Day 3 in South Africa, and a slice of history

My third day in South Africa was a memorable one. A day on which I learned a great deal, and developed a healthy respect for the history of wine here.

It is so easy to be obsessed by the exciting new things that are going on in this wine country, at the expense of recognizing good stuff from the past. Today I had an amazing, conincidentally synchronized pair of encounters with older South African wine that were remarkable.

The first was the Tabernacle tasting at Nederburg. It was a tasting of old wines from the Stellenbosch Farmers Winery, which is now part of Distell. There are thousands of bottles stored in their cellar (the Tabernacle), including an interesting collection of wines from outside South Africa.

When it comes to old wines, I’m used to a low strike rate, and having to make excuses for very old bottles which are no longer all that nice to drink. This tasting was different: of the 23 bottles opened, from 1940-1982, but focusing mainly on the 1960s and 1970s, only three disappointed. The others were really good to mind blowing.

The highlights were the Chateau Libertas 1940, the George Spies Cabernet 1966, the Oude Libertas Cinsaut 1971, the Oude Libertas Pinotage 1971, the Zonnebloem Cabernet 1973 and the Chateau Libertas 1982. These wines were remarkably good, with amazing freshness as well as aged complexity. There was a bit of deviation on the noses of some of the wines, but the palates showed purity and elegance.

It was a remarkable tasting.

Then I headed off to Robertson again. This time I was having dinner with four producers: Weltevrede, Springfield, The Robertson Winery and De Wetshof. It was a fun evening, and I was particularly impressed by the Chardonnays.

After dinner, Johann de Wet offered to take me back to see some old wines. It seemed to be the right day for old wine, so I said yes, and he ended up opening 14 bottles going back to 1994, including South Africa’s first commercial Chardonnay (but that’s another story).

The De Wetshof Chardonnays can age. The 1991 Reserve Chardonnay, 1993 Lesca Chardonnay and 1993 d’Honnuer Chardonnay were all beautiful wines.

Johann then opened a 1977 Vergenoegd Cabernet Sauvignon, weighing in at 10.5% alcohol, was so silky, pure, fresh, supple and elegant. We drank most of this - a stunning bottle, and a fitting end to an eye-opening day.

8 comments to Day 3 in South Africa, and a slice of history

  • Keith prothero

    Just goes to prove once more that quality wine improves with age providing good provenance. just a shame that 99% is drunk before at its best

  • Alex lake

    Wow, what an opportunity… Was Tim Atkin there?!

  • Then you were extremely lucky with that 1977 Vergenoegd – it was one of the worst vintages I can remember. Walter Finlayson recalls it rained every Monday. Many didn’t bottle a cab – I seem to think Kanonkop was one. With our viticulture and winemaking so much more on the ball these days, I don’t think we’d have a repeat, though 2002 comes close, mainly through downy mildew and virused cab.

  • LOVE your blog. Very informative! We serve a lot of wine at our restaurant in Solomons, MD USA and have a new blog. We are trying to make it full of useful information like yours. We did a recent video post on our Top Five Wines to Have With Pasta. Please give it a look and give us any feedback! http://digiovannisrestaurant.blogspot.com/

    We are looking forward to delving more into your site and blog. You have so much material! We may even find some useful reccomendations for DiGiovanni’s!

  • riaan

    1977 sucked with rain all the way from Haut Brion to the Cape,more detailed tasting notes would be great,these are the bygone era,thx mate.

  • Will be posting detailed tasting notes. 1977 may have been a bad vintage, but this was was amazingly elegant and it only takes one good bottle to show that an old wine is still alive

  • Laurence

    Have you been to Hign Timber next to the Millenium Bridge back in London? Part owned by the Jordan family. Fabulous selection of SA wines, great location and pretty good food. Also has a cheese room!

  • These kinds of wines are one of the things that convinced us about making fine wine in South Africa. Well done for sharing your findings Jamie.

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