Travels in Wine / South Africa

How well do South African wines age?

Contents

Jo Locke Jo Locke / 25 October 2018

Very well! That's what I discovered when I returned to the Cape and attended some incredible tastings. I also got to taste 10 'Episodes' of the ever-popular Liberator series including two brand new creations, and couldn't help but admire the innovation and community focus of Spier.

Greg Sherwood at The Whole Bunch Heritage tasting
Greg Sherwood MW at The Whole Bunch Heritage tasting

Just one of the advantages of being a Wine Society buyer (NB to all aspiring MWs, the same goes for being a Master of Wine) is the occasional opportunity to taste rare and special wines, the kind of experience money cannot buy. So it was on my first day of my September 2018 trip to the Cape, courtesy of The Whole Bunch, and in particular a personal invitation from new supplier and Cape 'rock star' Lukas van Loggerenberg. Hosted and generously made possible by the Winshaw brothers of Usana, this was an extraordinary tasting of Cape red wines dating from the 1950s and 60s. The event was co-chaired by Master of Wine and Cape authority Greg Sherwood of the UK's Handford Wines and the audience response was unanimously hushed, reverential, and positive!

The wines were not only very much alive but delicious. Greg explained that these wines are now rare on the auction market in the Cape, and while prices have risen, perhaps not by as much as the wines deserve. My advice is if you see any of them at auction here in the UK, my guess is that they are likely to be underpriced and well worth a punt!

Delheim 1987: still very much alive and proof positive of the ageing potential of the Cape's best wines
Delheim 1987: still very much alive

Two other extra special treats lay in store at Thelema and Delheim. As we were discussing the ageability of Cape wines, Thomas Webb kindly opened a bottle of 1997 Thelema Cabernet, which beautifully illustrated that, when well stored, these wines can age gracefully way beyond the usual recommended 10-year drinking window (for South African cellars that is). Ditto at Delheim where my delicious homemade Bobotie (a national dish of South Africa: a delicious mix of curried meat and fruit with a creamy golden topping, not dissimilar to moussaka) at their lovely 'cottage' restaurant was graced with a gorgeous Delheim Grand Reserve 1987, a lovely elegant wine and also still very much alive.

Which is more than can be said for my little hire car which was dead as a dodo when I emerged from the tasting room. I had not noticed that the headlights were switched on when I collected it in torrential rain in Stellenbosch that morning. So all my fault therefore, made all the more embarrassing by the kindness of co-owner Victor Sperling whose misspent youth came in handy to get the car started again. Thank goodness Delheim sits on the slopes of the beautiful Simonsberg mountain!

Liberator retrospective in Cape Town
Liberator retrospective in Cape Town

Another privilege on this trip was an invitation to The Liberator's (aka Richard Kelley MW's) first tasting of Liberator Episodes in the Cape. Hosted by Roland Peens at Wine Cellar, top-notch wine merchant and retailer in the still somewhat run down but trendy Observatory area of Cape Town, the tasting showcased 10 Liberator Episodes, including the two latest incarnations which are to be the first sold in the Cape (via Wine Cellar): an extraordinary and to-die-for flor-affected chenin blanc, and a petite sirah which I had already tasted back in April and has now blossomed. A generous contribution from sales of these two wines is to go to Sp(i)eel, a charity that uses the creative arts as therapies to support previously disadvantaged communities. Hats off to all concerned.

Tokara new Winemaker Stuart Botha (left) with GM Karl Lambour
Tokara new Winemaker Stuart Botha (left) with GM Karl Lambour

Catching up with changes in the Cape Wine industry

Stuart Botha is looking right at home at Tokara, where he has taken over the role of cellarmaster from long-term resident Miles Mossop. I was impressed, as ever, with the range of wines, including Stuart's first release, a delicious sauvignon blanc, but also with the way Stuart presented them. An old friend from his former life at Eagles' Nest, I very much hope we will see him at another Wine Society tasting sometime soon!

The cellar at L'Avenir
The cellar at L'Avenir

I had not visited L'Avenir for some years and was delighted to have added it late to my itinerary, having missed them at Cape Wine. Now under new ownership, much work has been done in the vineyards (which looked simply stunning), cellar and visitor facilities. 'Back to being Proudly South African' said cellarmaster Dirk Coetzee, the focus is now firmly on pinotage – a specialism forged under previous cellarmaster François Naudé – and chenin blanc, and the top wines showed far greater purity and finesse than in recent years. A property definitely on the up, and a lovely place to visit.

An art student hard at work at Spier
An art student hard at work at Spier

Many members have recommended Spier and again it had been some time since I visited or bought any of the wines. This large estate not far outside Stellenbosch has always been a go-to venue popular with tour operators and private visitors alike. I quickly understood why its name crops up more than ever. The razzmatazz of old has gone, to be replaced by beautifully restored old buildings, a divine-smelling deli, and an informal restaurant, set in beautiful grounds. In addition, there is an art gallery and workshop, showcasing just one of the community projects that are behind so much of what goes on here, under the appropriately coined 'Growing for Good' initiative. Small canvases and materials are delivered to budding artists, their work bought back, some of which is displayed and sold, some used in the design for the Creative Block range of wines. Top students have the chance to win a year's scholarship to build a portfolio in the on-site studio, where they are currently focusing on mosaic and bead work.

Innovative greenhouse made from recycled plastic bottles at Spier
Innovative greenhouse made from recycled plastic bottles at Spier

A former employee is now running the laundry which supplies the hotel (which was the first in the Cape to be certified Fair Trade). Another, with the help of environmental non-profit organisation Wildlands, manages a nursery of indigenous trees and plants which are grown from seed harvested from mother plants, then delivered as saplings to schools and townships where they are nurtured, supporting education and ultimately providing income, as the young plants are then bought back using a specially designed voucher scheme. The young plants are then raised further until they are suitable for planting in those same schools and townships, for the benefit of all. That so much of this is done using recycled materials (empty plastic bottles used to create a greenhouse, discarded shoes and polystyrene packaging used as planters, even coffee cups used in place of plant pots, the beauty of which is that they are biodegradable, so can be planted directly into the ground), is even more inspiring, and I came away determined to become a better person! Oh, and the Spier entry in the 2018 Platter's Wine Guide speaks for itself. The affordable Signature 'lifestyle' range comprises eight wines in total which aim to overdeliver. Further up the scale the Creative Block and single-vineyard wines are impressive. Look out for them in your local Nando's, which is owned by the same family, and in wider distribution in the UK in due course. They deserve it.

Where to go next?


Members' Comments (1)

"I am often surprised that others are surprised that wines from the "New World" can age. Why wouldn't wines with the same grapes with the same chemical balances not age when they are grown and made into wine using similar techniques to the more famous regions? It is a matter of personal taste but ultra old wines do I feel decline quicker than some would have us believe, Everyone murmurs with hushed awe as a 1961 Bordesux is poured, given the cost... Read more > and rarity no one dares admit that the wine is 30 years past it's best. My own experiences of the best South African cabernet led wines suggest 10 to 15 years as ideal but I honestly think this rings true for virtually all cabernet whether from the Cape or Pauillac."

Mr Antony Brown (26-Jan-2019)

Society Promise
Members before profit
Awards

Our website uses cookies with the aim of providing you with a better service. By using this website you consent to The Wine Society using cookies in accordance with our policy.

Close

4.4. Cookie Policy

By using The Wine Society website, you agree to cookies being used in accordance with the policy outlined below. If you do not agree to this, you must alter your browser settings to turn off cookies or block those types which are unacceptable to you or cease using the website.

The Wine Society uses cookies to enable easy navigation and shopping on the website. We take the privacy of all who use our website very seriously and ensure that our use of cookies complies with current EU legislation. The following guide outlines what cookies are, the types of cookies used on The Society's website and how they work.

You may alter your browser settings to turn off cookies or block those types which are unacceptable to you, but this will cause difficulties when accessing and using some areas of the site. Instructions on how to do this can also be found below.

4.4.1. What are 'Cookies'?

  • Most major websites use cookies.
  • A cookie is a very small data file placed on your hard drive by a web page server. It is essentially your access card, and cannot be executed as code or deliver viruses. It is uniquely yours and can only be read by the server that gave it to you.
  • Cookies cannot be used by themselves to identify you.
  • The purpose of a basic cookie is to tell the server that you returned to that web page or have items in your basket. Without cookies, websites and their servers have no memory. A cookie, like a key, enables swift passage from one place to the next.
  • Without a cookie every time you open a new web page the server where that page is stored will treat you like a completely new visitor.
  • More recently, cookies have also been used to collect information about the user which allows a profile of their preferences and interests to be created so that they can be served with interest-based rather than generic information about available goods and services.

4.4.2. How do Cookies help The Wine Society?

Cookies allow our website to function effectively. Cookies also help us to arrange content to match your preferred interests more quickly. We can learn what information is important to our visitors, and what isn't.

4.4.3. How does The Wine Society use cookies?

The Wine Society does not accept advertising from third parties and therefore, as a rule, does not serve third-party cookies. Exceptions to this include performance/analytical cookies (see below), used anonymously to improve the way our website works, the provision of personalised recommendations, and occasions when we may team up with suppliers to offer special discounts on goods or services.

The Society uses technology to track the patterns of behaviour of visitors to our site.

4.4.4. What type of cookies does The Wine Society use?

We use the following three types of cookies:

4.4.4.1. Strictly Necessary Cookies
These cookies are required for the operation of our website, enabling you to move around the website and use its features, such as accessing secure areas of the website. Without these cookies, services like shopping baskets or e-billing cannot be provided. Under this heading, we currently use the following cookies:

  • Authentication Cookie and Anonymous Cookie
    These cookies remember that you are logged in to your account – without them, the website would repeatedly request your login details with each new page you visit during your time on our website. They are removed once your session has ended.
  • Session Cookie
    These cookies are used to remember who you are as you use our site: without them, the website would be unable to tell the difference between you and another Wine Society member and facilities such as your basket and the checkout process would therefore not be able to function. They too are removed once your session has ended.

4.4.4.2. Functionality & Targeting/Tracking Cookies
These cookies are used to recognise you when you return to our website and to provide enhanced features. This allows us to personalise our content for you. Under this heading, we currently use the following cookies:

  • Unique User Cookie
    This cookie is used to:
    • store your share number in order to identify that you have visited the website before. Without this cookie, we would be unable to tell whether you are a member or not.
    • record your visit to the website, the pages you have visited and the links you have followed. We use this information to make our website, the content displayed on it and direct marketing communications we may send to you or contact you about more relevant to your interests.
    • This cookie expires after 13 months.
  • Peerius Cookies
    These third-party cookies are used to provide you with personalised recommendations based on your purchase and browsing history. They expire within 4 hours of your visit.

4.4.4.3. Performance/analytical cookies
These cookies collect information about how visitors use a website, for instance which pages visitors go to most often, and if they get error messages from web pages. These cookies don't collect information which identifies a visitor. All information these cookies collect is aggregated and therefore anonymous. It is only used to improve how a website works. Under this heading, we currently use the following cookies:

  • Google Analytics Cookies
    These are third-party cookies to enable Google Analytics to monitor website traffic. All information is recorded anonymously. Using Google Analytics allows The Society to better understand how members use our site and monitor website traffic.

4.4.4.4. Authentication Cookie
In order for us to ensure that your data remains secure it is necessary for us to verify that your session is authentic (i.e. it has not been compromised by a malicious user). We do this by storing an otherwise meaningless unique ID in a cookie for the duration of your visit. No personal information can be gained from this cookie.

4.4.5. How do you turn cookies off?

All modern browsers allow you to modify your cookie settings so that all cookies, or those types which are not acceptable to you, are blocked. However, please note that this may affect the successful functioning of the site, particularly if you block all cookies, including essential cookies. For example, In Internet Explorer, go to the Tools Menu, then go to Internet Options, then go to Privacy. Here you can change the rules your browser uses to accept cookies. You can find out more in the public sources mentioned below.

4.4.6. Learn more about cookies

4.4.7. Changes to our cookie policy

Any changes we may make to our cookie policy in the future will be posted on the website and, where appropriate, notified to you by email. Please check back frequently to see any updates and changes to our cookie policy.

 

Have a question?Live Chat

Live Chat