Confidence of age

Confidence is an inspirational quality, it drives so much that is positive. Confidence was the focus of Agricultural Economist, Wandile Sihlobo’s presentation at the recent Vinpro Information Day. Defining confidence as the belief that one can have faith in or rely on someone or something, Wandile told the audience that confidence drives growth in the economy, the subject most discussed by South Africans.

But what drives confidence? In agriculture, there are two major issues of concern: one is rainfall – when there’s less than annual average, confidence lowers; the other is land reform and the uncertainty surrounding how it’s being handled. Obviously there are other issues such as grape and wine prices, where, for many, low levels lead to low confidence in future sustainability. There is also the question of declining vineyard area, many making way for other more economically viable crops; some were likely no good for quality wine anyway.

But, thank goodness, there are many proven vineyards producing the wines which so excite international journalists, wine buyers and consumers. Vineyards, even when there’s a change of winemaker, that are so consistent, even under a new pair of sensitive hands, still produce star quality.

View from Cape Point Vineyards restaurant across vineyards to Atlantic Ocean

Cape Point Vineyards Isliedh is one. Riandri Visser joined as Duncan Savage’s assistant in the cellar in 2014, taking over the winemaking reins when he left in 2016. Her first solo vintage was 2017, a vintage she celebrated with a Platter 5* with Isliedh; this was one of several received by the wine, including the now 10-year-old 2009.

Riandri confirms that since the maiden 2003, all the sauvignon blanc and semillon have come from the same vineyards, producing consistent quality fruit year after year. While acknowledging how incredible the site is, she’s never over-confident nor takes its quality for granted; ‘I respect the vineyards and mother nature; each vintage is different and has its own challenges.’ As stand-alone vineyards (there are no others in the area) Riandri has to make her own judgements on everything from anticipating the weather to when to pick; the Isliedh blend is always in mind when that decision is made. ‘To reflect our unique terroir, it’s vital to harvest at just the right time.’

Vinification has always been about making adjustments rather than wild changes. ‘We stick to basics but adapt to situations,’ Riandri explains; ‘for instance clay amphora are used mainly for semillon, but sometimes sauvignon; oak barrels are always from the same cooper, but toasting is based on vintage with less new oak nowadays. Every change is made only with the idea of improving the wine,’ she concludes.

Well now, how has Isliedh 2009 stood the test of time? The blend is 85% sauvignon, 15% semillon, which compares with 2017s 77% sauvignon blanc, 23% semillon.

I guess most winelovers are more familiar with a young Isliedh, distinguished by its cool climate lemon grass, tangerine and honey purity; 10 years on, they have retreated, if not entirely disappeared, but of more interest are the light toasty notes of mature semillon. Not toast from oak, rather an inherent quality of the variety, more akin to toasted nuts or oats (an aroma I’m familiar with thanks to making my own muesli). There’s a good swish of semillon’s rich silky texture braced by sauvignon’s fresh acid, but sadly neither allow for great complexity or length; the culprit, I think is 14.5% alcohol. That the wine is still enjoyable, if never fully satisfying, stands testimony to both quality in the vineyards and winemaking.

I’d suggest now is the time to enjoy any remaining bottles.

Next, let’s see how a 10-year-old 100% semillon from one of the Cape’s oldest vineyards performs.

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