My bugbears with wines in SA and how we often sip them too soon

Ah, the joys of getting old. For the fortunate few, the ageless exceptions, time really does seem to have no effect - Jennifer Anniston and Samuel L Jackson, Jo-Ann Strauss and Schalk Brits. But for most of us, the years roll by with unforgiving attention: the hair greys and thins, the middle gets a little rounder, we start looking alarmingly like our parents on a dance floor. Ageing is best avoided… unless you’re a piece of steak or a bottle of wine.

I have three major bugbears with wine in South Africa, all doubtlessly attributable to the residual grumpiness that comes with the aforementioned age. The first is wine lists without vintages (an unforgivable crime) and the second is temperature: white wine that penguins would find too cold to touch, and red wine that’s all but simmering. And then there’s the issue of age.


The suggestion, only half made in jest, is that the year on a bottle of sauvignon blanc is the expiry date, rather than the vintage. It stems from the speed with which a current vintage of the wine flies of shelves: make sauvignon blanc today, drink tomorrow. And while other whites might get a slightly longer stay of execution, and reds a little more than that, there’s still far too much wine that doesn’t get nearly enough time to show off its best.

I spent an evening last week having exactly that lesson drummed home through both wine and steak. Nederburg teamed up with Steve Maresch from The Local Grill in Johannesburg, longtime home of one of Johannesburg’s finest steaks, for a night celebrating the art of ageing. And the steaks made a solid run at top billing: a range of cuts given time to soften, develop more flavour and become the masterpieces for which Steve’s restaurant is known (book a table on Eat Out).

But it was the wines that snuck home as an attraction in chief, largely because of the nature of the evening. Nederburg dug into their older collection, brought out eight vintages and paired them with a newer version of the same wine, and then left us to wander amongst the assorted offerings, sampling at will, and comparing and contrasting.

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The results? Older Achorman chenin blanc develops beautifully and has an added depth to it. A few years doesn’t hurt a bottle of local reisling, as should be the case. And the Ingenuity white – a Mediterranean blend that pays homage to the sort of wine drier conditions suggest we’ll see more of in the Cape – also takes on an added dimension with time.

Unsurprisingly, the red wine benefitted as well, but it was the impact of time on white wine that was the night’s most important takeaway. Niël Groenewald, who oversees the Nederburg operation, introduced the older wines with a smile, and the whites in particular; and those smiles were returned with interest from an audience discovering the delights of ageing. Give meat time, and wine even more – it’s an investment that’s well worth making.

WHAT I’M DRINKING THIS WEEK: I wrapped up the weekend with a couple of bottles of 2015 cabernet sauvignon – but not from Stellenbosch. Instead, to acclaim from my dinner guests, we sampled wine from Rawsonville: smooth, elegant cabernet sauvignon that’s very easy on the palate and even easier on the wallet. At R60 a bottle, the Du Toitskloof is exceptional value and your definitive everyday red.

Want to see what else Dan Nicholl has been drinking? Watch his latest episode of Dan Really Likes Wine