The problem with 2004 is that it comes after 2003. I’m talking vintages here, rather than the blindingly obvious yearly sequence.
As those with long memories will recall, 2003 was one of the vintages of the decade, a bit unfair on 2004, as (unlike the Bordelais) not every year in the Cape is considered ‘vintage of the decade/century/millennium’.
This got me thinking about the first decade of the millennium, or ‘noughties’ and how they might rank.
Tentatively, and with less certainty about some than others, I offer: 2009, 03, 01, 05, 07, 04, 08, 06, 00, and 02. Totally coincidentally, it makes a neat arrangement of uneven years followed by the even ones. I should point out that this order focuses mostly on reds; in some lesser red wine years, for instance 2006 and even 2002, whites have done well.
But returning to the ten year olds. I see from a brief harvest report I wrote, some reds ripened unevenly, so required careful sorting, but on the plus side, full ripeness was achieved at slightly lower sugars, a benefit providing generally lower alcohols. Other positives in red varieties were colour, fruit and structure.
First out of the cellar to prove or disprove my views was Kanonkop Paul Sauer, mainly because I clearly remember announcing to Abrie Beeslaar at the launch that I thought it was one of the best and a terrific effort from him in his first ‘flying solo’ vintage. Former winemaker, Beyers Truter, had held his hand as consultant for Beeslaar’s first two vintages. I also remember Beeslaar showing some doubt at my enthusiasm; ‘it’s a lighter year,’ he remarked, meaning in substance rather than alcohol (which weighs in at 14%). This was echoed by my colleague, Tim James, in Platter 2008, when he tasted the wines and also noted ‘less fruit-substantial than usual’.
I still think it’s terrific and, after 2003, which I never really cared for with its larger than usual portion of cabernet franc, returns to a classic Kanonkop cab sauvignon-dominant style. That dusky, smouldering cab generally does everything to announce itself and its origin. It’s structured alright, as those don’t-mess-with-me tannins with their admirable freshness still remind – and whether they’ll totally resolve is arguable – but now some muscular richness is bringing greater balance – the substance that both Beeslaar and James found missing in youth.
If I have any qualms, it’s the suggestion of alcoholic glow but that’s a minor issue that the right sort of winter dish will sort out.
Bottom line, I’m glad there are further bottles in the cellar.
Not so sure about Boekenhoutskloof Syrah 2004. It’s a powerhouse, as is its ultra-heavyweight bottle; I’d forgotten Marc Kent used those. Thank goodness he’s now down-sized (weighted?), though the bottoms remain too large to fit in the sleeves. Kent’s wines certainly need no gilding but back to this wine. As I’ve suggested, it’s big (14.5% alc given on the label, not an unusual level for this wine) and dark, not just in colour, but also in mood; a sombre wine, something emphasised by a somewhat one-dimensional nature and lack of freshness. Looking back at my notes on the 2003, which topped Christian Eedes first RE:CM 10 year old awards, ‘freshness’ and ‘hidden depths’ were terms I used for that wine; they’re not appropriate for 2004. That said, it’s far from being a poor wine – there’s no over-oaking, nor extraction – it’s more a reflection of harvest conditions (was I too optimistic about lower alcohols? This very limited assessment of 2004 suggests so), but the alcoholic glow hinted at in the Kanonkop is here a little more prominent. No further keeping needed or advised here.
Admittedly this is a very limited look at the vintage, but then I didn’t buy into it with great enthusiasm, but there may be other varieties, other blends that have endured better.
I look forward to seeing how 2004 reds perform under the Eedes 10 year old awards’ microscope. I sense there could be surprises.