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Chateau Libertas 1940

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Venerable.

Chateau Libertas might be a “paragon of value and drinkability” according to Platter’s 2012 but the truth of the matter is that this 80-year-old Distell-owned brand has been running out of puff. “Supermarkets started it using it as a loss-leader and discounting it heavily. We got stuck in Obikwa and Tall Horse territory,” says marketing spokesperson Jackie Olivier.

How to revitalise the brand? For one thing, a packaging make-over (see here) which will hopefully get punters to engage with the brand once again. For another, a vertical tasting going back to 1940 to demonstrate the excellent value relative to price that this brand has delivered over the decades.

Production of the fantastic 1978 amounted to 300 000 litres and the wine sold for all of R26 a twelve-bottle case. Volumes grew to an all-time high of 2.2 million litres in 2000 and now sits at 800 000 litres, the 2010 having a recommended retail price of R34 a bottle.

1940: 16/20
Predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon but including Cinsaut and some of the Port varieties. Abv 14.93%. Decaying forest floor, orange rind and caramel on the nose. Rich, thick textured and mellow on the palate. Not unlike Tawny Port.

1957: 17/20
Marmite, earthy, truffle-like notes on the nose. Good vinosity. Dark fruit, fresh to the point of tart acidity and fine tannins.

1962: 15.5/20
50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Pinotage, 10% Gamay, 5% Cinsaut, 5% Shiraz. Red fruit, spice and slight vegetal overtone on the nose. Medium bodied, appealing but no great intensity, moderate acidity.

1978: 17.5/20
60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Cinsaut. Lovely fynbos perfume and red fruit on the nose. Juicy and fresh on the palate. Great fruit expression for its age. Delicate but very flavourful. Well balanced.

1982: 15.5/20
70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Cinsaut. Red and black fruit as well as tobacco on the nose. Medium bodied with bright acidity and fine tannins. Lacks intensity but not without charm.

1994: 15/20
60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 20% Cinsaut. Dark fruit, herbal edge. Austere and lacking distinction.

1999: 16.5/20
Red fruit on the nose and palate. Relatively rich and broad with good fruit concentration and a hint of spice. Bright acidity lends balance. Entirely satisfying.

2000: 15/20
Red and black fruit on the nose and palate. Acidity appears quite sharp making the wine feel angular and awkward.

2009: 15/20
Slight reductive note. Dark fruit on the nose and palate. Medium bodied, bright acidity, little tannic grip. Simple but not unpleasing.

2010: 14.5/20
Very reductive. Black cherry on the nose and palate. Light bodied, tart acidity and finishes quite short.

9 COMMENTS

  1. Almost 15% abv on a bottle of 1940…I was thinking more in the region of 12%. Any idea why so high? Suppose no chance of talking to the winemaker about that vintage….

  2. The speculation was simply that it was a vintage that contributed to super-ripe fruit. Something to be said for the preservative effects of “high” alcohol…

  3. The current obsession with Alc/vol overlooks the fact that many of the greatest wines ever made have been 14.5% or over. And that many are still drinking well, and will continue to do so for years to come. It’s just a number on a bottle…what counts is what is in it, and how it tastes.

  4. I guzzled down some Chateau Libertas 1967’s in the late nighties, at a time when I had a only very superficial interest in wine (in order to make space to move house, yikes!). No idea what the vintage was supposed to be like, but I really regret that now. I did try make it special for my even less interested in wine guests but still…

    On the ABV, I’ve read that Barolo from the 50’s and 60’s also used to easily reach 15(plus)% ABV, but then Nebbiolo winemaking has changed so dramatically in the last 30 years even the so-called traditional style, it’s probably hard to say what it would have been with current day viticulture. At least it’s not an exclusively New World issue.

  5. It was said at this tasting that the 1940 had been matured partly in old port pipes (barrels), which might have contributed to its deep colour. I wonder if some alcohol might have leached into it as well (I don’t know if that’s possible; surely not much anyway)… The alcohol level is anomalous compared with other vintages of that period. But don’t forget that the famous Chateau Cheval Blanc of 1947 was also approaching 15% alcohol at a time when Bordeaux was generally 11 or 12%. But the fact that some wines in standout vintages can be in superb balance at that level of alcohol (and this 1940 had a remarkably high extract too) does not at all give blanket justification for high alcohols, any more than the glory of a top model in sawn-off jeans and a tiny top means that the girl next door can get away with it (!?).
    Incidentally, I liked this 1940 much more than Christian apparently did – I thought it superb; remarkably fresh and elegant, complex, with some sweet fruit still, along with a herbal note. It’s the second time I’ve had the 1940, and this seemed to me the better bottle. For me it is an undoubtedly great wine, comparable to some great old Bordeaux I’ve had. There can be not many wines from anywhere in the world at this sort of age that would show as well. (At least some other tasters at this remarkable occasion shared my opinion, incidentally, including Joerg Pfuetzner, who was sitting beside me.)

  6. The 1940 certainly was impressive – mostly for lasting as long as it has. Seeing, or hearing what the vintage is, of course, has its own psychological impact on tasters. (One wouldn’t expect, given the situation, that an ‘off’ wine would be served.) However impressive, I agree with Christian that the 1957 was a finer wine (in ‘vintage’ terms.) I couldn’t quite understand why the presenters seemed to ‘talk’ it down. There was a remarkable fresh fruitiness on the nose and zing on the palate (in my glass, at least). And, yes, the 1978, was great too.

  7. Hi christian, i recently bought a case of the 1999 from the bergkelder based on your assessment here and its really nice to drink. I would have never thought a modern day chateau libertas would be good after 15 years. Im learning every day.

    • I recently opened a 1989 60th anniversary bottle of Chateau Libertas. It was 12% abv and in perfect condition and balance and drank beautifully, poised with perfectly preserved and pure fruit. This is the 2nd bottle of this wine I have had over the last few years and both were remarkable albeit not in the same class as the GS Cabernet 1966. Another bottle drank and enjoyed tremendously was the Meerlust Rubicon 1986.

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