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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

MICHAEL GREENíS WINE NOTES #148 (article first published : 2006-03-30)

How long can one gainfully keep a bottle of South African red wine? It is a question I am often asked, and it came to my mind again when I saw that the items on offer at next monthís Nederburg auction include a 30 year-old Nederburg cabernet sauvignon made by the cellarís legendary winemaker Gunter Brozel.

This 1976 vintage wine, which has been tasted by the auction selection panel, is said to have a sweet fruitiness and a smooth and silky palate. Other venerable Nederburg cabernets on the auction include a 1986 vintage which has a bouquet of chocolate, tobacco and mushrooms, and a 1999 which shows coffee and vanilla on the nose.

These wines have of course been stored in optimum conditions: air-conditioned cellars, constant temperatures, good ventilation. But what about us ordinary wine drinkers who keep stocks in the spare room or the study or maybe a bedroom cupboard?

My own experience has been mixed. I keep my wines in a room that is not air-conditioned but is on the cool side of the house, is not exposed to sunlight, has a fairly constant temperature and gets plenty of air from windows on both sides. I seldom keep a red wine for more than ten years, and some of the older ones have become tart and vinegary, with crumbling corks. A few, however, have retained good quality, although I donít think many of them have actually improved after the first eight or nine years from vintage.

Only last week we drank at home a bottle of 1992 Nederburg Paarl Cabernet Sauvignon, 14 years old and still in very good shape, with the cork coming out intact. Incidentally, this wine was a moderate 12,5 percent alcohol, well below the 13,5 or 14 percent levels of most of the quality red wines being made today in South Africa.

It is a hit and miss business. A friend who lives at Westville tells me that she recently opened a 25-year-old red wine, a 1981 bottle of Meerlust Rubicon, and it was excellent, smooth and mellow. It had been stored in an old Cape teak cupboard in her dining room, just lying on its side. But then she has found that other old reds stored in the same conditions have not lasted nearly as well. The Meerlust Rubicon is of course one of the Capeís most distinguished wines and it is built to last.

Donít hold on to your wine too long. I had another old friend, now dead, who did just that. He built up a big collection of Cape and French reds. When he got round to sampling them he found, to his acute disappointment, that many of them were sharp and in some cases undrinkable.

Incidentally, if an old cork crumbles as you try to extract it, donít throw the wine away in disgust. I get rid of the cork as best I can, if necessary by pushing the remains into the bottle. Then I strain the wine into a flask or empty bottle, using a small funnel and a coffee filter paper. More often than not it is quite drinkable, though it may not be the greatest wine in the world.

****** *********** *******

As a wine-producing area Wellington, named after the duke, has long lived in the shadow of its big neighbour Paarl, which is about 15 kilometres away. Nevertheless Wellington is an important wine area, with about 2 300 hectares under vines, mainly chenin blanc, cabernet sauvignon, cinsaut and shiraz.

I have not often tasted wines from Wellington, so it was a pleasant surprise when a friend presented me with two bottles which she had bought on a recent visit to the Cape. One is the Chenin Blanc Reserve, 2004 vintage, from the Wellington Cellar, a co-operative with 49 farmer members, established in 1934, which produces 6 500 cases of wine a year.

This chenin was matured in oak barrels for three months and the taste of wood still lingers. This may not be to everyoneís liking, but the basically fruity character of the wine, guava, pears, will probably emerge more clearly in a few monthsí time. It is a big, potent wine, 14 percent alcohol, and I found it attractive. I donít know if it is available in Durban but you can order it from the cellar, phone 021 873 1163.

The other Wellington wine is a Kosher Cabernet Sauvignon, 2003 vintage, from the Eshkol Kosher Winery. I understand that kosher wines have traditionally been sweet heavy wines (some of them are apparently quite popular among people who are not Jewish). This cabernet is a much more conventional type of wine but it has been made according to the kosher laws, undergoing a pasteurisation process involving heating of the wine to purify it.

Matured in American oak and French oak barrels, it is a rich, plummy wine with a slightly minty character. Very good, and it should age well for the next three or four years. The phone number of the Eshkol Winery is 021 864 3356. Ė Michael Green




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