Well, to be precise, only one label is really defunct, though the name and appearance of the other has changed significantly.
First, I must once more express regret at the demise of Cordoba, the fine estate on the Helderberg which has been for sale for ages (at apparently a prohibitive price – that’s why American Charles Banks didn’t buy it). Chris Keet, who now has his own label and makes the excellent wine called First Verse, made the Cordoba Crescendo, one of my favourite local Bordeaux-style red blends, with magical cabernet franc as a major component.
The Cordoba vineyards are being well maintained, I believe, and one day I trust a wine or two will be properly associated with them. For now the grapes are being sold off here and there – I know that one of the best local rosés comes from some of those cab franc vines, though I’m not allowed to mention the name.
Anyway, I recently opened my last bottle of the 1998 Cordoba Crescendo. This was generally a vintage that we all, rather ignorantly, originally regarded very highly (but we’re still learning how to assess Cape vintages). It largely disappointed after 10 years in the bottle, however. All the original promise proved to have been early showiness from a hot year, lots of fruit and power but insufficient stuffing.
Crescendo has fared much better than most 1998s I’ve had in the past few years – probably because it was (as usual) picked a little earlier than most, had better structure though less oomph and obvious fruitiness; and declared just 13.5% alcohol, which was and is (sadly) low by most local standards. Essentially it had a better balance than most.
There’s still a good freshness to the wine (though I must say it was better the first night than after being opened 24 hours), with some fruit intensity, and at least a hint of the herbaceousness that will have some modernists and fetishists of ripeness shouting “green, green!”. Not me – apart from not objecting to the flavour, I’d certainly prefer a live wine with some lithe herbality to the insipid, dead and decayed over-ripeness of many 1998s.
In fact, I found it rather tangy and savoury, in good shape, with robust but satisfying tannins. Not a wimp by any means, but restrained, and approaching the genuine elegance that Chris Keet conjured out of the best vintages (I loved the 1997, for example).
I would like to have more bottles of this wine, but confess I wouldn’t keep them much longer.
My other late-90s wine I suspect I could keep another decade or more with no problem. Louwshoek-Voorsorg Koop Wynkelder Nectar de Provision 1997, a bottle of which Melvyn Minnaar kindly gave me as he knows of my fondness for fortified wines. A mouthful of a name and a lovely mouthful to drink. It’s a sophisticated jerepigo – in fact, claiming (with the 1987 first vintage) to be the first local equivalent of Cognac’s classic aperitif, Pineau des Charentes, as the grape juice (here Columbar) is fortified with mature brandy rather than neutral spirits. It is matured in brandy casks.
There are now notes of ginger and aniseed, the texture is lovely and silky, and it now has a refined balance and a welcome dryness to it. Not greatly complex, but impressive, and testimony to the dying culture of such fortified wines in the Cape.
Nectar de Provision is still made (there’s also a red version now) in Breedekloof. Louwshoek-Voorsorg co-op itself has disappeared a couple of times, deeper and deeper. The wine (wine, perhaps not, seeing it is made primarily from unfermented juice?) is now labelled Ankerman Nectar de Provision. It was from Daschbosch Winery for a while, before Daschbosch joined with two other Breedekloof cellars to form uniWines Vineyards. (It makes one weep to lose a historic, meaningful name like Louwshoek-Voorsorg and have it replaced by an artificial monstrosity like “uniWines”!)
Anyway, the dreadful, lovable old packaging you can see in the old bottle has been sorted out, along with the name. And the wine, perhaps (I haven’t tasted the latest incarnation, though I intend to do so; of course it might be even better). Now it is un-vintaged, and made in a solera system. The label is very much improved in the direction of chic, bland standardness, as you can see.
Not all the changes in the last few decades of Cape wine have been entirely positive, even if most have. Let’s leave a little nostalgic space to regret the innocence of that dreadful old label on that lovely and rather sophisticated Nectar de Provision.