Wines both old and young

Thankfully, the incidence of cork taint has proved very rare in wines from our cellar; my fingers do remain crossed, just in case, especially when older bottles are concerned. My theory is that prior to screw caps becoming more popular, there was greater likelihood of cork problems, as the cork producers hadn’t by then started cleaning up their act.

I’m certainly not in the pocket of the cork industry and am quite as happy to open a bottle with a screwcap as one with a taint-free cork.

Working to the point of this opening comment, two recently-opened 2003 reds from the cellar were whistle clean; just as well as both were as satisfying as one could hope after having stored them for the past eight years or so.

ChristineBVWAn extra frisson of pleasure derived from cabernet franc’s fragrance, as well as the ripe, succulent flesh. Cabernet franc was a major player in Cordoba Crescendo with merlot and sometimes, as in 03, cab sauvignon as partners. Franc’s finer tannins, by now perfectly rounded, are carefully bolstered by those of the sauvignon. Clocking in at just under 14% alcohol and with the benefit of a great vintage, the wine remains fresh and balanced; a real treat. It is one of the Cape’s great tragedies that the label died.

No such tragedy is taking place at Buitenverwachting in Constantia. The 2003 Christine is proof that wines with higher alcohol – 14.5% is acknowledged – can age when well balanced. I’d say it has longer potential than Crescendo, but with a majority of cabernet sauvignon, that’s not surprising.

I remember trying to persuade Jancis Robinson and Riane Strydom that it should receive a gold on the Trophy Wine Show (of course, at the time I didn’t know which wine had so captured my imagination) but to no avail; silver was its destiny. Awards count for nought and for the past year, I’ve been reaping the rewards of the case I bought. The dominant cab and cab franc perfume remains in this elegant, mature wine.

I’ve had to wait a full six vintages before finding a better Christine; 2009 is a stunner, in a vintage which rivals 2003 but which I think in many cases has been better interpreted by winemakers. It was one of several wines, all served blind, at a recent ‘working’ lunch (we were supposed to identify wines and vintage!) at the farm with Lars Maack and winemaker, Brad Paton.

Around three years ago, at a post-harvest lunch with Maack and Tim James, we sampled the 09 cab franc from barrel; I had been waiting, impatiently to taste the final Christine ever since. Everyone, even cellarmaster, Hermann Kirschbaum, was visibly enthusiastic about the wine. So no surprise that franc plays a leading role with cab sauvignon, merlot and a drop of petit verdot. The major benefit this 09 has over the 03 and other vintages, is that it spent two as opposed to the usual three years in oak. There is greater suppleness and elegance with that seamless balance that will provide great drinking pleasure in 2019, but also now. Less is more indeed and for R270 you’ll be buying longevity, satisfaction and great value.

Vintage 2009 was as good for whites as reds; for those who are sceptical about the Husseysvleiageworthiness of 100% sauvignon blanc, Hussey’s Vlei sauvignon 09 should convince otherwise; it’s only now getting into full stride, its fresh profile balanced by a calm, weighty richness of fruit. I was delighted a couple of years ago, when tasting the wines for Platter, to hear Kirschbaum had decided not to release this label until a year after the vintage, as it does take time to evolve. Sadly, demand has seen 2013 already available. A much fruitier wine than 2012, which I prefer, but give it time.

Buitenverwachting doesn’t seem to receive the public attention it deserves. There’s lots of excitement in the experimental wines and assured satisfaction in the classics.

Much attention is likely to be conferred on Eben Sadie’s new Sequillo labels, initially more than the wine. They have eye-catching strength, but more than the bold colours, these are labels with a message.

SequillowhiteThe white wine label dwells on the farmer/worker strife at the end of last year; the group of small, banner-waving figures in the background with storm clouds gathering over them contrast the weather-worn, attentive wine grower harvesting the fruit of his vine in the foreground. The bird on the vine looks much less threatening than those larger ones carrying the marchers’ message far and wide (though the little ‘un would doubtless be tucking into the grapes were the labourer not there!). Well, that’s how I see it.

‘..we are sending this wine out with an illustration, open for interpretation, of the grower/labourer and vine with their love for the land in the midst of the uncertain economy and the marching of the masses,’ Sequillo website informs.

SequilloredThe red wine label reflects a different threat, that of the spread of industrialisation due to a burgeoning population. Again, there are threatening clouds but this time its smoke from factories and urban pollution.

‘A growing population and its demands easily create industrial realities which might seem obvious and unavoidable; and this artwork would have been truly sad if the grower/labourer chose to give up the right and not work the land, but there are countless people who take up this challenge every day and who keep going. We celebrate them.’ The website also wishes that the wine may ‘enhance many hours of good company – that is one of several good reasons why wine exists!’

I’m sure the Sadie family’s wish will be realised; they follow Eben and the Swartland Independents’ minimalist winemaking ethic (which makes the ultra-heavy bottles a disturbing contradiction) being naturally fermented, unfined and unfiltered with older oak only used as maturation vessels.

I personally prefer the white; 2012 is a vintage that strikes me as a keeper, structures on both whites and reds are fantastic. Filling this firmness is a rich vinosity with just a suggestion of the viognier that is part of the six-way, chenin based blend. It has a dense, almost grainy, chewy texture but finishes crystalline clean. I enjoyed it – with great restraint! – over four days. I have no idea how the flavours will evolve, I just know it’s going to be worth the trouble of keeping it for, oh, a minimum of five years.

The red, a 2011 syrah, cinsault, mourvèdre, grenache, tinta barocca (a new partner) and carignan blend, struck me as a little too ripe on first sniff but had much fresher and focussed flavours. I had decanted it six hours prior to tasting, then sipping over three evenings. I guess another four or five years should allow for good rounding of the firm tannic barrier. The flavours again reflect a whole greater than the sum of its parts with the characteristic red earth note I often detect in Swartland reds.

Both sell for around a really good value R126 and are closed with Diam cork.

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