What I Drank Last Night
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Vergenoegd Shiraz 1982

Defying the odds.

Scrounging around in my father-in-law’s cellar over the weekend, a solitary bottle of Vergenoegd Shiraz 1982, grown and made on the Stellenbosch estate and bottled by KWV. A neat 30 years on from vintage, it seemed as good a time as any to open it.

I confess I didn’t have very high hopes of it – the 1980s saw the advent of small oak barrels in South Africa and the resulting wines typically didn’t have sufficient fruit weight to carry all that new oak.

Surprise, surprise. It proved delicious – medium bodied in structure with the last vestiges of red fruit plus plenty of the savoury character which comes with development. Acidity was bright but not hard and the wine generally had a mellow softness about it. Score: 16/20.

As for winemaking, Platter’s editions of the mid-1980s advise that the wine would have been matured in large oak vats for three years…

Comments

  1. Christian, in am interested to know how the wine was stored? Is your father-in-law’s cellar temperature controlled? I am storing my wine in the coolest parts of my house (such as at the bottom of built-in cupboards). Although it is cooler in the cupboard the temperature now goes up to 20 degrees but we haven’t had a proper summer yet so it will go up even more. I’m actually a bit concerned because in the last year I have made some heavy wine purchases. By the way I recently bought a couple of vintage wines (25 bottles many sold at the Nederburg auction) ranging from 1969 to 1982 and it includes the Shiraz you mentioned here. I paid R1500 for the lot so I’m thinking it’s good that there’s no meaningful secondary market for SA wines!

    • Hi Hennie, The wine was indeed from a temperature-controlled cellar. When it comes to long-term maturation, the bottom line is that temperature is the most important factor. Ageing involves complex chemical reactions, and as with all such reactions, these take place faster at a higher temperature. Also, reactions take place at higher temperatures that wouldn’t take place at all in cooler surroundings. Thanks to anecdotal observations, we know that wine ages superbly in underground cellars and the trick is therefore to replicate these conditions as far as possible – the average temperature of you home cellar should therefore be between 10 to 15 °C. Wine kept at 20 °C will typically age faster and stand to be less complex in maturity while wine exposed to temperatures above 25° C may be spoilt, taking on a cooked, jammy character. Time to spend even more money and invest in a Eurocave?

  2. How much do you reckon that bottle was worth mate?

    • Hi Koob, Difficult to say with any certainty given that any meaningful secondary market for SA wines has yet to emerge. I note that Groot Constantia Cabernet Sauvignon 1972 went for the equivalent of R1 733 a bottle at this year’s Nederburg Auction so I guess the Vergenoegd Shiraz might be valued at anywhere between R1 000 and R2 000 a bottle.

  3. Christian says:

    Vergenoegd’s John Faure comments via email as follows: We started bottling Shiraz on the estate in 1978. We supplied KWV Shiraz in bulk in those years and they would then also bottle it under a label carrying the Vergenoegd name, but distinguished by a KWV seal absent from our own label. Therefore, the two parties were actually selling the same vintage, KWV supplying the international market and us the local market. Both we and KWV were still ageing the wine in large oak vats at the time that your wine was matured; we started ageing our wines in smaller barrels in the late 1980s.

  4. John Faure says:

    This was the last year that my father, Jac Faure, made the Vergenoegd wines by himself, I joined him in the cellar in 1983. At that stage the general norm was to harvest at lower sugar levels than what we do today, this would have led to the elegance and firm acidity that Christian has found in this wine. I believe the ageability of our wines is a combination of our proximity to the sea (3km from False Bay) and our marginal soils, these factors result in longer ripening, smaller yields and fruit concentration. This is still applicable today as much as it was in 1982. Thanks for sharing your comments, I am pleased that you enjoyed the wine!

  5. Christian says:

    Elegant rather than powerful but certainly not green. No “sweaty saddle” either (supposedly a trademark of Shiraz from that era). Balanced and quite Rhone-like. Made me think that all those that insist the variety is suited to local conditions aren’t completely wrong.

  6. Kwispedoor says:

    Good vintage too, 1982. I agree, DPJ – I also keep my Vergenoegds for much longer than most. They have an excellent maturation track record. General rule: earlier harvesting and lower alcohol levels then than now, so: any unripe/green impressions, Christian?

  7. For what it’s worth, in my experience, Vergenoegd has consistently over-delivered on its maturation abilities. I am still drinking the ’95 Cab and “Reserve” which continually surprise me with their structure and freshness. An unsung hero in SA wine circles IMHO. But a drinkable 30 year old SA shiraz is indeed a noteworthy achievement .

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