national Arts Festival Banner

Friday, August 5, 2011


Sorting through some old papers the other day I came across notes for wine tastings held at my home about 20 years ago, between 1988 and 1994. The prices of the wines are enough to bring sentimental tears to the eyes of any hardened old taster.

Here are some of the South African wines tasted all those years ago, the retail prices then and the approximate prices now: Klein Constantia Rhine riesling R10 (now about R100); Backsberg chardonnay R14 (R65); Villiera Tradition Cap Classique R21 (R75); Hamilton Russell Vineyards chardonnay R27 (R175); Delheim sauvignon blanc R13 (R60); Vergelegen sauvignon blanc R14 (R85); Villiera sauvignon blanc R5 (R60) and Boschendal Le Grand Pavillon Cap Classique R20 (R90).

And here are the South African prices then and now of some imported wines: Moet et Chandon Brut Imperial champagne R125 (R400); Laurent Perrier Brut L.P. champagne R110 (R450); Chateauneuf-du-Pape 1993, R50 (R200); Jacob’s Creek semillon/chardonnay, from Australia, R15 (R80); Valpolicella 1995, red wine from Italy, R23 (R80).

I emphasise that the present prices given above are very variable, according to vintage, point of sale, and other factors.

Assuming an average inflation rate of 8 percent in South Africa over the past two decades, I suppose that prices would multiply by about four in this period (I am guessing at these figures; I am not an accountant). Allowing for this, most of the present prices do not look too bad. And, there is, I think, a much wider range of inexpensive wines available today than there was 20 years ago.

******* ****** ******

Among the moderately-priced wines that have impressed me are those from the Long Mountain cellar at Stellenbosch. These wines are all screw-capped and are none the worse for that, as far as I can judge.

Long Mountain red wines that I have drunk recently include a Merlot Shiraz 2008 and a Ruby Cabernet both 2008, vintage, both of very good quality and both selling at about R40 a bottle. Long Mountain, which is owned by the Pernod Ricard organisation, is rapidly expanding its export markets, in Africa, Europe, China and Russia.

******* ***** *****

I do wish that restaurant critics would sometimes pause in their effusions to enter a plea for more reasonable wine prices at eating establishments. To me a mark-up of 100 per cent is just about acceptable, but I object when restaurants charge three or four times the bottle store prices, as they often do.

My wife and I had a light lunch recently at a nice small restaurant and I ordered a glass of white wine. It turned out to be Protea sauvignon blanc, a very pleasant wine from Anthonij Rupert Wines at Franschhoek. The charge for one modest-sized glass, not very big, was R30. I can buy this wine at my local shop for R39 a bottle, and you would get at least five glasses from a bottle. Which means that the restaurant is charging about four times as much as it paid for the wine. Too much, in my opinion. – Michael Green