Hyperbole of the ‘best ever’ kind really doesn’t sit very comfortably with me. I can understand sports journos getting carried away by the achievements of a Roger Federer versus Pete Sampras since the number of Grand Slams won in their respective careers is quantifiable. The same goes for cricketers, runners or rugby players. But is it as easy to do in the wine arena?
South Africans have tucked their necks in over the past decade after justifiably copping a lot of flak from the foreign media for arrogance and inflated opinions. When readmitted to the international wine fraternity post-apartheid, South Africans were under the misguided impression that local wines were better than anything else out there. Thankfully modesty and cooler heads have subsequently prevailed.
Have we gone too far and become too reticent? Paul Boutinot hosted a lunch on his Somerset West wine farm Waterkloof this week and bemoaned the fact that no-one was saying how utterly awesome the 2009 South African harvest was. “Best ever” stuff…
“2009 was the best wine vintage I have ever tasted,” he said. “And not just in a South African context. It’s the best I’ve ever experienced anywhere. No-one has told the world that there’s this great vintage which is going to explode on the market. You’ve got the biggest story here – and you’re not telling it!” Were this Bordeaux, Boutinot said, it would have been hyped from the moment the first grapes hit the cellar and the wines were still fermenting!
Locally, there’s been an appreciation of the fact that 2009 was an amazing vintage – for Sauvignon Blanc. Both winemakers and retailers have quickly added that qualification when asked about 2009. But now the 2009 reds are starting to show their colours – and they’re truly exciting. The only other person I know who nailed his colours to the mast was globe-trotting viticulturist Phil Freese. With a long track record of monitoring grape ripening, he said he’d never experienced the like. South Africa 2009 was his harvest of a lifetime.
Thinking back, winter 2008 was extended well into the latter quarter of the year. Traditionally 1 September marks the start of Spring. Not so in 2008! Temperatures remained low and the rain kept on falling in the Cape. Only in late October was the first warmth felt. There was ample water around – and temperatures remained moderate in early 2009. No heat spikes were experienced in February – as they usually are – and the onset of harvest was a full 10 days to two weeks later than normal.
Brilliant conditions and the fruit was wonderfully ripe and healthy. “You’d have to be a real idiot to screw it up in the cellar in ’09,” was Boutinot’s observation. So a bit of arrogance and chest puffing is justified. Let’s shout it from the rooftops and hope we haven’t missed a trick already.