They stood proud and dignified, their pale green glass cloaks faded by time and dulled with the dust of four decades past. Nine wines they were, all from South Africa, sharing the date of vintage 1982. Selected for showing to an assembly of Cape winemakers, some who still must reach the age of 40, others having passed the doubling of that milestone, and then some.
The more I attend tastings of old Cape wines, the more these bottles’ contents impress me. For from the nine wines presented here, I expected the rule of thirds to come into play which usually features on similar occasions: one-third vinegared drek; one tired, musty and lame, with the other third comprising drinkable wines, with, possibly, one or two stand-outs.
But perhaps the Gods were smiling down on the party that had gathered to taste these wines from vintage 1982 on a stunning autumn day at Muratie Wine Estate, the air warm and lighted by pale gold. Maybe vintage 1982 was, as attendee Jan Boland Coetzee, said, one of the great Cape wine years. Whatever it was, all these wines captured the attention, grabbed the imagination and – most importantly – reminded one of the pleasures of drinking good wines made to mature for 40 years and even more.
The Simonsig Chardonnay set the tone, especially since I had recently been privy to some spine-tingling old Chardonnays from Backsberg. When this Simonsig wine was made, South Africa only had 70ha of Chardonnay vines stuck into Cape soils. The wine came at the very birth of the local Chardonnay industry, and this quality underscores the undeniable fact that South Africa and Chardonnay are meant for each other.
The Simonsig poured airily into the glass, emitting aromas both floral and forest. It lay on the palate with assured confidence, agreeable in its offering of flavours of pear, loquat and orange-peel held together nicely with strapping fresh acid and a firmness on the palate leading to a patient, lingering finish. Heavenly, sure.
Cabernet Sauvignon comprised the bulk of the 1982 offerings, and the bowling over was done by the diversity in structure and flavour, with the harmony provided by the wines’ excellent health.
Kanonkop, well, not really surprising that this was one of the wines of the line-up – were you forced to choose. Those famous Simonsberg tannins trumpeting in the arrival of vinous splendour which struts along the palate, its cloak of dark-fruit, prune and fig-paste ruffled by the edginess of pine-needle, autumn forest and Havana cigar wrapper. The stroke of fennel on the finish, which is clear and unhindered by the mists of time.
Still on the Simonsberg, the 40-year old Le Bonheur Cabernet Sauvignon was also in exceptionally rude health, at the height of its powers, actually. The wine shows an extraordinarily fresh and sappy attack on the palate leading to powerful dark fruit perked with prods of floral, savoury and raspberry confit. Some real stoniness on the wine, too, giving the Cabernet Sauvignon a Saint-Estèphe-like coolness recollecting the old walls of medieval cathedrals and the greened bronze of church-bells.
Nederburg, always game to remind one of its classic provenance, showed a good Cabernet Sauvignon from 1982 at the tasting, but it was the R103 blend of Cabernet and Shiraz that caught my attention. The calm grace and power of the Cabernet Sauvignon is broadened with some fleshy Shiraz muscle, creating a broad and open wine, very generous in its offering of plushness and drifting notes of prune, wet tobacco, raisin and mace. Truly gorgeous and Rubenesque-like in its alluring appeal.
The wine of the day, for me was the 1982 Cabernet Sauvignon from Alto out in the Helderberg. North-facing slopes and loads of sunlight dappled by the clouds fluttering in off False Bay gives the wine a ripe edge to off-set the cannonball-power of Helderberg Cabernet Sauvignon. The four decades in bottle had given the wine a charm and wit, seductively inviting one to partake in the tales of mystery and intrigue that has built-up during all those years spent lying in a dark place. Ridiculously energetic and flirtatious, the wine rests showily on the palate, throwing darts of taste around the place: pencil-shaving and old, dry pine-cones; mulberry and freshly tarred highway; petrichor and prune. Tannins are randy and frisky, but a sensual cloak of dry rose-petals falls from the sky, giving this wonderful thing an air of the surreal and a clear glimpse of the amazing thing that great wine can be.
Of any age, and from any place.
- The nine-strong 1982 team consisted of: Simonsig Chardonnay; Cabernet Sauvignon from Alto Estate, Kanonkop, Le Bonheur, Nederburg Private Bin R163, and Zonnebloem; Nederburg Private Bin R103 (Cabernet Sauvignon/Shiraz), Chateau Libertas and Zonebloem Pinotage.
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