As a living entity, wine, too, must come to terms with its mortality. Time is one of wine’s great friends, allowing the exuberance of youth to grow into statuesque and magnificent adulthood, whereafter there follows a period of marvellous mature elegance before the bubble pops, the bones weaken and the body tires as life slowly seeps away.
Since reappearing onto the South African and international wine scene in 2007 as forgotten treasures, the GS Cabernet wines from vintages 1966 and 1968 added a captivating chapter to the story of Cape wine. The GS 1966 was the first South African wine to attain a 94pt rating in the Wine Spectator, thanks to Stellenbosch winemaker David Finlayson who took a bottle to dinner with the Spectator‘s critic James Molesworth.
Never having been commercially released, an interesting run was on to discover more about the GS Cabernets and suddenly, these once-forgotten bottles were finding their way onto tastings, into market for the first time and colouring the list of wine auction offerings.
It was, and still is, a good story, this GS. Made by George Spies, former head of production at Stellenbosch Farmers Winery as an experiment to see what single-vineyard Cape wines could deliver at a time before estate wine legislation was promulgated, most South African wine back then being big branded blends. Spies’s selected Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard was in Durbanville, and he vinified the 1966 in stainless steel tank – unthinkable for makers of high-end Cabernet Sauvignon today – while the 1968 spent time in foudré. Never seeing the market, the mystery behind the GS wines and their maker added to giving them cul status. But cult status of the worthy type, for when the wines began circulating over 40 years after being made, it became evident that the quality here was extraordinary. As Molesworth noted. As did Jancis Robinson, who scored the 1966 with 20 out of 20.
Collectors scrambled, some even willing to pay north of R30 000 for one bottle of GS 1966. Those opening their bottles, were mesmerised. A bottle of GS in good health remains a marvellous, wonderful thing. Framed in Médoc, it is a great red wine coloured by wild maritime terroir with a stroke of Cape character in its slight fynbos whisper. Everything is in harmony and each note precise in contributing to the astounding completeness that is the whole.
But nothing lasts forever, and it appears as if time has been chipping away at these GS monuments, age resulting in the sighs of blessing the wines once offered turning into a tired and sad whisper.
Over the past two years, I have been privy to various collections of the GS 1966 and 1968 and it is evident that the glory days are easing towards their end. And who can blame these wines, as they have served their owners and consumers with unforgettable tasting experiences as well as allowing for a piece of history to enter their physical domain.
Of late, batches are showing the 1968 to be outlasting the once more revered 1966. I recently had 24 GS 1966 and 12 of the GS 1968 to taste, all 36 wines of healthy ullage and with no serious stopper defects visible.
Make no mistake, there were a few bottles – especially 1968 – that are still holding onto glimpses of their integrity and their freshness and their original power. Here and there, the glorious 1966 showed a sabre-stroke of brightness which, while never as fresh as it was a decade ago, provided a commanding drinking experience.
But these wines are standing on their last legs. The wines appear as if they have now had enough, their contribution to wine civilisation fulfilled, the journey complete. That original lusty and showy ambition with which they hit the world in an already advanced stage of maturity has faltered. They have fought against the dying light too long and no longer have the wherewithal to burn and rave against the day.
During the recent bout of GS wines, I also for the first time consistently found wines that had been ruptured, all flavour and health tragically murdered leaving behind a ghastly onslaught of vinegared acetone. Pray no-one who forked out R30k will experience this.
I will thus not be keeping any GS wines for longer than a year or two. Unless one’s wine pleasure lies in merely possessing a full bottle, my advice is for owners to do likewise. Because it is only good manners to honour a great wine by drinking it while it is still drinkable and able to offer the immortal memory it truly deserves.
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