Stellenbosch versus Bordeaux – both win, both lose

The things I will do in quest of vinous enlightenment! – even if it’s likely to lead only to further confusion rather than confident certainty. (Is there really anybody out there who sincerely feels sure about judging wine? Who even feels sure that judging wine is a great thing to do? Am I really the only one who gets confused and disheartened at the exercise – and not only when a bit pissed?)

OK, let me keep this one case simple. I was drinking with my dinner a bottle of Vergelegen Red 2003. A well-reputed wine from a great Stellenbosch vintage. Actually I’d opened it because I’d recently opened a bottle of Vergelegen Cabernet Sauvignon 2003. At something more than a decade old, that wine showed impressively: big, ripe, bold, still tannic but balanced and promising harmony in a few years. But big. Too big for my tastes these days.

I think of the Vergelegen blend as being generally more elegant, classic, restrained than the Cab. Hence tonight’s move. The blend wasn’t very elegant, in fact, though probably more so than the Cab. Again, very impressive wine: forceful, dark-fruited bouquet and flavour, with some spicy oak still obvious, showing no sign of tiring; concentrated fruit, with big tannins not yet quite resolved into drinkable harmony. Not too sweet (the besetting sin of many Cape, and generally New World, ambitious Bordeaux-style wines).

Overall, impressive, yes, but not lovable to me. How would it compare to a modern good quality Bordeaux? Only one way to find out, I realised, groaning a bit. (The groaning bit is genuine, I promise, and not just the result of thinking of the price tags…. I’d actually had enough drinking big wine: now it was going to be just work.)

marquisI recalled a Clos du Marquis 2002 I’d opened and been rather disappointed with earlier this year. (Marquis is the second label of the very grand Château Léoville Las Cases in St Julien; 2002 a reasonable but not stellar vintage; wine-searcher.com puts it at around R500 a bottle.) I described it at my earlier tasting (see here)  as “modern, rather vulgar Bordeaux, somewhat over-oaked, over-ripe and generally overdone and lacking  vitality.… It could have been a pretty good, but not supreme, younger effort from Stellenbosch”.

Context is so much when tasting wine (one reason why big blind tastings often produce some ridiculous results). Tonight, the Clos du Marquis seemed comparatively elegant. Less deeply opaque, maybe more brilliant in appearance than the Vergelegen. Rather lovely dry tannins behind the sweet fruit; some intensity, but more subtle and refined than the Vergelegen. Also with time to go.

Which is the better wine? I actually think it a stylistic choice. Which is maybe saying I don’t much care which is better; basically, they’re both playing pretty much the same sort of game. Some drinkers, I know, will love the richer, intenser ripeness and force of the Vergelegen, some will appreciate the reminiscences of bordelais elegance on the Clos du Marquis.

So for me, frankly, both lost, though I’d have to vote for the bordeaux if I had to choose. Two first class wines, perhaps, probably both high-scorers in a big blind tasting, but I didn’t really want to drink either. Too much, too much altogether, too exhausting, not enough refreshment value. For me, a bit less could have been quite a lot more. Give me (for example) a lower-scoring, deliciously fresh and lovely cinsaut any day.

One thought on “Stellenbosch versus Bordeaux – both win, both lose

  1. I could have written this… If other people criticize your use of parenthesis, may I applaud you on your bracketed truth in your first paragraph. Even if we are often confused and sometimes disheartened, at least we’re never deterred, eh?

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