In those famous good old days, it was accepted that serious red wines wouldn’t, or at any rate shouldn’t, be drunk for five or 10 or 20 years from vintage. The rich or pretty rich people who were doing the fancy drinking could afford to store the wines in their own cellars or pay a merchant to do it for them.’
They would also have expected to find mature vintages available in fine restaurants, so restaurateurs bore the substantial cost of buying and storing wines long in advance of reselling them. That, with good service, would have helped justify heavy mark-ups on winelists. Now usually just the mark-up remains, while the list proclaims, with no evident embarrassment, the current vintages — those available at a vastly lower retail price in the shop around the corner.
This is sadly true of all but a tiny few of the top South African restaurants. And the most egregious restaurateurs insist that even the best local wines do not repay keeping. Which is a lie regarding both whites and reds, although modern winemaking usually makes wines that are more approachable young than used to be the case.
That’s all an old story, of course, but one destined to burst out repeatedly from the irritation of winelovers dining out. To little avail, so I return to my original intentions: to tell you about some excellent mature wines that you can buy for yourself, from the producer who has stored them perfectly for years.
Sluggish sales generally lead to many wines around that are older than their despairing sellers would wish, but the recently released Library Collection from Waterford is not like that. Actually, calling it the Experimental and Odds and Ends Collection might have been more accurate, though less grand.
“They are pets!” says Waterford winemaker Francois Haasbroek (eminent cellarmaster Kevin Arnold remains in overall charge). “We pretty much use this as an experimental platform to play with alternatives.” So most of the Library Collection are one-offs, though it will take in other wines most years.
Five are available now (only from the estate, mostly in small quantities), all named “Edition” plus initials indicating varietal make-up. So Edition BB is a 2004 cabernet-based Bordeaux blend, mature and harmonious in a way you won’t find a good 2009 equivalent to be (but not cheap at R480).
There are two other red blends, rather less conventional but also appealing, and two 2007 whites — both bargains at R125. One white is a classic sauvignon-blanc-semil-lon blend, the other is Edition VSBC, perhaps my favourite. It’s a silky, lingering combo of viognier with sauvignon blanc and chenin that is vastly more delicious and intriguing than that eccentric mix would suggest.
You won’t, incidentally, do badly with any wine from Waterford, which has quietly but firmly established itself in recent years among the Cape’s elite few dozen producers.
Their flagship, The Jem, is one of the most plausible of the ultra-expensive Cape reds and the cabernet and chardonnays (two of the
latter, one less oaked) are particularly fine, but all are safe bets for excellence and, at the least, reasonably priced.
First published in the Mail & Guardian, 20-26 August 2011