When do modern SA reds drink best?

By , 12 March 2020



I’m starting to think that life is a series of mishaps punctuated by good bottles of wine. It was approximately 01h00 this past Sunday when a green Jeep Wrangler hit various vehicles parked on street outside our house before crashing through our garage door into the back of my Honda CR-V and then fleeing the scene.


Earlier in the evening, we’d cooked lamb chops on the braai which we paired with the 2014 vintage of both Diemersdal MM Louw 2014 and Longridge Ekliptika 2014. A large part of the motivation for selecting these two wines arose as a consequence of the recent 10 Year Old Wine Report featuring the 2010 vintage and the vague feeling that to wait 10 years to broach modern SA red is, in many instances, to wait too long…

The MM Louw is the designation for Durbanville property Diemersdal’s pinnacle wines, the 2014 red being a blend of 64% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, 5% Malbec and 5% Petit Verdot while the Ekliptika 2014 from Longridge in Stellenbosch is Cab Franc-driven with Cab and Merlot also in the mix, alcohol of the former 14.5% and of the latter 14%.

It is interesting to note that the MM Louw 2014 never fared that well with the Winemag.co.zo panel rating 86 in the Cape Bordeaux-style category tasting of 2016 and again 2017  (the more modest Private Collection 2014 being preferred gaining a rating of 90 in 2016) while the Ekliptika 2014 found favour with a score of 91 in 2017.

Drinking these wines primarily for pleasure now, I’d ultimately be hard pressed to say that there is a very vast difference in basic quality. The issue with the MM Louw is that it is a wine premised on fruit power and the uninitiated are probably going to be more easily impressed as a result whereas the Ekliptika has more restraint about it.

That said, there is a sense that the passage of time has mellowed both of them and removed some of their individual outstanding characteristics that they showed in youth. Are they drinking optimally? I’m sure that they will go for a while yet but I certainly did not feel guilty of committing infanticide.

Moreover, when it comes to professional tasting notes, I’ve long since given up suggesting drinking windows as it is such an inexact science – wines of great reputation sometimes disappoint while the more modest can provide happy surprises when it comes to bottle maturation. Equally, there is one sort of pleasure to be had drinking wine very young and musing what it might become and a different sort drinking it old and imagining how it used to be. My contention is that when to open any particular wine should be entirely at the discretion of the individual.

In any event, lamb prepared over an open fire paired with something made in the Bordeaux idiom is a simple pleasure and these are to be savoured as you simply don’t know when you might find yourself standing in your nightclothes giving a statement to the police.


8 comment(s)

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    Simon | 12 March 2020

    I’m not sure that ageing of wines in SA is as well tested and analysed as in the Old World. Whilst the majority of SA wines are indeed made to be drunk young, there is certainly the quality and ingredients for longevity in many upper-end wines. The question is storage. The ideal cellarage conditions (even possession of a cellar) are not often found in SA and resorting to a wine fridge is not the answer to long term storage. I have seen many exalted collections of wine in houses in Cape Town, where the bottles are exposed to heat and light, the owner ignorant of the resultant effects. To blame the wine for what comes out, disappointing the drinker, is often a misplaced accusation. Drinkers need better education. But I am sure that many good SA wines would repay patient and correct long term storage – and that goes for a few whites as well, not to mention Port-style and dessert wines.

      Chantelle Gous | 14 March 2020

      I could not agree more. It is unfortunate that high-end restaurants do not place more focus on the storage of their wine. I have been to many restaurants lately with premium wine lists only to order a wine tasting like it got cooked, detracting from the dining experience. Not all consumers may pick this up (knowingly) but they do leave with a negative impression of the wine and the producer.

    jason mellet | 12 March 2020

    Awesome… I have a De Toren Book 17 2017…. when should I drink that?

    Rioja | 12 March 2020

    a nice story well written Christian – I think you are ready for that novel ! 🙂 I see the detective frequently drinking wine with something on the fire contemplating his case , life and wine.

    I have to agree lamb on the fire, red wine and music – how can it possibly get better?

    I though prefer a shiraz or shiraz blend with my lamb .

    Alan Duggan | 12 March 2020

    Your decision to abandon wine-drinking windows makes a lot of sense. I’ve had some happy surprises over the years, some when greed overwhelms patience and others when the opportunity appears to have passed (and the wine is still amazing). Sadly, I have also witnessed some heartrending disappointments, on one occasion when a bottle of red from a good stable, stored in a drinks cabinet since a wedding 20 years earlier and uncorked with much fanfare, turned out to be undrinkable. In another sad case, half a dozen bottles of excellent Cab Sav were ruined because (this still boggles the mind) they were kept in a rack about 2 m from a cast iron fireplace. The temperature variation over the course of a year was probably 20 degrees or more.

    Brian Jones | 12 March 2020

    “and the vague feeling that to wait 10 years to broach modern SA red is, in many instances, to wait too long…”

    This has certainly been my experience with some good quality SA reds. I keep them at about 15 C in a wine fridge and make a note to drink them before 10 years is up.

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