Gregory W. Sherwood
aromas of an ancient Roman wine vat, the toffee-rich palate of a 200-year-old
Rhone Muscat, or the tea and dried herb bouquet of an 1860s Chateau Lafite
Bordeaux. Yes, it seems almost every time you open up a wine magazine or read a
newspaper wine column, you’re sure to find an article in the form of a bracing
historical reminisance that’s naturally followed by an exotic tasting note on
that “once in a lifetime” and “never to be repeated” wine tasting
these opportunities are normally reserved for the Jancis Robinsons and Michael
Broadbents of our world, not the man in the street. After all, it does take a
person with an experienced palate and suitably, broadly orientated wine
knowledge to taste, and most importantly, appreciate these old gems. Were they
to be given to your average middle-aged housewife, they would be sure to end up
down the sink, ancient or not!
I can only
suppose that this never ending fascination with tasting old dusty bottles from
some Lord or Lady’s cellar in Scotland somewhere, or at least reading about
somebody else doing so, is comparable in many ways to those of us who indulge in
armchair exploration by way of reading eccentric travel books on the jungles of
the Amazon or the savannahs of Botswana. Pure escapism!
And one of
the most recent of these specialist “once in a lifetime” tastings to take
place must have been the 2001 opening of a bottle of Constantia dessert wine
dating from 1791, as described by Simon Woods in his Financial Times column.
With a carefully selected audience present, Klein Constantia owner Duggie Jooste
opened this special bottle as a celebratory 75th birthday drink! And from all
reports, the liqueur was thick and unctuous, but still noticeably wine.
The wine in
question is of course now called Vin de Constance, and a more recent vintage was
the only bottle I bothered to lug back to London after visiting several Cape
wine estates in February 2002. A remarkable bottle of wine no doubt with enough
history to match, and even surpass the likes of Chateau Lafite or Chateau Latour,
the Bordeaux greats. Whether I will keep my bottle until my 75th birthday, I
cannot say. More than likely not, sadly.
Now, while I
can’t claim to have quaffed 100-year-old claret or 200 year old dessert wines,
I have had an opportunity to go back into the past and taste a snapshot of
history on more than one occasion. Of these, the most memorable bottle must
undoubtedly have been a 1930 KWV Muscadel sweet fortified wine from Wine Of
Origin Boberg, that had been specially labelled and packaged up for the
Millennium. In an international context this might not sound that old, but
believe me, trying to get your hands on something drinkable that’s more than
30 years old in South Africa can be quite a tall order.
Not to spoil
the grand occasion, I opened the bottle at the end of a superb wine tasting
dinner and served the eight highly accomplished guests each a glass blind. All
the tasters had their wine Diploma and some were even busy with their Cape Wine
Master studies, so they were a knowledgeable group. Well, I have to tell you
that most of them thought the wine was a tawny port or a Muscadel. But what
about the age? The oldest vintage that was suggested was 1988! I can still
remember trying to keep a straight face amidst all the deception. Needless to
say, when I revealed the bottle and the vintage, a few gasps were heard around
the room! To call it a youthful tasting wine would have been a slight
So, I guess
the moral of my story was that if this wine were to actually be kept for 100 or
150 years, I’m convinced it would still be eminently drinkable, perhaps even
by your average middle-aged housewife! Not quite a Michael Broadbent experience
I know, but meaningful and pleasurable enough to me.