A tasting room at King Shaka International (sans Shaka)

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:

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Hold on a second! Where’s Shaka?

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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.

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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.

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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.

P1010016web They also stock some Champagne. The perfect wine for apologies, celebrations, reconciliations, marriages, divorces, births, deaths, thirst, jetlag, hope, despair, whatever.

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.

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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.

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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.

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8 comments on “A tasting room at King Shaka International (sans Shaka)
  1. Natalie says:

    I must say the bar looks really classy. It must cost them a fortune, though, to rent that space (hence the high prices of the wine). Would you be able to recognize that Sauvi blind? Was there any “sense of place” that would put it into KZN?

    • I am sure that is why there are high mark-ups, but I still think they should cut a bit off their own wines.

      A sense of place? Hmmm, I was thinking about that. I’m not sure if I could spot them blind, maybe the umKhosi. Since I have only tasted KZN wines twice it would be a little prematIure for me to talk of them expressing a KZN terroir. I thought the Experience Sauvignon Blanc 08 offers something different to Western Cape versions, but I have tasted far too little to pronounce anything other than that.

      I wish I had brought a bottle with me – I was planning to buy one but I had no money on me after I had paid the drinks bill and my card refused to work – so I could drink the whole thing and give an opinion on that.

  2. Christel says:

    I enjoyed the wine but am still chocking on the bill R81 f0r a glass of wine and a beer is just over the top as far as I am concerned. I feel sorry for the unsuspecting visitor who maybe put off before they have even left the airport. There is no other bar so they have the monopoly. An well presented venue but next time I think I will stick to coffee as my airport drink.

  3. Jeanri-Tine says:

    As you say, Sauvignon Blanc is Wine of Origin KZN and the rest is not. It is just that their marketing material suggests otherwise. I’ve been inundated with press releases since their opening, but when I went up for a visit I was ignored by all parties from The Stables. Now that just reeks of cat’s pee.

  4. Jane says:

    Harry! Pop in for a glass of Abingdon at any time – we’d love to see you! Its authentic KZN Estate wine and wont cost you R 65!

  5. Pieter de Waal says:

    Harry

    I had the great pleasure of staying at Abingdon Estate for a couple of nights last week. Ian and Jane were the most wonderful hosts and the only pity is that they are mostly out of stock. I did, however, get to taste the Viognier (good, clean fruit and well-balanced), Shiraz (very elegant and the 2009 from tank shows a lot of promise) and Cabernet Sauvignon (a challenging grape variety taking into consideration the climatic conditions of KZN – nevertheless well made and a few years of vine age will certainly lead to more complexity).

    I also went to The Stables and felt a bit ripped-off after buying a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc for R95 to still be charged the tasting fee of R30 (I was told upfront that I could taste 5 wines for R30 so shouldn’t cry about it, but in Cape Town we usually waive the tasting fee if a purchase is made). I found their (The Stables’) wine underwhelming and overpriced, but then again, you probably pay for the novelty and not the quality. I brought along a bottle of the Abingdon Cabernet Sauvignon (the only wine they currently have available) and The Stables Experience Sauvignon Blanc, so let me know when you want to taste and I’ll be more than happy to share the wine with you.

    An aside. Went for dinner at Granny Mouse. Wonderful food, great service and a wine list that will put many Cape restaurants to shame. We were drinking Cederberg Sauvignon Blanc at R78 per bottle, Boekenhoutskloof 2003 at R350 and Grangehurst Nikela 2001 at a little over R200. It seems they’re trying to shift some stock and I was definitely not complaining! A great evening by all accounts.

    Regards
    Pieter de Waal
    Hermit on the Hill Wines
    083 357 3864
    pieter@hermitonthehill.co.za

    • Hi Pieter,

      Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. You now take the lead in the longest comment on Wine & I. Sorry it has taken me so long to reply, but I have been wading through a sea of tourists, and the blog has suffered as a result.

      Next time I’m in KZN I will definitely popping in at Granny Mouse. Thinking of the Grangehurst Nikela is making me long for 17:00.

      I would love to taste the Abingdon wines. When are you free.

  6. Fiona says:

    Hi Harry
    If you’re keen to try Granny Mouse next time you’re in the Last Outpost, do yourself a favour and zip through Mooi River (really fast!)and visit Hertford House. Jackie Cameron is an unbelievably talented chef and the wine list is another thing of beauty. Plus they have all these pretty horses at stud, rolling green pastures and a broad verandah with comfy couches which just cry out to be lounged upon!

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