Today 10 vintages of Klein Constantia Riesling from the maiden 1986 to the as yet unreleased 2012 and including 1993, 1994, 1997, 2000, 2006, 2009, 2010 and 2011 in between.
The 26 years of production divided into two phases, the wines from 1986 to 2003 as made by the late Ross Gower in a semi-sweet style typically including some botrytis and then those made by his successor Adam Mason quickly becoming drier (the 1986 had the highest RS of the day at 16g/l and the 2006 the lowest at 2.1 g/l).
There are currently 80ha under vineyard at Klein Constantia of which only some 4ha are planted to Riesling and managing director Hans Astrom (appointed after self-made billionaire Zdenek Bakala and business associate Charles Harman acquired the property in 2011) is debating whether or not to persist with the variety.
It has to be said out of the 10 wines looked at in this exercise, few wines of excellence and a great degree of stylistic variation. Various questions present themselves: botrytis lends complexity but arguably obscures varietal typicity – how much to allow? A drier style might well be most favoured by the market but the wines tend to become rather dilute – what to do?
Significantly, Matthew Day, who took over from Mason in time for the 2012 harvest, is intent on moving “slightly sweeter” and envisages a residual sugar of around 10g/l. His 2012 is good, if a little idiosyncratic: fruit from a young block undergoing higher turbidity natural fermentation in old 500-litre barrels at super-cold temperatures, fruit from older blocks inoculated in tank.
I found it delicate rather than hugely concentrated, with subtle apple and spice flavours and bright acidity. I scored it 16/20, way ahead of both the 2010 and 2011 which were both rather plain.
Astrom reckons the 2012 provides Klein Constantia with enough encouragement to continue with the variety for a while longer but the question has to be asked: Should South Africa bother with Riesling? My feeling is that really high quality wines might yet emerge but these will come from specialists like Paul Cluver Estate and Howard Booysen Boutique Wine.