One good, and one great, old Cape red (and some other stuff)

My last two bottles of the famous GS Cabernet Sauvignon have gone – one from each of the two vintages made: 1966 (in the Bordeaux bottle) and 1968 (in the Burgundy bottle). But only one went in a useful direction.

GScab1996I’d decided to take the 1966 for a tasting I organised on Friday evening for a dozen friends, so I removed the capsule, wondering why the glass was so crusty beneath it. That question was soon answered when I brought a cloth to clean the top of the bottle and cork. Well, um, no cork…. Oh, look – there it is, bobbing on the surface of the wine. The damn cork had clearly shrunk, withered, lost its elasticity to the point that it simply fell in. (Wouldn’t have happened with a screwcap, though maybe rust or something would!) Thing is, this must have happened some time ago when the bottle was standing upright. It’s been on its side at the bottom of my wine fridge for a couple of years now, leaking (as I now realise) a little of the wine beneath the tightly fitting capsule.

A sad end. The corkless wine proved, of course, very oxidised, but still with echoes of its former splendour.

Fortunately, the 1968 was still intact and, happily, excellent. I offered it as part of a pair (blind, of course) with a bottle of Welgemeend 1987, kindly given me by John Maytham when he was rationalising his cellar and remembered that I had had a strong connection with Welgemeend when it was owned by the Hofmeyr family ­– and when the vineyards were not yet as extraordinarily laden with virus as they have been for the past decade and more.

I wasn’t expecting much from the Welgemeend although the Estate blend (cabernet-based Bordeaux style) was generally pretty long-lived; but 1987 was a light, rather lean year. It suited, up to a point, Welgemeend’s elegant style, but still. Anyway this bottle (the ullage level was extremely good) showed itself very much alive, and a few of the assembled tasters (mostly winemakers) came close to preferring it, I think, for its elegance and freshness, though there was some objection to the amount of acidity revealed now that the fruit was falling away a little.

But it was also true that this was a wine that hadn’t evolved much, however impressively it had endured its 28 years. John Maytham cannily kept for himself the 1982 and 1984 Welgemeends, and they should be better than this one, I reckon.

On the other hand, the GS 1968 had clearly evolved beautifully, though it revealed, especially on the bouquet, more bottle age than the Welgemeend – as it was entitled to, being 20 years older. Lovely wine, opening up in the glass, with freshness and generous texture, some sweet lingering fruit, and a rustic element, perhaps, which only added to its charm. It took a long time before anyone realised just how old it was. Everyone enjoyed it. I think maybe Chris Alheit was especially pleased to have it, as few winemakers, if any, are as obsessed with the Cape’s wine past as he is.

And the foreign stuff
It was good to have the Cape showing so well and providing at least one highlight of the evening. The other dozen wines were foreign, a mixed bunch – shamefully little shape to this tasting at all. Only three whites, all rieslings (what else?). To start, a nearly dry Alsace, Trimbach Frédéric Emile 2004, was good, but not as compactly thrilling as the very typical old-school sweetish, delicious Mosel style of Vollenweider’s Wolfer Goldgruebe Spaetlese, also 2004.

chapoutier-granitsThree reds served together flummoxed everyone, although the yellow wax capsule remnants on all of this flight strongly hinted at them being, at least, from the same producer. In fact, although the wines were rather different, they were all from the same vineyard as well, from successive vintages, 2006-2008: Chapoutier’s Les Granits, syrah from the large and comparatively unlauded Northern Rhȏne appellation of St Joseph. They were much admired here – some liking one vintage more, some the other – as, in my experience these wines always are. They seriously overperform (as do, for example, Alain Graillot’s wines from St Joseph and Crozes-Hermitage,  which are lighter and more vibrant versions of this, but which some people find almost “green”; such people would prefer these Chapoutiers, certainly).

A general favourite, I think, came next: Elio Altare’s Barolo 2000, plush but fresh, lively and elegant, with muscular power, depth and concentration – a great example of modern, but not too modernised, Barolo. Another Italian, but from much further south, was interesting, but a touch less convincing, partly perhaps because it was so much too young: Passopisciaro 2008, from Sicily’s Mount Etna. Andrea Franchetti’s reds (from nerello mascalese) are often compared to burgundy, and one can easily see why, in the fragrance and poised, concentrated sumptuousness – and with a deceptive lightness, despite the powerful alcohol. More tannic than proper burgundy, however, to my mind.

Two Spaniards, one of which was corked – the usually exuberant, over-the-top but somehow winning Numanthia, 2001 in this damned example. Clos Mogador 2000 from Priorat was pleasing, but even Eben Sadie, who knows these wines very well, didn’t recognise it – he says this was a very untypical bottle.

The last red was another success. Good quality Châteauneuf-du-Pape ages really beautifully and always, in my experience, gives enormous delight, and that was true of La Nerthe 1998. These are big, powerful wines, but at their best – from good terroir and made as expertly as this – retain a vital freshness which lasts while the bottled wines are gaining rich complexity.

kunstlerThe final one of my wines was, as I’d expected, a triumph. As someone said: what was not perfect about it? A Rheingau beerenenauslese it was – botrytis, huge sugar and huge acidity in a thrilling, kinfe-edge balance, guiding and guarding the subtle manifold flavours to their long-lingering conclusion. Rosa Kruger, at whose Riebeek-Kasteel house we were, had a half-bottle of Château Yquem 1999 and got it out for us to compare. Well, it wasn’t much of a contest. As usual (and it’s not only my opinion in the wide world!) the best German botrytised wines make the best Sauternes seem a trifle … clumsy. Certainly the case with this Franz Kuenstler Hochheimer Hoelle 1997, two bottles of which I bought from the estate a dozen years ago (a visit I remember well); the first went long ago, but I jealously guarded the second, and now it’s gone, and I shall very very likely never have another again! Which is also fine; that’s part of what wine, and life, is all about.

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