Cape fortifieds in Spain

Am off to Spain,  to Andalusia, to Jerez – home of some of the world’s greatest and most widely underrated wines: sherry. It’s Vinoble, the (usually) biannual showing of sweet and fortified wines, and I was invited to present a tasting of Cape fortifieds.  I decided to offer, mostly, some mature examples of port-style wines (I know that people like KWV’s Richard Rowe object to even mentioning port – but how else to tell you what I mean?) and jerepigos.

So, thanks to the generosity of the producers, what I’ll be showing on Tuesday afternoon in the mill of Jerez’s beautiful old Moorish Alcazar is the following:

  • Niepoort & Sadie Cape Fortified 2008
  • De Kranz Vintage Reserve 2003
  • Boplaas Cape Tawny Vintners Reserve NV
  • Monis Muscadel 2001
  • KWV Hanepoot 1973
  • KWV White Muscadel 1968

Actually I’m not sure if I’ll be able to fit in both the old jerepigos that KWV generously donated, but I hope so.

No sherries, you’ll observe. Well, this is the heart of the sherry country, and unfortunately our few remaining sherry-style wines (sorry Richard et al) are not up to the other local fortifieds in terms of quality and interest. Generally, they are Cream-style wines, sweetened with jerepigo – I don’t think there’s a dry one amongst them, and although they’re flavoursome and charming, they don’t match up to the real thing.

Nonetheless, I hope I’ll have time to tell one of my favourite stories about fortified Cape wine. It dates back to the old days, when the Cape was a colony all of its own, when Groot Constantia (not long since bought by the state following the financial collapse of this great and famous property) was a combination of model farm and producer of rootstocks for replanting the phylloxera-ravaged vineyards of the Cape.

The official “Report of the Manager of the Government Wine Farm, Groot Constantia, for the Year 1898” spoke of experiments in making “sherry”. The inspiration was a Spanish visitor to the Cape some three years earlier, one “Senor de Castro-Palomino”, who’d initiated experiments “on this estate and elsewhere with the object of converting our heavier types of white wine into wines partaking of the nature of [Sherry].”

The way the “sherry” was to be produced was rather simpler than the traditional methods of Jerez. “Treatment … consists merely in the addition of a quart bottle of a colourless liquid product with a pungent odour, and known by the name of ‘Mutagina’ to a barrel (108 gallons) of wine, and in thoroughly mixing the wine with this liquid.”

The miraculous Mutagina “consists of a concentrated extract of Spanish Sherry, to which a small quantity of antiseptic has been added.”

The Manager’s Report a year later was rather less excited about the subject. It seems that the process only worked for fortified wines. Rather more significant, the “antiseptic” turned out to be formalin – and even in those easy-going days, that was thought to be a bit much.

Nothing more was heard about Cape sherry till the 1930s, when Dr Charles Niehaus, for the KWV, showed that reasonable quality stuff could be made here.

A guidebook of 1966, Maxwell’s “Fairest Vineyards” listed 54 different brands of “sherry” available on the local market – many more than there were red wines. The past is indeed a foreign country.

 

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