It must surely be one of the most captivating stories to emerge from the Cape winelands in the past decade – the resurrection of one of South Africa’s most famous wines, the Cordoba Crescendo Cape Bordeaux Blend originally made famous by talented wine maker Chris Keet in the mid to late 1990s. For many, drinking a bottle of Crescendo 1995 ranked as one of the pinnacles of local fine wine experiences and then all of a sudden… the winery disappeared.
I started filling my cellar in South Africa in the mid to late 1990s and was fortunate enough to purchases a number of cases of the Cordoba Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and of course the Crescendo from vintages in 1995, 1996 and 1997. While I did drink and enjoy a majority of the bottles, a number of them were left to mature in my cellar. I certainly had no idea what became of the famous Helderberg estate and what the reasons were for its demise, but when the Oddo family who also have wine ventures in Sancerre, Provence, and Sicily, purchased the famous winery in 2017 and recruited cellar master Schalk-Willem Joubert of Rupert & Rothschild fame to oversee proceedings, the scene looked set for the resumption of quality winemaking.
The first new 2018 release from the estate was launched in South Africa under the Taaibosch Crescendo label earlier this year. As I understand it, the owners are not in a position to use the original Cordoba name anymore and thus moved to the Taaibosch title. All grapes on the estate were hand-picked and once received in the cellar, the grapes were gently transferred by means of gravity to both stainless steel and cement vessels for fermentation. A period of cold soaking followed which enabled a rich extraction of colour, aromas and flavours. Extended maceration followed at the conclusion of fermentation, which assists in providing the wine with a soft texture, increased colour intensity and complexity.
The soil of the Helderberg region is fertile and mostly homogenous across the region. It consists predominantly of Table Mountain sandstone resting on Cape Granite. The soil has excellent water and nutrient holding capacity and is rich in kaolinite, iron and aluminium oxides, causing the distinct red colour, associated to the region. Taaibosch is situated on a lens of withered Malmesbury shale, setting it apart from the other vineyards in the region. The Crescendo 2018 was matured in a combination of 225 litre oak barrels, 9000 litre Foudre vessels and traditional 4500 litre cement tanks for a period of three years. These different vessels each add their own personality to the finished wine, ranging from fruity characters to subtle wood influences. All these elements were then brought together selectively to form a harmonious blend.
Taaibosch Crescendo 2018, WO Stellenbosch
pH 3.57 | RS 3.7g/l | 13.5% Abv
This wine conforms to the classically defined Crescendo blend (Cheval Blanc inspired) of 65% Cabernet Franc, 30% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon harvested from vines of 20 years of age or older. On opening in the early afternoon, the Crescendo 2018 was dense, tight and grippy with mouth coating tannins drying the front and sides of the palate. Nevertheless, the over-riding sensation was one of underlying elegance, purity of fruit and intensity sitting in the clutches of a youthful fist clench. Tasting the wine over the following 4 hours started to reveal its true pedigree which admittedly could easily have been missed on the initial pop and pour prognosis. With a little time to open its shoulders, the aromatics really start to unfurl classic notes of sweet cedary briary spice, saline inky black currant fruits, buttered brown toast, rose oil, dried violets, hints of graphite and led pencil shavings. The palate is decidedly mineral and classical with stony, textured fine grained tannins that are powerful and imposing yet ripe and supple enough to allow the layers of black and red berry fruits to slowly emerge. There is fabulous density, plenty of dry extract and concentration all pointing to a power-packed wine that is built with extended ageing in mind. In many ways, the design and texture of this wine harks back to a bygone era where immediacy and complete accessibility on release were not always the winemaker’s primary objectives. This wine has wonderful gravitas, an individual character and a real palate presence and continues to tantalise the senses right up to the very last sip that is loaded with a lovely broad blood orange acidity and mouth-watering salinity. I feel confident this wine is something really special to bury in your cellar for drinking over a good 15 to 20+ years. An impressive homage to the original Crescendo blends of the late 1990s.
(Wine Safari Score: 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW)