Greg Sherwood (Fine Wine Buyer at Handford Wines in London) recently reported on a blind tasting in London featuring three vintages of the Stellenbosch wine Anwilka amongst a few grand wines from around the world. All the wines contained at least some cabernet, shiraz-heavy Anwilka least of all, which you might have thought would have made it easy to spot – clearly not entirely so, even for such a smart taster as our Greg.
Anwilka 2013 came top of his line-up. The 2012 also did very well, but, interestingly, the 2005 came bottom. This was the maiden vintage, one that that Robert Parker (ambushed with a sample, as I recall, at the Bordeaux 2005 en primeur tastings in 2006) pronounced as “the finest red wine I have ever had from South Africa.” Even though Parker’s experience of Cape wines was not up to much, it was a remark that raised a few eyebrows (mine at least) in South Africa, where the wine had not universally been quite so enthusiastically received. In fact, I found all the early vintages rather ripely simplistic, prematurely released and designed for early drinking.
For me, the breakthrough at Anwilka came with the 2009, as I declared in Platter 2013, saying that it added “more depth, seriousness & structure to usual ripe, dense fruit”.
This coincided with the first vintage of Jean du Plessis, who took over from Trizanne Pansegrouw (now Barnard) and who has been doing very good stuff ever since in this quiet, rather remote, part of Stellenbosch. Continuity has been provided from the start with the involvement of Bordeaux luminaries Bruno Prats (formerly of Ch. Cos d’Estounel) and Hubert de Boüard (of Ch, Angélus), who founded Anwilka together with Klein Constantia’s Lowell Jooste. When KC was sold, Anwilka merged into that ownership structure (though it’s kept entirely separate), with Prats and de Boüard taking a small shareholding in the whole busines.
So much for background. My real point is that I had thought little about Anwilka in recent years (it seems to have a low profile in South Africa at least), and Greg’s report prompted me to open a bottle of the 2011, one of few vintages I have. I’d actually forgotten how good this wine is. Ripe-fruited and generous, but not excessively so, showing more shiraz character than cab on the nose; beautifully balanced structure, with fine, integrated tannin structure, a good combo of fruit and savouriness, and a long, pretty elegant and – very importantly for me – dry finish.
There are a few Stellenbosch reds other than Anwilka made with significant bordelais input. Earlier this year, for Platter, I had great pleasure in tasting those of Glenelly (owned by May-Eliane de Lencquesaing, formerly of another great château, Pichon Longueville), and had been much impressed by the Estate Reserve Red – formerly called Grand Vin. Also 2011, and some definite similarities with Anwilka – unsurprisingly in that it has a substantial syrah component; it also has a subtle spicy fragrance, and a genuine seriousness of intent – though I think the Glenelly is still more youthful, and slightly more austerely structured.
So, with Anwilka in my glass and going down well, I thought I’d open yet another Stellenbosch blend with a connection to a great Bordeaux property. Morgenster has had the privilege of having Pierre Lurton, long at Ch. Cheval-Blanc and now also at Yquem, as an attentive winemaking consultant since the maiden 2000 vintage. I didn’t have a 2011 to compare, but I did have a 2010, so flourished my corksrew at that.
The essential difference to me between the two is ripeness – Morgenster goes a little too far in this direction. It’s a good wine, rich and dense, with sumptuous tannins, even powerful without showing too much of its declared 14.5% alcohol except as a contribution to the sweet element on the finish. It needed, for my taste, to be a little more austere. I tried them both over three evenings, and felt that the Anwilka was gaining a little in complexity and interest each night. Both are still youthful, with Morgenster showing less in the way of development (though that doesn’t mean it necessarily will do so in a few years – we’re very accustomed to reds that age quite well without much flavour development).
One curious comparison occurs to me. I said that the early Anwilkas I found disappointing compared to the more recent ones. The maiden Morgenster, 2000, on the other hand, was immensely impressive, but nothing since then has quite lived up to that promise. The 2000 was dominated by cab franc, which in the 2010 had come to play a minor role compared with merlot and cabernet sauvignon. It’s perhaps not entirely the varieties that make the difference, but the attitude and aims behind the winemakers’ choice of those varieties.
I prefer not to score wines. Both of these are certainly good; I prefer the style of the Anwilka and (therefore?) think it the better wine. After two evenings the Anwilka bottle was empty, while Morgenster was more than half-full. That’ll have to substitute for scores.