Western Cape, Constantia, Mosel, Chateauneuf and Barolo in the Swartland

Balancing the claims of a friendly dinner with those of a tasting can be tricky. Maybe it depends on the people involved. We solved the problem this time basically in a chronological way. (The occasion: at a regular, if insufficently frequent, gathering, I provided both food and wine, guru viticulturist Rosa Kruger provided her house and table in Riebeek-Kasteel; local winemakers Andrea and Chris Mullineux, and Eben and Maria Sadie were company. Sundry little children slept beautifully on demand.)

I am most compelled by one of the leftovers three night later, so I won’t do a complete – or at least not a detailed – wine-wank here. Well, yes, I suppose it is a bit of one of those.

ingenuityThe local offering which opened and closed the show are probaby of greatest relevance to any readers I might have. We started with the first wine with which Nederburg’s great Romanian investment, Razvan Macici, made his first really important quality impact: the Ingenuity White 2007, which I remember unhesitatingly putting forward for five Platter stars (it got them, and has done so every year since then). And which I’d managed to store despite the absurdly shaped bottle Nederburg had put it in. It’s drinking beautifully now, a most successful and complex blend, with the sauvignon blanc still edging ahead, as it did four years ago, with some tinned pea notes, though these are beautifully integrated in a finely balanced whole. A very good maturing wine. No hurry to drink up.

For me the wine of the evening came next, with a mostly smoked-fish hors d’oeuvre. There’s nothing quite as profoundly wonderful as a properly mature good German riesling, when the knife-edge acidity and sweetness has resolved into an incomparable harmony – less nervily exciting than in its youth in some ways, but more profound, gaining those sombre notes of decadence that, I suppose, some people wouldn’t much care for. This was a 1989 Auslese from the Maximin Grunhauser Abtsberg vineyard of Von Schubert on the Ruwer – that splendid little tributary to the Mosel.

But the focus was on reds, notably Chateauneuf-du-Pape, mostly because Eben (chatting at the launch of Duncan Savage’s fine new wines earlier in the walk) had been a bit doubtful about this appellation’s ability to provide much more than alcohol, intensity and power.

Three wines I opened argued against this, though noone was in any doubt about identifying the appellation. Domaine Pegau 2004 was impressive but still very youthful, Chateau de Beaucastel 2001 was great and even rather elegant, and Beaucastel 1998 was a bit disappointing – because there was most of this wine left over I was able to confirm a few days later the suspicion that it was slightly corked.

We tasted the reds before eating the main course with them. My favourite – though not everyone’s by any means – was the odd-one-out, which matched the Beaucastel 1998’s vintage: Aldo Conterno Barolo (from the Bussia vineyard). There’s recently been a bit of discussion about the nebbiolo grape in general on Christian Eedes’s website, and my own point is that a 1998 Barolo of quality is only now starting to show at its best, the mighty tannins and fine acidity resolving into the concentrated savoury fruit. Those who only know young wines don’t know what immense pleasures they miss! It’s not really a question of how easy it is to judge them in their youth – but of what a waste of a bottle it is!

There was a glassful of this wine left over in the decanter, and I had it a day later, and it was even better. It’s such a muscular and powerful but smoothly supple wine, fine Barolo, its body like a swimmer’s rather than a gymnast’s. Both the Mullineux thought it a trifle oaky – but this I simply couldn’t see at all.

And so to dessert. Or, as Harald Bresselschmidt of Aubergine restaurant hates to hear me call it, pudding. The pudding wine was Vin de Constance 2001, and in fact that’s the wine that I finished off 72 hours later – a good glassful was left over – with unalloyed delight. Some Vins de Constance are better than others, but this was in particuarly brilliant shape.

The great joy of sweet wines, somehow, is when the sweetness resolves into a kind of dryness overlaying what one can analytically discern as sweetness – something that only happens with maturity.  (For me, anyway, this is the deep satisfaction of mature sweet wines –  same with the great sweet fortified wines like port, it didn’t happen with a recent bottle of De Krans 2004 Vintage Reserve – very much alive, but with a sweetness unresolved into power and therefore just a bit prettily insipid.)

The resolution into dryness had happened to the German Auslese at the beginning of the evening, and it happened with the Vin de Constance. It was good to finish the evening – and for me to be reminded again this evening – of the great quality that can be got from the Cape’s finest vineyards.

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