Tim James: A handful of well-matured wines
By Tim James, 24 October 2022
Time to move on to some actual wines. I wrote some weeks back about the costs – financial and emotional – of having what might, if you’re generous, deserve the collective noun “cellar” (though the wines are dispersed over four wine fridges of various sizes, professional commercial storage, a friend’s more-proper cellar, and a cupboard). And last week I got a touch sentimental about some special older bottles which seem doomed to stay unbroached until some harder-hearted day dawns.
But I have done some rationalising and tighter-packing of the wine fridges (and the cupboard), to make space for half a dozen cases I withdrew from the commercial cellar. And I’ve done some drinking of wines that thrust themselves into my attention space by mutely suggesting that it was perhaps time to drink them – many of them single bottles, a few still with siblings remaining in the cool dark. I’m happy to report that the cool darkness had worked well, and those I opened were all in prime condition, and all had undoubtedly benefited from their sojourn there.
I’ll only mention here some locals (as they mostly were, along with a very decent but modest 2014 red bordeaux and a puzzling 2008 Vosne-Romanée). My vague settled opinion is that I should start wondering about the freshness and maturity of most good local dry whites when they’re about five years old, though some will happily mature to 10 years, some much longer (for example, I haven’t had the Boekenhoutskloof Semillon 2004 for a while, but I’d bet it’s doing beautifully, and I reported earlier this year on the great and surprising pleasure I got from some older Klein Constantia sauvignons – of all thing! – going back to 1997). As for reds, the serious ones from serious varieties should make their decade, and after that, well – generalisations peter out.
Of course, it is the more unexpected successes that stand out of my drinking. I expected Sadie Skerpioen 2013 to still be armed with its sting at just short of its decade, and it was. Succulent, forthright and fine and there’s no immediate hurry to drink up my last few bottles. Sadie Palladius 2014, too. This is the oldest Palladius I now have. Reporting in November 2019 on a vertical tasting of the first 15 years of Palladius, I was pretty hesitant about anything before 2010, and most enthusiastic about those from 2013 onwards. I said of the 2014 that it was “grippy, delicious, fresh and lovely, certainly needing more time in bottle”; it was “the first from the new Palladius cellar, with no oaking until the blend matures in foudre for its second year.” I wouldn’t say now that it needs more time, but there’s certainly no hurry.
Another white from 2014 was Momento Chenin Blanc Verdelho (From Darling and Bot River in that vintage). I hadn’t expected the power, the liveliness, the energy showed by this wine, and yet it remained as subtle as it was in its youth. Really good wine. The way it has matured fully justifies the 15% verdelho that Marelise Niemann put in – it has all the excellence of chenin, with a green herby something from the verdelho that has developed very well. The Momento Grenache (Noir) 2014 is also drinking very well now – but not quite as exciting as the white.
The only other older white drunk in this cellar realignment period was Thorne & Daughters Rocking Horse Cape White Blend 2017, which didn’t seem “older” at all; its developing nicely, with a good few years to go. Always one of the best such wines around. You can’t really go wrong with Thorne & Daughters whites. I’m occasionally a bit doubtful about the Wanderer’s Heart red blend compared with those, but my recent 2018 was very good. Not necessarily for the long haul, nor on a par with Rocking Horse, but good.
Leeuwenkuil Heritage Syrah 2013 was a remarkable wine in its youth, “powerful but exquisite” I described it in Platter’s back then (it got its five stars), a big improvement on the maiden 2012. Suffice it to say that it is drinking even better now and pretty youthfully. No hurry, but not much to gain, I suspect. (The vineyard is pretty well neighbour to Mullineux’s Roundstone farm; for me the developmental potential of moden Cape syrah still needs to be experienced and discussed – commentators don’t do enough of that, I fear; see my notes on older Mullineux syrahs here).
The development of the best pinotage in bottle is seldom questioned, I think, however controversial the inherent quality of the grape may be. While it does seem to me a grape that can very easily go wrong when vinified, I have over the years, somewhat to my surprise, become an admirer – not least with regard to its increasing appearance in a lighter, new wave guise. Nonetheless, I was a trifle surprised by just how deliciously convincing was Delheim’s Vera Cruz Estate Pinotage 2013. Under Reg Holder (who arrived at Delheim in 2012), the wine had become less oaky and more restrained and elegant. The 2013 has a way to go, I suspect, but it already shows the quality of this grape when it is not overdone in the vineyard (in terms of over-ripeness), and overworked in the cellar. If I had the rest of a case of this wine, I’d be very pleased indeed, to dip into it over the next decade. But sadly not.
Even pinotage’s greatest admirers might hesitate to rank it against cabernet, but I enjoyed the Vera Cruz more than the only cab-based wine in this collection, Vergelegen V 2005. It took me back to the early years of this century when Vergelegen seemed pretty unassailable as the Cape’s foremost winery, and André van Rensburg was regularly photographed with an armful of trophies. It’s rather difficult to believe now, perhaps. V was always intended to be a blockbuster, perhaps more in the style of Napa cab than Bordeaux (even at a time when Bordeaux was at its most assertive). The 2005 is certainly that. The tannins are resolving beautifully, the fruit is developing tertiary characters, the balance (on a big scale) is fine, except that it remains too oak-influenced for my tastes, and the whole is just a bit sweet, augmented by the alcohol (14.5% it says on the label, but that is pretty certainly rounded down). It’s got time to go, this wine, and many will greatly enjoy it now and for some years. Me – I’ll admire it abstractly, but that’s all, I don’t want to actually drink it. Vergelegen is still making red wines like this – beautifully making them, but assertive, big and powerful stuff. It’ll be interesting to see what Luke O’Cuinneagain does from next vintage on.
- 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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