The old and the new

A Cape wine from 1973 and two Cape wines that are bottled but not yet released were perhaps the stars at a dinner in Riebeek-Kasteel over the weekend. And, happily it wasn’t only winos there who agreed – a pair of landscape gardeners het heeltemaal saam gestem.

The dinner was at the house of viticulturist Rosa Kruger (you’d perhaps have though she’d have enough to do in what is proving, with this rain, a more difficult harvest than many had predicted).

We started with a recently unreleased wine that Rosa had got from Eben Sadie: the 2012 Skerpioen in his Old Vineyard Series. A remarkably delicate but forceful wine, already very drinkable (the bottle emptied quickly) – who’d have hought that such refinement could come from these harsh, unirrigated conditions? As Rosa said, a decade back the conventional, incontrovertible wisdom was that the best South African wine had to be grown within sight of the sea, a truth that has been overturned by some wonderful hot-country wines whose vineyards had never had a breath of wind from the Atlantic. Well, in fact, the Skerpioen vineyard is close to the sea (see my description here), but not exactly what the conventionalists had in mind.

Interestingly, to give it some persepective, Rosa opened the ‘t Voetpad 2010, the maiden vintage of an even hotter-climate wine in the Ouwingerdreeks. Actually just a bit less impressive, I thought, recisely because there was a touch too much evidence of alcoholic power on it. But this was, after all, harvested from what was then a rather run-down vineyard. I think the wines in this series are just getting better.

The second unreleased wine of the evening had been brought along by Andrea and Chris Mullineux – the wine that is destined to be the third in their series of single-terroir syrahs, following on the Schist and the Granite that created such a stir when the 2010s were released. We’ll have to wait a few years for the release of the Iron 2012 (only the Schist and Granite were made again in 2011 – also yet to be released).

Schist and Granite and Iron! How wonderful! (Will there be a Quartz to follow? – I confess the evening was too far gone by that stage for me to have paid sufficient attention to what Chris said about that one….) The Iron is, it seemed to me on that first tasting, a more formidable wine than the others – but it was, of course, much younger. Those wonderful Swartland tannins were perhaps that much sterner, more austere, but the perfume and fresh refinement associated with Mullineux shiraz was already obvious.

So much for the new, what about the old? (Let’s ignore here the foreign contingent: the beautifully dry, restrained Chateau Pibarnon Bandol 2000, and from Spain the rather richer Dits del Terra 2003 – Eben Sadie’s Priorat wine before it changed its name, and its character up to a point).

roodebergA friend had given me two 1970s KWV wines – from the time when only wine-producers with a KWV quota were permitted to buy KWV wines locally (most was exported).

I was a little doubtful about these – partly because I had no idea if they’d been decently stored. One of them – KWV Pinotage 1976 – had a wine level down in the mid-shoulder, which wasn’t promising. In fact it proved clearly a little oxidised, but fruit still shone through and it had its admirers.

More unanimously, so did the Roodeberg 1973 (whose fill level was very good, in fact). It not only disproved yet again that silly old idea that only the even-numbered vintages of that decade were good; it needed no apologies whatsover, an unassumingly modest, but thoroughly decent wine, still lively and fresh and harmonious, but fully mature – a great wine for drinking with pleasure and a fine advertisement for established, unirrigated bushvines (sadly, don’t expect the current Roodeberg to have any connection beyond the brand to a wine of this quality). No alcohol level declared on the bottle, but I’d guess not more than 12.5% ABV. Roodeberg was generally based in those days, I believe, on shiraz from Meerendal in the Durbanville area.

There is little pleasure in the world of wine, I think, to be compared with tasting these wonderful old wines. Except, of course, wonderful young wines that prove that some winemakers are building on the best of the Cape past, and surpassing it. So long as they’re all drunk in good, happy company.

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