Wines with body – and face

© Cape Times Friday 24th August 2012

For most things in life, a touch of the impersonal is fine. For instance, I’m not bothered about attaching too much personality to the brand of toilet paper I choose or which dish washing liquid goes into my sink every day. But when it comes to food and drink, I think many of us feel a little differently. There is a growing movement afoot for knowing where our food comes from and for buying it directly from the farmers or producers, thus giving us a ‘warm fuzz’ about what we eat and a belief in its innate integrity and superiority. Even the supermarkets have cottoned on to this, so our milk cartons allow us to meet the farmers who supply the milk (not personally, of course….) and large in-store posters show us the nursery projects which grow the herbs – it’s all about giving a face and a personality to big brands and corporations and closing the gap between producer and consumer.

It seems to me that closing this gap is almost more important in the world of wine than it is for food. Wine is such a sociable product and simply shouts ‘enjoyment, pleasure, fun, relaxing’ – all the things we like to do in the company of good friends and family. Sometimes people choose smaller, boutique wine producers to make up the party, with wines which tell tales and spin yarns. Now one of the biggest wine brands has ‘gone boutique’ and added some faces and personality to its new range – the Heritage Anthology Collection by Nederburg.

To be fair, these days Nederburg isn’t exactly faceless and lacking in personality anyway. The personable, charming and kind Razvan Macici, cellarmaster at Nederburg, has graced our TV screens recently, giving some human warmth and humour to the millions of litres mass-produced by the winery every year. In recent years, he has also ‘boutique-d’ the brand to embrace much smaller parcels of grapes, innovative blends and terroir-driven wines of real character and interest. And all these things combine in these new wines because, although it may seem that Razvan is the first personality behind this venerable brand, in fact its destinies have been shaped by several other remarkable men, four of whom have now been honoured in the bottle.

Starting with the oldest heritage hero, The Anchorman Chenin Blanc 2011 (R95) honours Philippus Wolvaart, the original owner of the farm in 1791. This is the wine which Razvan is most proud of – he used a Beaujolais-winemaking technique called carbonic maceration to retain freshness and balance the creamy richness achieved through judicious use of oak. The Brew Master 2009 (R105) and The Young Airhawk 2011 (R95) commemorate two generations of the Graue family who bought the farm in 1937. Johann Graue was a German brewer who actually trained as a viticulturist and helped revolutionise South African winemaking, introducing new techniques and improving the quality of planting material. His wine is a Bordeaux blend of mainly Cabernet Sauvignon. The Young Airhawk was the nickname of his son, Arnold, whose promising career was cut short by an airplane accident when he was 29. His wine is a wooded Sauvignon – a style which Razvan does so well – light amounts of oak only adding complexity and taking nothing away in terms of freshness or flavour.

The final wine is The Motorcycle Marvel 2009 (R105), made for the man who put modern Nederburg on the map – Günter Brözel. Meticulous, exacting and demanding, he created one of the iconic Nederburg wines (Edelkeur) and was the first South African winemaker to be named as International Winemaker of the Year by the International Wine & Spirits Competition. His wine is a Rhône blend of Grenache, Carignan and Shiraz – chewy, savoury, dark and dense. Apparently there are plans afoot for a fifth wine to be launched in coming months so perhaps Razvan will get the chance to put his own name on a bottle – The Television Top Dog may be coming soon…..