The Changing Face of Fine Wine Consumers in the UK…

Last night I attended a lovely dinner at the superb 1 star Michelin restaurant Harwood Arms, with a group of private clients who are all high flying corporate lawyers in the city. I was invited to attend their quarterly get-together where they choose a fine wine theme and then all bring a few top bottles.

Nothing unusual about this gathering, which must be replicated daily across the city. What was slightly unusual was the fine wine theme they chose… top South African whites and reds. A few years ago, these sort of gatherings would be exclusively dedicated to fine Bordeaux, Burgundy or Rhone wines.

But the South African fine wine scenery has changed dramatically and so too has consumers’ perceptions of the wines. South Africa’s best wines now regularly rub shoulders at fine wine lunches and dinners with the most accomplished Cru Classe Bordeaux and Grand Cru Burgundy.

The dinner theme had been set as South African fine wines and I was tasked with bringing the “controversial” grape… using my clients words, being a Pinotage of course. I don’t drink a massive amount of Pinotage, but when I do, it will surely be one of a handful including Kanonkop, Beeslaar, Chamonix, David Sadie, B Vintners or something similar.

The evening’s wines were set against a backdrop of some fantastic game food dishes from the kitchen of Brett Graham, better known for his flagship 2 star Michelin site The Ledbury in Notting Hill. 

First up two Boekenhoutskloof Semillon whites … the awesome 2004 and a more youthful 2010. The 04 showed brilliant honey, wax and yellow peach nuances with pear purée and a most impressive, dense tight knit texture (94+/100). The 2010 took a while to blow off its hallmark reduction, but eventually revealed sweet root veg notes, swedes, turnips, and savoury yellow waxy lanolin lemon butter depth. (92+/100)

Biggest excitement and subsequent disappointment revolved around the Sadie Family Old Vine Series Mev. Kirsten 2011. Sadly the wine was corked. We were all gutted and tried to look beneath the taint. Such a shame! 

Legal eagle lawyers never travel without backups! In this case a Mullineux Granite 2014 that showed austere, taught, tight crushed gravel notes, and mineral driven white fruits (94/100). The Rall White blend 2014 was open, expressive, rich, textural, with orange peel, yellow pastille fruits, and real Burgundian grand cru weight (94+/100). Noted by the tasters as not more impressive than the Mullineux but just more ready to drink.

Next up a fantastic red pair… Hamilton-Russell Pinot Noir 2006 and 2009 from their archive box sets. The 2006 was dense and forest floor laden (92/100) while the 2009 started initially with choc peppermint crisp, and fresh foresty black fruits but opened up beautifully to reveal a really seductive side (92+/100).

Then the “controversial” grape came next. My Pinotage from Abrie Beeslaar. The 2012 maiden release. Wow. This was a rich, bright, sappy, stoney, earthy wine with a dusty gravelly note. Very pure, spicy, elegant and balanced with a seductive mulberry fruit core and a harmonious finish (94/100).

Making up numbers were the beautifully bright, youthful Simonsig Redhill Pinotage 2005 laden with wood smoke and cedary red cherry fruit (91+/100), a vibrant Rust en Vrede Estate Red 2003 with rich spicy peppery black fruits and a powerful depth (94/100), and last but not least, a seductively sweet fruited Boekenhoutskloof Syrah 2006 endowed with rich black currant and raspberry fruits, forest berry complexity and a superbly elegant finish (93/100).

Well, all in all a night of fantastic food, amazingly accommodating staff and a few very attractive wines paired with amazing Michelin starred food. If anyone was left in any doubt about the quality of SA wines, the final glass of Mullineux Olerasay No.1 would have silenced any doubters. An epic wine of intriguing complexity (98/100).

South African fine wine has hit the big time… and is now enjoying its moment in the bright lights! Long may it last. 

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