Breaking silence with Bordeaux (and Crescendo)

Radio silence they might have called it back in the days when people spoke of radios, but probably the cellphone users of today would have trouble understanding the image. Blog silence, then. It’s been one of those weeks where I’ve hovered between thinking I have nothing to say and thinking that, well, even if I do have something to say, is there a whole lot of point in saying it? Blogs bring a whole new element to everyday existential questioning.

I wondered about being irritable about PRs again – the sort that send me an invitation to join in their Twitter virtual tasting party, asking me to “please RSVP” (do they have any idea what RSVP means?); then when I try to “RSVP” via their internet set up, there’s no provision for saying “no, thanks, I don’t want to join in”. And the sort that tell me they have a “gift” of wine from the producers, and expect me to open an email attachment. In response to the follow-up email asking me if I’ve read the attachment, I reply in polite but curmudgeonly fashion that, no, I haven’t, and have deleted the email, because I don’t want “gifts” from producers, but if they wish to send me a tasting sample, that’s fine. Sigh. Can they see the difference? Do they care? But the curmudgeonly mood got washed over by the abovementioned existential angst and silence persisted….

Rhino Tears CBlanc 2Then a third PR told me that she knows I “cover lifestyle content” (do I? it sounds awful – is drinking wine “lifestyle content”?) so I might be interested in the story about Mt Vernon estate’s Rhino Tears range of wines having raised over R100 000 “to be used in the war against rhino poaching within South Africa’s national parks”. There was an attachment or two here too, which I initially ignored, which was wrong of me seeing that like just about everyone on the world, except for impotent Vietnamese and the rich traders and poor axe-wielders that service them in the rhino-killing fields, I’m on the side of the rhinos.

So, do buy Rhino Tears wines ( don’t know what it’s like). There’s apparently a red and a white, selling “at around R55 per bottle, and R15 from each bottle goes directly to Unite Against Poaching. Wine lovers can be confident that 100% of the funds raised through sales of Rhino Tears are used for anti-poaching projects in SANParks.”

It’s also been quite a Bordeauxish sort of week, not to mention 2004ish, and someone not undergoing existential-blog-doubt should be able to write reams about that. I, however, will keep it to a weary minimum, and stick largely to conclusions. First up, over two nights, was a bottle of Château Lafon-Rochet, a Fourth Growth from St-Estephe. It was pretty satisfactory, with good fruit intensity, but also some of the sombre darkness that I like in Bordeaux, a quality which became less percurrent once the bordelaise started going for great ripeness and “sunshine in a bottle”, inspired by the success of Australia and Napa. Serious tannins, fairly fresh. It’s still fairly youthful, so I won’t feel any hurry to drink up my remaining three bottles.

Another 2004 turned up today, at a Great Domaines trade tasting featuring some mostly entry-level wines from the negociant Mähler-Besse and the famous Margaux Third Growth, Château Palmer. The Cheval Noir brand featured some unexciting but decent stuff – the Blanc was quite nice, but as it’ll sell for about the same price as the excellent Tokara Director’s Reserve White, you’d have to be an idiot, or a cultural cringer of the first water to go for it, in my opinion. The Rouge was a bit better than the average Cape merlot, but that’s not saying a helluva lot, and again you could find much better local versions for the price.

chateau-palmerThe Palmer wines were superior, of course, and vastly more expensive. We had the 2008 Alter Ego (sort of but not exactly a second label), which has a lot of soft but well-supported, balanced charm, with velvety tannins and a pleasing freshness. The 2007 Palmer was pretty vegetal (weedy was my first thought on sniffing it) and dank. Then the 2004 (it was a decent rather than very good vintage) – also quite lean, and a touch dull, I thought, but good, supple and elegant; a little richer and softer than my earlier Lafon-Rochet, I’d say, but also youthful enough. (The price in London looks to be around R2000, says – according to the price we were quoted today, it would be double that in South Africa. Don’t ask me to explain why, please.)

Some years ago I bought a case of the last Crescendo produced by Cordoba, at, I seem to recall, about R60 per bottle (can that be right?). Also 2004, with just a little monochrome sticker instead of the label. I’ve written before about this wine, and about the sadness of losing the cab-franc-based Crescendo, always one of my very favourite local Bordeaux blends.

Well, I drank a bottle over the last two nights, with a little overlap with the Lafon-Rochet. Perhaps, stylistically, it was closer to the Alter Ego than the two classed growth Bordeaux 2004s I had this week, having some more pronounced fruit. But it had a good dry finish and a firm, balanced structure, and I thought it really lovely, and my bitterness at the demise of this label re-emerged. It must be said that I drank my own wines out of  much more suitable glasses than the horrid little ISO things that we were given at the trade tasting, which didn’t do the wines any favours.

cordoba crescendoThere aren’t sadly, many local Bordeaux-style wines of the Crescendo quality (certainly not the Crescendo elegant style), but there are a few – Kanonkop Paul Sauer amongst them, of course. There are hundreds and hundreds of fine Bordeaux, which is why it remains the world’s greatest wine region. By no means all of them are at the exalted price levels of Palmer, let along the grandest labels – even the Lafon-Rochet was not many hundreds when I bought it from Wine Cellar in Observatory, admittedly some years back when the rand bought twice as many euros as it does now.

Bordeaux red is irreplaceable, though for sauvignon-semillon blends I’d not be distraught at having to stick to the best locals.

3 thoughts on “Breaking silence with Bordeaux (and Crescendo)

  1. Eish, I think I paid R70 for those same 2004’s (and 2006’s). What a bargain it was! I’m as bitter as you about Cordoba’s demise. I preferred the vibe of the Crescendo to the (admittedly very good) Keet First Verse.

    The Crescendo was always full of lurking fruit – not the slutty type – with no “holes” on the palate, but it had just the right amount of austerity that demanded maturation. Never over-ripe or over-extracted, so it had healthy acidity at moderate (for our times) alcohol levels. It’s simply very difficult to make wine of that quality, but even if you could, in this day and age you’ll need someone with balls (and enough cash flow) to make wine in that style. I pine for you, Crescendo!

  2. I had a bottle of Crescendo 03 at the new Italian restaurant at Peddlers on the Bend last week for the bargain price of R450. Sadly, it hadn’t been kept too well, just tipping over into oxidation – right at the start of the process so not undrinkable but not as enjoyable as I hoped. Maybe I was unfortunate but if anyone wants to try their luck and see if they can do better, there are 5 more bottles to go.

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