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Old wine opportunism

When I see online ads such is the one below asking ridiculous prices for old wine I always wonder who will be paying that. Sure in the case of this ad the chances of the Monis port being spoiled are far less than with natural wine, but still, how do you justify R16 000 for 4 bottles? A similar thing has been happening in the trade where wine sellers think they can just keep on pushing the prices up. Anyone with some experience of old South Africa wine will know that it does not carry the intrinsic value to justify the type of prices we are seeing now. Yes the 60’s and 70’s produced some great wines but 50 years later very few bottles can still bring pleasure. It’s sad to see this kind of opportunism.

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GDV Reserve Bin 1969

I am getting the sense that a lot of experimentation was going on in the South African wine industry during the 60s. But then again it most certainly was the decade of big advances in technology and space exploration and one could see it in that context.

We have the iconic GS produced during the 60’s and recently I have also learned about the GDV Reserve Bin 1969 produced by Gilbey’s.

Peter Bishop tells the story:

Gilbey’s were mainly concerned with spirits. But they – at Devon Valley – were the owners of Bertrams. Now in the late 1960s the story of Max Shubert of Penfolds in Australia hit the news. Travelling to Bordeaux he returned in early 1960s to make a unique oaked Shiraz based blend that his Directors condemned, but after winning the top prize (JIMMY WATSON TROPHY) in Australia, it became an ultra-icon. And still is. Known as Grange Hermitage. The directors of SFW told their winemaker George Spies to make the GS 66 & GS 68 (that sell for R20000 & R15000 respectively).

The directors of Gilbeys asked Dr Schickerling to make an ultimate. They chose the rich Tintas Barocca to make the rare indeed 1969 at Kleine Zalze. Though Tinta Barocca was a Port grape, it produced a healthy full feel and was successful in those days.

I have not had the privilege to sample the GDV but Roland Peens of Wine Cellar recently has and reported it was very good. The back label tells us that the wine was a Tinta Barocca produced at the Kleine Zalze Cellars by the French “Methode Maceration Carbonique”. With this method, commonly known as Carbonic maceration, the berries are left whole and fermented in a closed vessel under a blanket of CO2, hence creating an anaerobic environment.

Dr Schickerling produced some excellent wines during the 70s at Bertrams and an interesting fact is that he excluded all oxygen from the vinification process. A 1971 Bertrams Shiraz and 1978 Cabernet Sauvignon tasted in 2016 where still excellent drinking – full, rich, unwavering. There’s a lot to be said for anaerobic winemaking!

I found this short biographical profile of Schickerling on the internet:

DIE BURGER LAASTE,26 Maart 1987 bladsy 9: Dr. Arnold Schickerling, besturende direkteur van Bertrams Wines, direkteur van W & A Gilbey en tegniese direkteur van Gilbey-Distilleerders en Wynhandelaars, tree einde vandeesmaand af ná 33 jaar in die wynbedryf. Hy het in 1953 die doktorsgraad in organiese chemie op die ouderdom 26 jaar aan die Universiteit van Kaapstad verwerf. Hy was eers assistent-produksiebestuurder van Castle Wine E.R. Green en later produksie- en tegniese bestuurder. Daarna het hy bestuurder van Bertrams Wines se hele Devon Valley-bedryf geword. Hy het Bertrams Wines as die maker van gehaltewyn gevestig. Bertrams se cabernet sauvignon van 1975 is eers as die kampioenwyn op die Stellenbosse skou en in 1975 as die SA kampioen- rooi wyn bekroon. In 1979 het dr. Schickerling tot sy huidige pos gevorder. Hy gaan hom en sy eggenote in Claremont vestig.

(images taken from BidorBuy)

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1966 GS Cabernet tasted

Over the weekend I had the opportunity to open a GS with good friends at the historic Bizansgat in the Ceres Karoo. The bottle has good provenance as it came from descendants of George Spies himself. It had a good ullage just below the neck and close to top shoulder and the cork, although darkend, came out in one piece.

The wine had an incredible deep color and not light as one would expect of older wine. On the nose there was something that reminded me of sherbet and something else.. almost dare I say chemical (or synthetic?).

In the mouth it was dense, concentrated and incredibly fresh for such an old wine. There was lots of fruit, velvet and fine tannins and very new-world like. All was in balance and complete.

Interestingly the table was somewhat divided on the “greatness” of the wine. One taster was in awe while another was not convinced.

I thought it incredible but not so much for how it tasted (although it does taste great), but the fact that it was completely intact and fresh almost to the point of a modern era SA red. Also because it is so very different to any other old South African wine I ever tasted.

My thoughts keep returning to the wine because I am puzzled by it. I am puzzled because it is so different, so intact and years ahead of its time. We might never know what exactly George Spies did in the cellar in 1966, but it certainly was a resounding success!

Hennie Taljaard

22 Aug 2016

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A couple of wine critics wrote about the GS, but I thought Tim James provided an accurate description of the wine in 2013:

I’ve had various experiences with the GS cabs (only two vintages made, remember: 1966 and 1968) – some excellent bottles, some poor ones. That weary bit of wisdom about there being no great wines, just great bottles applies most relevantly to older wines, of course. This one was served blind. The light was fancy-restaurant-poor, but the wine was fairly deep-coloured, with no very great signs of ageing. I’m sure better light would have given me a better clue, but I guessed mid 1990s, and my first guess at origin was California. It was rich, fresh, full of flavour, and still hinting at primary fruit. I reckon the most youthful bottle of this wine I’ve had, though Chris said the level was right down into the shoulder. I might have suspected a bit of cheating – but the cork was certainly authentic: tiny, black and shrunken.

Also read: “The mystery of South Africa’s greatest red”: the-mystery-of-south-africas-greatest-red

GS Cabernet 1966 (Part 1)

If ever there was a true unicorn wine from South Africa it would have to be the 1966 GS Cabernet. What has been written about the wine leaves one with more questions than answers. Other than repeating the same unconfirmed information, it is not clear whether anyone has in fact done any primary research on the wine. Most intriguing is what Romi van der Merwe wrote in 2000 in “The Magic Blend”, that:

“Spies produced some outstanding experimental wines that are much appreciated to this day by a fortunate few collectors, notably the GS Cabernet 1962, 1966 and 1968, although these were never released onto the general market.”

This statement begs the following questions:

  • What was the experiment? How different was it to the conventional way of making wine at the time?
  • Was Spies making the wine for Monis (where he was employed at the time) or was it a private concern?
  • Did he not keep record of the method(s) he employed? And if they existed where would those records be? In the company archives perhaps?

No doubt the experiment was a huge success and being lauded by prominent critics as the best wine ever to come out of South Africa the GS is without a doubt our National Treasure of wine and the secret behind its making deserves to be unearthed.

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Monis Collectors Port 1948

Die 1948 Monis Collectors Port (Seëlversameling) was al verskeie kere op die jaarlikse Nederburg wynveiling verkoop en het in 2011 die rekordprys van enige wyn op die veiling behaal. Vir ‘n kissie van ses bottels van 750ml was R68 000 (R11 333 per bottel) betaal!

Dié port is van uitgesoekte kultivars gemaak en sluit onder meer Pontac, Souzao en Tinta Barocca in. Slegs 5000 bottels was vrygestel wat die wyn se skaarsheid verduidelik. Die chemiese analise is as volg:

A% 18.72 | RS 117.00 | TA 6.00 | pH 3.44

Op die etikette verskyn ‘n uitbeelding van ‘n waardevolle versameling seëls van die voormalige Boerepublieke, die Unie van Suid-Afrika en sy voormalige provinsies, asook Duits-Suidwes-Afrika.

Die wyn bekoor steeds vandag en persone wat gelukkig genoeg is om daarvan te proe praat met groot lof daarvan. Mnr. Roland Peens, wynhandelaar van Kaapstad, het dit in 2015 as volg beskryf:

“This is a brilliant wine! No sign of oxidation or rancio, there is amazing purity of fruit and freshness. The rim has a slight green/yellow tinge while the core is a brick red. Waves of complexity waft from the glass: baked figs, melon rind, nuts, molasses and a touch of cold coffee. The palate is rich, but not sticky. Deep, spicy and delicious, the finish lasts for an hour on your palate. World class.

In great condition and with such a perfect structure, this wine could last another few decades.

96/100”

M. Frijdhon’s (May 2013) tasting note:

“Pale golden copper, spirity and a little thin, not too sweet, and with fine herbal notes to restrain the finish.

81 Points”

Ten spyte van pryse wat op veiling behaal word, verkoop ‘n bottel van tyd tot tyd op die ope mark vir enige iets van R500 tot R5000.

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Roman Waher’s wood engravings for “Wines of South Africa”

The illustrations for Gordon Bagnall’s “Wines of South Africa” (published by the KWV in 1961 and re-issued in 1972) were taken from wood engravings made by Roman Waher.  The engravings, all 8 of them, was also available as limited numbered sets, individually signed, dated and titled by Waher. They depicted the history of Cape wine under the following titles:

Bringing the vine to the Cape

Van Riebeeck’s first wine

Groot Constantia

A Cape vineyard

Old drinking vessels

Ancient wine vessels

Shipping the wine

In the KWV cellars

There were only 250 sets produced which today makes them very scarce. The engravings measuring 330mm x 500mm came in a protective black paper sleeve. Shown below are images of set number 95.

Roman Waher was an Estonian who studied in Leipzig. Born in 1909, lived in South Africa from 1964 and passed away in 1975. He also taught graphic art at the Michaelis School of Art.

(Click on thumbnail to enlarge)

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