Posted on 28 April 2012 by davidbiggs
It’s a rare privilege to be able to taste 40 consecutive vintages of the same wine.
In fact, I know of only one farm in the Cape where this would be possible.
John Faure, sixth-generation owner-winemaker at Vergenoegd, was able to present a bottle of every vintage of the estate’s Cabernet Sauvignon from 1972 to 2012.
Is there another other cellar that can match that?
There’s the added magic that every one of those wines was made by a Faure – either John or his father, Jac.
The wonderful thing was that those old wines from the ’70s were still perfectly drinkable and, indeed, delicious.
The vintages in the 1970s, John pointed out, were made very much to a standard formula. The recipe laid down exactly how much acid and sulphur was to be added and how long the juice was to be left on the skins. Not much adjustment was made for variations in season or climatic changes.
Well, formulaic or not, they turned out to be great wines.
I particularly like the ’75 and ’77 vintages, both of which still had big, bold fruit flavours and elegance – amazing for wines of that age.
The 1980s, I think, were the years of venturing into the world of new oak barrels and slightly more innovation in the cellar. Here the vintages seemed to vary more than they did in the previous decade, although the trademark salty beckground note that marks most the Vergelegen’s wine, is very evident. Nobody should be surprised at this. The vineyards are a mere three kilometers from the sea and the south-east wind sweeps across the vines straight from False Bay.
I have never scored a wine 20 points out of 20, simply because I worry about what I’d do if a better one came along, but when I tasted the 1988 Vergenoegd Cabernet Reserve, I gave it an unreserved 19 points without much hesitation. What a wine! It has huge ripe berry flavours, perfect acid balance, spiciness and that signature salty-licorice bass note. Sublime!
I hit the 19 score again with the 1995 vintage, which is every bit as good and may even surpass the ’88 Reserve.
Vergenoegd’s wines are not released early. It’s one of the very few cellars where they mature their wines until they’re considered properly ready for drinking.
You can’t buy many of their wines younger than the 2006 vintage.
I’m sure that ’95 has a way to go. Who knows, I may break my 19-score barrier when I taste it again.
Posted on 21 April 2012 by davidbiggs
I was interested to note that the annual Calitzdorp Port Festival has been renamed the ABSA Calitzdorp Port and Wine Festival.
This makes a lot of sense as there are some really fine unfortified wines coming out of the Klein Karoo and it would be a pity to miss them if you travel all that way and tasted only ports.
This year’s festival takes place on May 18 to 20.
I held an informal tasting of wines made from unusual grapes at my home last week, and the “port varieties” – Tinta Barocca and Touriga Nacional – scored very highly and were enjoyed by the tasters.
Of course, winemakers like Boplaas and De Krans, make some excellent non-port wines. There are good Vabernets, Pinotages and, of course, deliciously sweet Muscadels.
The festival offers some unusual and even amazing events, including the world’s very first ostrich spit-braai.
There’s also a demonstration by wine personality Emile Joubet, of cooking with port wine varieties like Tinta and Touriga Nacional.
For some, the highlight of the festival will be sitting back and listening to local inhabitants telling their “stoep Stories.” Every Karoo town has its local story-tellers and it’s an unforgettable experience listening to a really skilled country raconteur.
Of course, there will be port tastings at every Calitzdorp cellar for the duration of the festival, and that’s what most visitors go for.
For more details, and accommodation arrangements, visit the website.
Le nouveau est allé
Older wine lovers may remember the Cape’s brief craze for “Nouveau” wines – simple wines made and bottled almost immediately after the harvest.
They were made for immediate drinking and never claimed to have any lasting power.
The fashion started in the Boujolais region of France and was, at one time quite popular. There was an annual race to see who could get their Nouveau wines onto a London restaurant table first.
A local annual Nouveau Festival was held on the Paarl mountain and winemakers devised unusual and eye-catching ways to bring their wines to the fairground. They arrived by donkey, radio-controlled model helicopters, tractor, motorbike and semi-naked slave girls.
A great time was had by all and Father Bacchus blessed the new vintage.
There was only one small drawback. The wines were dreadful. Almost all of them were sickly-sweet and grossly unbalanced. I don’t actually remember enjoying a single one, although, like everybody else, I consumed a good deal and was heartily ill afterwards.
The festival seems to have died a merciful death.
I believe they’ve abandoned the Nouveau race in France now too. The message must eventually have got through to even the most cardboard-palated boozer that it was all much ado about yucky.
I was reminded of this brief venture into bad wine when I discovered a bottle of 1990 Nouveau lurking at the back of a cupboard.
“I wonder what would have happened to one of those horrors after 22 years,” I asked myself and opened the bottle.
It certainly hadn’t improved. An aroma of dead mouse and a palate best left alone.
Nobody will mourn its passing.
Posted on 12 April 2012 by davidbiggs
I sometimes wonder if wine producers actually study the reasons people buy – or don’t buy – their wines.
How many wine drinkers actually care a hoot whether a wine has been awarded 92 points by the sainted Robert Parker?
Or whether a wine has won a silver medal in the Uzbekistan Wine Challenge?
Almost every wine cellar is anxious to publicise the news that their wine received a gold medal at the London Wine and Spirit Competition or the Concours Mondeal in Brussels, or the Trophy Wine Show, The SA Terroir Wine Competition, The Michelangelo Awards, the ABSA Pinotage Top 10 Competition or the Veritas Competition.
And the rest!
We wine writers are constantly bombarded with facts like these. Sometimes we pass them on to what we believe are our adoring readers.
A survey of wine buyers in the UK some years ago showed that almost none of them actually read wine magazines or wine articles in newspapers.
So what sells wine?
Apparently price and pretty labels account for 90% of wine sales.
Bear in mind that most wines are sold in supermarkets these days. They’re bought by people who want a reasonable wine to go with the coronation chicken they’re cooking that evening.
And they want to spend “not more than R30, for goodness sake. You can get a very decent wine at that price.”
They know they want a dry white wine, or an off-dry white or a nice fruity red to go with the pizza. Then it’s a matter of price.
“Oh, this is a pretty label. Let’s try it.”
I regularly have friends come to me and say things like: “Hey, I discovered an absolute bargain at LCD the other day. They’re selling out Blue Cow Cabernet Sauvignon at nine rands a bottle. And it’s quite drinkable! A bit rough, maybe, but not too bad.”
We wine writers like to think our readers are anxiously awaiting our opinions of the latest R800–a-bottle release from Elgin, or the superb wood-fermented Chardonnay from Paarl at R500 a bottle.
Maybe we’re impressing our wine-writing colleagues, but very few other people care a damn.
Give it a pretty label and a bargain price and it will sell.
And I may have written myself out of a job.
Photograph: Douglas Green