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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 GREEN’S WINE NOTES (article first published : 1999-09-16)

As I said in my last Wine Notes, most South African white wines do not improve in the bottle after more than two or three years. Red wines have a much longer maturation potential but there are no hard and fast rules. Twenty or thirty years ago good quality Cape reds, cabernet sauvignon or shiraz were aged in oak barrels for two or three years before bottling, a process which helped give them a high tannin content and this in the fullness of time brought out the best flavours of the grape.

Tannin made the wines sharp and astringent in their youth - mouth-puckering, unattractive qualities that slowly disappeared as the tannin was dissipated over the years. Thus a good cabernet was often at its best after 10 or 12 years and with good cellarage (a dark place with plenty of air and a constant cool temperature) it might last for 20 or even 30 years. Today winemakers have introduced new techniques – shorter barrel maturation and lower tannins – to produce wines that are ready much earlier. They are well aware of the fact that in South Africa more than 90% of all wines sold over the shop counter are consumed within 24 hours of purchase.

A tasting held at my home recently suggested that the old simplistic rule for reds, “the older the better”, no longer applies. I presented the tasting panel with nine reds ranging in vintage from 1972 to 1998. The 1972 wine, a Nederburg Vintage Cabernet, did not fare well in the scoring: most tasters thought it was too far gone, though two thought it was still very good. Top score in the blind tasting went to a 1997 wine, Kleine Zalza shiraz and second top to a 1998 Du Toitskloof cabernet sauvignon. Both these wines had strong fruit and berry flavours and an attractive dark colour and the Du Toitskloof is a very good buy at a retail price of about R27. If it is not available locally, you can order it from the Du Toitskloof Cellar at Worcester, phone (0231) 91601 or fax (0231) 91581.

One of the venerable wines, a 1982 Le Bonheur cabernet sauvignon, was placed third. You wouldn’t be able to buy this now but the current vintage costs about R55. Another wine that scored well was the 1997 L’Avenir pinotage from Stellenbosch, a wine with a brilliant, almost purplish colour and aromas and tastes of figs and redcurrants, price about R50

As you can see, one needs to take a pragmatic approach when considering the vintage of a Cape red.

The Nederburg wines organisation has long promoted the arts and this year it is the main sponsor of the Nederburg Knysna Arts Experience which consists of more than 50 art exhibitions running in the Knysna area from September 24 to October 3, plus concerts, theatre and cabaret. More information from Jenny McQueen on (021) 439-5063.


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