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Tim James: Drinking some older Cape whites


We’re inevitably still learning about how the wines of the Cape revolution are maturing (though no doubt we’re also drinking many of them too young). But as the years pass, there are more wines reaching their decade, making respectable vertical tastings possible – and potentially fascinating. The first Mullineux vintage (of Syrah, White and Vin de Paille), for just one example, was 2008, so the eleventh iterations should be in barrel now. Whether those 08s will feature in Winemag’s Ten-years-on tasting, I don’t know – but there’ll be others (producers can enter here).

When Eben Sadie organises, as I hope he soon will, a fifteen-year vertical of Palladius as a parallel to the past year’s vertical of Columella, we’ll get at least some further insight into whether the modern Swartland whites are ageing as well as the reds. That’s something that we generally tend to doubt, but I’ve recently had mostly good experiences of maturing white wines. For Stellenbosch, Tokara Director’s Reserve White from 2011 and 2012 showed very well indeed, for example, with no signs of tiring and a great deal to offer, when I drank them late last year.

But the most splendid Bordeaux-style white that I think I’ve ever had from the Cape came a few weeks ago, with a beautifully poised and harmonious Vergelegen 2006. I found notes I’d made some ten years ago about the first seven vintages of this wine (2001–2007), for a World of Fine Wine report which also included the first six vintages of Palladius (2002–2007) – and in fact the youthful 2006 had showed less well than most of the others. I wrote: “Seems to be at a delicate, shy stage in its development. A comparatively closed nose, and the presence of concentrated fruit is most clear on the long finish. Clearly an elegant, lightly rich wine, with a fine texture, and likely to reveal itself more fully in years to come.” Well, at 12 years of age, it was magnificent. I only wish I had more bottles of it.

An interesting comparison came a few days back, when I had a welcome visit from Jo Wessels, a young local sommelier who’s doing a wine business degree at Geisenheim in Germany (and a part-time stint as sommelier for a restaurant in Wiesbaden). The previous day he’d given a tasting of unusual German wines to the Sommeliers Association, and he brought me the remants of that, which had some good surprises (who knew that some producers were taking poor old Liebfraumilch seriously?).

Another cult wine from the Swartland. Image courtesy of Winethegap.com.

Jo also brought along a bottle of the maiden vintage, 2010, of David Aristargos, from David and Nadia Sadie – half chenin, with viognier and verdelho, all Swartland grapes but made at Lemberg in Tulbagh, where David was then winemaker. The colour was good – a mid-gold, but age more than development was obvious on the nose, with hints of oxidation in toffee notes that grew stronger over the next day. Not much freshness, then, but plenty of developed flavour, a fatness (with a bit of oiliness perhaps from the viognier, which I’d guess was the component that was pushing the wine’s negative ageing), but a good succulent acidity. Pleasure to be had still from this Aristargos, but definitely it was past its best (the latest vintages are a rather different blend, though still cheniin-based).

Not so the bottle of Sadie Kokerboom, which I brought out to match the vintage. The 2010 was the second year this wine had been made for the Ou Wingerdreeks, from semillon (both red and white) off a dryland vineyard in the Skurfberg area of the Olifants River. The colour was a more vibrant yellow than that of the Aristargos, the first sign of its greater youthfulness. Complexity of aroma flavour, with an edge of varietal waxiness; a touch of phenolic grip, and plenty of obvious power and richness (with a declared alcohol of 15%), but the warmth balanced and integrated with the flavour, and the whole not without a graceful element – dependent on that excellent balance. This (well-stored) Kokerboom has a good few years to go, I’d guess, but undoubtedly already shows the benefit of seven years of bottle age. I hope there are many more bottles out there still to be opened and to give the incomparable pleasure of a mature fine wine.

  • Tim James is one of South Africa’s leading wine commentators, contributing to various local and international wine publications. He is a taster (and associate editor) for Platter’s. His book Wines of South Africa – Tradition and Revolution appeared in 2013.


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