With the prospect of a long, lazy Saturday lunch holding more appeal than watching the Springboks inevitably dispense with Italy, I decided to open the 2002 vintage of Christine, the Bordeaux-style red blend from Constantia property Buitenverwachting. This is generally a wine that I would place among the top examples in the category, age worthy for a decade and longer, but being from the much-maligned 2002 vintage, I suspected it would be at its peak, if not slightly past it.
The problem with 2002, at least in Stellenbosch, was high rainfall in January and a subsequent outbreak of downy mildew (see Vriesenhof’s Jan “Boland” Coetzee’s comment on vintages in reply to a previous posting here) and the resulting wines have tended to be thin and prone to evolve extra fast. Constantia’s not Stellenbosch, but the two wine-growing areas are not that disparate for me to have held any great expectations of the Christine 2002.
If the mark of a skilful winemaker is to make a good wine in a difficult year, take a bow, Mr Kirschbaum, incumbent at Buitenverwachting since 1992. The wine was outstanding with dark fruit, firm but fine tannins and fresh acidity. It was impossible to describe it as full-bodied as might have been the case had growing conditions been a little more favourable, but it showed youthfulness, balance, elegance and persistence. Complete serendipity.
As I gulped it hoping the bottle wouldn’t finish too quickly, it did make me think of Constantia Glen, which is also endeavouring to make an ultra-premium Bordeaux-style red. This property has recently attracted comment from Grape’s Tim James (here) and Sunday Times’ Neil Pendock (here) after it took the no doubt difficult decision to lower the price of its maiden release 2007 from R350 a bottle from the cellar at launch last year to R245 now.
James implies that it is a better wine than it has been given credit for. He writes “it hasn’t performed well in most of the competitions it has entered” (making particular reference to a rating of 2 Stars in the August 2009 issue of WINE magazine) and that “the poor big-tasting results reflect more on the competitions than the wine, as so often”. Thank goodness for “sighted tastings and considerations” where it has done “much better”.
I would counter that you can fool some of the people some of the time, but not all of the people all of the time. At the very least, it does not have nearly the same track record as Christine, a wine’s consistency from vintage to vintage surely a key determinant when it comes to making a purchasing decision. Constantia Glen has every chance of success (it has the highly competent Karly Lambour as winemaker and Dominique Hébrard, previously of Cheval Blanc is aligned with the project) but it’s going to take a while to establish its credentials. Current vintage of Christine is 2006 (with the release of the 2007 still some six months off) and it sells for R250 a bottle. It was cheeky of Constantia Glen to enter the market at R100 a bottle more than the established benchmark in its appellation; that the two wines now carry pretty much the same price is exactly how it should be.