Some Cape Bordeaux

A recent blind tasting of 16 of the Cape’s best Bordeaux-style wines – mostly blends, but a few mono-varietals too – showed an interesting range of approaches, especially between those clearly designed for comparatively early drinking, and those less effusively fruity, gentle-tannined and easy in their youth.

In fact I was rather surprised at how many of my fellow-tasters did seem to think most of these (2012s for the most part, with some older and a few 2013s) were ready for drinking. Not a single one of the wines would I have thought likely to be properly enjoyable for another five years at least; but that’s perhaps a matter of taste – and I was older than the majority of people in the room, probably with more old-fashioned (“classic”?) expectations of the character of serious red wine, and a preference for tertiary flavours over the thrusting and powerful charms of vinous youth.

Take the excellent MR de Compostella 2013: big, dense, rich and concentrated and thoroughly admirable, it is also to my tastes raw and essentially undrinkable now … but please bring it back in a decade or so, and let’s see how it’s doing. Even one of the youngest wines at this tasting, Rustenberg Peter Barlow 2009, I noted as “very youthful and promising”. Delaire Graff Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2012, another of my most-liked wines of the evening (so precise, cool and fine-boned!) I also noted as “notably raw and youthful”.

The event was the second (I think) in an initiative by Cape Town’s great wine impresario, former sommelier Jörg Pfützner, involving a seriously conceived but convivially delivered tasting, a light meal (tasty boeuf en daube plus a hunk of bread this evening) and a movie related to the wine theme (this night the “Red Obsession” documentary about Bordeaux wine in China), held in trendy quarters in Cape Town. It’s one of a bunch of interesting new Pfützner offerings – see contact details at end.

Back to wine. In fact there was something of a split in the room over the stylistic possibilities. Perhaps the most divisive wine was the Vilafonté M: it’s a beautifully suave, generously and splendidly crafted wine, its ripe fruit, richness and velvety texture matched with spicy oak. Much admired by me, but not all that much enjoyed; both admired and enjoyed by very many others. The stylish Longridge Ekliptika in rather the same sort of style on a slightly less impressive level, and very approachable now.

For me, a deciding factor was generally the level of sweetness I ultimately (on the finish, particularly) I found in the wine. I don’t like the sweetness that so many Cape reds show – it’s generally a combination of notable ripeness, big alcohol, new oak and three or so grams of residual sugar, though some wines with all those elements don’t show it so I’m occasionally at a loss. The very good Stark-Condé Three Pines Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 showed it to an extent, as did the interesting Passarene 2013 (made by Martin Smith from rare carmenère and petit verdot – thus avoiding the Bordeaux varieties used by his day-job bosses at Vilafonté).

My favourite wines of the tasting? I mentioned some of them in my third paragraph, and would have to add the subtle, elegant Glenelly Lady May 2011, Kanonkop Paul Sauer 2012 (also very young and presently rather unharmonious, but we all know of its track record of development), and Raats Cabernet Franc 2012, which I thought very serious and intense, a lovely combination of modern and classic.

And for classic good value it’s surely hard to beat (this we also know) Rustenberg John X Merriman; in this case the 2012.

As to contact details about Jörg Pfützner’s offerings: look here  for something happening on Wednesdays in Cape Town – exploring the inner city wine route, as it were. More importantly, perhaps, look here for an intriguing new way of getting drinkable wine delivered to your dining table as and when you need it. And go here to get on the Fine Wine Events mailing list.

4 thoughts on “Some Cape Bordeaux

  1. The Grangehurst CWG Akayla 2009 was there, Udo, but I didn’t much care for it. I’ve just checked my notes for the blind CWG tasting I did a few months ago and find that my response to it was very similar (not always the case, I have to confess, but a relief when it is!). My impression is that Grangehurst wines have got bigger and riper in recent years, unfortunately. This is my note from the earlier tasting:

    Grangehurst Akayla 2009. Opaque. Huge fruity blackcurrant nose, with perhaps some spice. Sweet fruit on palate, with a whack of acid to suggest freshness. Lots of power, with firm but not huge tannins. A bit sweet on finish.

  2. It seems as if all the wines tasted where from (in or around) Stellenbosch? Any particular reason for that? I think one can find some fine examples of BDX outside the WO Stellenbosch? Your thoughts?

  3. Sorry, Will, to have been so slow in responding. Yes, apart from the Vilafonte ex Paarl, most of Joerg’s tasting was from Stellenbosch. Buitenverwachting Christine 2011 was included, but I didn’t find it all that convincing on this showing: rather too much drying-tannin oak, I thought, and not enough fruit concentration. While Stellenbosch is undoubtedly the great place for Bordeaux varieties in the Cape, there are, as you say, good examples from elsewhere. To mention a few: Constantia (Constantia Glen, perhaps Groot and Klein Constantias as well as Buitenverwachting), Franschhoek (Chamonix, Boekenhoutskloof), Hemel-en-Aarde (Restless River). But aren’t the good examples from out of Stellenbosch rather few and far between by comparison?

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