There are two aspects, I’m afraid, to this matter of wine and ageing: both the drinker and the drink are subject to the implacable, slowly inexorable process of oxidation. And the end, for both of them, is the point where their respective raisons d’etre (drinking and getting drunk, respectively) collapse into uselessness.
Ascertaining the timescale of the long-treasured bottle – the best time to drink it – is, of course, a central concern of the cellarer of fine wine (I hate that word “collector” when applied to keeping wine, except as it applies to those who care less about the wines than their labels, as so many art collectors are more concerned with signatures than the works themselves). But, it’s increasingly dawning on me that perhaps the cellarer also has the more melancholy duty of taking heed of his or her own timescale –unless there’s no problem with the idea of leaving behind for others those bottles which have so long been eagerly looked forward to.
The perfect arrangement for the more selfish would be, I suppose, to take the last bottle from the cellar or the wine-fridge (or the hopefully cool cupboard) on one’s final evening and totter with it into a last, but now endless, oblivion. Perfect arrangements are hard to achieve, however, in such matters.
I’m not, I should add, thinking of this because I’ve quite reached the age when it’s even risky buying green bananas. Though one can, notoriously, never be sure: the glass at my side as I write this, could be my last, but I’m thinking of average likelihoods. Which mean that I need to ask myself at what point should I, for example, cease buying Columella each year, or abandon my allocation of good burgundy – given that I really want to be drinking them (especially the more serious of the burgundies) when they’re at least ten years old, preferably fifteen or more. Should I be buying my Lafarge Volnay Clos des Chênes 2015 when in the year 2030 I shall be … 75 (and I’m, frankly, not all that committed to being around then – Michael Fridjhon pointed out to me just the other day that I have something of a death wish)?
Fortunately, when I make my decisions around this matter, I can take into account that I now have enough serious, ageworthy wine to keep me going another decade or so (it’s not the sort of wine I drink often), if I eke it out with the younger, less ambitious wines that I also enjoy so much. And we’re yet to discover, even at the grander level of local wines, for example, just how long it’s going to take before the likes of Alheit Cartology will need to be “drunk up” – let alone delicious stuff like Mount Abora Cinsaut which is so delicious when it’s young that I don’t regard it as a crime to do so, as I do for many wines.
As my mind was hovering over these things yesterday, this other, happier, aspect of the question of wine and ageing was brought into focus by an email from Wine Cellar in Cape Town, with a list of mature and getting-there South African wines for sale. In the last decade, interest has grown in the increasingly rare and remarkably lively and good wines of the 1960s and 70s, and a few from that largely depressing decade, the 1980s. The Nederburg Auction always sells a few cases of old “port” and excellent old reds, and one hears of a few private sales of bottles or cases of the likes of GS 1966 and Nederburg 1974 – but there’s nothing like an established secondary market for South African wine. That’s a sad reflection on both the wines and the market, no doubt.
Wine Cellar is, it looks like, taking steps to help establish such a secondary market on a more formal basis, announcing the collection of wines that they have for sale. They have available wines going back to magnums of 1964 KWV “Port” (R7 500) and Lanzerac Cab 1957 (R12 000) and forward to Thelema Rabelais 2009 (R550). There are nine vintages of Sadie Columella on offer (from the rare maiden 2000 at R6 000 to 2008 at R1 600), as well as a few 12-vintage verticals originating directly from the Sadie cellar; the famous Boekenhoutskloof Syrah 1997 (R4 500); and 300 or so probably-interesting or certainly-utterly-desirable wines.
If this attempt to get the secondary market going more openly succeeds, and I can’t see why it shouldn’t, no doubt more people with excess stocks kept in conditions suited to ageing will bring them out and offer them to Wine Cellar (or anyone else with a licence and access to likely clients). And winelovers too young or insufficiently farsighted to have bought and kept such wines, and with sufficient financial resources, will leap at the chance. It can only be good for the reputation of South African wine, and good for keen drinkers of such wines, if this works.