What’s a fair price to pay for good SA wine, where to draw the line?

LEADING UK wine scribe Jancis Robinson writes on her website that South Africa’s industry is at “a very strange, possibly critical, point in its evolution.” She refers to “a serious cohort of radical and cohesive young winemakers forging a new wine identity for their country” (some of whom she had never heard of, because they are so ‘fledgling’). “There is now a concerted effort to increase wine prices,” and at the 2017 New Wave tasting in London, recommended retail prices went up to almost £100/R1800 a bottle (for the Leeu Passant Dry Red 2015 made at the new Franschhoek cellar of Chris and Andrea Mullineux, who are based in the Swartland town of Riebeek Kasteel, and businessman Analjit Singh, of India). “The aim is to achieve selling prices that will allow grape prices to rise and become sufficiently attractive to farmers that they will not be tempted to pull out the older, less productive vines that may well make some of the finest wine…” For the full article, see here, and for more on the Old Vines Project, see here.

On release, the maiden-vintage 2015 Leeu Passant Dry Red was available in South Africa for R975 a bottle – a lot less than what it sells for in the UK, i.e. before you add shipping costs, agency and distribution fees and re-sale mark-ups, but still a lot relative to what we’re used to paying for top SA wine. The grapes came from vines between 36 and 115 years old (most SA vines are under 30 years old, if not under 20), the producer is one of the best in the country and critics around the world say the wine is excellent, outstanding, superlative… Is it worth it? Probably!

But where to draw the line? What is too much? How to justify a super-premium positioning? Who deserves to charge top dollar and who is being too ambitious or ridiculously cheeky? The Black Label Pinotage from Kanonkop at R1750 per bottle is probably worth it as the best from the most famous producer of wine made using the most successful South African grape variety. The Laurence Graff Reserve Cabernet might well be destined for greatness, but right now probably isn’t worth the asking price of R3500 ex-cellar. Even wine lovers with bursting piggy banks might hesitate to part with R1450 for The Garland, but surely a grand or more is justifiable in the case of the most exclusive red from the historic Vergelegen, for example, or the famous Vin de Constance nectar from Klein Constantia, for instance.

Naturally, price ceilings have to do with what makes the wine special, in part they’re about availability, supply and demand, and of course brand value is a factor – as are the prices being asked for various levels of quality and interest value from other top wine-producing countries that South Africa is competing against. And to most of us, most of the time, more relevant than the stratospheric price tags on the Rolls Royce and Ferrari equivalents in the world of fine wine, are the shifting bands applicable to the Cape’s simple quaffing stuff (below R80 a bottle?), the sort of wine good enough to make us start paying attention and want to know more (up to R150 perhaps?), really good stuff (up to R400 or so?) and the best of the best (up to R700 say?). Ahem! R14 to the US Dollar and R18 to the British Pound, last time we looked.

•  For some more of the highest-priced South African wines highlighted in a survey conducted last year, see here.


One comment

  • NO to ‘the.’ Cab Franc and ‘4G’ blends at R5000 plus per bottle. YES to higher prices for South Africa’s finest wines. Where to set the bar is one debate, and which brands can command top billing is quite another… But shouldn’t benchmark status in this regard belong to THE top properties with established credentials, shining track records – not to wines cloaked in mystery, with names that are pretentious if not preposterous?!

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