South Africa’s top wine shops online, on shelf, on price, on service, et al
THERE ARE plenty of wine shops with an online presence delivering South African vino to most corners of the country and around the world, but who’s doing the best job, how to weigh them up against one another, where to go for that elusive beauty or special bargain from the Cape?
A survey of which stores offer a good number of the very best wines from the Cape reduced the field considerably: there were only 10 merchants stocking five or more of the wines on a list of 12 that have among the best track records in the Hall of Fame and only two that had the full case, so to speak: Caroline’s Fine Wine Cellar and Makro (with Cyber Cellar, Wine Cellar, Norman Goodfellows and Bottle Shop having eight or nine).
The ‘dream dozen’ on the wishlist in this instance was as follows: four whites comprising Hamilton Russell Chardonnay, Ken Forrester The FMC Chenin, Kleine Zalze Family Reserve Sauvignon Blanc and Tokara Director’s Reserve (Blend); five reds, namely Boekenhoutskloof Syrah, Cederberg Five Generations Cabernet Sauvignon, Kanonkop Pinotage, Morgenster Reserve (Cab/Merlot Blend) and Saronsberg Full Circle (Shiraz Blend); a sparkling Cap Classique in Villiera Monro; Klein Constantia Vin de Constance Natural Sweet for dessert; and De Krans Cape Vintage Reserve (Port) to serve with the coffee.
And to gauge how well the Top 10 SA wine retailers shape up when it comes to their bargain bins for ‘everyday’ enjoyment – whites at under R80 a bottle and reds under R100 – the focus turned to bottlings from the Top 100 cellars that qualified for the SA Wine Classification on the basis of good track records and which were on sale somewhere at or below the specified price ceilings. In this regard, there were five outfits that stood out: Bottle Shop, Cyber Cellar, Makro, Norman Goodfellows and Takealot.
The white wines included in the SA Wine Classification that were selling for under R80pb: Altydgedacht Sauvignon Blanc, Bon Courage André’s Fame Colombard and Hillside White (Blend), Boschendal Chenin Blanc, Brampton Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, D’Aria Sauvignon Blanc, Diemersdal Sauvignon Blanc, First Sighting Sauvignon Blanc, Kleine Zalze Cellar Selection Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc, Lomond Sauvignon Blanc, Mulderbosch Steen op Hout (Chenin), Nederburg Chenin Blanc and Riesling, Neethlingshof Gewürztraminer and Sauvignon Blanc, Simonsig Chenin Blanc, Stellenrust Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc, Tokara Chardonnay, Windmeul Chenin Blanc and Reserve Chenin Blanc.
And the Classified reds selling for less than R100 a bottle: Beyerskloof Synergy (Cape Blend), Boschendal 1685 Shiraz and Shiraz Mourvèdre, Brampton Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz, Cloof The Very Sexy Shiraz, D’Aria SV Shiraz, Diemersdal Pinotage, Fairview Shiraz, Flagstone Dragon Tree (Cape Blend), KC Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot, La Motte Millennium (Blend), Neethlingshof Pinotage, Porcupine Ridge Syrah, Raka Quinary (Blend), Rustenberg Stellenbosch Shiraz and Stellenrust Simplicity (Blend).
Makro and Port2Port had the sharpest pencils in terms of the ‘dream dozen’, top wines at the premium end. Takealot and Makro offered the most competitive prices in their bargain bins of ‘everyday’ Classified wines, followed by Cyber Cellar. And/but wow do the transport fees vary a lot – in both structure and size.
Cyber Cellar kept it simple and offered one of the best deals on deliveries: R50 to anywhere in Cape Town, R75 to elsewhere in South Africa, free throughout the country for orders of R1000 plus. Takealot, however, charged R60 to deliver anywhere in South Africa, with no charge for orders exceeding R250. Makro charged R55 plus per trip, depending on travelling distance and the size of the order. Wine Cellar’s fee was upwards of R50 according to travelling distance and order size, with free delivery to anywhere in the country if the order exceeded R1500. The Bottle Shop levied a flat fee of R95 per (SA) order regardless of distance or quantity. And R100 per order is what Port2Port were charging, anywhere in South Africa, with the fee waived if you’re paying R1500 plus for the wine.
Wine.co.za price-tags are inclusive of delivery, which is why at first glance their wines might have appeared pricey compared to their competitors – and they charge extra if you order fewer than 12 bottles! Whereas Caroline’s, La Cotte and Norman Goodfellows do not disclose transport costs up front, stating that their courier fees depend on travelling distances and the size of the orders, requesting that you ask for a quote…
Telling as to how serious (or not) these folk are about wine, six advertised particular vintages: Caroline’s, Cyber Cellar, La Cotte, Port2Port, Wine.co.za and Wine Cellar – for the rest you have to enquire or be happy to take whatever year it is that they have in the warehouse. The same six sometimes stock two or more vintages of certain lines! And if it’s an interesting read or good advice that you want from your supplier, then Port2Port, Wine Cellar, Caroline’s and Cyber Cellar are your best bets – Caroline’s and Wine Cellar also renowned for the good wine tastings that they host during the year.
Best of these stores to visit? Spaces that you can browse around in, special places to go exploring, discovering? Caroline’s in Cape Town, La Cotte in Franschhoek and Norman Goodfellows in Johannesburg. Wine Cellar makes a thing of their cellaring and brokerage services, Makro isn’t much more than a warehouse where you shouldn’t expect much help on the floor from anybody knowledgeable about wine, whereas the other five operate online only.
To link to any of the Top 10 SA wine retailers, click on their logos above. Details of this Top Wine SA survey findings, including the prices of the wines when surveyed, are available on request via email.