Sometimes we forget that while it’s useful to age table wine for a while, great wine must be matured to reveal its full spectrum of flavours. This distinction – between everyday wine and the more serious bottles – is not always evident, though you would be forgiven for thinking that price alone should provide a clear enough indication. Table wine is supposed to be a decent enough beverage that might survive many years in bottle without actually evolving. The better stuff is supposed to “pay rent in your cellar” by transforming from cygnet to swan.
Predicting the potential of a young wine is an act of augury. The basic building blocks required for ageing must be in place, but after that, there’s more guess work than science. It helps if you know the pedigree: vineyards which have long yielded age-worthy wines are liklely to continue to do so. For those without a track record you may as well look at the entrails of a chicken to determine their prospects.
The table wine industry obtains most of its fruit from high yielding irrigated vineyards. Well-managed cellars convert the grape juice into a chemically stable fermented beverage remiscent of the grapes from which it was produced. However, if the fruit has no intrinsic personality, even the best winemaker cannot make of it what was never there. The fine wine industry faces a different challenge: how to preserve in the wine the nuances imbued by site and thoughtful viticulture.
Recent changes at Lomond, near Gansbaai, provide an insight into the importance of having a winery in close proximity to the vineyards, and designed specifically around the fruit it’s intended to process. The property has long enjoyed a reputation – mainly for its white wines – despite subcontracting production to a large commercial winery at least 150 kms distant. Really good fruit, refrigerated trucking, and a quality commitment from all the parties in the value chain meant that Lomond made award-winning wines despite the hurdles and impediments of the long distance and less-than-specialised production process.
Now owner David Mostert has taken the plunge and built a winery at the property, where Hannes Meyer has full control from the vineyard-to-bottle. The results are palpable. The 2019 is visibly better than the 2018 and 2017 (though both the earlier vintages are very good). Arguably some of this improvement could be vintage-related, though since it is textural (rather than aromatic) my money is on the role played by the cellar itself. I’ve not yet sampled the 2019 reds. I suspect that the same will be true – though, because they are less fragile, perhaps not to quite the same extent. The older vintages are pretty smart already, especially the Cat’s Tail Syrah 2015 and the Conebush Syrah 2015.
All these are relatively young wines, from cooler sites, which means they will be slower evolving that those from warmer regions. Those willing to age them further will need patience and a measure of luck. If you seek certainty it’s best to go for wines where others have carried the maturation risk. The recent pre-sale tasting for the Cape Fine & Rare wine auction showed what is possible in this regard. If you are lucky enough to come across well-stored bottles of Kanonkop Paul Sauer 1995, Vriesenhof Cabernet 2003, Zonnebloem Shiraz 1987, Nederburg Auction Cabernet 1971 and Stellenryck 1989 – amongst the much older examples – don’t hesitate: you’re in for a treat.
Amongst the younger (but still non-current) examples that should be easy enough to find, and are worth the effort of tracking down, you might add the following to your wish list: Perdeberg’s Dry Land Chenin Blanc 2011, Boschkloof’s Epilogue 2014, Lismore’s 2014 Syrah, Kershaw’s Chardonnay 2015 and Elgin Syrah 2012, Eikendal’s Infused by Earth Chardonnay 2016, Longridge’s Clos de Ciel Chardonnay 2013, Rijk’s Pinotage 2008, DeMorgenzon’s The Divas 2013, Vergelegen’s GVB 2005 and Vilafonte’s Series C 2005. Happily, there are more good wines about than time and opportunity to consume them.