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Cordoba CWG Cabernet Franc/Merlot 1998 vs. Kanonkop Paul Sauer 1998

Which of these two wines is "optimally ripe"?

Not wishing to be overly dramatic, I nevertheless suspect the recent “IBMP tasting” at De Grendel will go down as a pivotal moment in how top-end reds are assessed among local critics. Here it emerged that many of those actively involved in passing judgement on wine quality are inclined to prefer wines towards the greener end of the flavour spectrum, the justification apparently being that such wines are more elegant.

In the modern era of wine, a tension exists between two basic theories of wine aesthetics. The classicists prefer wines of elegance and balance, these supposedly better able to express terroir while the modernists advocate better fruit expression, more palate weight and less aggressive tannins, this all achieved via more precise viticulture and winemaking technique.

The pendulum tends to swing back and forth between these two positions, and it just might be that wines which are under-ripe and overly green have been excessively privileged for the last little while.

Apropos of the above, it is always interesting to contrast the vintages of 1997 and 1998 with regards to Stellenbosch reds. Cool, wet 1997 tended to produce refined, medium-bodied wines while relatively warm 1998 produced rich, full-bodied wines. For a long while, I thought I preferred the 1997s but after my “re-education” at the hands of De Grendel winemaker Charles Hopkins, I’m inclined to re-look the 1998s in a more positive light.

For dinner recently, Cordoba CWG Cabernet Franc Merlot 1998 next to Kanonkop Paul Sauer 1998. The Cordoba was better than regular release Cordoba Crescendo 1997 drunk recently (see here) being less mean and tart, although still very much about red rather than black fruit and medium bodied.  Lots of savoury character and firm but fine tannins. Score: 17/20.

The Paul Sauer 1998 was rock ‘n roll but sitting at stylistic extreme. During a blind tasting in March last year, I scored this wine down (15/20), noting “super-ripe fruit, hollow mid-palate, astringent finish”. Drinking it sighted now, I found myself much more favourably disposed to it. It has a very expressive nose of cassis, cigar box and earthiness while the palate displays plenty of pure, concentrated fruit, smooth but not slippery tannins and moderate acidity. Depending on your frame of mind, it can easily be considered a superlative wine (18/20).

Comments

  1. We attended the Swartland street party tasting yesterday. Before the tasting at lunch we had a Paul Sauer 2008. The wines I tasted at the street party was very different to the Paul Sauer. Don’t know, maybe because Im a beginner, but I preferred the Paul Sauer to anything I tasted at the street party.

  2. Kwispedoor says:

    Just saw Francois’s comment now – I haven’t tasted the 2010, but just want to say that I really loved your 2009 Ladybird!

  3. Kwispedoor says:

    1998 was hot. At the time, it was – globally – the hottest year ever recorded. Even though it was hot, many winemakers hadn’t jumped onto the “obsessed-with-eradicating-anything-resembling-green-and-ripening-the-soul-out-of-any-red-grape-in-sight-so-that-it-all-tastes-the-same bandwagon yet at that time. It’s likely that both these 1998 wines had ABV’s of below 14%.

    This past weekend, I was privileged enough to help relieve a bottle 1988 Château Mouton-Baronne-Philippe (Pauillac) of its contents. Beautiful wine from a cool region at 12.5% alcohol. If people want to eradicate greenness, simply more ripeness is a bad way to go. Vine health, management of light intensity (canopy management, ground cover, etc.) and other factors should rather be looked at. Not easy, as for instance many old vineyards are virus-infected, but we all know older is better i.t.o. vines. Sure, some wines with a green streak are under-ripe, which is bad, but a hint of pyrazines, in a fruity, full, balanced wine (Jordan CWG Sophia 2006 jumps to mind) is so much better than the hollow, burny, homogeneous counterparts that often results. Why some judges would be okay with a measure of brett (fungal yeast spoilage) adding a touch of complexity and not pyrazines (from the grape) confounds me.

    It’ll be a sad day indeed if all wine judges start looking at any form of pyrazines as faulty. We already have too many green-freaked judges that are easily impressed by unbalanced and ultimately difficult-to-drink showy wines. Pyrazines are grape-derived and a stylistic issue (the kind of fruit expression one might prefer or not) – not a fault. Great debate, though, and pretty good food for thought for winemakers to work harder in the vineyards (simply more ripeness at high sugar levels is no good).

  4. Hi Christian, very interesting reading some blogs about greeness in South African reds. I am quite sensitive for green characters in red wines, especially Bordeaux dominated varietals and blends. I would not consider it a wine fault like VA, oxidation, etc but people too easily think these wines are elegant and award them. Working now 12 vintages at Laibach it is very interesting to look back at previous vintages and to see and compare different wine styles. Always trying to improve we went to organic farming, open fermentation, etc to get rid of green characters. Picking riper is not a option because we want 14% alcohol max and no “dead” fruit. I never made analysis of IBMP. Reading your first article I decided to send in a wine just to see and to compare. I decided on our Ladybird Red 2010 because it is our biggest bottling and I must say I was surprised to see the result was 6 ng/l. This for a blend that is Merlot/Cabernet Franc/ Cabernet Sauvignon dominated with a little dash of Malbec and Petit. Is this terroir, vintage, organic viticulture, dryland viticulture or cellar techniques? I think everything plays a part and lower levels in SA is possible.

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