14 April 2008

A Historic Evening with Beyers Truter

Being invited to plunder Beyers Truter’s private cellar was dream come true. There is capacity for 30,000 bottles; many of the wines were made by Beyers and alongside Kanonkop and Beyerskloof are own label wines from UK supermarkets he’s made wine for. And there’s also an eclectic collection of many different South African wines and a good number of wines from other countries.

Beyers had invited me to his seaside house to join him and Francois Naude,(previously winemaker at L'Avenir Estate, now independent consultant) and Corius Visser (winemaker with Beyers at Croydon Vineyard Estate), for an evening tasting from his collection. It was a chance for the three winemakers to get a night away from the stress of vintage time. (pictured right from top: Corius, Beyers and Francois hunting elusive bottles)

Francois, Corius and I went hunting for interesting wines; Beyers had suggested we choose eight bottles but he soon joined in pulling out wines and we quickly had 11 wines. My picks were a 1982 Zonnebloem, 1996 CWG L’Avenir and a 1999 Kanonkop.

Upstairs the wines were opened. Beyers explained the format of these evenings “We pour a glass of each in turn and drink and discuss them.” There was no spittoon, we would take time to relish the wines.

The wines were

1978 Groot Contantia Superior (Constantia)
1982 Zonnebloem (Coastal)
1985 Cederberg (Cederberg)
1987 Oude Necktar
1989 Clos Malverne
1989 Simonsig CWG Reserve
1996 Paradyskloof
1996 L’Avenir CWG
1999 Kanonkop
1999 Kumkani
2006 Binyamina Teva (Israel)
2006 Muddy Water (New Zealand)

Wine of Origin Stellenbosch except where indicated

1978 Groot Constantia Superior (Constantia)
“They were one of the first Estates to make Pinotage”, Beyers remarked.
PM – “The cork is crumbly and ullage was low. Deep red colour, brown on rim, beautiful colour for a 30 year old wine. Aged sweet bouquet but no oxidation, a sweet toffee light body with touch of acid on finish”
FN = “If I tasted this blind I’d think it was an old sweet white wine, not a red. Fairly high acid which helps it to keep.”
BT – “Very typical of the area, pine needle and honey with high acid.”

1982 Zonnebloem (Coastal)
BT - “The fruit for this came from Kanonkop and Bellevue”
PM – “Dark clear colour, nose of forest floor, lively bright exciting red berry flavours, sweet, lots of life. A beautiful elegant lady of a wine”
BT – “Like water running over a burnt forest floor.”

1985 Cederberg (Cederberg)
PM – “Deep red colour, smells sweet, old and oxidised with a hint of pine toilet cleaner. Sherry taste, sweet like a dessert wine, acids developing in glass.”
BT –“ Not completely gone, over extracted, like syrup.”
FN – “Heavy wine from a light vintage, quite black, too concentrated. I wouldn’t expect this wine from this vintage and area.”
There was some discussion about concentrating this wine to use as a marinade or for drizzling over Christmas cake.

1987 Oude Necktar
BT – “The fruit came from the same block used by Neil Ellis for ‘Swan Song’”
PM –“Sweet and short, light boded and short finish.”
CV –“Fynbos-like nose.”
FN: Blue gum, mint, herbaceousness. Spicy nose offers more than taste does.”
BT –“Acids are too high for the fruit”
FN – “ I think the grapes were picked unripe which explains the high acids.”

1989 Clos Malverne
PM –“Pale light red, luminous, not much nose. Ripe sweet fig flavours, light bodied”
FN – “Beautiful nose, just too acidic”
BT – “ Too high acid. All this wines plus points can’t overcome the acids”
CV – “Too high acid”

1989 Simonsig CWG Reserve
BT – “Very good colour. This is the first one showing more oak and blackberry. Very well balanced, classic blackberry and oak. Was made for CWG, had more oak and will
last 30-40 years.”
FN – “Excellent colour, herby herbaceous flavours, fruity acid, nice tannins makes it nice and firm.”
PM –“Delightful; sweet blackberry and spices.”

1996 Paradyskloof
PM – “Smells old, light bodied, thin red currant short finish”
BT – “ Bit of burnt coal and smoke”
FN – “Lesser vintage, little green. The wine is still too young and the tannins still green. Give it some age and let tannins soften. This is a 2nd label wine; not bad but too young.”

1996 L’Avenir CWG
BT – “Excellent colour, farmyard nose, wood and mushroom. Interesting: it tastes the same. Very complex”
PM – “Isn’t ‘farmyard’ an indication of brett?”
BT –“Lots of people say farmyard equals brett, but that is just Simonsberg. It’s a Simonsberg characteristic.”
FN – “Very forest floor nose. Always had a farm-yardy characteristic – which is what I like and often find in Bordeaux. Nice and full.”
PM – “Beautiful: complex and ripe. Lots going on.

1999 Kanonkop
PM – “Incredible rich black red colour – superb balance. Concentrated dense fruit, great complexity and it is just so drinkable.” I selected this wine because I’d been so impressed with it when I tasted it last year at a tasting at Kanonkop; I wanted to taste it again and I wasn’t disappointed.
FN – “Bit of farmyard, black cherry, tobacco, red cherry.”
BT – “Blackberry – cherry flavoured cigar.”

1999 Kumkani
FN – “Lacks complexity of previous; after nose it under delivers on the palate.”
BT – “Bit of farmyard but not enough depth to carry it.”
PM – “Light bright, not very interesting.

2006 Binyamina Teva (Israel)
I was surprised to see this in Beyer’s cellar but I’d introduced him to the MD of winery last year at the London trade fair and Beyers is keen to visit them in Israel.
BT – “Yes – raspberry and tea. There’s not enough oak in this. Medicinal flavour will be removed with oak. With a bit of oak it would make a fantastic wine.
FN – Dense raspberry. There’s a bit of oak on this; it tastes like crushed raspberries. Ideal to do malo in barrel (or use staves) to tone it down. Very nice acidity.

2006 Muddy Water (New Zealand)
This was the twelfth wine which I had brought from New Zealand. It was winner of our blind tasting of NZ Pinotages and I was keen to hear what the South Africans thought of it.
FN: - Quite a light colour, good nose, good varietal character. Nice fruit; I like this
BT: - Very Pinot Noir, I’d love to taste this older.
FN: I’d never have guessed the alcohol level was 15%, colour is very light, concentration of wine should be more to handle wood, but it matches. If I was consulting there I’d work the wine harder in fermentation to get more extraction. It’s a bit light; needs more density in flavour profile and more colour. Very nice fruit, I’d just like more intensity”

By now it was quite late; Beyers got braai going and cooked meats which we ate with more glasses of the opened wines, and so to bed. The amount left in the bottles next morning indicated our favourite three were Kanonkop, Simonsig and L'Avenir.

That morning was magical. Sitting on the balcony with a coffee in the sun we watched two groups of whales to our left while a huge rainbow over the ocean on our right indicated a storm on the other side of the Hottentot Holland Mountains. Then the car was packed, the winemakers switched on their mobile phones and we headed back to Stellenbosch.

Many thanks to Beyers Truter

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