Monday’s terrific vertical Le Bonheur tasting set me thinking about the great vertical tastings a company like Distell can command. Perhaps the best I ever attended was a vertical tasting of Edelkeur in the Namibian desert as the sun was setting. Another great was three decades of Nederburg Auction Cabernets held to mark the 30th Nederburg Auction in 2004. I wrote something on it for the Financial Mail but now can’t remember if it ever appeared. With this year’s pre-Auction public tastings to be held in Cape Town on July 15 and Johannesburg on July 21, its perhaps worth reproducing:
The last three decades of the 20th century were among the most momentous in SA history. From Soweto riots and crocodiles in the Rubicon to the first democratic election, the national mood went from despair to elation. It was an effete French aesthete called Marcel Proust who first reported from his cork-lined Parisian bedroom that smell and taste are the most potent ways of remembering things past. At this year’s Nederburg Auction (2004), three lots of 30 vintages of Nederburg Auction Cabernet will be offered for sale to commemorate the occasion of the first auction thirty years ago.
This unique vertical assemblage, stored under optimal conditions, constitutes a rare and unrepeatable vinous snapshot of SA wine. From a porty fruitcake of a ’71 to a thoroughly modern new millennium monster with 14.5% alcohol, its history in a bottle.
There’s a watery ’81 harvested a couple of months after the Laingsburg floods and a ’72 as mellow as a cigar smoked on the balcony of the Polana in Lourenço Marques. The star of the show was the ’74, still remarkably fresh and elegant like a tea party in a now vanished Parktown mansion with broekielace.
The rest of the auction offerings include a brace of excellent 2002 vintage Sauvignon Blanc from Nederburg and Iona, the former in an aggressive New Zealand style, the latter in a more meditative mood and a great wooded Semillon from Nitida, showing just how good the 2003 vintage was for white wine and just how well suited the Durbanville appellation is for fragrant whites.
My pick of the Merlots is the ’99 from Veenwouden that hits more notes than a Viennese tenor while from a slightly disappointing field of Shiraz, my pick would be the Vera Cruz ’98 from Delheim.
Red blends are the strongest category with the Paul Sauer ’86 in magnum and in fine form, as is the maiden vintage De Toren Fusion V ‘99. The Rust en Vrede ’96 is a triumph of winemaking skill in a poor vintage while the Vergelegen Vergelegen (V-squared) ‘98 might as well already have a Butcher’s Shop & Grill price label on it.
Among the stickies, Ken Forrester’s T 2000 stands out, as does an interesting blend of Gewürztraminer and Riesling from Nederburg. But the star of the show will undoubtedly be the vertical Nederburgs, the pre-auction tasting of which solved one of the mysteries of Cape wine.
The old conundrum was that even years produced better wine than odd years, especially in the 70s and 80s. This tasting solved the riddle: from 1971 to 1990, the even vintages had higher alcohols than the odd, with the exception of 1978 (the year PW became PM) which at 12.01% alcohol was about the same as 1977 at 12.04% and 1982 which at 12.50% was slightly lighter than 1981 at 12.55%.
Quite why even alcohols were higher would take a farm manager and a meteorologist to answer, but the observation that evens are bigger than odds, is indisputable.
Things fall apart after 1996 when the alcohol levels take off like a rocket: 12.84%, 12.85%, 12.97%, 13.83%, 14.44%,… with the fuse lit by the controversial SA Airways test match between Australia and SA which took place in 1995 and saw the Aussie big reds score big with the (mainly international) judging panel.
These Nederburg Cabs are a remembrance of things past and an elegant style of winemaking that is almost extinct in the Cape.