What I Drank Last Night
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Buitenverwachting Christine 1995

The business.

The third annual Constantia Fresh festival organised by Jörg Pfützner of Fine Wine Events took place over Friday and Saturday and to begin proceedings, a blind tasting pitching Constantia reds against high-profile international wines.

Pfützner, German born and an internationally certified sommelier is convinced that South Africa’s top wines go under-appreciated and hence sell at a discount relative to their counterparts from elsewhere in the world. Does he have a point?

In a flight that included Buitenverwachting Christine 1995, Dominus 1996 (Napa Valley, USA), Klein Constantia Cabernet Sauvignon 1988 and Leoville Barton 1998 (Second Growth St. Julien, Bordeaux), I had the Christine as best wine overall (17/20) followed by the Leoville Barton (16/20) and then the Dominus and Klein Constantia (both 15/20).

The Buitenverwachting showed everything you might want from a high-quality Cabernet Sauvignon-driven Bordeaux-style red blend: dark fruit, cedar wood and some attractive leafiness on the nose while the palate showed pure, concentrated fruit, bright acidity and firm but not astringent tannins. It was angular and austere in the best sense.

The Leoville Barton was pretty damn good too, but I thought I detected some aromas and flavours which were derived from spoilage yeast Brettanomyces and while these were hardly intolerable, it did give that the unblemished Buitenverwachting the edge for me. The Dominus (82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 4% Merlot, and 4% Petit Verdot) was overblown as so many Napa wines are and the Klein Constantia was relatively lean and green edged.

Another flight saw Buitenverwachting Christine 2005 (17/20) emerge ahead of Groot Constantia Gouverneurs Reserve 2006 (16.5/20), the 2005 vintage of Super Tuscan Sassicaia (16/20) and Margaux Second Growth Lascombes (16/20). Again it was the fruity purity and balance of the Constantia wines which appealed, the Sassicaia appearing relatively old-fashioned and rustic, the Lascombes in a very modern, heavily worked style.

The showing of the South African wines was generally so strong that I had to ask myself if I was suffering from a sort of “cellar palate”. Some winemakers taste their own wines so often that they cannot recognise the merits of any others and it did worry me that my much greater exposure to South African wines meant that I was missing the subtleties of  these big-name international wines. However, even allowing for some kind of bias on my part, I think it would be a mistake t to dismiss the outcome entirely. It is clear once again that South Africa can at least hold its own against the best in the world and given that they typically sell for far less, offer an unbeatable quality to price ratio.

Comments

  1. Shane Gordon says:

    I am very pleased to hear that the tasting was blind as I am of the opinion that this is the only way wines should be points rated. After all the points rating system is based on taste at a single point in time. Comments thereafter on cellarability are useful to those who have cellars and keep wine for extended periods to enjoy its evolving character. I am delighted by Angela’s comment on the current vinification status of SA shiraz. It seems to me that the wine industry is realising that “terroir” means a sense of place and style derived from the basic fruit character – Wines which hold interest but which can be distinguished apart from a taste and style perspective. After all as an inbiber there is nothing more exciting to me than to drink well made wine which I can identify with its origin. After all the very reason it was purchased in the first place was because of enjoyment of its style, terroir or basically aroma or taste. In my experience primary fruit wine lovers seldom change their preference and wine lovers who love subtle ethereal, multilayered wines seldom revert back to a primary fruit style in preference. SA wines should taste like SA wines, they will never taste like French wines, Italain wines or Spanish wines or even the new style of diversified Australian wines and it would seem wrong to try to emulate something which is not achieveable.

  2. Angela Lloyd says:

    Having tasted the 2009 Christine components in barrel a couple of years ago, I wait with some impatience to try the finished wine, which should be more complex & interesting than some other recent vintages. The 2003 lives up to the grandeur of that vintage and will be a stayer. I batted like hell for it when it was entered on the Trophy Wine Show (2005/6?) – blind, of course, but couldn’t persuade my fellow judges of its worth.
    I truly believe SA shiraz is a dark horse – now that we’re not blindly following the Barossa biggies we’ve realised the grape can produce great wines with more delicacy and elegance. Vine age is one of the major hold ups at present, but watch this space. That said, Jorg couldn’t have chosen much heavier Rhone heavyweights to pit against us and, as Christian has commented, we weren’t disgraced.

  3. You do know where that tasting would be right? 

    We will have to take a drive and have the “Judgement of Parys”. 

  4. Kwispedoor says:

    Makes sense what Lars says (apart from that occasional bit of alcohol burn and balance issues). For me personally though, a wine generally needs to show a sense of place, balance and maturation potential if it’s going to be sold above a certain price point. All this reminds me of the Buitenverwachting Grand Vin 1989 (before they called it ‘Christine”) – what a ripper that was!

  5. Hi Shane, The tasting was completely blind. Despite the amount of criticism our Bordeaux-style reds cop internationally, I’m always amazed at how well they fare in comparative blind tastings. Perhaps time for an exercise a la the Judgement of Paris involving the likes of Jancis Robinson and Neal Martin? It bears mentioning, however, that there were two flights featuring Constantia Shiraz vs Rhone and here the local stuff was a bit off the pace but hardly disgraced itself – see tomorrow’s post.

  6. Hi Kwispedoor, Buitenverwachting owner Lars Maack openly admits that he wants to steer Christine in a more accessible style (less time in barrel for one thing), his rationale simply that most of it gets drunk early on so not much point in making something that requires extensive maturation before drinking at its best.

  7. Shane Gordon says:

    Christian, was the tasting sighted or blind?

  8. Yes, but that was back in the days when Buitenverwachting made some of the best reds in the country. Now they also over work the Christine and they’ve lost that classic balance, moving into the commercial ripe and alcoholic sphere (yawn), which is a real shame indeed.
    It’s a pity you had the 1988 Klein Constantia Cabernet (I’m surprised it wasn’t a bit over the hill) as the 1986 and 1987 (and even 1989) were much better vintages for that wine. They used to throw huge chunks of sediment – did any of the tasters notice that?

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