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Cultivating a culture of fine (older) wines

We consume good wines as if there’s no tomorrow. But wines, well matured, could be the next big investment thing.

There is an ongoing debate in local wine-geek circles about whether the country’s wines can support an investment wine industry. It’s a small, but important and growing market internationally – a recent article in The Telegraph newspaper proclaims: ‘When compared with global equities, fine wine outperformed 98 percent of the time over any given handful of years.’ Ninety percent of that market is made up of the big names of Bordeaux and Burgundy, with a handful of cult wines from California and Italy taking the difference.

One of the key factors in buying a wine to keep and sell and (hopefully) make a good profit on is its track record of ageing well. There is absolute conviction that a Chateau Latour from a great vintage like 2009 will improve, in quality and price, over many decades. That same conviction doesn’t exist for South African wine. There are those, however, who believe that conviction could – and should – be created.

Cultivating a culture of fine (older) wines 1Mike Ratcliffe of Vilafonté is a believer. ‘We need to hold back wine volumes to allow older vintages to be released sporadically and so prove the 25-year-old ageability thesis,’ he says. Kanonkop, Klein Constantia and Bouchard Finlayson are other examples of wineries paying more than lip service to the maturation and niche marketing of older vintages.

The Bouchard Finlayson offering is called Peter’s Picks, after the wine maker, Peter Finlayson. The current set comprises the 2006 vintage of the limited-edition Tête de Cuvée Pinot Noir; the 1998 and 2001 vintages of the Galpin Peak Pinot Noir; and three vintages of Chardonnay – the 2007 and 2011 from the legendary Kaaimansgat vineyard near Villiersdorp, and a 2009 Sans Barrique. All six wines illustrate perfectly the point that excellent South African wines from good vintages, optimally cellared, drink beautifully for many years after coming to market. The three Pinot Noir wines also add weight to the growing evidence that the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley is South Africa’s premier region for growing this often difficult Burgundian varietal, dubbed the ‘heartbreak grape’.

Enjoying older wines can take some practice. A much quoted statistic from the wine retail world is that more than 90 percent of bottles are drunk within 48 hours of being sold, and that has driven producers to make and release wines for early drinking – full of bright and primary fruit aromas. In older wines that brightness mellows, and secondary and tertiary qualities replace it – harmony and balance become more important than upfront fruit flavour.

The ’98 Galpin Peak is a perfect example of the benefits of patience. The nose still takes one into a cherry orchard; the palate is beautifully balanced with wonderful symmetry between the fruit and the supportive oaking; and the wine is kept very much alive by a pure line of acidity that energises what’s in the glass almost 20 years after bottling.

The Tête de Cuvée is 10 years old but has the rich and brooding intensity that tells one it is still an adolescent in terms of its development – it will provide this delectable combination of dark plum aromatics and super-fine tannin structure for another couple of decades.

All three white wines show only the positive signs of maturity – still prettily alive with great fruit, fresh acidity and graceful balance, but an added complexity and palate weight that comes with being allowed time to integrate. I still have two bottles of the ’97 Kaaimansgat in my cellar and I am in no hurry to drink them, so confident am I of their continued vivacity. Peter’s Picks are available online and from the cellar door, and provide stellar proof of the old English phrase ‘Good things come to those who wait’.

By John Maythan, shortened for online publication from Private Edition, Issue 35


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