It’s been a great wine-drinking week, with some fine and fascinating wines so I’m sobering up with a bit of name-dropping. The most remarkable, I suppose, was a bottle of the famous GS Cabernet 1966, which Chris and Andrea Mullineux shared with me and Rosa Kruger at an excellent dinner at the Delaire-Graff restaurant after they and Analjit Singh had told me the interesting news of their partnership (see here).
I’ve had various experiences with the GS cabs (only two vintages made, remember: 1966 and 1968) – some excellent bottles, some poor ones. That weary bit of wisdom about there being no great wines, just great bottles applies most relevantly to older wines, of course. This one was served blind. The light was fancy-restaurant-poor, but the wine was fairly deep-coloured, with no very great signs of ageing. I’m sure better light would have given me a better clue, but I guessed mid 1990s, and my first guess at origin was California. It was rich, fresh, full of flavour, and still hinting at primary fruit. I reckon the most youthful bottle of this wine I’ve had, though Chris said the level was right down into the shoulder. I might have suspected a bit of cheating – but the cork was certainly authentic: tiny, black and shrunken.
The other wine that evening was some 45 years younger (a 2012), but even more rare in South Africa. If pushed to guess, I’d have gone to Swartland chenin, though not one that I knew. In fact this one WAS Californian, but a chenin made by Swartlanders – Chris and Andrea themselves. Their most “natural” wine so far, it was made with full carbonic maceration (unheard of by me for a white wine). The process accounts for the deepish colour (lots of skin contact) and the modest 11.5% alcohol (Andrea deftly explained why the initial intracellular fermentation of CM produces lower alcohol, but I’ve forgotten the details). Fog Monster, the Mullineux’s tiny US venture is called, in tribute to the great cooling influence that sea fogbanks play in parts of California, when they roll inland through gaps in the coastal mountains. Sadly, made in tiny quantities and not going to be released here. So there’s not much point in expatiating over what a great wine it is: elegant and fresh, deeply interesting, with enough weight to give it substantial presence.
The previous night had been another winemaker dinner – just me and Marc Kent of Boekenhoutskloof, at hospitable A Tavola in Claremont, one of the best Italian restaurants in Cape Town, where the service is unshowy but discreetly first class, the food tasty and good, and they allow one to bring one’s own wine, a crucial consideration for an evening like this.
NB, Marc uses a driver on such occasions, so don’t think either of us were driving home later. Earlier, at my house, we’d had a glass of Eenzaamheid Chenin 2011, which I enthused about recently and had an open bottle of in the fridge. And a glass or two of a wonderful, complex, oxidative Chave Hermitage blanc 1996, thanks to Marc. He also provided a grand red Rhȏne wine with dinner: 2007 Cȏte Rȏtie from Domaine Ogier. I enjoyed that a little more than the Parusso Barolo 2001 that I’d brought – a first-class wine, but in a pretty international modern style, with a glossy sheen of new oak. More ready for drinking than more traditional Barolo of that age, I suspect. I’d bought it on a visit to the Piedmontese estate some years back – I now wonder why.
Then a non-winemaking friend, on the Friday of a most unusually social week, brought another good, older South African red, though far short of the GS in years: Delheim Grand Reserve 1999. This was a very good vintage for Stellenbosch reds, though not as much admired as the 2008 by us ignorant critics at the time. The Platter Guide said “Drink 99s while waiting for 98”, which in my opinion has proved precisely wrong; it should have been the other way round. I was recently surprised and delighted by a Rust en Vrede 1998, but that was a rarity; on the whole the 1999s have matured and kept much better. The Delheim provided excellent drinking – not too sweet, well proportioned and balanced, ripe but neither overtly so nor egregiously powerful (the declared alcohol was 13.5%).
The oxidative white that night was a Swartlander, the Silwervis 2011, a wine that also illustrates, with a younger, very “natural” wine, the point about great bottles versus great wines; This was good, vibrant and flavourful – much better than the previous, oxidised one had been.
I think this coming week had better be a little quieter, though with the explosion of the Swartland Revolution at the end.
Talking of which – I heartily recommend the Street Party on Saturday 9 November, for which you can still get tickets I believe. The members of Swartland Independent will be out and about in Riebeek Kasteel offering their great wines. If you haven’t discovered what (still) the most exciting wine region in the Cape is all about, and you’re within striking distance of Riebeek, or if you do know what it’s all about and want to revel in it, this is an opportunity not to be missed. (Some details here.)