During lunch yesterday hosted by Billy and Penny Hughes to promote their Nativo wines, I sat next to Tanja Robinson of wine exporters Robinson & Sinclair (clients including the likes of Havana Hills and Saronsberg as well as Hughes Family Wines) and she was relating the typical prejudices she encounters about South African wine when presenting around the world. Firstly, local wines often get accused of possessing a farmyard character “like a horse that’s just finished a race” as she put it; secondly, a burnt quality on the back palate associated with over-ripe fruit and high alcohol; thirdly, a dustiness or “the smell of a wet egg box”, which gets picked up in wines made from the grapes of unirrigated vineyards. All this over and above burnt rubber…
I find it curious that South African wine so often attracts scorn internationally, and am sometimes inclined to think it is because of some deep-seated psychological attitude on the part of foreign observers that resents the country being too successful, rather than any fundamental failing of the product.
Regardless, it is up to us who care about the fate of the local wine industry to manage these perceptions and it struck me that in the age of sound bites we haven’t been wholly successful in coming up with something short and memorable to encapsulate what SA wine is. “The best of both the Old World and the New” is about as good as we’ve managed to date.
With Wines of South Africa Market Manager Michaela Stander listening in, she immediately asked me what my summation would be. Put on the spot, I suggested that our best wines manage to combine fruit concentration AND tannin structure. So often you have one and not the other. Any advances on that?