THE TOPS! AT SPAR WINE SHOW
Thursday 14 December 2017
‘Welcome to Winedereland’ and ‘Life’s a Cabernet’ proclaimed the signs and marketing for the Tops! at Spar Wine Show. The Big Top theme was well suited to the Grand West Casino & Entertainment venue, complete with white marquee and red striped decoration. The location was also ideal as it is centrally located with easy access from both Northern and Southern Suburbs, as well as the CBD in Cape Town. There is also is an abundance of space for parking.
Cape Town is the final Show for the travelling ‘circus’ having started in Johannesburg in May and visited the big cities of Durban, Port Elizabeth, Pretoria and Nelspruit along the way. It makes sense too to end in the Western Cape, where virtually all of the wines on show are produced, and to Cape Town during the festive season with the influx of domestic and foreign tourists.
Ticket prices ranged from R120 (pre-sold via www.ticketpros.co.za), to R140 for General Access at the door, to R450 for a Backstage Pass. The Backstage Pass allows entry to the VIP Lounge, snacks and canapés, and a corporate gift. My gift was a copy of the 2018 Platter’s Guide (usually R260) so the Backstage Pass is excellent value for money for the hungry wine enthusiast who is going to buy the book anyway.
Wine Shows and Festivals are always fun. The Tops! Wine Show featured over 65 exhibitors from several wine growing regions – Constantia, Stellenbosch, Paarl, Wellington, Franschhoek, Robertson, the Swartland and more. Not all exhibitors were wine producers, though the majority of course were, with others offering liqueurs, gin, brandy, cheese, olives and biltong. There was a Food Garden too for the hungry. Lectures on assorted wine topics were in the Cape Times Wine Theatre on the hour every hour.
The joy for me at the Show was the ability to network and meet friends (I went with my partner and 2 wine lover friends) as well as to taste wines from many producers. I tend to avoid the estates that I have tasted at – in this case Cape Point, Dragonridge, Kleine Zalze, Rooiberg Winery, South Hill and Waverly Hills – and to enjoy the new wines.
There’s the benefit too of being able to taste wines across many different styles – sparkling, white, rosé, red, dessert and both single cultivar and blend – and at different price and quality points. I sampled wines from R50 to R500 and, as ever, my favourite wine was not the most expensive. I liked best the Richesse Bordeaux-style blend (R140) from specialist Cabernet Sauvignon producer Le Riche Wines based South of Stellenbosch towards Somerset West off the R44.
Other wines that caught my eye – and my palate – were the lightly oaked Credo Chardonnay from Stellenbosch Vineyards (buttery, creamy, oaky, smooth); The White from Hazendal (a blend with superb vibrant aromas of lemon, guava, pineapple and melon with great acidity and length); the Above The Mist Merlot from Pearl Mountain (classic Merlot flavours with soft tannins and delicate on the palate); the Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon from Le Riche (oozing class and quality with intense, ripe, rich red to dark fruits and with complexity and balance to match); the Haskell Shiraz (spicy, fruity dark berry flavours with smooth, well integrated tannins); the Waterford Chardonnay (creamy apple, caramel, apple and lime flavours with subtle oak); and the Chardonnay-led Miko white blend from Mont Rochelle (baked apple, citrus, nougat and vanilla flavours with an excellent mouthfeel).
The large number of producers meant that there were some interesting wines too. One drawback of the Stellenbosch Wine Festival, for example, is that exhibitors are limited to 5 wines. This means that they inevitably play safe with 2 whites and 3 reds or vice versa, with the end result that the choice of cultivars on show is limited.
It was therefore good to taste the new Vibrazio MCC from JC Le Roux, a Gewürztraminer from Koelenhof (great value for money at R50, which my partner tested me with via blind tasting), the White Zinfandel from Blaauklippen (a real challenge to determine the aromas), a Sangiovese from Koelenhof (which I bought for just R80) and a Malbec from La Couronne. The Chardonnay/Pinot Noir, base wine for MCC before secondary fermentation, from Jans Harmsgat also intrigued.
There are estates that I now wish to visit to taste their range in situ too: Hazendal, Haskell, Koelenhof, Blaauklippen and Le Riche. Not all are well known names – to me at least – the herein lies one of the Wine Show benefits, notably to introduce wine drinkers to different and new wine estates, cultivars and wines.
The Tops! Wine Show was a fun experience. There was a good vibe even though it was inevitably not crowded being the first night of a new festival. I am sure it will become progressively busier today and tomorrow (Saturday). It meant that I and my friends were freely able to move around without having to wait for the attention of an exhibitor to ask questions or for wine. I liked the compact set up and how the event space was used – there was always that other wine stand around the corner to interest.
Inevitably, possibly unfairly, I compare with other events and wine festival experiences. Seating was limited (unless you bought a Backstage Pass as there was plenty of seating in the VIP Area) – which can be a criticism for those who wish to sit with friends or who attend all day, or for outdoor festivals – though that did not concern me. The Food Garden was adequate but the canapés were gone in the VIP Area within half an hour of the 9pm closing time which was a teething problem that should not have happened.
The strictly adhered closing time, common to all festivals and with adequate warning given, meant that I did not leave sufficient time to buy enough of the wines that I enjoyed, save for a few. Not all wine events have the exhibited wines for sale and that was a great plus for the Wine Show. Some wines, indeed, were being sold at discounted prices too. I am sure that a wine accessory exhibitor would have been successful too. Neck hangers for the free Show glass for hands-free writing or taking photographs are always useful.
I liked how the stands had water jugs to rinse glasses and spittoons (mindful of drink drive safety), which is not always the case. I did well to sample 21 wines but would have liked more time. Three hours was not long enough. I arrived at 6pm that was one hour after the 5pm (Thursday and Friday) start. Go on Saturday if you can and wish for more time as the Show starts at 3pm. Alternatively, and for those attending after work, a 10pm finish would be great for future years.
In sum, the Tops! Wine Show was a great success and particularly for the first one held in Cape Town. December is a good time too for guests, despite being an expensive festive month, and most likely for the industry between the bottling of white and red wines. It is also timed before the peak of harvest wine festivals in late-January to March. If you read this review in time, then do go. Otherwise, as I shall, look forward to an even bigger and better event next year. The wines were Grand and the Show Tops!
Wines tasted (bought *):
NV JC Le Roux Sauvignon Blanc Vibrazio MCC – R75
2015 Stellenbosch Vineyards Credo Chardonnay – R130
2016 Hazendal Christoffel Hazenwinkel The White (35% Sémillon, 35% Chenin Blanc, 30% Sauvignon Blanc) – R85
2017 Pearl Mountain Chenin Blanc – R60
2017 Jan Harmsgat Sauvignon Blanc – R98
2016 Haskell Chardonnay – R315
2015 Waterford Chardonnay – R210
2017 Koelenhof Gewürztraminer – R50
2016 Mont Rochelle Miko (89% Chardonnay, 10% Sauvignon Blanc, 1% Sémillon) – R210
2017 Blaauklippen White Zinfandel – R110
NV Jan Harmsgat Pinot Noir/Chardonnay (80% Pinot Noir, 20% Chardonnay) – R65
2016 Stellenbosch Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon – R90
2016 Pearl Mountain Above The Mist Merlot – R110
2014 Le Riche Richesse (29% Cabernet Sauvignon, 28% Merlot, 14% Petit Verdot, 14% Cabernet Franc, 12% Cinsault, 8% Malbec) – R140 FAVOURITE WINE
2014 Le Riche Cabernet Sauvignon – R210
2014 Le Riche Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon – R500
2014 Haskell Hades Shiraz – R315
2015 Koelenhof Sangiovese – R80*
2014 La Couronne Malbec R180
2016 Blaauklippen Zinfandel – R110
Clemengold Gin (500ml) – R300*