More for less?

There used to be an advertising slogan about ‘After action satisfaction’; well the Nederburg Auction should lay claim to ‘Pre-auction temptation’!

Last week, local retailers and potential buyers at the annual showcase of South African wine – this year celebrating its 40th anniversary – were given the opportunity of sampling the line-up of wines selected. The 40th staging of the event takes place at Nederburg’s historic manor house and complex in Paarl on 12 and 13 September, and this year sees just 112 wines – or 11 959.5 litres – come under the hammer.

The total is marginally down on last year’s figure of 12 426 litres from 132 wines, which was a dramatic drop on 2012’s 25 444 litres, a move which caused eyebrows to be raised and many a critical tongue to wag. But as auction manager Dalene Steyn maintained at the time, drastic action was necessary to stem the negative trend of waning interest and prices which had developed in previous years.

The proof of the pudding was that the 2013 auction roared back into life with buyers actively fighting each other and lots reaching excellent prices. Former Distell CEO Jan Scannell said they had anticipated a total sales figure of around R2.2 million because of the drop in volumes of wine available. The total achieved was R4.4million, only R300 000 less than the previous year’s final tally, silencing doubting Thomases and critics by comprehensively outperforming expectations and attaining record prices per litre. Whereas the average price paid per litre in 2012 was R184.78, in 2013 positive sentiment saw this nearly double to R354.64.

So what to expect in 2014? Well, more competition for fewer lots, for one!

There are 62 red wines (8803.5 litres), 29 whites (2 083.5 litres), eight dessert wines (301.5 litres), seven fortifieds (519 litres), five port-style wines (162 litres) and one semi-sweet white wine (90 litres).

Newcomers to this year’s auction are Alvi’s Drift Private Cellar from Worcester (Muscat de Frontignan 2006); Kranskop with a delightful Viognier Noble Late Harvest 2011, which proudly proclaims its origins as Klaasvoogds, Robertson; Mount Sutherland with a 2009 vintage of Syrah that has already begun making a name for itself in local award shows; and Helderberg winery Romond with Rebus, a Cabernet Franc blend from 2007.

Reds are obviously a strong category with good representation in blends, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinotage and Shiraz. Fantastic to see a number of good old faithfuls come through the blind selection process: Kanonkop, Meerlust, Simonsig and Le Riche, along with Hidden Valley, Clos Malverne, Middelvlei, Eikendal and Neil Ellis.

One of the strongest categories – and the class which kick-started the entire auction – was that of Noble Late Harvests (NLHs). Being able to taste the line-up was like a master class in sweeties! A Nederburg 2006 Private Bin Semillon NLH was arrayed next to a 2004 Private Bin Weisser Riesling NLH and 2006 Edelkeur which is, of course, always Chenin Blanc – and was the wine that former Nederburg cellarmaster Günter Brözel made and then butted heads with authorities over official sanction for this (until then) untried style of wine from botrytised grapes!

Eminence is the Nederburg noble made with a bit of Muscat and its perfume seduces just as much on the 1990 as on the 1989 – but the wine of the flight for me was also the most venerable: the 1979 Edelkeur. Its acidity kept it fresh, even if the colour had deepened to a treacly brown.

And on the topic of Chenin Blanc, that category contained my personal favourite of the Auction preview. There’s a great line-up of Rudera; DeMorgenzon; Graham Beck; Rijks, with three consecutive vintages; Stellenrust, which is fast attracting a stellar reputation for its wines from nearly 50-year-old bush vines; Raats and Old Vines. But the wine which impressed me most was the oldest yet freshest: a Nederburg Reserve Chenin Blanc from 2002. It was statuesque and magnificent. Fruit was from old, low-cropping bush vines in Paarl, and 2002 was a shockingly wet and mildew-ridden vintage. “I remember this wine,” cellarmaster Razvan Macici said. “We almost overlooked it – and then we found a few cases in the cellar. Wow! The concentration and acidity is amazing. I’m sorry there’s not more.” And just 10 cases are up for grabs with a reserve price of R850 – or roughly R160 a bottle.

Expect to see a lot of paddle waving when item 77 on the catalogue with its scanty seven lots (numbers 519 to 525) comes under the auctioneer’s hammer!

– Fiona McDonald

Note: Fiona McDonald was a member of the Nederburg Auction selection panel along with Tim Atkin MW, Greg Sherwood MW, Justin Knock MW, Cathy van Zyl MW, Richard Kershaw MW, Roland Peens, Callie van Niekerk, Jörg Pfützner and Ginette de Fleuriot CWM.