Flying back from Durban yesterday I got to see King Shaka International in the light for the first time. What a lovely airport. From the moment you step out the car there is fun to be had. The gentle slope down from the car park was too much to resist as I hopped onto the back of my trolley – they have perfect little spots for your feet – and pushed off down the hill sending the elderly and the businesslike flying.
Grinning like school boy I came to a stop next to the new sculpture of King Shaka:
Hold on a second! Where’s Shaka?
Seems he’d left.
Apparently King Goodwill – whose wine we are familiar with – thought that the king looked too much like a herdboy and not enough like the warrior he was, so the King was sent away for a refit. I agree, he would have been a terrible herdboy just leaving the cattle unattended like that.
Getting to the point of this post. When I arrived at the airport last Thursday night I noticed that The Stables Wine Estate had opened a wine bar / shop / tasting room just inside the entrance/exit to the airport. This presents a lot of options. You can pop into a wine shop when you arrive and visit a wine bar when you leave; or have a tasting when you leave and a piss up when you arrive.
Anyway. Obviously I stopped by on my return for a tasting and a bit of a chat.
Look, I know that there has been a bit of mud-slinging going on about the wines in KZN of late, and I really do not want to get into that. Firstly because I do not know enough about it – Jeanri-Tine van Zyl touched on it in a story that ran in the June issue of Wine Magazine and didn’t like The Stables at all – and secondly because so far it hasn’t seemed very interesting. What I will say though, is that ever since I knew about The Stables and saw their bottles, it was quite obvious where the wine comes from: the Sauvignon Blanc is wine of Origin KZN and the rest is not. Simple. But that is just my experience.
This, therefore, must be one of their Sauvignon Blancs.
It is important as I am not really interested in tasting wines grown in the Western Cape and then vinified in KZN. I am interested in wines grown in the province of my birth. As such I am not going to describe the other wines in the range. The wines made in from bought in grapes are OK, but you can get far better wines for less that are grown and made in the Cape.
I think the idea of branding a wine shop/bar/tasting room at an airport is great. It seems a good way to expose a little known brand to all types of people with the bonus of them being able to taste the wines right there. The idea of selling other wines at decent prices also seems like a smart move. I spoke to the manager who told me that already businessmen are picking up bottles of wine and bubbly rather than stopping at a liquor store on the way home.
Let us start with the wines.
The 2008 Experience Sauvignon Blanc was OK. Fruity and green, but not over the top, fresh and clean with a little grapiness toward the end, and the faintest nudge of muscadel. An attractive Sauvignon Blanc if a little weak. I thought it needed a little more oomph . Although I have found that some Sauvignon Blancs go through a weird dip in their second year, so we will have to see. The problem is that it is sold (from the shop not off the wine list, an issue I will come back to) for R95. At that price it is competing with the likes of the Iona Sauvignon Blanc 2009, Klein Constantia KC Sauvignon Blanc 2009, and the Oak Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2009. It reminds me of Bafana Bafana, who I want to win but know that the opposition are too strong.
It does have (that wonderful phrase) a Unique Selling Point or USP. Bleh, I do not think I am a fan of USPs, sounds too close to a delivery company or a computer connection. Unfortunately, despite the wine’s uniqueness it is overpriced
The other Sauvignon Blanc is the umKhosi 2007 which tries to be even more unique by spending a year in tank before being bottled. I am not entirely sure why they have done this, especially as it is cheaper than the newer vintage. I mean older Sauvignon Blanc is not the most fashionable and sellable commodity in South Africa. But I am a fan of older whites so I was keen to see if this was an improvement on the first wine. The time in tank and bottle certainly gives it a golden hue.
There was a a strange lanolin nose to it, and I immediately thought of a house in the 70’s – I have no idea why. I found some pineapple as well which followed through to the palate where it was joined by a little honey and a fleeting moment of lemon. I preferred this wine as it showed a little more complexity, but it too felt a little tired. It had an oxidative character to it which I am not sure I liked. Again I think I can find better value at a R85 price point.
The tasting of four wines is R35 which is not waived when a purchase of their wine is made. I told them that like kissing a bergie this left a bas taste in my mouth and should be changed.
Despite the wines not tickling my Wahoo, I think the whole venture is a good marketing move. That was, however, until I received the bill.
A glass of the Experience Sauvignon Blanc is R65. Woah. The umKhosi is R55. Whoa Whoa (that is a double Woah). And there I thought they were avoiding the stupid prices airports charge – so naive, *hangs head* . The glasses were very nice though.
It was not the prices of the other wines on the list that I cared about, but I would have thought the wines made by The Stables would have been a bit cheaper.
They guys running the place seem committed to making it work and it appeared that they took my suggestions seriously and asked what else I would do differently. They didn’t have the lurking Cape Town “we know what we’re doing so fuck off if you don’t like it” attitude, which was refreshing . The service was good and their knowledge of the products they were selling was fair, but definitely needs improvement. The Stables have positioned themselves so they are representing South African wine to visitors who might not make the trip to the winelands, and as such they should be offering as accurate and well informed description of our wines as possible.
I love the obscured sign in the window. I thought it might be a lifestyle clothing range for the criminally minded.
All in all I think it is a good addition to the airport and a venture that I truly hope works. The other wines they are selling and offering in flights for tasting (from the shop) are of very good quality at prices that are fair; and this is only a good thing for South African wine as many visitors from foreign shores will hopefully purchase them. We will just have to be patient to see if the wines from The Stables improve.
*I have been told that the wines of Abingdon (also KZN wines of origin) are very good, as soon as I get a taste I will let you know what I think.
*I asked a couple technical questions that the guys behind the bar were not able to answer so I am going to email The Stables and will be posting the responses here.