Two mature reds

I was so pleasantly surprised last week with the Simonsig Merindol 2000 that I thought I’d root around and see what was at hand to help me pursue the theme.

Unfortunately, the Rust en Vrede Estate 2000 was a disappointment. Consulting Platter, I see that it was a trophy winner on the Trophy Wine Show (not surprising, perhaps, as it was undoubtedly a very show-winning sort of wine) and got five Platter stars and a lot of enthusiasm from Angela Lloyd at the time. I presumably also was impressed then, if I bought a few bottles.

In those days, though sadly no longer, Platter still gave us usual information like alcohol level, oaking, and blend details for serious wines: this was 60% cab, 30% shiraz, 10% merlot.

Now, though still lively enough (but less so than the Simonsig was) and properly mature, the Rust en Vrede 2000 is one of those rather exhausting wines, with little freshness and a lot of oak still evident, though also a good lot of developed, plush fruit; very ripe I suspect it was. Perhaps just a little animal note. A mix of French and American oak, says Platter, all new, for 20 months. No doubt that contributes (especially the American component) to the sweet part of the savoury-spicy-sweet finish which I particularly didn’t enjoy. I’d also have guessed a higher alcohol than the 14.3% it claims on the label. Nice firm but now integrated tannic structure … “Ushers in new era for this much-admired grand vin”, says Platter. Yes, I’m rather afraid so.

I abandoned that bottle pretty soon and turned to a wine which was, in fact, ushering out an old era – most unfortunately. I think it’s fair to say that Welgemeend 2001 was the last wine to which winemaker Louise Hofmeyr gave her undivided attention, from harvest to bottling. Her hard-working mother was to get worryingly frail (sadly she died last year), and things were to be tough, before the farm was sold some years later.

It must also be said that the Welgemeend vines (many of them having produced the maiden Bordeaux blend in 1979 – the first in the Cape, whatever Giorgio dalla Cia likes to claim for his Meerlust on his website!) were very badly virused by then – something which I think can be sensed in the “stressed fruit” note on the wine.

Nonetheless, this Welgemeend 2001 is still a most attractive, eminently drinkable wine (I don’t think it’s going anywhere further in terms of development). Unusually, this vintage had merlot the senior partner, along with cab and cab franc; 18 months in barrique, 30% new and none American! Welgemeend was always among the most elegant and fresh of the Cape bordeaux blends, the least showy, which is why it didn’t win trophies (it was never entered in competitions anyway) and remained comparatively little wine, though it also had some great fans (myself amongst them).

What was most immediately striking on turning to this wine after the Rust en Vrede was not only its modesty and food-friendliness, but the proper dryness of the finish. Some sweet fruit still there, and a nice tension and vibrancy, everything in balance – and just a little austere. Which is how I like my Bordeaux-style wines. I finished the bottle tonight, with pleasure.

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