Traditionally, South African wines — especially the reds — have a reputation for being less-polished than their Old World and Oceanic counterparts. There’s even an Afrikaans word used to describe the rougher reds that the country had a reputation for: dikvoet, meaning “thick-footed”. This reputation, however, is a gross over-generalisation considering that the country has a longer winemaking history than Australia, and has the necessary micro-climates to produce quality vino — which they do.

Hence, the Nederburg Wine Auctions.  Considered one of the most prestigious auctions worldwide, the annual event is the oldest auction in the New World of wines. Each year in September, attendees both local and international gather at the Nederburg winery in Paarl to bid on some of the best, rarest and representative vintages from wineries all over South Africa. The auction is open to all producers in the country, and it’s where reputations are made.

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For Singapore’s first, and currently only Master Sommelier (an extremely rare title, with only 274 in the world), Mathias Camilleri, it’s the perfect opportunity to introduce vinophiles in Singapore to the possibilities of South African winemaking. For the Singaporean market, Camilleri has curated a selection of rare vintages, the Auction Exclusive Collection — we spoke to him about his haul post-auction.

What were some of the wines that you really wanted to get after the tasting?

There were many but a must was the sweet wine Edelkaur. It’s a sweet Chenin blanc, part of the private bin category — very special because they can only be purchased during the auction so it’s very exclusive. It’s also part of the history of Nederburg. This is the historical wine that led to the formation of the Nederburg Auction in 1975 — the auction was created as this was the only way to sell the wine due to its higher than legal residual sugar limit.

Being able to taste it is a privilege because I had only heard and read about it up till then. The quality is stunning – the Chenin blanc grape is one of the main varieties over there, very important in SA. They do it in different styles: sparkling, dry and sweet wines. This is a perfect example and expression of how Chenin blanc should taste like. It’s an affirmation that SA is definitely one of the best countries producing Chenin blanc.

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How did your understanding of the Singaporean market affect your considerations?

South African wines don’t have enough libraries or back vintages in the world. Singapore is such a cosmopolitan country with diverse and rather sophisticated palates; I wanted to see how we could bid for and build a collection that can be shared with consumers back in Singapore.

It’s your first time at the auction, what was that like?

How it was organised was very clever I think. For sommeliers and wine buyers, it was very necessary to have a pre-tasting of all the wines on auction. I had the opportunity to discover some wines in SA that I had never tasted before as there were many rarities and vintages. In that sense, South Africa, unfortunately, doesn’t have enough libraries on the markets.

One of the grapes that shone the most there was Cabernet Sauvignon, especially the wines with a little bit of age. There was a beautiful 2003 vintage that — for me — had everything to compete with all the best Old World wines from places like Bordeaux. It’s absolutely mind-blowing.

How was the experience of bidding like? 

The auction is like gambling, there’s something unique in the atmosphere that’s very dynamic. Sometimes you win… and sometimes you lose. The difference is that when you lose, you keep your money so at least there isn’t that risk!

Many people have misconceptions about South African wines (like they’re cheap drinking, tend to be over-extracted etc.) — what do you think are some good examples that will change people’s minds?

Any wines from the Nederburg Auction Collection!

One of the wines that was very important to me is named after the legend behind Nederburg – his name is Gunter Brozel. Brozel has been the main winemaker for more than 30 years and he created a great reputation for the estate. He’s the one responsible for curating the Edelkaur (Chenin blanc).

Gunter Brozel signing bottles for a charity auction
Gunter Brozel signing bottles for a charity auction

Funny story: he’s famous for being a biker, and goes around all the vineyards chasing the best grapes on his motorcycle. He’s a legend for creating a cuvee called the Motorcycle Marvel. It’s a blend of Grenache, Carignan and Syrah. The wine is the perfect tribute to this man: it’s simultaneously juicy, refined and spicy, which reflects Brozel’s spirit. I’ve met him — the guy’s very old but is still extremely passionate.

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The Auction Exclusive Collection is available at:

 Cé La Vi; 1 Bayfront Avenue Marina Bay Sands Tower 3. Tel: 6508 2188

Restaurant JAG; 76 Duxton Road. Tel: 3138 8477

1855 The Bottle Shop; Marina One East Tower, 5 Straits View #01-24. Tel: 6251-1855