Tastings at the Wangenheim Master Class® are usually veiled in secrecy so as to keep inquisitive neighbours and out-of-towners from being shot. But asked to host a tasting at this prestigious winelands event I did so on condition of being permitted to share some insights of the procedures with readers of this on-line vehicle.
The WMC® wine gathering is held monthly on a farm in Rawsonville and is attended by some of the sharpest palates in the Southern Hemisphere. Technical director is Melanie van der Merwe, Cap Classique maestro, while wine farmer Francois Botha is on hand to offer insights on viticultural practices. Bernard Kotze, aka The Goggaman, does a grand job of keeping minutes and recording the tasting notes, while the catering is left to domestic goddess Welmay Botha.
Each event exudes restrained opulence along with exquisite wines, intelligent banter and irreverent wit. And while only 18 persons are present at each WMC®, the waiting list for membership applications is longer than the queue of opportunists waiting for hand-outs at a Wieta gathering.
I was asked to present old South African wines, a theme that has always intrigued me as I not think the ability of our wines to age well gets the recognition it deserves.
It must be remembered, however, that old wines are much like aged female volleyball players: just because they have survived and are still breathing does not mean they still taste good.
A 1977 KWV Shiraz of which you can stomach half a glass without puking does not mean that 36 year-old South African wines “can age”.
No. For an old wine to warrant its place on earth it must be complemented by the number of years it has spent in bottle. It must have attracted nuances and character it did not show in its youth, becoming a fuller, richer and more attractive wine.
Older white wines were not easy to come by, the general perception being they are not as worthy of stashing away as tannic-rich reds are. Danie de Wet came to my rescue. South Africa’s White Knight has a reverence for whites and has made a point of holding back stock.
It was thus my pleasure to show the WMC® a 1971 Cape Riesling, 1983 Rhine Riesling and 1993 Bon Vallon Unwooded Chardonnay, all from De Wetshof. For good measure I chucked in a Le Bonheur 1988 Blanc Fumé I had scored at Zetler farm stall outside Stellenbosch.
The wines were a revelation, with only the 1971 having turned into an oxidised vinegary soup. But the other three wines were beyond aged objects of interest. They were delicious, interesting and enjoyable.
The Bon Vallon showed why Robertson is arguably the finest Chardonnay region in South Africa. Having the highest limestone content of any wineland soils in the country, the whites suck-up enough pH to act as a natural preservative. The Bon Vallon was 20 years old, but as pale as a monk who had just seen the first pages of 50 Shades of Grey. This incredibly light colour was complemented by a heady perfume of floral-fruit, while the palate was soft, light and heady. A truly gorgeous wine, proof of why Chardonnay is the greatest white grape in the world.
The Rhine Riesling was made in the same year as the great Laingsburg flood, with the fruit taking on heaps of botrytis. The fungal sweetness has toned-down over the years, leaving a dollop of pure unadulterated Riesling which you could spot a mile away.
The whites having passed the test, we moved onto five reds. Zonnebloem Cabernet 1970. Zonnebloem Pinotage 1980. Rust en Vrede Estate 1995. Kanonkop Paul Sauer 1998 and Glen Carlou CWG Pinot Noir 1999.
Only one wine had signs of having passed over the hill, and that was the Cabernet. The Pinotage was still in smooth, drinkable knick. The Rust en Vrede was a huge surprise – massive tannic grip asking a few more years in the bottle after 18 years?
The revelation was the Glen Carlou Pinot Noir. Made from Paarl fruit, this is the kind of Pinot Noir to silence the voices who see Pinot as only suited to Hemel-en-Aarde, Elgin and other cool climates.
This Pinot showed a leaning towards the supple elegance of Vosne Romanée, with a bit of Corton muscle thrown in. It oozed spice, ripe red fruit and had a slight spread of forest floor proving that this wine also had a few years left to improve.
But as at any Master Class®, one master reigns supreme. At Wangenheim it was the Kanonkop Paul Sauer 1998.
Some 10 years ago this wine was rated as one of the best reds ever made in South Africa. Drinking it now just elevates that status.
It is a brooding monster of blued-blooded Bordeaux pedigree, an athletic robust lad from St Estèphe ravishing an elegant passionate maiden from Saint-Émilion. Concentrated black fruit, pine needle and all spice, all held together with tannins as supple yoga instructor’s backbone. But the heady power of it all was truly overwhelming, startling to the senses.
No student on the night was younger than the wine, but we were all forced to stand up when drinking it. It commands authority and respect, as do so many older South African wines.