Emerging from nearly two months of chewing my way through plantations of oak in young reds alternated with brashly bracing young whites – whew, some of those 2013 whites are nothing if not intense – you might well imagine all I’d want to drink would be a cold one, or three.
Well, I would have had it not been for my step-grandson’s 21st this past week. Even though he wasn’t here – he’s a student at the University of New York in Abu Dhabi, where he was celebrating – I felt a well-matured red wine would make a more suitable toast.
Time to dip into one of the most-difficult-to reach-bins in the cellar, that devoted to Kanonkop, mainly Paul Sauer. First out of the sleeve was a 1990; James (step-grandson) did suggest a 1992, would have been more appropriate given the occasion, but the shelves are bare of that 21-year old.
From the outside, my 1990 it looked in perfect condition (see photo); the ullage was as if it had been bottled yesterday; apart from a tiny bit of seepage and a glistening of crystals, the cork was in excellent condition, emerging smoothly and in one piece; oh, and free of taint – thank goodness.
My hopes were further raised by the quite glorious colour – the garnet ruby glow of maturity but also glowing with life; it was something that deserved more than a quick glance. How often do we really study the colour of today’s red wines? I guess so many, with their opacity look so dull by comparison.
A properly mature wine is full of its own memories; I like to think those remaining tartrates hold many of them. But beyond its clarity of colour, this 23 year old had a composed aura of clean leather and tobacco, which themselves couldn’t quite deny still recognisable scents of cabernet; so mature and yet at the same time so fresh! Layers of flavour, too, not shouting but quietly unfolding with memorable length. Like a perfectly focused photograph, there were no fudgy edges and like true beauty, no extraneous detractions – obvious oak, over-extraction or high alcohol (oh, for the days of 12% alcohol again! NB look carefully at that back label: age of vines, projected optimum drinking!). Young winemakers may doubt the ripeness at 12% alc; I can assure all this wine was ripe; I have a theory that under ripe and over ripe wines age (well those that do) rather than mature; it’s only those harvested at optimal ripeness that really evolve more complex flavours.
Frustratingly, I cannot find what I paid for the wine; I’d have purchased it on the futures system that Kanonkop ran for a few years. For the following vintage, also bought through the futures’ system, I paid R160 for 6 Paul Sauer (yes, roughly R25.50 per bottle!), the cab was R145. What a buy! I reckon that 1990 (given provenance and condition) would now be worth a good R800-R1000.
There’s been some recent chat on Twitter about perfection, with several high-profile wine writers saying they’d never given a perfect score on whatever scoring system they use. I think this misses the point. There are occasions to throw any scoring system into touch and just enjoy the wine in your glass for what it is. This particular wine might not have gained the 100/100 from James Molesworth or Jamie Goode, but I’d have said ‘bah humbug’ to them for even thinking of scoring, rather than just enjoying the hedonistic experience, an experience of perfection for me.
And talking of experiences, today’s young winemakers should make it their duty to hunt down and drink these old wines; they would offer a good insight as to what the Cape can and did produce and, hopefully, their own future goals.