Tasting a Fine & Rare Line up of Aged South African Icon Wines…

During the past 18 months of the pandemic there has been far too little sharing of great bottles among fine wine lovers. But with many determined to make up for lost time, South African fine lover and uber SA wine supporter, Thor Gudmundsson organised a fantastic old South African wine tasting lunch at one of his two excellent wine bar / restaurants in London, the Brackenbury Wine Rooms.

With most of the bottles generously supplied by Thor, it was a bit of a challenge for me to come up with some interesting bottles to add a little extra interest and excitement. Perhaps a bit predictably, I decided to bring the fabled Kanonkop pairing of Paul Sauer 1994 and Cabernet Sauvignon 1994 to compare and contrast blind. I have done this exercise twice before and both times it has been a challenging yet thoroughly enjoyable affair. Just to add an extra level of excitement, Thor had a bottle of the iconic Meerlust Rubicon 1994 to throw into the mix with the Kanonkop 1994 pairing.

Silvervis Chenin Blanc 2015, 12.5% Abv.

Rich, honied nose like a dry botrytis Sauternes wine. Peaches and dried apricot notes, subtle hints of salinity and a mellow, evolved honied finish.

(Wine Safari Score: 88/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Silvervis Chenin Blanc 2017, 13% Abv.

Zippy and zesty with layers of sweet & sour yellow plum, dried pear and peach, tangy tangerine acidity and a vibrant fresh saline finish. Ryan Mostert at his best. 😉

(Wine Safari Score: 93/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Rust en Vrede Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 1987, 12.5% Abv.

Showing complexing evolution, this has layers of dried leather, mechanic’s diesel rag, dried tobacco and smoked cigars. Tannins are fully resolved bolstered by a sweet core of brambly fruit, savoury prune and plum pudding and a cool lean finish.

(Wine Safari Score: 87/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Lanzerac Cabernet Sauvignon 1968

Dark, savoury broody nose with aromatics of sweet, stewed strawberries, raspberry compote and hints of Christmas pudding. Retains a fresh attractive tangy sweetness dominated by red fruits with sweet silky tannins and a long mellow finish with just the slightest hint of diesel rag.

(Wine Safari Score: 92+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Kanonkop Cabernet Sauvignon 1994, 13% Abv.

Wonderfully perfumed, sleek and elegant on the nose with pressed violets, cherry tobacco and sweet red currant fruits. This wine is pure, precise and quite ethereal. Plenty of shape and structure in the mouth still. Impressive linearity and focus. Beautiful.

(Wine Safari Score: 95+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Kanonkop Paul Sauer 1994, 12.5% Abv.

Slightly evolved earthy nose, black currant coulis, tobacco, stewed red berry fruits. Palate is superbly fresh, saline, and incredibly well balanced, complex, silky and profound. Nose and palate slightly detached suggesting some bottle variation. A superb wine nevertheless, but I have tasted fresher bottles.

(Wine Safari Score: 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Meerlust Rubicon 1994, 12.5 Abv.

Initially very pure and tight with focused aromatics of savoury leather, black currant and violets, the nose evolves to show smokey graphite, railway yard, wood smoke and savoury berry fruit. The palate is incredibly vibrant, explosive and intense with savoury black currant, tangy acids and a mellow stewed winter berry fruit compote note on the finish. Spectacular wine.

(Wine Safari Score: 96+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Cape Winemakers Guild Cordoba 2001 Auction Reserve, 14% Abv.

Very cedary and spicy with bell pepper, green leaf, dried herbs, coffee beans and black currant fruits. A classical style that is slightly hard work now but with further evolution, could blossom into something legendary. Leave in your cellar for now is my advice. In a slightly awkward stage of evolution.

(Wine Safari Score: 91+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Taaibosch Crescendo 2018, 13.5% Abv.

This is of course the first release of the rejuvenated and replanted Cordoba estate under the watchful eye of Schalk Willem Joubert. Shows a dark dense nose of brûléed black berry fruits, coffee bean, espresso and sweet cedar spice. The palate is elegant but robust and powerful with grippy tannins, graphite spice, concentrated black currant fruit and an impressive stony mineral length. Bury this in your cellar for 10 years minimum. It will reward patience!

(Wine Safari Score: 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Vergelegen Cabernet Sauvignon 2003, 14.5% Abv.

Quite a classically proportioned wine with a nose of black berry fruits, saline cassis, wet tobacco, cedar wood and espresso spice. Texturally sleek and full, creamy and well balanced with just a slight leafy peppery note on the finish. A fine expression for a warm vintage and drinking exceptionally well at the moment.

(Wine Safari Score: 93/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Niepoort & Sadie Cape Tawny 2008, 21% Abv.

Rich, nutty and expressive with layers of burnt caramel, orange rind, old malmsey Madeira and salty nutty notes. The palate is very intense, rich but not overly sweet, more nutty and pithy than unctuous. Tannins are spicy and slightly raw but sufficiently balanced with the acid freshness that is perfect for the expected level of complexity and intensity. A very attractive offering with massive drinkability and certainly plenty of unicorn wow factor!

(Wine Safari Score: 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Revisiting Some of the Nederburg Auction Archive Wines and Future Potential Offerings…

It seems fitting to write about the amazing wines I tasted recently in the Distell Tabernacle in the same week I retasted the amazing Leeu Passant wines from Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines.

For it was these exact same old Tabernacle red wines, that now slumber in tiny quantities in the deep cellars, that inspired the creation of the Dry Red Cabernet Sauvignon / Cinsaut blend from Leeu Passant. The Chateau Libertas, the Lanzeracs and the Zonnebloems.

For so many years, these old icon wines were cherished as merely quaint land marks of South African winemaking history. Now, after several very successful recent Nederburg Auction Archive releases, these wines are finally becoming better understood and more highly revered for their incredible quality that this previous generation managed to capture in bottle. 

If you have never attended the Nederburg Auction, it may be time to readjust your sights and register for this amazingly historical event where you can throw your hat in the bidding ring and potentially secure some ancient South African historical icon wines as well as a few future historical icons.

Below are my scribblings from an amazing evening’s tasting in the Tabernacle at the end of March 2017. Wines 1 to 6 are all wines that were previously featured on the auction. So if there were any doubts about the calibre of these old, mature wines, read my below tasting notes and take note of their incredible complexity, youthfulness and innate quality. I’d put any of them in my cellar! 

Flight 1 – Previous Auction Wines Revisited

1 Oude Libertas Cinsaut 1971

(Sold in 2015 @ R 9,500 per 3)

Beautiful garnet rim, dense opulent nose with flesh, vivacity and superb complexity. Subtle nuances of peach skins, red cranberry fruit and sweet red cherry skins. Lovely purity with fine tertiary development. Palate is sleek, streamline, fresh and harmonious, with fresh acids and real brightness. Real sappy, cedary, pine resin note runs through the fruit with a savoury, lactic, raisined strawberry finish. Lovely and mature. 

(Wine Safari Score: 93/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

2 Zonnebloem Shiraz 1976

(Sold in 2011 @ R 22,000 per 6)

Rich opulent nose, fleshy and earthy, dense, savoury, alluring depth. Such exotic peach skin fruit ripeness, sun tan lotion, pine nuts, coco butter and sweet caramelised cherry spice. Wow. Rich, Round and super impressive ripeness. The sweet frais de Bois, strawberry intensity just rolls around the mouth. Profound, precise, thoroughly opulent. Just another fantastic “even vintage” from the 70s. Very vibrant, living history. 

(Wine Safari Score: 94/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

3 Lanzerac Cabernet Sauvignon 1957

(Sold in 2016 @ R 7,000 per 3)

Sneaky little 1957 Cabernet Sauvignon just draws you in. Incredible freshness and effortless vibrancy. Old, mature wines don’t get much better than this. Such precision, freshness, and elegance. The tannins caress the palate, showing pithy, spicy complexity. The textural elegance and allure is fascinating. The older the wines, the fresher the wines it seems. This finishes long, and dense with sweet cranberry fruits, raisined strawberries and red currant jelly. Incredible. 

(Wine Safari Score: 96+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

 4 Zonnebloem Cabernet Sauvignon 1965

(Sold in 2014 @ R 15,000 per 6)

This vibrant, intensely fruited red is incredibly vibrant and ripe, with such purity and fruit focus. Nose bursts with blood orange, ruby grapefruit and intense citrus zest. Plush, lush, opulent and very full and round. This has the most incredible expression of citrus, zest, gingerbread and spice. Profound. 

(Wine Safari Score: 94+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

5 Oude Libertas Cabernet Sauvignon 1975

(Sold in 2016 @ R 22,000 per 3)

Tasting a less lauded “odd 70s” vintage always brings intrigue. You just don’t expect to see the opulence of the famous even vintages. This screams quality, with freshness, and exotic logan berry and pomegranate intensity. Thoroughly harmonious, ripe and fleshy, this really impresses with crisp, pure acids. Dense and long and oh so beautiful. A real revelation.

(Wine Safari Score: 93/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

6 Chateau Libertas Cabernet / Pinotage / Cinsaut / Shiraz 1965

(Sold in 2015 @ R 12,500 per 6)

They say if you remember the 60s, you weren’t really there! Well, I’m tasting this here and now and I certainly wasn’t there! This blend seems even more complex than the so called “single varietals”. Lashings of macerated cherries, ripe prunes, raisined cranberries, and so superbly fresh. There’s plenty of vibrancy and flesh, acid and tension. This is so very impressive for a 1965! Baked strawberry nuances linger on the long, concentrated palate. Another Wow wine.

(Wine Safari Score: 94+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Flight 2 – Wines 7 to 12 features six “potential” archive auction wines. None are available in significant quantities but represent a snap shot of some of the wines we hope to see on successful future Nederburg Auctions!

7 SFW Stellenbosch Cinsaut 1974

Dense, dark supremely richly fruited and elegant. Beautiful perfumed, red berry fruit lift. Intense…Sooo sweet, rich and unctuously opulent. Low acid feel, plush creamy palate and a real block buster feel. But this is classic, ripe 1974. Crazy plummy concentration, plushness, freshness and exotic depth. Still so youthful.

(Wine Safari Score: 93/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

8 Zonnebloem Pinotage 1980

Rich ripe ruby grapefruit nose. Palate shows such succulent, soft elegant acids. Very complete, luxurious and round. Exotic, concentrated but perhaps lacks some acid cut and freshness. But beautifully ready now.

(Wine Safari Score: 90/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

9 Zonnebloem Shiraz 1980

Welcome to the 1980s! This is wow wow! Blood oranges, cherry kirsch lift, rich and ripe. Nose is so exotic, complex and multidimensional. Also such freshness and integrated acids. Fabulously intense, lush and very long. Strawberry confit, plum jelly and cranberry coulis. Impressive wine.

(Wine Safari Score: 94/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

10 Zonnebloem Cabernet Sauvignon 1981

Spicy, sappy, cedar and stem spice with integrated layers of blood orange, orange peel citrus spice and clove exotism. Full, opulent body with a fresh vibrant intensity. This is quite a profound wine. Creeps up on you and then declares its greatness. Hopefully a wine we’ll see on future auctions?

(Wine Safari Score: 95+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

11 Chateau Libertas Cabernet / Cinsaut 1982

This is a profound textured Cape classic blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Cinsaut. Fantastically perfumed and fragrant, there is such complexity of pomegranate and red cherry spice. The palate too is amazingly youthful, vibrant and intense. So harmonious with a beautifully plush, concentrated depth of fruit bursting with cherry confit, and sun kissed cranberries. I’d love to have some of this in my cellar!

(Wine Safari Score: 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

12 Chateau Libertas Cabernet / Cinsaut 1985

This is impressive, so complete, Cabernet spice, cedar and cranberry elegance, such lushness and intensity, sweet strawberry confit, soft confit notes, lush, plush and very profound. Lacks the crunch of the 1981 and 1982. A very very fine wine nevertheless.

(Wine Safari Score: 94/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

For me, the Nederburg Auction completes the holy trinity of auctions in South Africa, all serving a crucial part of the SA fine wine scene. The Cape Wine Auction has created a massive impression as the foremost charity auction in South Africa; the Cape Winemakers’ Guild Auction serves the connoisseur / technical collector market and on-trade, and the Nederburg Auction serves the true fine wine consumer in South Africa and internationally, who are looking for rarities and mature historical gems, red and white. Come mid-September 2017, you are going to want to be there in Cape Town with your cheque book close to hand! 

“Fascinating glimps into SA’s past, considering the low alcohols and the wines’ freshness, balance albeit with acidification.”

Tim Atkin MW – http://www.timatkin.com

“A visit to the tabernacle takes us down memory lane and shows us a slice of South African wine history. Always interesting, always eye opening.” 

Richard Kershaw MW – Winemaker