Early last Saturday morning, in Constantia Woolworths – not for the first time, I bumped into John Maytham (raconteur, fellow wine-adventurer and talk-radio man – but as I hate talk radio I don’t know the details of that). We irritated not a few other early morning shoppers by blocking an aisle while we chatted about older South African wines.
John had read my piece about being disappointed with mature reds (prime example in the prosecution’s case was Rust en Vrede 2000) that might be happily alive but are rendered difficult to drink by an excess of oak and of alcoholic ripeness. Indeed, said John with some vehemence, and mentioned a few of similar ilk.
This agreement (and agreement is always reassuring and encouraging at least) prompted me to delve further. So: Vergelegen 2001 – not the V, but the cab-based flagship blend. It was very good, forthright and lively, full of mature flavour, big and powerful, good for many more years. The long life of the best modern cape reds should really not be in question. You wouldn’t have to be a gerontophile, let alone a necrophile, to have got pleasure out of this top-class Vergelegen.
But – and I suspect John Maytham would have agreed – that “big and powerful” bit I mentioned is the bit that gave some doubts. John mentioned (in the supermarket aisle) the sheer drinkability and pleasure he had, by contrast, found in a modest burgundy a few nights previously, and that’s the telling point. The Vergelegen, though unquestionably a very good wine, remains more of a “tasting” wine, a display wine as it were, rather than a refreshing drink with dinner. Just 14% alcohol declared, but that can actually be rather a lot; and its all-new oaking, while not egregiously obvious, was part of the general impressiveness and part of the lack of ultimate grace.
Then came a digression into the 1990s with a bottle of Meerlust Rubicon 1996 brought round by a friend. This was, of course, a grim, damp vintage and although the wine is still alive an just-about palatable, it wasn’t worth finishing the bottle.
So to the next significant wine in this ongoing experiment. It was an ironical triumph. A triumph in that the Cordoba Crescendo 2003 – that generally excellent vintage for Stellenbosch Bordeaux varieties and for much else – was absolutely lovely. Cordoba was always one of my favourite local reds. This beautifully matured bottle proved more perfumed than I remembered this wine as being, full of lively fruit, lighter-feeling than any of my recent older wines except the Welgemeend 2001, but with more charm and fresh fruit than that wine. Really delightful, and if you have some there’s certainly no hurry to drink it up. Yet another advertisement for the often brilliant performance of cabernet franc (the major component in Crescendo) in Cape reds.
Of course, the ironical element of the triumph is that this was the last formal appearance of Cordoba Crescendo. Some 2004s were bottled and sold with ad hoc non-winery labels. The 2003 was bigger than some had been, at just under 14% alcohol. Oaking was all-new, I think, but totally integrated a decade later, and not at all inhibitive of the fruit.
By the way: the Cordoba property remains on the market, as far as I know (it was too outrageously pricey for American Charles Banks and presumably others too); certainly the label is in abeyance. The vineyards are reportedly being well maintained, and at least some of the cab franc goes (I rather regret to say) into a pretty good (but still “mere”) rosé. As to the maker of the 1993 Crescendo, Chris Keet: well, apart from some consulting work, he’s now got his own Keets Wines label, featuring the first-class First Verse bordeaux-style blend, made in the unshowy tradition of the Crescendo – though he doesn’t use any new oak. Chris’s current 2010 is excellent.