CellarTales International Wineroundtable Edition No.10

by Oliver Bauer on 19 February 2012 · 0 comments

Our first meeting in 2012 took place in the beginning of february and this time we chose the Restaurant Rossetya in Bukarest. A very good choice and in everyone’s name I want to thank the entire staff for a perfect service and a successful evening. I would particular like to thank our sommelier, who prepared and served us all the wines in a very professional way. Also the outstanding glass supply has to be mentioned. Unfortunately in Romania that’s still no implicitness and therefore we are always very grateful for this kind of granted service. After dinner with some Romanian Sauvignon Blanc we started our South Africa tasting with more than 15 different wines.

So here’s what we enjoyed :

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This crispy, vibrant Sauvignon Blanc was a perfect start for this tasting. Without a single sign of age a youthful, pale straw yellow color with a soft green tinge shimmered towards us out of the glasses. The multilayered nose showed typical scents of gooseberries, elder berries, green apples underlined by very mineral notes of flint and wet chalk. Also the palate has been incredible straight with a genius, racy acidity which provided freshness and pressure until the slight salty aftertaste. Like drinking out of a cool mountain broke after a long walk. Refreshing and vivifying. The wine refutes the myth of the “just fruity New World Sauvignons”. This one here is much more and concerning the pricing French versions have to stretch themselves to keep up. Very complex and well balanced and in this shape fit for a couple of years more. Saronsberg is selling newer vintages of this wine now under a different label (Provenance) but this for sure doesn’t harm its quality.

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One of the most famous Chardonnays of the Cap. French influenced cellar technology (barrel fermented, malolactic fermentation) results in full bodied, very expressive wines. Like this one here with its pronounced golden color and plenty of butterscotch in the nose. Furthermore there were flavors of pears, roasted hazelnuts, quince jelly, lemons and banana split with traces of fresh baked bread. A very intense, lavish bouquet. In the mouth likewise powerful and full-bodied, with a lot of apple tart, caramel and melting butter but also a too restrained acidity. The ‘05 vintage of the same wine showed here a better equilibrium. The finish was very long but slightly alcoholic. As usual a typical “Chardonnay Méthode Ancienne” but for me the ‘06 lacks a bit of balance and finesse. Without holding the necessary acidity it is a very saturating, “big thing” which can scarcely move for power. A Chardonnay pushed to the max and for fans of this wine style for sure a revelation.

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I didn’t know this wine so far but the rumors about it teased me since longer time to involve it once in a tasting. After this “Chardonnay-Hulk” it faced a hard stand though and the very reductive, moldy nose in the beginning also didn’t help too much. The wine needed extended aeration but even after a couple of hours the negative smells didn’t vanish completely. Fortunately with time also positive scents of yellow stone fruits, yeast dough, vanilla and cantaloupe melons evolved. At the palate a rather slender, mineral body with a solid, fresh acidity and bold traces of the used wood.
Pretty good length but in the end for me a bit disappointing. Referring to the premature praise (5 stars Platter etc.), the big name of the producer and last but not least the pricing I expected much more than a wine with such a surprisingly lean body and tame character. Perhaps the cork did have a bad influence but to verify this another bottle would have been necessary. Bad luck !

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A big surprise was this over 20 years old Shiraz with a clear, garnet red color with just a slight diluted red-brown rim and some dusty depot. Shortly after opening the wine exhaled a seductive fragrance out of Port wine notes with cherry liqueur, black pepper and fresh meat enriched with traces of leather, cinnamon, almonds, peat and bay leaves. In the mouth full bodied, very smooth and sleek with a silky tannin structure, a good integrated acidity and an enormous pressure. The endless, minty aftertaste showed again black cherry and black chocolate flavors. Wow, what a piece of a wine ! But not everybody at the table shared this opinion and that’s also absolutely OK with me. Personally though I am a huge devotee of mature, ripe wines especially if they are red because I want a wine to challenge me. It is like watching a good movie. You can see it a couple of times and you will still find new items and fragments. A young quality wine (nothing to do with its pricing) will never show all its facets but this is exactly what I want. So if concentrated blockbusters or other adapted delicacies aren’t your cup of tea there’s only one possibility. Wait a while… For me this wine today was at its peak because it walked along the fine line between perfect maturity and beginning declination. It is very rare to catch a wine in this stadium of its evolution and therefore I would recommend to drink it up within the next 2 years.

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Same variety but another stadium of evolution. Already the dark ruby red color with its almost black core has been much more pronounced. Despite of aeration the wine has been very closed in the beginning and claimed more time in the glasses. Then surprisingly young but very typical aromas of black berries, pepper, new leather, ink and smoked bacon with a soft earthy background reached our noses. Not to bad but in the mouth the wine appeared again very unapproachable with a difficult combination out of firm but still quite harsh tannins, restrained fruit and a solid, bold acidity. But also here further aeration helped a little bit to fine and to smooth that edgy fellow. It seemed to be in this stadium a little bit out of balance and not yet completely united/developed. The finish remained a little bit on the leaner side, too. But this has nothing to do with poor quality. The wine for sure holds good features (color, acidity, tannins etc.) to gain a better equilibrum with further aging.

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Concerning this wine no more patience is needed. During the last 2 years we have had this wine a couple of times and it always has been an elegant, timeless Cabernet Sauvignon showing a lot of classic BDX style. Just like today with a clear, not too intense garnet red color and this beautiful nose type “left bank”. Cassis, soured cherries and smoked paprika paired with pencil, cigar box, coffee and some warm forest floor formed a perfect symphony out of mature fruit and spiciness. The wine is medium bodied but with its stable acidity and the fine, active tannin structure it appeared much lighter. Perfect balanced and persistent without being hefty or alcoholic it keeps you asking for the next sip. Genius stylistic and today the wine showed much better than the last bottle we had of it. In the medium aftertaste it showed beside a dash of menthol also more earthy, animally aromas like peat and stewed game meat. Apropos game – this wine is a perfect match for almost everything eatable from the forests ;-) Just make sure to have a second bottle at hand because one may be empty too fast …

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Hartenberg tends a fuller style of Cabernet Sauvignon than Stellenryck with more dark chocolate and espresso scents plus riper fruit flavors. But there are similarities like an extreme directness and the superb worked out typicity of the variety. A fool prove sign to make a difference is its extreme pronounced menthol, eucalyptus characteristic in the nose as well as in the long aftertaste. The wine’s color, a strong garnet red with a dark core, conceals successfully the real age of the wine and also the luxurious palate appeared much younger. Fine, ripe tannins and a healthy, sustaining acidity gave balance and structured the wine’s powerful pressure. Silky, elegant but in the same time vigorous and riveting. A very good and persistent length topped off the picture of a real big Cabernet Sauvignon which confirmed today once more its class. That’s no imposter, no showoff but a very complex wine which has been made by real craftsmanship A wine with a bright future ahead.

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How it seemed today was the day of Cabernet Sauvignon because also this fellow showed itself from its best side. Ripe but clear, garnet to vermilion red color and a genius mature Cabernet bouquet. In a blind tasting this potpourri out of dried plums, black currant, smoked ham, brown spices, graphite and soft earthy notes would have “beamed” most of us again to the Gironde and far away from the Cap. Forget that ! Today we learned again that also other parents have beautiful daughters and we indulged ourselves in this endless elegant and beautiful South African Cabernet .
More Audrey Hepburn than Sophia Loren though but with a good acidity, still healthy tannins and a lot of peppermint candies in the persistent finish. Impressive wine ! Unfortunately this has been my last bottle … :-(

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As if we needed necessarily an exception of the rule this one represented more likely the Hunchback of Notre Dame than a Prince. Bad luck, because we had already pretty good bottles of this wine. Well, nothing lasts forever. Beside the ripe but acceptable garnet red color there was nothing left to enjoy. Cooked and burned in the nose with hard tannins, a soapy acidity and a lot of metal scents in the rather short finish made clear, that this case was closed and shouldn’t be re-opened.
Next !

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Color and nose have been pretty similar to the predecessor but the palate showed a little bit better and less developed. Smoother tannins, a better acidity and sweeter flavors of strawberry jam and caramel made this wine in the beginning still drinkable but also here the joy remained very limited. With time a bold, greenish bitterness appeared in the aftertaste and together with the “sweetness of death” it reminded me in the end more on a cough syrup than on a wine.

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Fortunately our next Pinotage performed much better. Already the clear and dark ruby red color appeared much healthier and also the nose showed no signs of age. Some dried plums, fried bananas , milk chocolate and some flavors of licorice formed a medium intense but quite pleasant bouquet. Other typical characteristics have been also these slight greenish but fine grained tannins and the soft adstringent aftertaste. Paired with a smooth acidity, a medium body and nice flavors of bananas, coffee and mint it held all the necessary attributes of a decent Pinotage. To be really exciting it lacked depth and complexity. So in the end it remained a solid made wine fitting especially for any kind of “Braai-events”. Here I would even recommend to have it slightly chilled.

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In my post about the 7th edition of CellarTales Wineroundtable I wrote that the next bottle of this wine would be opened earliest after 5 years. Well, after those very “fast”5 years I have to reinforce this statement. The wine has been even more closed than half a year ago and scream for aeration to open up. Fascinating about this wine is its complexity of black fruit, brown spices, leather mocha, dark chocolate, Havana, cold ash and mint. Not one scent is very dominant or too powerful but together they result in a very sophisticated, profound and persistent fragrance. Another wine for a phial … Unfortunately we couldn’t enjoy that for too long today because the wine closed up again quite fast and remained very silent for the rest of the evening. At the palate perfect proportions of alcohol, acidity and tannins but especially the tannins need more time to integrate and to become smoother. Anyway. Medium bodied with a good pressure and a good, soft sweetish aftertaste the wine gave us again an idea, what to expect in a couple of years. Search and find a cool, dark and, most important, hidden corner in your cellar to store this great stuff properly for the next years. And don’t forget to invite me when you open it ;-) !

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Concerning this wine, there’s no need to wait anymore (although it would be possible). Open it – pour it – enjoy it ;-) ! Deep ruby red colored the wine showed a very luxurious, fruity bouquet of Cassis, black cherries, Port, toffee and melted milk chocolate. Here it became clear that we were dealing with the youngest red of the evening. Just the big, dusty depot didn’t really want to fit a wine this age. Never mind ! In the mouth this blend went immediately like a train. Full bodied with very smooth and sleek tannins, a perfect integrated acidity and an impressive intensity until the very long, chocolaty finish it offered everything, spoiled wine lovers may ask for. But despite of this opulence the wine has been very well balanced/structured and also didn’t loose this fruit quality with further air contact. After all these more demanding fellows a more easy to drink and hedonistic but nevertheless superb “Cap” pleasure. Busty but well dressed … ;-)

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After this short trip to “chocolate-island” back to reality. Unlike its older brother, this Cabernet/Shiraz blend showed distinct traces of more than two decades of time. A very ripe garnet red color with an almost rusty tinge made pretty clear that this fellow exceeded its peak. The lack of fruit and loads of toffee, caramel and coffee scents underlined that worry. With more time and with some imagination one could find also traces of plum cake but this was for sure just a last rebellion of the wine’s former fruit. Surprisingly it appeared much better at the palate, still balanced with very fine and ground tannins, a smooth acidity and a decent length. Here eucalyptus, a lot of caramel and with more time also very pronounced metal scents showed up. After all a difficult but still enjoyable wine especially for “old-wine-lovers”. It claims understanding and some lenity because it for sure exceeded its peak and faces now declination. This makes the performance of the ‘86 Cabernet Sauvignon even more impressive.

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To make it short. Yes it was a very toothsome and impressive wine ! Yes it was a very typical, high quality and complex BDX old school ! Yes it developed in a very nice way in our glasses (at least in those, where it “survived”long enough ;-) ) and it provided maximum drinking pleasure ! Therefore I think I can spare myself now a closer description of this wine (I will do that when we opened the next bottle ;-) ), because anyway there isn’t something better than a mature, classic BDX … or is it ? All the more if you compare it with older South African wines. Well, at least if you know in front, what you are drinking there often isn’t. But to avoid prejudices, this wine was served blind and nobody knew what he/she was drinking. And that gave the entire thing a completely different look. I am a big fan of this Château because they make extremely good, classic wines with a very high quality and for affordable money. But despite of its undeniable great qualities and its popular name tonight it has been just one of the wines of the evening. And compared without bias there was no “easy winning” today either because a couple of other wines were eye-to-eye. Of course it is always a big pleasure and something special to have such a perfect aged BDX in your glass and I also really enjoyed it. Therefore, if you can put your hand on one or more bottles for a reasonable price don’t hesitate to buy it – very, classy, yummy stuff ;-) ) !

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Our “mouth-washer”and bedtime candy showed a pretty and bright golden yellow color and without that moldy scent from the cork in the beginning it would have been right from the start a nice aged Rheingau Riesling. So we have had to wait a little bit, hoping that this bad smell would disappear. Luckily it did and made room for classic, mature Riesling flavors like overripe apples, quince jelly, honey and bee combs, interwoven by slight scents of warm rubber, petrol and burned sugar. Aged but pretty – simply classic stuff. At the palate then the expected beautiful, crystal clear acidity. Still tight but tamed and balanced by a still surprisingly bold residual sweetness. The wine showed a medium body and a very good length with a lot of dried fruits like apricots and dates plus once more warm rubber notes. Very good and the right thing to close a very interesting tasting although some of us suggested to start all over again … ;-)

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A very colored tasting with a lot of interesting wines. Grangehurst, Hartenberg, Saronsberg, Springfield and Veenwouden were expected to be of high quality. But the performance of the ‘90 Fleur du Cap Shiraz and the ‘86 Nederburg Cabernet Sauvignon surprised me very much indeed. Concerning elegance, complexity and drinking pleasure they have been today in the same league with the also superb ‘88 Chasse-Spleen. Of course wine is always a “snapshot in time” and the next tasting may show otherwise. But who would have thought about this result in the beginning ? Exactly, just a very few would have. And this was the reason for us to involve this “Pirat”. There are such a lot of beautiful, underrated wines out there but most of the people are just concentrating on the usual suspects, complaining that they are becoming always more and more expensive. Be and remain open minded and enjoy wine without having all the time the newest wine guide under your arm. Furthermore Saronsberg showed today in an impressive way, that beside the Loire region there are also other mineral, expressive and very complex Sauvignon Blancs with good aging potential. And their (still) fair pricing is the sugarcoat on the cake. Of course there have been also disappointments this evening. First of all I expected much more from Vergelegen which remained very pale today. It may have been caused or/and influenced by the cork but beside that the wine simply showed too less complexity, depth and expression tonight. I will try to get another bottle soon to clarify if it was just a bottle problem. Also Meerendal and Alto underperformed today. While I can accept that in the case of Alto (age) the Meerendal appeared at least 15 years older then its counterpart from L’Avenir.

Anyway – talk is cheap and the truth always lays in the glass !

In this sense I want to thank again all the participants, especially Alina for her superb pictures. We have had a great time with you and I hope, that you enjoyed it in the same way like Raluca and I did. The next edition of CellarTales International Wineroundtable is at planning stage. About the theme and the exact data we will keep you informed.

So long ! Cheers !!

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