Not wishing to be overly dramatic, I nevertheless suspect the recent “IBMP tasting” at De Grendel will go down as a pivotal moment in how top-end reds are assessed among local critics. Here it emerged that many of those actively involved in passing judgement on wine quality are inclined to prefer wines towards the greener end of the flavour spectrum, the justification apparently being that such wines are more elegant.
In the modern era of wine, a tension exists between two basic theories of wine aesthetics. The classicists prefer wines of elegance and balance, these supposedly better able to express terroir while the modernists advocate better fruit expression, more palate weight and less aggressive tannins, this all achieved via more precise viticulture and winemaking technique.
The pendulum tends to swing back and forth between these two positions, and it just might be that wines which are under-ripe and overly green have been excessively privileged for the last little while.
Apropos of the above, it is always interesting to contrast the vintages of 1997 and 1998 with regards to Stellenbosch reds. Cool, wet 1997 tended to produce refined, medium-bodied wines while relatively warm 1998 produced rich, full-bodied wines. For a long while, I thought I preferred the 1997s but after my “re-education” at the hands of De Grendel winemaker Charles Hopkins, I’m inclined to re-look the 1998s in a more positive light.
For dinner recently, Cordoba CWG Cabernet Franc Merlot 1998 next to Kanonkop Paul Sauer 1998. The Cordoba was better than regular release Cordoba Crescendo 1997 drunk recently (see here) being less mean and tart, although still very much about red rather than black fruit and medium bodied. Lots of savoury character and firm but fine tannins. Score: 17/20.
The Paul Sauer 1998 was rock ‘n roll but sitting at stylistic extreme. During a blind tasting in March last year, I scored this wine down (15/20), noting “super-ripe fruit, hollow mid-palate, astringent finish”. Drinking it sighted now, I found myself much more favourably disposed to it. It has a very expressive nose of cassis, cigar box and earthiness while the palate displays plenty of pure, concentrated fruit, smooth but not slippery tannins and moderate acidity. Depending on your frame of mind, it can easily be considered a superlative wine (18/20).