The third annual Constantia Fresh festival organised by Jörg Pfützner of Fine Wine Events took place over Friday and Saturday and to begin proceedings, a blind tasting pitching Constantia reds against high-profile international wines.
Pfützner, German born and an internationally certified sommelier is convinced that South Africa’s top wines go under-appreciated and hence sell at a discount relative to their counterparts from elsewhere in the world. Does he have a point?
In a flight that included Buitenverwachting Christine 1995, Dominus 1996 (Napa Valley, USA), Klein Constantia Cabernet Sauvignon 1988 and Leoville Barton 1998 (Second Growth St. Julien, Bordeaux), I had the Christine as best wine overall (17/20) followed by the Leoville Barton (16/20) and then the Dominus and Klein Constantia (both 15/20).
The Buitenverwachting showed everything you might want from a high-quality Cabernet Sauvignon-driven Bordeaux-style red blend: dark fruit, cedar wood and some attractive leafiness on the nose while the palate showed pure, concentrated fruit, bright acidity and firm but not astringent tannins. It was angular and austere in the best sense.
The Leoville Barton was pretty damn good too, but I thought I detected some aromas and flavours which were derived from spoilage yeast Brettanomyces and while these were hardly intolerable, it did give that the unblemished Buitenverwachting the edge for me. The Dominus (82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 4% Merlot, and 4% Petit Verdot) was overblown as so many Napa wines are and the Klein Constantia was relatively lean and green edged.
Another flight saw Buitenverwachting Christine 2005 (17/20) emerge ahead of Groot Constantia Gouverneurs Reserve 2006 (16.5/20), the 2005 vintage of Super Tuscan Sassicaia (16/20) and Margaux Second Growth Lascombes (16/20). Again it was the fruity purity and balance of the Constantia wines which appealed, the Sassicaia appearing relatively old-fashioned and rustic, the Lascombes in a very modern, heavily worked style.
The showing of the South African wines was generally so strong that I had to ask myself if I was suffering from a sort of “cellar palate”. Some winemakers taste their own wines so often that they cannot recognise the merits of any others and it did worry me that my much greater exposure to South African wines meant that I was missing the subtleties of these big-name international wines. However, even allowing for some kind of bias on my part, I think it would be a mistake t to dismiss the outcome entirely. It is clear once again that South Africa can at least hold its own against the best in the world and given that they typically sell for far less, offer an unbeatable quality to price ratio.