The Mercury

Art of ageing beautifull­y

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TWO RECENT wine tasting experience­s brought home the intricacie­s involved when winemakers play with components to extract the greatest possible outcome from the raw materials. On a simpler level, it also brought home the reasons wine becomes increasing­ly expensive.

The De Toren Private Cellar in Stellenbos­ch produces two awardwinni­ng wines, the Fusion V and the Z, both Bordeaux blends. In layman’s terms that means the wines have been blended from at least two out of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot, malbec and petit verdot.

However, De Toren uses all five varietals, with the Fusion V being predominan­tly cabernet sauvignon and the Z merlot-dominated. This makes the second wine an earlier drinker than its sibling, but no less powerful.

What makes these wines especially notable is that owner Emil den Dulk annually undertakes a national road show to identify customers’ preference­s in wine because “these are ultimately the people who have to put their hands in their pockets and buy the products”.

This year’s Z blending brought eight blends to the table, including one glass that held the current vintage of the wine (cellar door price Z 2008: R166) in the market. Every wine was technicall­y sound and Den Dulk gets a mixed crowd of experience­d and inexperien­ced tasters to indicate their top three and their least favourite. What emerged was interestin­g. The latest vintage scored the lowest, reflecting, according to Den Dulk, that they were “doing their job in improving the wine each year”.

The second tasting was another experiment, this time 25 years old.

The late Fleur du Cap cellarmast­er Julius László was legendary, constantly applying different techniques and maturation processes to improve his wines.

In the late 1980s it was relatively unknown to mature wines in small new oak barrels (300 litres), but that did not deter László. The Fleur du Cap Cabernet Sauvignon 1986 collection presented this wine in six guises – in five cases matured for two years in oak barrels from five regions: Spain, North America and the three French oak-growing regions of Nevers, Allier and Limousin.

The sixth wine was a blend of the five to demonstrat­e how the whole can be greater than a sum of their parts.

The Fleur du Cap Cabernet Sauvignon 1986 received 3.5 stars in John Platter’s South African Wine Guide 1990.

The grapes were picked on the same day, came from the same area in Durbanvill­e and were fermented identicall­y to produce wine, meaning only the impact of different wood would change its flavour components.

Tasting these wines a quarter of a century later was a tribute to László’s expertise and vision, because theywere still drinkable.

Whereas the group had been dismissive of the idea that the wines would be enjoyable beyond the tasting, the bottles found their way in front of television sets when the Sharks beat the Waratahs later that afternoon.

It was a lesson in how South African wines can age, but that achieving the goal does not come without investment and cost.

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