Time to go

At this year’s feedback session to the Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show it was good to hear the number and quality of Museum Class entries had grown. Even though most will have long sold out, their success confirms we are producing ageworthy wines, even if a four-year-old white or eight-year-old red (the minimum age for the Museum Class) are hardly old. As I commented at that event, a reputable wine-producing nation cannot be built on young wines alone. Given the still relative youth of our modern wine industry, it would be unrealistic to expect wines that improve over decades but a good ten to 15 years should be the minimum possible in a favourable vintage for both whites and reds crafted with ageing in mind.

Very little gets written about older wines, mainly because few people have the space to keep them, so what they drink is what is available at the supermarket or wine merchant; usually wines of no more than a year or two old.

We’re lucky enough to have a cellar where the wines are held at a pretty constant 16°C with sufficient humidity. So I cannot blame conditions when wines disappoint.
What I can look to is the vintage itself, something I’ve been doing recently with several 2008s, both white and red. I’d not invested much in 08s, one or two I buy every year, plus some leftovers from previous Platter tastings, so there’s but a small representation on the shelves.

It was while talking to Steenberg’s John Loubser at the recent Magna Carta launch that I thought I should open a selection of these six-year-olds. Loubser was bewailing this difficult year, a year when there was no Magna Carta, which must’ve been a difficult decision, as 07 was the maiden vintage, but Loubser was adamant the wine wasn’t up to their stringent standards.

Steenberg Old bottlesLooking back at my harvest report for Oz Clarke’s Pocket Wine Guide, I noted it was ‘dubbed “a viticulturist’s vintage’, as vineyard work primarily determined success or otherwise.’ The cold, wet winter extended into spring and early summer. Showers and humidity caused disease pressure, demanding extra attention to canopy management and grape sorting – hmm, is 2014 another 08, I wonder? The more typical hot, dry conditions arrived only in late February. I made no note of ageability but it didn’t sound a promising possibility then, nor, in my recent experiences has it turned out to be.

First off the shelves was Steenberg’s Semillon, darker in colour than some 07 whites I’ve enjoyed but not oxidised, in fact the waxy, lemon grass varietal character was quite clear, if lacking any depth. Simplicity best sums up the wine as a whole and although pleasant, it’s not hugely satisfying.

Jordan ChardonnayThe chardonnays – Jordan under screwcap and Ataraxia – showed lessChamonix Chardonnay typicity; in fact they were quite honeyed and, like the semillon, shallow. I liked them less. But, but there are always exceptions to the rule; in this case, I shouldn’t be surprised that it’s a Chamonix. I opened a bottle of Gottfried Mocke’s Reserve Chardonnay 08 about a month ago, before I’d started focusing on the vintage. You’d have thought it came from another planet, let alone another vintage, it was so alive and layered with flavour and ripe flesh. Not a hint of honey and far from being superficial. It was obviously no one bottle wonder, as the wine went on to win the trophy for best Museum Class Chardonnay at this year’s
Trophy Wine Show.

The two reds I’ve opened so far are Hartenberg Gravel Hill Shiraz, a wine I’ve always loved for its innate personality. While I don’t think the 2008 is up to the great 2000 or 2005, it has a presence the whites don’t and was, in fact, better on the second evening than just opened with more of a rumble to its dark spice and brilliance in its crystalline mineral core. It can still do with a bit of rounding off at the edges, possibly another couple of years,
Hartenberg Gravel Hillbut there don’t seem to be great depths of flavour yet to emerge.

I also opened a Waterford that was hand-labelled ‘CWG 2008’ but was closed with a cork branded 2004. Checking back in Platter, I’m reminded it is a 2004, destined for the 2008 auction! It’s a blend of shiraz, mourvèdre, petit verdot and barbera, which on yesterday evening’s showing (of course, there are leftovers for tonight), had more flesh and richness than the 08 Gravel Hill. As I’ve rarely been wowed by 2004 either, this made for an interesting, if hardly comprehensive comparison.

There are a few other 2008 whites (Vergelegen flagship, Beaumont Hope Marguerite) and reds (Boekenhoutskloof Syrah, Buitenverwachting Christine) awaiting their turn, but on the evidence so far, I’d say the white wines’ time is up (unless it’s a Chamonix or good lookalike) and keep a beady eye on the reds.

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