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Wednesday, October 22, 2008


Looking at the costs for British wine-drinkers through South African eyes.

I know that currency exchange rates distort values, for the simple reason that the basic cost of living is not the same in all countries.

This is especially true of Britain. These days one pound sterling equals about R18, with the result that a normal kind of income in Britain assumes princely proportions when translated into South African rand.

One should therefore be careful in comparing costs and prices. Nevertheless it does seem that British wine-drinkers sometimes have to pay handsomely when selecting South African wines from the vast international array available to them.

The Guardian newspaper has been publishing a series of guides to wines from different countries, and my brother-in-law John Hermsen, a retired London architect who is interested in wine, has sent me its list of suggested Cape wines. There are 36 in all, from Stellenbosch, Paarl, Elgin/Walker Bay and the area north of Cape Town, and most of the names are familiar. Some of the prices are, however, quite alarming.

They range from five pounds a bottle (R90) to thirty pounds (R540), this last from a cellar called Vilafonte at Paarl, and the Guardian says the wines are all available at British supermarkets or independent wine sellers.

I have not been able to track down South African retail prices for all these wines, but here are some of them, to give you the pricing flavour, so to speak.

Glen Carlou Tortoise Hill 2005, a blend of cabernet sauvignon and shiraz. UK: eight pounds = R144, Durban price (Liberty Liquors) R35.

Groot Constantia Constantia Rood 2006, a blend of merlot, cabernet and others. UK eight pounds = R144, Durban (Checkers, Windermere) R66.

Boekenhoutskloof The Wolftrap 2007, shiraz/mourvedre/ viognier. UK five pounds = R90, Durban (Makro) R29.

Porcupine Ridge Syrah 2007, shiraz, UK six pounds = R108, Durban (Checkers), R50.

Iona sauvignon blanc 2007, UK seven pounds fifty pence = R135, Durban (Liberty) R78.

Bouchard Finlayson Galpin Peak pinot noir, UK 19 pounds = R342, S Africa, ex-cellar R187.

Bouchard Finlayson Missionvale chardonnay, UK 12 pounds = R216, S. Africa, ex-cellar R110.

Klein Constantia Vin de Constance 2002, the celebrated dessert wine modelled on the Constantia wines of 200 years ago, UK 27 pounds = R486. S.African price, from e-mail order company, R288.

These prices may not seem excessive to the wine-drinkers of London and Edinburgh, considering that many South African wines have a good reputation there.

The Decanter World Wine Awards, announced in London recently, awarded two gold medals to Elgin Vintners, a partnership of six Elgin grape growers. A total of 13 gold medals were awarded to South African wines in this competition, which attracted 9,219 entries from various parts of the world. The Decanter, published in Britain, is probably the world’s most esteemed wine magazine.

And the Wine Spectator magazine, published in the United States, has given a top award for an outstanding wine list to Bosman’s Restaurant at the Grande Roche hotel in Paarl, the only restaurant in South Africa to be so honoured. Its wine list features more than 300 wines. – Michael Green