2015 – reflections

My luck has seen 2015 pour forth its share of wonderful wines and stimulating events, together far too much to cover in one piece, so here I re-savour the wines.
Scrolling through my notes, three major themes emerge: old wines, bubbles and international wines, with a certain amount of overlapping.

Old wines

Nederburg 5 decades bottles
Old wines were included in the five decades of Nederburg Cabernet presented earlier this week by ex-Nederburg winemaker (now chief winemaker at Distell) , Razvan Macici; he gave us a snapshot from the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s and 2010s. It’s not possible to give an opinion beyond each bottle opened of the oldest three; by that age, even when kept under identical conditions, bottles can differ substantially, the cork playing no small part. The ’66 (+-11% alc) confirmed the ageability a) of cabernet and b) of wines from that era. Alright, it looked murky and brown, but that tender scented sweetness, so typical of old Nederburg, was there. The fruit faded like Alice in Wonderland’s cat, just a shadow of a smile remaining by the time I finished the glass. Although pre-certification, Macici told us then winemaker, Gunter Brozel assured him his cabernets were made from cabernet.

My best of the line up was 75, maintaining the charming Nederburg profile, but with more complexity, flesh and structure. (A 76 poured at the Old Wine Tasting mentioned below was equally graceful and Nederburgish.) Both older wines were matured in 6000 litre oak vats, so oak dominance was not an issue now, if it had ever been.

Via 1987 (12% alc.) and 1997 (13% alc and made by Newald Marais), we reached what’s now labelled Nederburg 11 Centuries Cabernet Sauvignon, 2010, the current release, followed by 2012 (the latter, a Double Gold on Veritas, due for release in 2017). Quite simply, these are a new style Nederburg, reflecting the general move to ripe fruited, denser, bigger wines with the noticeable addition of new small oak. A million miles away from those 60s and 70s cabs. They’re very good, with all components in place to harmonise with time – 10, especially needing it and, I think, with longer legs than the already seductively drinkable 12 – but do they have an unmistakeable Nederburg thumbprint, like those earlier ones? Not in my opinion. Will they survive the long-haul like those earlier ones? Not in my opinion, redundant as I won’t be around in 50 years’ time.

I’m privileged to be invited every year to the old wine tasting held prior to the Trophy Wine Show. Here, whites are at least 15 years old, reds 25 years. For the few of us there, including the international judges, the occasion never fails to produce remarkable wines – a trio of 1965s, two of them cabernets – Alto and Zonnebloem plus Chateau Libertas – were the stand outs of the 32 wines this year.

Thanks to the cache of old wines Michael Fridjhon tracks down and buys, there were sufficient wines to later present to a group of young guns. An event much appreciated and will no doubt inform in some way their winemaking in future.

One might be justifiably less surprised at fortified wines reaching a grand old age with all facilities intact, as happened with the KWV Port styles from the 50s and 60s and even older Muscadels, the oldest 1930, I tasted thanks to Johann Krige at Kanonkop. One of my handful of ‘tastings of the year’.

From aged fortifieds to aged sparkling wines, Méthode Cap Classiques. The benchmark set this year was the maiden Graham Beck Blanc de Blancs 1991, opened at their 25th anniversary. Two versions, one six years on lees, 19 on cork (toasty development, the bubble lazy but persistent); the other, 25 on lees, degorged the day before tasting (more vigorous, creamy and long).

On the Champagne front, Billecart Salmon Blanc de Blancs NV, (available locally +-R960), deliciously illustrates how pure chardonnay bubbles evolve; creamy in texture with subtle nutty flavours.

The Beck duo gave me a point of reference for old bubblies from our cellar I’ve enjoyed thisBoschendal old bubbly year. The various bottles of Villiera, Boschendal, Simonsig and others, some dating back to the early 90s, have surprised in their still excellent pressure and purity of flavour, if lack of complexity.

We’ve since come a long way with this most technical of styles: gone are those very aldehydic, bready wines, today the best are subtle and elegant. The development of special cuvées now gives us MCCs with proper ageing on the lees and cork. A route the Barrows’ Le Lude, under the skillful and practised hands of Paul Gerber, is following. Their first NV Brut and Rosé were launched recently to rightful acclaim. Greater wines are in store.

English sparkling wine is carving an impressive name for itself, often out-performing Champagne. It’ll be interesting and a good benchmarking exercise to see how our MCCs do against an England and Wales sparkling wine 11, organised by UK Michelin star chef, Roger Jones and to be held at The Vineyard Hotel during the England cricket team’s visit here in January. As one of the judges, it’s an event I much look forward to and will certainly write up.

International wines
One of my best tastings of 2015 was Kevin Grant’s ‘What’s the fuss about?’, a line up of Burgundies he presented the great value Hemel en Aarde Pinot Celebration. He led us through six Premier Crus pinots from Chassagne Montrachet to Gevrey Chambertin. Burgundy tastings can be mixed, but this was excellent overall with Henri DeLagrange Clos Des Chênes Volnay my standout wine.

Two splendid riesling events were thanks to Dr Loosen and Balthasar Ress (new to me; wonderfully delicate wines) Loosen’s Urziger Wurzgarten Riesling Spatlese 1998 and Ress’s Rüdesheim Berg Rottland Riesling Auslese 2009 would make anyone a riesling addict, whether or not you understand the complications of German legislation, and the names.
Californian wine has changed a lot in recent years, not least where the vines grow. Cooler areas, such as Sonoma Coast are attracting attention . I was fortunate to attend a tasting hosted by Charles Banks, owner of Mulderbosch and Fable here but with wineries in California and New Zealand.

Pax Mahle, who’d presented his wines at the Swartland Revolution, showed his own Wind Gap Sonoma Coast Syrah 2013. Cool climate plus whole bunch ferment result in an intensely perfumed wine, full of punch: lovely!
Maycamus cabThe treat of the tasting was a mini-vertical of classic Napa (Mount Veeder) cabernet, Maycamus, culminating in the 1974, a wonderfully complex, restrained wine, the antithesis of what most imagine Napa cab to be. Thankfully, Banks and his winemaker, Andy Erickson, have no intention of changing the style.

There is so much competition around the wine world, there’ll be no letting up for South African producers in 2016.

Smart packaging, very smart wine.  Steenberg Lady R is one of the new-wave, long-aged, prestige cuvees.
Smart packaging, very smart wine. Steenberg Lady R is one of the new-wave, long-aged, prestige cuvees.

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