A year ago I wrote about an interesting development in South African wine: “a handing down of duties to the next generation of a family; something that South Africa has seen not too much of over the last century. It’s a very positive development. Of course, for ages – many decades in numerous cases but seldom a century or two – family farms have been passed down from father to (usually) son, but although a number of grape-growing farms have experienced this, there are not too many such wine-producing estates.”
It was good that Wine Cellar picked up this theme for the latest instalment of its popular annual “Young Guns” tasting (held last week in Johannesburg and Cape Town). So, instead of only youthful avant-gardists, there were a few of them, alongside a few more conservative youngsters (it would be unfair to call them young fogeys) and, in all cases, their dads. It made for an innovative and interesting tasting, with six pairs of wines made by the two generations.
And Roland Peens of Wine Cellar had dug up some interesting photos and information on the past. Who remembered, for example, that the first red wine bottled on Kaapzicht, in 1990, was a Cinsaut? – the current darling of sommeliers, the hipster crowd – and some others of us too. The 1992 Platter guide quoted Danie Steytler as saying he made it “to meet a plea … for a light Bottelary red that can be drunk young”. Danie’s reds were later to move in quite the opposite direction, of course. They were represented at this tasting by the Pentagon 2007: big and burly, ripely sweet, and very oaky still; with smooth, heavy tannins. Danie Junior offered a 2015 Kaapzicht Cinsaut (I don’t know if he knew the historical point he was underlining); riper and richer and a touch more extracted than some of the current favourites, in perhaps a more serious style, but with nice floral charm, and balanced firmness. Certainly a pairing that suggest somewhat different sets of aesthetic values between the generations – it’ll be interesting to see how things play out at Kaapzicht.
There was a somewhat similar contrast in the wines of the Borman père et fils. Jacques Borman’s hefty Boschkloof Syrah 2005 was starting to show its age, though with plenty of fruit still showing. Son Reenen’s Boschkloof Epilogue Syrah 2014 was in much more New-South-Africa style: fresher and rather lighter-feeling than the 2005, more restrained, and finishing drier. But there was some flavour connection between the two, I thought.
Another winemaking pair where there was a marked stylistic difference between the generations was that of Peter and Peter-Allan Finlayson. Of all the pairs, incidentally, the Finlaysons were the only ones not making wines off the same property or vineyards. Bouchard Finlayson Galpin Peak Pinot Noir 2012 was good, noticeably ripe and showing rather oaky characters. Peter-Allan’s Mabelel Pinot Noir 2015 (from the Elandskloof Valley in the Overberg) was as amazing as the valley it comes from. If this is the sort of quality we can expect from 2015 pinots generally, we’re in for a heady time. But Peter-Allan’s pinots are amongst the pack leaders, in my opinion, and this is an extraordinarily lovely wine already, despite its youth, combining lightness and intensity of aroma and flavour in perhaps an unprecedented way in South Africa. (I asked its maker if the Cuvée Cinéma was as good, and he said that it is perhaps not showing as attractively now, but could well be in its usual place as the best of his pinot range.)
The Mabalel was my joint favourite wine of the evening. The other was Etienne le Riche’s CWG Auction Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, as excellent an example of Stellenbosch cab as we’re likely to see for a long time. Maturing superbly, elegant and balanced, everything just right. The Le Riche Cab Reserve 2013, from son Christo, should mature well, but will never be anything like as good as Dad’s, I think. It’s bigger, riper and bolder, less fresh, with a slightly sweet finish that will be hard to shake off, I fear. More impressive than elegant. Etienne le Riche is a particularly hard act to follow.
That was the only one of the pairs in which I thought the senior winemaker’s wine was superior. Braam van Velden’s 2013 Tria Corda is a really nice Bordeaux-style blend, a good example of the renaissance in this estate’s wine in recent years. Somehow a very mature wine – in the sense of being the wine of a mature winemaker, I mean: not at all showy at the price of drinkability. Restrained and modest, with good concentration of fruit and a real presence. Really nice wine. The Tria Corda 1998, made by Braam van Velden, was unsurprisingly quite developed at nearly 20 years, rather pleasant but definitely more old-style.
And I declared a tie, in my mind, between father and son when it came to the Neil Ellis Vineyard Selection Cabernet Sauvignon. From Neil himself came a nicely mature 2000. Something of a privilege to taste. From son Warren, the 2013 – remarkably similar, I thought (age difference apart, of course), in structure, fruit character and style: quite big and imposing, well and forcefully structured, with fine dense tannins and a slight sweetness on the finish (the bedevilling characteristic of so many Cape reds, especially cabs). I can’t see the character of wines from this cellar undergoing much of a revolution in Warren’s hands.
It was also, let it be said, a pleasure to hear Neil talking of past and present and the handover to the young generation. I have long known him to be immensely generous to the youngsters taking over the heights in South African winemaking – even when they are implicitly less respectful of the achievements of his generation than is his son.