Ten year test

As a new year rolls in, so predictably, I delve in the cellar for ten year old wines. The time span is arbitrary though it does feel like a neat circle and good test of South African wines’ – both white and red – ageability. Despite this motive, we usually drink most ageworthy white wines between four and six years, reds around eight years.

Smart packaging to match Vergelegen's very smart flagship white, now labelled GVB. 05 carries the former badge, on the right.
Smart packaging to match Vergelegen’s very smart flagship white, now labelled GVB. 05 carries the former badge, on the right.

The first 2005 was more a spontaneous than planned withdrawal from the cellar. Friends had kindly given us two crayfish, which immediately suggested a Bordeaux-style, dry white with some age and a good dollop of semillon: Vergelegen 2005 caught my eye and was dispatched to the fridge for short chilling. This isn’t the sort of wine and age that should be served too cold, which would destroy its texture and mature flavours.

For those who don’t remember, 2005 was notable for an incredibly hot summer; the Cape was also still pretty much in a drought cycle, as I recorded in the vintage summary I wrote for Oz Clarke’s Pocket Wine Guide:

‘The 2005 South African wine harvest has been described as the driest, wettest, earliest and hottest, depending on exactly where you are. Such was the difference, even within short distances, generalisations about the 2005 harvest are almost impossible. What all acknowledge is that the Cape is in the grip of a drought cycle; even with a burst of spring rain, those without irrigation will have struggled.’

Not a review to inspire great enthusiasm; I remember remarking within earshot of David Trafford that it wasn’t going to be a vintage year, so was more than surprised when he disagreed, saying how good his red wines were. Indeed, there is a marked quality difference between the two colours, but, as always, the meticulous and experienced made some very smart white wines as well. Naturally, André van Rensburg was among them, as confirmed by our comments at the 11 year vertical of his flagship white, held at Vergelegen in October 2012:

`2005 – 67% semillon/33% sauvignon blanc
A delightful surprise in such a hot vintage. The pale but strong lemony green hue suggests a youth found in the fragrant melody combining both varieties. Juicy rather than viscous with lively freshness, full body but concluding with confident firmness. Charming.’

Two and a quarter years later, that charm has dimmed a little; the wine still holds a remarkable colour (surely due to a good dose of free S02?), the flavours, especially semillon’s waxy, truffly notes, are still enjoyably present but the juiciness and lively freshness are dimming, leaving a residual suggestion of heat.

Casting analysis aside (anyway made on the left-overs the following day), the wine made a suitably grand accompaniment to the crays.

With further improvement unlikely, I’d recommend opening and enjoying any remaining bottles.

Reds, I hope will be another matter. I plan in due course to blind taste a selection with some friends. Reports will, of course, follow.

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