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Monday, June 1, 2009



Storage period for red wine, the world’s oldest bottle of champagne and Clos Malverne wins a medal at Concours Mondial de Bruxelles.

How long will a good South African red wine retain its quality while it is stored at home?

Some not very well-informed wine drinkers believe that red wines improve steadily with age, that old ones are better than young ones. That is not always the case. Much depends on how the wine has been stored, but even with optimum conditions - an air-conditioned or well-ventilated cellar, dark, and with a constant temperature - I would not think that a good red would mature well for more than about a dozen years.

So it was with some doubt that in Cape Town recently I opened a bottle of cabernet sauvignon given to me by an old friend, Elio Pikholz of Newlands, who is a wine enthusiast and has an interesting collection of old vintages. This was a Zonnebloem Cabernet. Nothing unusual about that, but the vintage was 1969. It’s not every day that one drinks a wine that is 40 years old. Here is my report:

Label said simply Zonnebloem Cabernet (no sauvignon), full-bodied. No alcohol content given, as is required by law today. Cork. Extracted with great care (a broad thread corkscrew is better than a thin one), it came out intact except for the last centimetre or so, which crumbled but could be removed carefully, leaving no fragments in the wine itself. Bouquet: Negligible. Colour. Quite good, deep red with a brownish tinge. Taste. A bit tart, but you could detect the cabernet flavour clearly enough.

Verdict. A drinkable wine, but its best days were long gone. I wouldn’t serve it to critical guests, but sipping it slowly was an interesting experience.

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This little experiment was nothing compared with a recent wine event in Rheims, northern France, when a bottle of 1825 Perrier-Jouet champagne was opened for a handful of international experts. It was said to be the world’s oldest bottle of champagne and it had been stored in Perrier-Jouet’s cellars, 21 metres underground, at a constant temperature of 11 degrees Celsius.

Predictably enough, the experts were in raptures. One said the wine reminded him of mince pies cooking at Christmas time and another said it had “a taste of heather honey, of gingerbread, of lemon, of mushroom, and of the dead leaves that are the grey hairs of a wine that has aged”.

I am cynical enough to wonder whether they would have come to the same conclusions if they had tasted the wine blind, without knowing what it was.

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Clos Malverne, the well-known estate at Devon Valley, Stellenbosch, has won a gold medal at one of the world’s premier wine competitions, the Concours Mondial de Bruxelles, which was judged this year in Valencia, Spain. Its winning entry, Clos Malverne Pinotage 2007, was one of only two South African wines to win a gold medal.

This year 6,289 wines from 54 countries were entered in the Concours competition. They were judged by 250 professional tasters representing 41 nationalities. The Clos Malverne pinotage was matured in American and French oak casks before being filtered and bottled.

Clos Malverne have won other awards with their pinotages. The estate has a tasting centre on Devon Valley Road, Stellenbosch, and tastings are R15 per person. Phone 021 865 2022. – Michael Green