It was a dark and stormy night, as a well-known dog might have noted if he’d been coping with the wettest Cape Town August I can remember. But that’s not really an excuse for opening the bottle of Nederburg Ingenuity Red by mistake. It turned out to be something of a double mistake, in fact, but the first one was that it was meant to be Ingenuity White, as my opening vinous gambit on a quiet winey dinner with a friend.
A pretty stupid mistake, as they’re in totally different bottles – Ingenuity Red is a triumph of bad design for a serious wine suitable for some years’ maturation : a skittle-shaped bottle that’s it’s impossible to lay on its side, let alone to stack. And the vintage date is hidden in tiny script in the most obscure part of the back label – I did eventually find it: 2006, the second vintage of this wine. (The label has been subsequently tweaked.)
The Red, an unlikely blend of three Italian varieties, has never been anywhere near as good as the excellent White, but this second vintage I remember as showing in its youth some corrections to the excessiveness of the first – rather less opulent and less egregiously oaky. It has matured quite nicely, but in fact remains not to my taste: too big and showy, and with the sweetness that is the curse of a lot of modern Cape reds.
So I had to find another white wine, and happily landed on Kevin Grant’s Ataraxia Chardonnay 2008. Ah! not only the right colour (I can usually tell the difference), but really good. Still showing some primary fruit characters I thought, but maturing nicely at five-plus years – I reckon it could have another five to go, and I wish I had more with which to find out. Beautifully balanced, with a subtle zingy freshness. Not exactly restrained, but pretty refined – and deliciously drinkable.
The main red of the evening was in accordance with Matthias’s fondness for Chateauneuf-du-Pape. I opened a Vieux Telegraphe 2001, in fine condition and very satisfactory – with much of the power of the Ingenuity, but none of the sweetness on the finish, and a firmer, well-integrated structure. More complete, and making the Nederburg seem rather rustic and naive.
Another red was needed, so I found another local 2006: Quoin Rock Syrah, which is usually one of the best of the Stellenbosch (as opposed to Swartland!) shirazes. In fact, syrah, unless made in a jammy, fruity, over-ripe style, I find less prone than most varieties to that objectionable sweetness I mentioned. And this was smartly made (by Carl van der Merwe – now at DeMorgenzon), quite modestly oaked, firmly structured and maturing nicely, withno rough edges. Perhaps at its peak now? Certainly a very pleasing drink.
Not coping with more than a single glass each of Ingenuity, we turned to a spot of brandy – in this case the excellent Oude Meester Demant: in typical light-coloured, light-textured and elegant style of the Oude Meester range (which has Souverein at its very high peak). At round about R150 (as I recall) it is one of the best bargains in the bargain-filled shelves of fine South African brandy.
And then one of us staggered out into the dark and slightly less stormy night. I believe he fell off his bike only once on his way home.