Vertical tastings show legs

© Cape Times Friday 1st June 2012
One wine question that nearly everyone – fundi or beginner alike – asks at some point is “How long will this wine last?” It’s actually quite an important question because no-one wants to spend a lot of money on a bottle, keep it for ten years before opening it and then discover it’s a rancid pile of poo which should have been drunk five years ago. One of the best ways of determining how long a wine is likely to last is to try older ones and see how they’ve done over the years – in a vertical tasting. I’ve had three recently from some of the Cape’s most celebrated winemakers so I thought I’d share my thoughts about them with you.

Nowadays Simonsig seem to be mostly known for their sparkling wine, the Kaapse Vonkel. But they also make a whole range of different wines from good-value, everyday gluggers right up to the top stuff. Their flagship red is called Tiara and it’s been made every year since 1990. It’s a Bordeaux blend which started out life just as a simple Cab-Merlot with Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc joining within the first decade. The biggest change, and one of the reasons for the vertical tasting, was that the current release (2009, R175 from the cellar) is the first to contain Malbec as Johan Malan continues on his quest for blending perfection. I tasted three of the wines – the 1995, 2000 and 2005 – and it was fascinating to see how the wine becomes more complex and interesting with age. The 2005 was possibly my favourite on the day showing dark berried fruit, whiffs of tobacco and an endless finish.

Moving away from a French-styled wine, my next vertical tasting was Proudly South African with a fascinating trip through three recent years of Beyers Truter’s favourite wine, the Diesel Pinotage. Not, perhaps, the most promising of names, however this wine doesn’t refer to a fuel, but a best friend as Diesel was Beyers’s beloved Boerboel/Great Dane cross who is commemorated on the label. Unlike the Simonsig Tiara, this wine comes from one single block of unirrigated bushvines – they’re actually planted on the most propitious soil for top Bordeaux varieties, but nothing is too good for Beyers’s Pinotage. The tasting covered three years – 07, 08 and 09 – and it was fascinating to see the vintage differences reflected in the wine. It was also great to see the wine getting better and better as the vines mature – 2009 (R450) is rich, warm and spicy with beautifully-integrated fruit, oak, spice and tannins. Anyone who thinks a Pinotage can’t be elegant, needs to try this wine.

The final vertical of the last few weeks came from Luddite, the wine which is the heart and soul of Niels and Penny Verburg. Their solo winemaking efforts began in 2000 with the single aim of making world class Shiraz. In keeping with their name, much of their labelling, bottling and marketing material is done by hand, and mostly by Penny, leaving Niels free to concentrate on the wine. The interesting factors emerging from their tasting of five different vintages from 2005 to 2009 were the influence of the weather on the wine and also the oak used. Niels has experimented with several different combinations of French, American and Hungarian oak and his current release, the 2007 (R290 from the farm) uses mainly French oak barrels with just 5% of Hungarian for extra spice, creating a wine of elegance, depth, concentration and power. And what’s more, it’s so good that he’s selling it to the Kings of Shiraz themselves – the Aussies. How’s that for a Proudly South African moment?!

If you like Shiraz, you can taste the Luddite along with lots of others at Hartenberg’s Shiraz and Charcuterie Festival tomorrow afternoon. Starting at 12 noon, tickets cost R180 and include tastings of SA’s top Shirazes along with artisanal meats, breads, cheeses and olives. Book your tickets at I’ll see you there!

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