One cab, one competition, two dessert wines

I had cause recently to remember skimming through the latest edition of the grandly titled “Christian Eedes Cabernet Sauvignon Report”. I’d been struck by the use of the word “modern” to describe a wine I liked very much (more than Christian’s panel did) – and I’d wondered what was meant by the descriptor.

restlessriver Well, I had the wine again, prompting me to re-read the Report: Restless River Cabernet Sauvignon 2009. Restless River is not one of the best-known estates in the country, though I reckon it will become much better known, especially when their 2013 Chardonnay becomes available – I reckon it amongst the very best around. Restless River is in the Hemel-en-Aarde (I wrote briefly here about my first visit there a year ago), and one expects good chardonnay from that area.

But one doesn’t  really expect much in the way of cabernet, really, in that comparatively cool spot – and in fact it’s a risky business for Craig and Anne Wessels of Restless River, as they sometimes have to wait into April for the grapes to ripen. The Restless River 2009 is very good, however (definitely their best so far). This is how sommelier Joerg Pfuetzner describes it in the current edition of Platter, where he gives it 4.5 stars:

“Classy and stylish…. There’s vivacity and depth & rich, dark fruit (cherries, berries, plums), with a fine tannin structure, and a robust but balanced 14.3% alcohol. Sensitively oaked, just 30% new.”

As usual, I agree with Joerg (and might add that there a dry restraint to it, as well as a pleasing succulence). I frequently also agree with Christian Eedes, Higgo Jacobs  and Roland Peens, who were the judges in the blind-tasted competition behind Christian’s Report [later correction: not Higgo Jacobs, but James Pietersen]. But not at all in this case. Their description is:

“Very modern in style with ultra-ripe blue and black fruit plus a touch of liquorice. Dense fruit, smooth tannins and a slightly hot finish. Drink now.”

I suppose you could take that absurd (in my opinion) “Drink now” judgement in the context of most of the wines in the Report getting a modest maximum drink-by date of seven or eight years. As to modern – well, it’s whole-berry-fermented, naturally-fermented, off unirrigated vines, with not much new oak. Ripe, yes – but better to say that than “modern”, if that’s what’s meant!

And I suppose you could also take the less-than-munificent score in the context of the other wines receiving the same: Delaire Graff 2012, Kanonkop 2011, Le Riche Reserve 2012, Stark Condé Three Pines 2011, Thelema The Mint 2011 – all names usually ranked at the highest level of Cape cabernet but passed over in this tasting. (Interestingly, the panel rated the second-label version of Le Riche higher.) Even less admired by the panel were some other great names: Boekenhoutskloof 2011, Glenelly Lady May 2011 and Vergelegen 2008.

There’s no question that I would rather drink most of the above wines in preference to some of the big, fruity, alcoholic stuff (Spier, etc) that were predominant amongst the higher-rated wines. So, I strongly suspect, would most of the panel members. But that’s what the absurd tasting conditions of these competitive tastings do to one’s judgement. And yet, they continue, to the financial benefit of the organisers. And punters and producers seem continually taken in by them.

Oh well, I’ve said it all before, and no doubt will again….

Paul-Cluver-Noble-Late-HarvestAs to the two dessert wines I mention in my title – there’s no connection, except that I had them on the same evening that I had the Restless River. Both have good reputations, but only one of them seemed extremely good to me.

De Trafford Straw Wine 2007, made from air-dried chenin, was very sweet and raisiny, with nothing in the way of verve or freshness: listless and flat, in fact. On the other hand, Paul Cluver Weisser Riesling Noble Late Harvest 2003, at eleven years of age, was bristling with life, complexity and delight, with time in hand. Crucially for me it had the dry-effect finish that happens with the best dessert wines because of their balance. Cluver NLH was just pushed into second place (by Vin de Constance) in my Mail & Guardian poll voting for the Cape’s top dessert and fortified wines. It was certainly one that I voted for myself, and this magnificent 2003 was a happy reminder of why. How well would it do in a competition – who could guess?!

2 thoughts on “One cab, one competition, two dessert wines

  1. Hi Tim,First of all, thank you for engaging regarding the Cab Report. For the record, the judges were me, Roland Peens and James Pietersen (lest Higgo Jacobs’s name be unnecessarily sullied).

    The term “modern” seems to perplex you but what I mean by this is simply wines that show weight and power over lightness and finesse. As such, I suspect that there isn’t that much disagreement between you and Jorg and the Cab Report panel – “robust but balanced” alcohol could easily become “slightly hot” from one day to the next as “pleasing succulence” could become “ultra-ripe blue and black fruit”. Note what Restless River say themselves about their Cab on their website: “It’s aged four to five years before release, so it’s pretty much ready to drink, although being cab, further aging will be rewarded. The bold style expresses ripe, soft tannins and a rich fruit flavour that will develop further layers of complexity over time.”

    I don’t think it’s particularly helpful to knock the likes of Spier who might not make a style you care for but I’m quite sure know what’s going to be commercially viable at the top end of the market and are making wines accordingly.

    More generally, I’m the first to admit that blind tastings have their shortcomings but just because they’re difficult to do doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be done at all. One of the key purposes of the Cab Report is to facilitate debate. How often is Delaire Graff going to achieve excellence with its Reserve Cab given that it comes from a single site? Is Le Riche Reserve over-cooked as the new regime strives for the successes of yesteryear? Do you really want to drink a wine called “The Mint”?

  2. Thanks Christian. My apologies for carelessness to James and Higgo, both of whom I greatly respect! Let me just point out that I was not exactly knocking Spier, merely saying that I prefer not to drink wines made in that style. As to the Delaire Graff coming from a single site, so do Scharzhofberger and Romanee-Conti, and they are pretty good in most, if not all, years. I agree that Le Riche is ultra-ripe (too much so for me), but would still regard it as a benchmark of that style. And why knock The Mint (I think it very good)? It’s precisely that sort of “modern” attitude to the expression of herbal flavours that lead to the excesses of ripeness in Cab….
    Viva debate and disagreement! I daresay we’ll do more of it in the future.

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