Bizarrely, I have just savoured, with great pleasure, a glass (well, two, in fact, but small – or smallish – ones) of tawny port, and a few days back I nearly swooned with pleasure at a Noble Late Harvest. I say bizarrely because, like nearly everyone, I seldom do this sort of thing, especially in one of the hottest weeks that this summer has brought to Cape Town. And as I write, I’ve gone back to get just another few – or fewish – drops of Boplaas Cape Tawny Port.
Which one, you might well ask? I’m only approximately sure myself. When I look in Platter at the Boplaas entry, I’m not surprised at the oblivion into which I sometimes think local port producers are condemning themselves.
Crucially, the producers have not come up with a generic equivalent to “port” which we can use (given that we’re not meant to call the stuff port), unlike the brighter producers of bubbly who gritted their teeth so that we could grit ours and get used to Méthode Cap Classique. Instead of saying “port producers”, to be more correct we might get away with “producers of port-style fortified wines”, especially when writing for European publications – it doesn’t really come tripping off the tongue. More specifically, Boplaas in the latest Platter have four different Tawny Ports (I’d bet they don’t sell many hundred bottles of any of them), which is unnecessarily confusing.
Because the stuff is delicious. An oxidative, aeroplane-glue sort of aroma, a fresh acidity, lovely flavours and a focused, uncloying finish despite the whack of sugar. The one that I have just downed was being “remaindered” by Wine Cellar in Observatory recently for about R120, I think – an absurd price for stuff of this quality (the original price of R180 also a bargain). But they’ll never get a really good price for it until they learn how to market it better. As I say, Boplaas have four different tawnies available – you try working out which is which if you can be bothered. I can’t – especially after a few glasses of it.
I was thinking the other day about the great advance made by local “port” producers in the 1990s, led by JP Bredell in Stellenbosch but more than satisfactorily followed by the Calitzdorp brigade (including Boplaas). For a while it was such an exciting category – but nothing has really come of it except stasis and now, I wonder, even decline? The last JP Bredell Cape Vintage that I’m aware of was the 2003. The Helderberg farm which produced the grapes it was made from has been sold, and Anton Bredell has moved back to an older family farm. Trying to find out whether he’ll continue producing port-style wines, and if so where he’ll get the grapes, has so far proved to be, er, fruitless. (If anyone can enlighten me, please do so.)
I love these fortified dessert wines (Vintage or Tawny), and would generally choose to open one rather than a Noble Late Harvest when I’m feeling like some decadent alcoholic comfort at the end of a meal. But last week we tasted (Angela Lloyd, Ingrid Motteux and myself), with some other recent releases, the latest vintage from Paul Cluver of their justly-renowned Weisser Riesling Noble Late Harvest, the 2009. I was happy to score it 18/20 at the time (with the others only marginally less enthusiastic), and taking it home and finishing the half-bottle over two days convinced me even more that this is the best of their renowned dessert wines that Cluver has made in their ever-improving Elgin winery. (That’s winemaker Andries Burger in the pic, but he’s become much slimmer in recent times, showing that the photo is out of date.) It’s not too luscious, but rich and fine, appetisingly poised and delicate in its sweetness, with honeyed pineapple combining with apple freshness and a limey twist. Brilliant balance, with a remarkably dry-seeming finish. Not cheap at R190 per half bottle from the estate, but absolutely worth every cent: you’d be shocked at what you’d pay for the equivalent quality from Germany or Austria.