy lift. But this will need extended cellaring.
2005 Waterford Estate CWG Reserve Stellenbosch
(80% cabernet sauvignon with 10% each merlot and malbec) Bright, dark red. Complex nose melds cassis, blackberry, cherry pit, cedary oak, meat and smoky tobacco. Broad, supple and dry, with good fresh acidity; in fact, a bit youthfully wound-up today. Perhaps most impressive today on the back end, where the flavors really spread out and the serious tannins dust the palate and build. An uncompromising wine that's built to age.
2006 De Grendel Wines Cabernet Sauvignon CWG Coastal Region
(blended with 14% malbec) Bright red-ruby. Ripe, expressive aromas of dark berries, plum, potpourri and dried flowers. Rich, concentrated and sweet, but with good energy to the flavors of dark berries and orange peel. This aged for 18 months in new French oak but you'd never know it. Very nicely focused and balanced cabernet, finishing firmly tannic and youthful, with a hint of sweetness.
2006 Neil Ellis Wines The Graduate CWG Jonkershoek Valley
Good medium red-ruby. Perfumed aromas of blackberry, cranberry and mocha offer lovely lift. Then juicy, young and rather unformed in the mouth, with a distinctly savory quality and a restrained sweetness-not to mention a slightly tart edge-to the berry flavors. But I like the fruit expression of this brisk, sexy wine, and it has the structure for an extended and graceful evolution in bottle.
2008 Ataraxia Chardonnay CWG Walker Bay
Pale, bright yellow. Lovely sexy lift to the aroma of orange blossom; I would have guessed some noble rot was present. Then broad and fruit-driven on the palate, with a rather exotic character and an attractive floral nuance to the moderately complex flavors of cling peach and soft citrus fruits. This very satisfying chardonnay wears its oak gracefully and finishes with a surprisingly light touch, thanks to some apparent underlying minerality.
2009 Nitida Wines Sauvignon Blanc CWG Decorus Durbanville
Pale, bright yellow. Captivating aromas of pineapple, pear and peppery spices. Juicy, spicy and shapely; offers good weight and breadth without coming across as heavy. Rich, ripe flavors of pineapple, anise and dry spices are complemented by a hint of tropical fruits. This complex and nicely dry sauvignon finishes with excellent subtle persistence. Seems a bit less bracing but more immediately appealing than the 2008 did a year ago.
2008 Cape Point Vineyards Semillon CWG Reserve Cape Point
Bright yellow. Singular nose offers tropical fruits, nuts and peppery herbs. The palate comes across as rich but fairly dry, with brisk notes of herbs, spices and pepper. Still quite closed but this young semillon possesses real depth and heft. Clearly, this is a wine for the dinner table-but give it another 12 to 18 months.
2007 Jordan Winery CWG Sophia Stellenbosch
(54% cabernet sauvignon, 38% merlot and 8% cabernet franc) Bright red-ruby. Blueberry, black cherry and pepper on the nose. Juicy and sweet, with lovely lift and life to the flavors of cherry, blackberry, black pepper and spicy, chocolatey oak. Not the last word in complexity but finishes with sweet tannins and noteworthy persistence.
2006 Boekenhoutskloof Noble Late Harvest Semillon Reserve CWG Franschoek (half bottle)
(139 g/l r.s. with 11.6% alcohol; aged for 13 months in a new French barrique; offered in 375 ml. bottles) Full medium gold. High-toned aromas of apricot nectar, honeycomb and smoky, vanillin oak, with hints of coconut and yellow raisin. A sweet, peachy fruit bomb in the mouth; thick and concentrated but not quite viscous thanks to firm acidity. Not the last word in complexity but firmly built and long, with a lingering finishing flavor of fresh apricot. (I did not publish a note on this winery's 2007 Syrah Reserve because my sample showed a note of old wood and lacked verve. As Boekenhoutskloof is a star producer of syrah, I assume my bottle was not representative.)
2007 Bouchard Finlayson CWG Unfiltered Pinot Noir Walker Bay
Medium red. Very ripe aromas of plum, spices and smoky oak, complicated by meaty and minerally nuances. Velvety and quite ripe (14.6% alcohol) for a pinot from this producer, with a distinctly spicy quality to the plum and smoked meat flavors. A sweeter flavor of black cherry emerged with aeration. Finishes quite persistent, with a broad dusting of tannins. This is available in magnums as well as standard bottles.
2005 Flagstone Winery CWG The Secret Handshake Western Cape
(a blend of cabernet sauvignon and merlot) Good deep red-ruby. Expressive aromas of berries, plum, mint and smoke. Juicy and bright in the mouth, with a light touch and very good definition to the flavors of berries, chocolate and mint. Finishes sappy and firmly tannic, with very good subtle persistence and some cherry pit bite.
2007 Beyerskloof Pinotage CWG Stellenbosch
Good dark red. Restrained aromas of cherry, currant, smoked meat, leather and charcoal. At once silky and juicy, with an enticing sweetness to the flavors of cherry, currant, iron and graphite. Creamy at the center but an edge of acidity gives shape to the wine. A rather suave and deep example of pinotage, finishing with fine-grained tannins and subtle persistence.
2005 Grangehurst Winery Cabernet Sauvignon CWG Reserve Stellenbosch
(blended with 9% petit verdot) Good full red-ruby. Aromatic nose combines redcurrant, mocha, violet, lavender and fresh herbs. A tightly wound, old-school cabernet with pungent berry, cedar and sandalwood flavors complicated by an element of botanical herbs. No excess flesh on these bones! This fresh, dry, rather uncompromising wine finishes with serious chewy tannins that will require at least another six or seven years of patience.
2007 Simonsig Family Vineyards Pinotage CWG Reserve Stellenbosch
Saturated ruby-red. Blackberry, blueberry and raspberry fruit aromas are complicated by floral and sexy oak notes. Then juicy, spicy and high-pitched in the mouth, with a sour cherry flavor complemented by mellower coffee and vanilla notes. Finishes ripe and broad, with sweet tannins and a more velvety quality than the mid-palate would suggest (but then this wine weighs in at close to 15.5% alcohol). This has the backbone to age.
2007 Simonsig Family Vineyards Shiraz CWG Reserve Stellenbosch
Bright ruby-red. Mulberry, crushed brown spices and a touch of dried flowers on the nose. The fruit and spice flavors show very good depth but only moderate complexity, with an element of medicinal herbs suppressing the wine's sweetness. Finishes with dusty tannins and a faint hard edge.
2006 Solo Wines CWG The Guildsman Stellenbosch
(80% cabernet sauvignon, with 10% shiraz and 5% each mourvedre and merlot) Deep, bright red-ruby. Very ripe aromas of plum, leather and gunpowder tea, with a distinctly peppery shiraz note. Then broad and sweet but youthfully tight and inexpressive, with intense dark berry flavors currently dominated by the wine's spine of tannins and acids. One senses this very young wine's components and underlying sweetness today, but it's as primary as a barrel sample. My tech sheet notes that it has close to four grams per liter of residual sugar.
2007 Overgaauw Wine Estate CWG D.C. Classic Stellenbosch
(a blend of 67% merlot, 29% cabernet sauvignon and 4% cabernet franc) Good deep red. Very ripe aromas of dark berries, chocolate and mint. A supple and somewhat unrefined fruit bomb on the palate, but with the strong berry flavors carrying a load of chocolatey oak. There's a slightly oaky coarseness to the big, dusty tannins.
2007 De Grendel Wines Semillon CWG Koetshuis Durbanville
(a 75/25 blend of semillon and sauvignon blanc) Pale yellow. Musky, deeply pitched aromas of smoked meat and lees, with an element of barrel char currently dominating any underlying fruit. Then fat, rich, sappy and dry in the mouth, with good breadth to the pineapple flavor. But the smoky, vanillin oak element limits the wine's mid-palate complexity and adds a tannic edge to the finish.
2005 Villiera Wines Chardonnay Brut CWG Shooting Star Stellenbosch
Pale yellow-gold. Deep, leesy aromas of yellow fruits and melon. Soft, rich and round, with mellow, inviting flavors of nectarine, brown spices and butter. This mature sparkling wine could use a bit more lift.