The relevance of vintage

Some South African vintages stick in the mind, usually when they yield brilliant or underwhelming wines. Unsurprisingly, 2015 immediately comes to mind as a great year, even though many of the premium wines have yet to be released; 2009 and 2003 also received general acclaim, the cream in the latter standing the test of time (there’s no point in hanging on to wines meant for immediate or early pleasure). At the other end of the scale, 2014, 2008 and 2002 have yielded some indifferent wines; there are always exceptions.

Exceptions along either scale would be the whites. Even now, with all the praise heaped on our white wines, talk of ‘vintage quality’ invariably centres on reds. It really is time this perception changes. Whites deserve their own vintage recognition; 2002 produced its own crop of excellent whites, while enthusiasm for 2011 grows among several of my colleagues and I; it is rarely spoken of as a top red vintage. I’d also suggest on the whole whites mature, ie gain in interest and complexity, better than reds, which hang in there, their tannins softening without much else changing. I very much doubt contemporary high alcohol, sweet-finishing reds will become silk purses.

Ageing wine and its relevance is a topic currently under the spotlight of several articles. Matt Walls has written a realistic, if concerning article on Tim Atkin’s website about the decline in the number of establishments/individuals ageing wine and shift in styles to earlier drinking. He concludes: ‘But we need to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater’, suggesting winelovers will be impoverished without the experience of drinking older, mature wines. Consumer taste, cash flow, suitable storage conditions, lack of sufficient properly trained staff; all play a role in this shift. Yet every year at the Old Wine tasting prior to the Trophy Wine Show, so many youngsters’ (and international judges’) eyes are opened by the excellence of the 15 to 50 or 60 year old whites and reds poured. Surely every producer can and should keep a library of at least a few cases of their top wines for future reference.

klein-constantia-rhine-riesling-2007-labeVintage, rather than ageing, specifically referring to white wines is my topic here. I had to think about 2007, as I had no cast-in-stone opinion; a quick dip into the cellar turned up a handful of whites and just one red (a topic for cooler weather, later in the year). Checking a vintage report I wrote, there was a 40C heatwave in some areas, lasting for up to a week, followed by cooler weather and rain. The conclusion was there’d be some very good whites from cooler areas with many reds having good fruit, soft tannins and early accessibility (probably why they are virtually absent in my cellar), though top reds would be keepers.

klein-constantia-riesling-2007It was hot, riesling called; Klein Constantia Rhine Riesling 2007 was the answer. (Only from 2010 vintage were producers allowed to use riesling without the Rhine or Weisser qualifier.) It got off to a magnificent start – just look at that gorgeous brilliant yellow gold colour. I was then quite surprised to sniff a whiff of kerosene or petrol, having anticipated a more honeyed bouquet from the usual input of botrytis. Dipping into Platter 2009, taster, Roland Peens wrote ‘Steely 07 … shows arresting bone-dry minerality. Shd benefit from few yrs cellaring.’

Roland’s note does tie in with what I’m tasting, with toasty/leesy enrichment developing as I sip it over several days. A tense, vigorous acid ensures a lingering but clean finish. No, there’s no botrytis and it does appear to be bone dry, which is unusual.

Without much thought of success in being able to confirm this, I went into the Klein Constantia website, where to my surprise and delight, I find under the Estate Wine section not only details of the current Riesling (2015) but all those going back to 1997. Bravo, KC, what an invaluable source; I wish more producers would provide similar useful information. That info confirms 2007 was an early harvest, healthy riesling with no rot and very good acidity, taken off end February. Looking at that analysis (and screwcap), I’m not surprised ten years has taken no toll on this riesling, just the opposite.

I do prefer the vintages with a touch of botrytis and residual sugar as an aperitif; with 2007, my thoughts turn to oily fish, pork, fennel, anise and other spices.

Consider yourself lucky if you or any wine-friendly restaurant you visit have a bottle of Klein Constantia Rhine Riesling 2007; you’re in for a treat.

If our white wines receive so much acclaim, surely the white wine vintage should receive proper recognition too.



4 thoughts on “The relevance of vintage

    1. Happily, so have I, Kwisp. As a matter of interest, under what conditions do you keep your wines? In the dark, away from machines (washing/dish etc), constant temperature. For whites storage conditions are more important than reds but even the best ageworthy whites have a degree of tolerance for how they’re kept.

      1. I still have a 2003 KC as well, which I last tasted about three years ago. It was very good and I thought I’d give my last bottle another few years. Good SA Riesling matures surprisingly well, something I first learned back in the day from Paul Benade.

        My storage space is not ideal, Angela, but I hope to get it better in the near future when we move house. I will then invest substantially in a wine room. Currently, I also have a dedicated wine room. It’s pitch dark and nowhere near any vibrations. Humidity is kept at around 70% and it’s extremely well insulated. During winter it’s about 13 degrees C (great), but during summer it’s closer to 20 degrees C (which is the main thing that I want to improve). Day and night temperatures are pretty much the same, so the only temperature changes are the very gradual ones between seasons.

  1. I’ve thought 2014 was a good vintage, Kanonkop Pinotage 2014 is in UK shops and I’ve bought a lot of it and it’s enjoyable drinking now. However, because of usual delay in RSA wines getting to UK I’ve only drank one 2015 red so I am looking forward to future shipments

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