The start of this year heralded the start of some new rules in the SA Port world – oops, there I go, broken them already. Because as of 1st January 2012, according to EU regulations, no fortified port-style wine can be labelled as ‘Port’ unless it comes from the Douro region of Portugal. The EU was meant to pay over lots of money to South Africa to ease this transition – money which may or may not have made it into the coffers (perhaps it got hijacked by Greece – after all, their need is greater than ours) – but either way, the changes have been made and you will start seeing only Cape Ruby, Cape Tawny, Cape Vintage on the shelves instead of Port.
Of course this has now necessitated a change in the interest group representing the ‘previously-Port producers’ – from being known as SAPPA, they are now renamed as CAPPA standing for the Cape Port Producers Association, and they hosted their first Port & Wine Challenge earlier this year. The results were announced a fortnight ago at a lunch at Muratie. We ate a lovely ‘boerekos’ meal in the incredibly scenic cellars overhung by 50 years-worth of cobwebs and surrounded by ancient, rusting, odd pieces of machinery. Round the back of the tasting room, an open door led to a very suspicious-looking ‘wine chapel’ with graffiti, pictures of semi-nude women and artistically-draped bunches of grapes adorning walls which could undoubtedly tell more than a story or two if they could speak. History lurked at every corner and indeed, many of the guests had more than their fair share to contribute as well with Cape legends such as Dave Hughes, Dave Biggs and Colin Frith holding forth on their roles in making the SA wine scene the success it is today.
I must say, I went there with a slightly heavy brow and low expectations. Not that I don’t like port when I remember to taste it – but the problem is, that I don’t often remember to taste it at all, generally sticking to still wines such as crisp, lively Chenin Blancs or elegant, balanced Cabs and Pinots. It has a strong image of an ‘old man’s drink’ and I have had far too many awful examples over the years, served as tiny, thimble-sized glasses of heavily oxidised horrors, to have too much hope for any changes. Which is a shame, because we make extremely good examples – but still, who on earth is drinking them these days?
I’ll tell you who – smart, modern, young women – that’s who. And not only are they drinking them, they’re making them as well. Women winemakers like Margaux Nel from Boplaas, Alecia Boshoff from Riebeek Cellars and Marlize Jacobs from Vergenoegd, all of whom appreciate this drink for its rich warmth, elegant balance and ability to age gracefully and well – attributes many women would be proud to call their own. Top honours of the day were pretty much divided between Margaux and KWV with the latter taking the overall ‘Best of Show’ Trophy for the KWV Classic Cape Tawny N/V and the former barely able to stagger out under the weight of awards for her Vintage Port, Ruby Port, Tawny Port, Museum Class Port and – most interestingly – still wines as well.
Because this may well be where the future lies for port – not just in its smart, savvy, young female winemakers, but also in a whole new category of wines. For the first time, there were awards for still wines which contained port varieties, and the line-up was excellent. I enjoyed Axe Hill’s Machado and Overgaauw’s Touriga/Cabernet Sauvignon in particular and then, from two of the ladies above came the Vergenoegd Runner Duck 2010 (R50) with around 40% Touriga Nacional, and Boplaas’s Woolworth’s Portuguese Connection - fabulous, individual, interesting wines offering a whole range of flavours completely out of the French norm. I think this is definitely the way to go – if we can persuade people that these grape varieties aren’t scary and unfamiliar, but tasty and delicious, then surely tis but a small step to opening up the wonderful world of fortified wines to them as well? I certainly do hope so.