2005 revisited

It’s become a bit of a habit, when sufficient wines of a particular vintage remain in the cellar, to hold a 10 year tasting. This time span is more about a round figure than anything to do with real ageability of South African wines, both white and red.

The line-up can be a bit of a mish-mash but the one constant is that the wines have been in the cellar since they were released or I received them for Platter (two bottles are always requested in case there’s a problem with the first)

Few wines do hang around for those 10 years, seven or eight is more likely, Thelema Cab and Kanonkop Paul Sauer. For whites it’s more likely four or five years.

From our small cache of unopened 2005s I chose: Vergelegen flagship white, Boekenhoutskloof Semillon, Hamilton Russell Vineyards Chardonnay and Hartenberg Weisser Riesling, with reds Hartenberg Gravel Hill Shiraz, Quoin Rock Syrah (the Kentridge label), Kevin Arnold Waterford CWG Auction, Waterford The Jem, Vilafonté Series C, Vergelegen Cabernet Franc-Merlot, Thelema Cabernet Sauvignon and Boekenhoutskloof Cabernet, presented in that order.

2005 line up‘As for vintage notes, this is what 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. After early heat, a December downpour in Robertson and an unusual, prolonged electric storm in the coastal areas at the end of January caused widespread rot among white varieties, decimating the crop by 15-25% but producing abundant botrytis dessert styles. Those who harvested before the rain or were ultra-selective have made fruity, fuller-bodied sauvignon blancs and chardonnays. The rain, however, benefited coastal reds; there should be some stars among all the major varieties.’

That last view notwithstanding, one encouraged by David Trafford’s enthusiasm for reds in particular, I believed the ‘stars’ would be few and far between. Big tannins and very ripe fruit were my biggest concerns.

Christian Eedes, Hennie Coetzee, Maggie Mostert, Ingrid Motteux, Tim James, James Pietersen (plenty of opinions among that lot!) joined Mark and me to find out how the wines had fared.

The Vergelegen, a 66%/33% semillon/sauvignon blend and Platters Wine of the Year in the 2007 guide was seen by some as having picked up green notes, but I thought it really showed the benefits of the partnership with semillon’s texture and sauvignon’s freshness, if a bit of vintage heat in the tail. It lasted well overnight too, so worth the 10 years. Less satisfying was Boekenhoutskloof Semillon (with a splash of unoaked sauvignon?); it lacked the wine’s usual silky viscosity, finished a bit short and didn’t improve.

HRV Chardonnay’s developed brownish gold colour was a giveaway; Ingrid Motteux summed it up as ‘shot’, I agreed. Some guessed it was chardonnay and gave it the benefit of the doubt but Christian said he’s had a much better bottle recently, so don’t write it off.

Most divisive of the whites was the riesling, liked by James, ‘complex with bottle age’, Christian ‘most detail’ and Ingrid, disliked by Tim ‘offensive oxidised sweetness’; Platter records 18 g/l. I liked the initial minty peppery notes and juiciness, but it all faded pretty quickly.

Hartenberg’s Gravel Hill wasn’t well liked; tasting it later that day, I felt it was oxidising, but that could’ve been a bottle thing, A few more of us, including me enjoyed Quoin Rock Syrah (the Kentridge label) with its expressive cured meat, smoky richness, sweet fruit and crushed velvet feel. Full bodied but well balanced. All right, the dissenters find it old fashioned and overly extracted. Christian ventured it was still reductive.

Cab franc, in its more Loire-like mode (leafy, spicy) did much to freshen and refine Waterford CWG, even though it constitutes on 10% of the blend (rest 80% cab with malbec). Tim and I both much liked it, but the ‘green police’ ie Christian and James were not having it. The Jem (mainly cab and shiraz with malbec, mourvèdre, sangiovese and barbera, a blend designed to illustrate this Helderberg farm’s terroir) caused some confusion, most finding it difficult to pin down what it was made from. There was less confusion about how it was hanging in there with good flesh, ripe flavours and freshness. It too held well over a day or so.

After a day, I changed my initial positive view about Vergelegen’s Cab franc-merlot, 05 the first since 2000, its evolved rich meaty (merlot) character and finishing succulence vanishing overnight; there was also a hint of bitterness. ‘Very ripe fruit’, ‘plush, seductive, aged but not evolved’, ‘big blockbuster style’, ‘international style’ were some of the views thrown at Vilafonté. It’s a style that one either likes or doesn’t, no middle ground and it needs food. I’ve followed this wine for a few years, hoping the tannins would eventually give in; not yet they haven’t.

So to the two cabernets. Although less to the fore than sometimes, Thelema’s minty notes and the wine was recognised. I felt it was a bit introverted but it really did blossom with time. Maggie found it elegant from the start, though she enjoyed the Boekenhoutskloof more. I also loved the Franschhoek cab, a classic style with time to go; Ingrid demured, finding it oxidised. Is all this oxidation a factor of over-ripeness?

Our overall conclusion from this small sample is that it’s not a great red wine vintage and any left in cellars are unlikely to benefit from further ageing.

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