One of the most popular questions on my wine courses is ‘How long can I keep a wine?’ Of course, the argumentative answer is ‘until you open it’ although what people generally mean is ‘how long before it’s at its peak and tastes delicious.’ There are various natural preservatives in wine such as alcohol, tannins, acidity and sugar – none of which are of any use however, unless there is plenty of fine concentrated fruit at the beginning.
Today’s winedrinkers are apparently more impatient than earlier generations. We want immediate gratification, wines that taste good and can be drunk now, soft tannins and lots of juicy fruit. And the accountants want the wine sold and drunk as quickly as possible so that customers come back and buy more – a far cry away from the times of less competition and a gentleman-farmers attitude. Getting hold of an older wine is becoming increasingly difficult, so it was a rare treat to try a wine older than me this week!
Zonnebloem has a long and distinguished history in Cape wine. Established as a wine farm by Simon van der Stel, it was during the 1940’s that it started to achieve fame due to the remarkable success of one of the first Cape ladies of wine – Marie Furter. She inherited the farm from her father and won several awards for her wines before sexism intervened and she was forced to teach first her brother-in-law and then her husband how to make wine whilst she remained in the background. Zonnebloem became part of the Distell stable in the 1960’s and current cellarmaster Deon Boshoff took over just a few years ago.
The vertical tasting of Cabernet Sauvignon was organised by Cape Wine Master Dumpie Bayly, once winemaker of Zonnebloem and raconteur of many anecdotes about the wines and winemaking techniques (or lack of them!) at the time. Trying the wines alongside journalists were four of the producers whose families have supplied grapes to Zonnebloem for many years, some of whom go back as far as the first vintage tasted – the 1964.
The six wines tasted spanned a total of 45 years with one wine being shown from each decade (more or less). The 1964 was an interesting wine, especially when compared to the 1959 I was lucky enough to try last year at the Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show. Both wines came from half bottles but the 1964, whilst interesting, should have been drunk five years ago as opposed to the ’59 which was astonishing.
Best old wine of the day was the 1974 – a stellar vintage according to Duimpie, and it showed. Dark, dusty, black-berried fruit with a clean fresh finish – excellent condition for a 38 year old wine. The 1982 showed spicy notes, possibly from the use of small oak barrels which were first used about this time, and the 1995 was delicious with lots of lush, ripe black fruit, soft juicy tannins and a baked blueberry muffin finish. Looking at the previous wines, I see no reason for this not lasting a further 10-15 years.
The current vintage is the 2009 Zonnebloem Limited Release Cabernet Sauvignon (+/- R85 from the cellar) which was one of Deon’s first wines. It has plenty of spice (it’s been in all-new French and Hungarian oak barrels) with lively flavours of ripe black berries, cherries and hints of chocolate. There is plenty of potential there and at this price and with this track record, if you can get hold of it, I would strongly suggest laying down a case or two for drinking in 20 years time.
Postscript - if you're not into reds, I can also highly recommend the understated but elegant Zonnebloem Chardonnay 2011 - discreet, delicious, citrussy and refreshing.
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