Good red wine maturity at four years old?

Eight years ago I was wrong about Lanzerac Classic. Well, at least partly wrong, in (slightly) underrating and (partly) misinterpreting an aspect of it in the 2002 Platter Guide. On the other hand I did get the important bit right.

I tasted the wine for Platter in August 2001, so the wine was very young and had only been bottled a few months before. I opened a bottle of it (presumably a saved “second bottle”, originally required in case of controversy or cork problem) two nights ago, skipped it last night, and had more tonight. On Tuesday it was pretty good, rich and sweet-fruited, rather delicious, but spoilt by too much oak flavour – and the oak influence also made it a little astringently drying on the finish. It held up very well till tonight (Thursday), and was perhaps even better drinking (or perhaps it just went better with vegetable stew that with whatever I had then – I can’t recall!).

Despite the ageing memory cells, I managed to remember that I’d sampled it for Platter, so I looked up my note in the 2002 edition. I gave it 3.5 stars, and that’s a first thing that I think was wrong – it should have been four stars (which is what the 2003 gets in the 2008 and 2009 editions). I wrote then:

Softly structured bdx blend; 00 half merlot, with cabs s/f, splash malbec. Ripe plumminess; touch sugar (3g/l), balanced acidity reinforces approachability. Mid-01 dusty cedar over-evidences 15 mths new Fr oak; few yrs needed.

That was eight years ago, and I was rather more stern in those days, and less forgiving about such things as over-oaking, which explains the ungenerous rating. More significantly, the wine was eight years younger. Apart from the oak which continues to spoil it and will till the day it dies, the wine is in great condition, fresh and lively and much more harmonious and less raw than it was then. I’d be prepared to swear that just about any red wine lover having the two-year-old and the eight-year-old wine side by side would get much more pleasure from the more mature version. It is not a great wine, but a good wine, and better for its time in a well-stored bottle.

Yet, yet, everyone still drinks their good red (and white) wines too young. Sadly, they are abetted in this by Wine magazine, which surely should be not be pushing in this direction. My major problem with Wine’s tasting results is that they are generally so laughable, but it is notable that they invariably recommend that wine is drunk very young. They probably got it right when they said that the Kango 2008, the second-placed wine in the Shiraz Challenge, should be drunk “now or over the next year” – but then they should never have awarded 4.5 stars to a wine they deem incapable of lasting more than two or three years from its vintage date.

Of all the wines that scored four stars or more in the Challenge, not one of them did Wine mag reckon should be drunk more than four years from now, that is five or six years after the vintage – maximum. Most of these wines, supposedly the cream of the Cape shiraz crop, Wine mag thinks should be drunk “now or over the next 2 years”.

Storage matters, or course. But not that much when one is talking of five to ten years. I’d bet the Diemersdal 2007, the modest but very decent, well-balanced wine which won the Challenge, will be drinking very well in five or six years, even if it’s kept at the bottom of a cupboard. (Personally I wouldn’t want the runner-up Kango at the bottom of my cupboard or anywhere else; the panel is welcome to it.) Even more so the Neil Ellis Elgin 2007 (then-editor Christian Eedes’s least-favourite and Angela Lloyd’s most favourite wine of the top ten; but presumably Christian was the person who decided how long these wines would last for.)  Both of those wines are at least as good as the Lanzerac Classic 2000 which is so happy at the age of nearly ten.

Anyway. One of the real pleasures of finishing with this year’s round of Platter tastings is that I am free again to choose the wine I’ll have with my dinner; and if one of them is a wine that I rather underrated eight years ago, so much the better for my learning curve.

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