The evening in Onrus was supposed to be nothing more than a bit of bonding with my parents and their epileptic Scottish terrier Molly. But it turned into a gastronomic and vinous highlight which set an amazingly high standard for the rest of the year.
The tone was struck when the Old Man procured a brace of abalone, the delectable shellfish known as perlemoen in South Africa and ormeaux in Brittany, France, where it is also found. Now when it comes to abalone, only South African abalone will do. The Cape seas are to abalone what the Côte d’Or is to Chardonnay: idyllic, perfect, spot-on terroir. The site-specific G-spot. I have had abalone from Japan. I have had abalone from California. New Zealand. And of France. But South African abalone beats them all. Tentacles down.
As fate might have it, the procurement of said shellfish coincided with the fact that I am the abalone maestro. Yup. The main enchilada. Check-out this fact: diving abalone in the 1970’s when you could not give the stuff away never mind sell it, I’d make myself abalone and mayonnaise sandwiches for school. And if you want to call yourself an expert, you have to start young, see.
So there were the abalone. Which I cleaned, scrubbed and sliced. While Mom attended to Molly in the throes of her second epileptic fit of the evening. And the Old Man left the house in horror upon discovering that an armada of mealy-bugs had descended on one of his 50 year old bonsai trees. For these he had received an Honours Roll from the Japanese Government. And the bugs had to be fought with some organic spray imported from Osaka.
That’s correct. Another normal evening in Casa Joubert Senior.
Whilst lovingly tenderising the slices of cream-coloured abalone with a mallet made from Californian Redwood, specially purchased for thus, thoughts of a wine to match the coming gastronomic fuckfest crossed my mind. Chardonnay…. a Drouhin Clos des Mouches 2009, perhaps? Bordeaux white, such as a flinty Haute-Brion of 2005.
And then it hit me: Let’s go big. Let’s push the envelope. Abalone is such a treat, why not haul a cult wine. Legendary stuff.
If there is a South African wine more legendary than the GS Cabernet 1966, I’d sure like to see it.
Clouded in mystery and a tad of controversy, the GS was put on the international map in 2007 when James Molesworth of the Wine Spectator hit it with a 95 pointer. Wham. Takes some doing. For an Old Wine? Almost impossible.
Mystery, as in, where were the grapes grown? I do know. In Durbanville. Not on Altydgedacht. No, not. Nearby, though. But that specific agricultural land, home to the GS vines, has subsequently been pillaged by developers of urban sprawl.
Mystery, as in, who made it? George Spies made it. Himself. Some of his former Stellenbosch Farmers Winery colleagues who – unlike Mister Spies – are still alive, would like to contest this. But I have seen letters from Spies describing how the wine was made and what his reasons for making it were. Namely, to try and ascertain the viability of producing age-worthy wines from single-vineyards. Something that was not being done in the 1960s.
Mystery, how many bottles of GS are still around? Not many. He made two vintages: 1966 and 1968. It was never sold commercially. But there is a secondary market driven by collectors and auctioneers.
I held the bottle with reverence, saying a little prayer to Bacchus. Pulling the cork was a nervous experience akin to attempting a match-winning penalty conversion in extra time. The 47 year old cork was sponge-like. Threatened to drive into the bottle. But my screw got a grip, so to speak, and I pulled the cork millimetre-by-millimetre.
A blast of oxygen would kill the wine, so no decanting here despite the admonition from Joubert Senior who was now suddenly cocksure of himself having just sent a few thousand bonsai-munching mealy-bugs to a choking, sputtering death. The GS Cabernet was poured into the glass and sniffed immediately.
If more 47 year olds smelt this good, the world would be a happier place I’m sure. The wine’s nose was in pristine condition. Herbs, tangy fruit, crushed rock. A sun-baked, deserted tar road after a splash of summer rain. Because the GS had not undergone any wood maturation, there were no tobacco or leather tones. Just wine. Good wine.
The first two sips showed a bit of blurry oxidation. Portlike. But as the minutes went by, the wine opened up like Kate Winslet’s legs on National Beaver Day. Firm, statuesque tannins. Lucid black fruit shone through like sunbeams through a stained glass window in an old cathedral. Beguiling savouriness, but not of the plodding, hindering kind. And a subtle sweetness, pippy as a dried Turkish fig. Score: 998/1000.
Oh, and the abalone. The thin strips were fried for 90 seconds in very hot butter and laced with lemon juice and grated Zanzibar nutmeg before serving. As the shellfish melted in the mouth, it was joined by a wave of red wine in all its perfection.
Heaven can wait. But if you have a bottle of GS around, drink it now.
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