It’s not often (for me) that a sauvignon blanc is the undoubted winner in an implicit battle against a well reputed, cabernet-sauvignon-dominated Bordeaux blend. Im talking here of foreign muck in both cases, which means a Loire sauvignon versus yer axshul Bordeaux – actually the second label of a Super-second (which starts to sound like those careful British class discriminations: “lower-upper-middle class”, or, more appropriately in this case, “county but not absolutely top-drawer”).
It was last week. I had stayed over in Stellenbosch on the first night of an “Advanced brandy course”, of which I shall no doubt speak further at some stage, and had arranged to meet my pal Chris Williams (winemaker of Meerlust and The Foundry) for dinner. Chris is, I’m happy to say, the only person in the whole world whom I have taught both literature (a course in Oscar Wilde at the University of Cape Town when he was doing his BA and I was, briefly, doing some teaching) and wine (when he was doing his Diploma studies at the Cape Wine Academy, in the days when that institution still wanted me to teach for them).
Chris, having long since recovered from my attempts to educate him, was to bring the white wine to dinner, and I the red. We ate, very satisfactorily indeed (especially the hors d’oeuvres) at Helena’s restaurant at the Coopmanshuijs Hotel in Stellenbosch.
White first, served blind of course: it was clearly a well-matured European wine, and easier to say what it wasn’t that what it was. I finally decided on an Austrian gruener veltliner of about 10 years of age, but then at the last minute wondered if it were a sauvignon blanc. Just in time, as that is what it was, but older than I could possibly have guessed. A Sancerre it was, from the well-known house of Henri Bourgeois, the wine called Jadis in recognition of its old-style winemaking, and from 1998!
In fact I’d had quite a few younger bottles of this wine, which was brought in when Richard Kelley MW was working for Vinimark and did a bit of importing for them. On the night, this wine was superb. Excellently balanced, showing no sign of ageing – only the enhanced complexity that comes with maturity on a deserving wine, and without any of the crude pungency which even fine Sancerres can show after a decade or more in the bottle.
And what a bottle! I remembered that I’d never seen a punt of such extravagant dimensions on any bottle in my life, and I still haven’t. You can see it rising behind the label in this image. Incidentally, I’m impressed to see you can buy the 2010 vintage (at least a decade too young for drinking!) at Caroline’s Fine Wine in Cape Town, for R379.
Perhaps any wine that followed would have been a let-down. It wasn’t hard for Chris to identify it as a Bordeaux, and he correctly moved to the left bank, to the Médoc, but he thought it was pretty young – and indeed it was showing very youthfully. In fact it was a 2002 (a workmanlike but not-bad vintage, which seems to be perhaps declining a bit in reputation now, for reasons I understand). I was myself very surprised, and very disappointed as I’d expected something more classy than this. It was modern, rather vulgar Bordeaux, somewhat over-oaked, over-ripe and generally overdone and lacking vitality – all the things which have made me move away from the Bordeaux that I’d learnt to love above all else when I drank the more modest wines of the 1970s from Billy Hofmeyr’s cellar at Welgemeend in the 1990s. Not at all bad, you understand – we finished the bottle, after all! – but less than one might have hoped for. It could have been a pretty good, but not supreme, younger effort from Stellenbosch.
It was, in fact, Clos de Marquis, the second label of the grand producer Château Léoville Las Cases. I was expecting more, and am not thrilled to have a few bottles still. But I have to keep reminding myself not to expect as much from Bordeaux as in the good old days, which is why I haven’t bought any in recent years. I see that this wine is selling in London for about the same price as the current vintage of Henri Bourgeois Jadis. It rather breaks my heart to say that I’d rather go for a sauvignon blanc than one of the fine names of Bordeaux, but such is modern wine life.