Seeing the Light of Surprises

Showing an appreciation for wine may not always pay the bills, but it does pay in kind. Rather a lot of it. Hardly a month goes by without some acquaintance of an acquaintance or long lost family member hauling out a bottle of something “that has been lying” around. Being a wine lover, said person then kindly deems you a worthy and appreciative recipient.


The result is not all good. More often than not the wine has been stored in a backroom or garage which reaches furnace-like temperatures. The subsequent effect on whatever wine is in the stash, is devastating.

As Danie de Wet says: “The only thing you can be sure of when given an old bottle of wine from an unfamiliar source, is that it has not been stolen.” Anyone who has gagged on an oxidised bottle of KWV Roodeberg from the 1960s will know that this is so.

Lately, however, I have been fortunate enough to have had some Roald Dahl moments. Remember that story of his, “Parson’s Pleasure”? The one where the main character spots the Chippendale woodwork in the run-down farm-house? Well, that’s what I felt like when I was given a bottle of 1976 Romanee Saint Vivant “Quatre Journeaux” from Domaine Louis Latour, the result of a friend’s mother who found it while packing-up during the process of moving.

Just possessing a bottle of this stuff ,made me feel quite flush. And I really was going to keep it as a conversation piece, but I swear that each time I put it to my ear some voice was chanting “drink me” in an enticing French accent.

I let the bottle stand upright in the wine fridge for two days to allow the murkiness to drop out. The cork was a bitch to remove, not having been subjected to the 10 year replacement regimen followed in Burgundy. However, after eventually removing it and its pieces I poured. And was exposed to something quite extraordinary.

There was sweet, floral aroma without the slightest hint of oxidation or tiredness. The colour was garnet, clear with a slight amber rim.

What can I say about the taste?

Cool and bright leading to a deep place of musk, spice and just-felled wood. The acidity was lively, even brisk. Actually, the wine was as a big a tease as my matric dance date: it invited me to explore all its areas and every facet, but led me to believe that the best was still to come, and for this I’d have to wait.

It really was a magical experience, one which I can quite honestly say has changed the way I look at wine and its perceived greatness.

The second Roald Dahl moment came from the same stash. A bottle of Monis Port 1964.

Look, the Port thing I’ve done. In Oporto. Many times. In old, dingy dark cellars with barrels that look as if they had been used in the building of Noah’s ark. And still, to my mind, Cockburn’s 1963 has been one of the best wines to pass these lips.

The Monis Port 1964, however, was not standing back to any mature bit of Portuguese.

Probably made from Pontac and Touriga from the Faure area ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ probably, I say ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ the wine initially showed a soft, delicate character. Almost floral. Fragile. Like a tea-cup from the Ying Dynasty.

But the fragile entry was followed by a burst of dried fruit, exotic spice, dried flower and overripe fig. Enchanting. Seductive. Brilliant. Spirit and fruit in harmony. Wood in structure, not on taste.

What a fabulous wine.

It is surprises like these that make this industry all worthwhile. Every bit of it.

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