Modest aspirations

Lunchtime conversation on Sunday was illuminating. In amongst the discourse about the sporting doping scandals, the Tour de France and England’s victory in the first Ashes Test as well as organic and biodynamic vegetable growing and the making of compost heaps there was wine talk.

The table’s surface was littered not only with the remains of a severely decimated cheese platter but of “interesting but old” bottles our host had brought out. There had been a Klein Constantia Brut Triple Zero to kick off with. Made by Ross Gower three years ahead of the turn of the millennium and only bottled in magnum it had sadly lost its fizz. The flavours were suitably ‘interesting’ nonetheless – much like a matured apple cider with distinct biscuit element. I remember enjoying this wine many times a decade earlier when it was still vibrant and full of life – much like its sadly departed maker.

From Springfield in Robertson came a red, appropriately named The Work of Time – and it had stood the test, still boasting ample fruit and with a distinct tangy succulence that spoke of its acidity… perhaps a little too much. Festooned with gold stickers was the Kaapzicht Bin 3 2001, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. A dozen years on from harvest it was holding up well but its glory days were behind it and the wine is on an inexorable downward slide. Still eminently drinkable with somewhat pruney dark fruit and distinctly evolved tobacco flavours, it was also still deliciously succulent but a touch tired.

That led to the next one, a wine with far more modest aspirations when initially bottled: the first run of Nederburg Baronne, the Cabernet Shiraz blend so beloved of consumers. Neither of the two venerable gentlemen at the table could recall quite what the first vintage was but believed it was “in the late 70’s”. It was the wine which garnered the most praise and really got everyone talking – about its relative youth in spite of it being at least three-plus decades old, of how fresh and drinkable it still was, how lively the fruit expression, the distinctive note of Shiraz spice underpinning it all. It was never intended to be a ‘great’ wine – just a good, everyday drinking and possibly even lunchtime red wine.

Among our number was someone whose birth year was 1959 – and an anecdote was retold, of sourcing a bottle of wine from that same year. “I wasn’t expecting too much of it. It was a bottle of Chateau Libertas 1959 – and it was stupendous! Probably one of the best wines I’ve ever had,” the husband, a noted Burgundy lover and trophy hunter, said.

Which got me thinking: in 30-plus years’ time, what will I be raving about in my dotage? All those wines which are currently in vogue as the hottest tickets to have, the wines winning all the medals and trophies – or those surprisingly modest ones, which retail for far less, are more humble in their aspirations but which are still capable of genuine enjoyment and drinkability? Based on Sunday’s experience, probably the latter…

– Fiona McDonald