Hats off to SA's oldest red wine blend
Chateau Libertas earns its spurs as a big seller
SURELY every wine lover will attest to often being infused with a peculiar thrill every time a new bottle of wine is about to be opened.
Cynics might hastily describe this feeling as the onset of alcoholism - but hardly so. It is about the ritual that ordinarily emanates from the suspense over the final synthesis of the elements that contrived to make that wine.
But the greater sense of anticipation is derived from whether the winemaker has in fact delivered on his or her promise of quality.
Invariably the older the wine the higher the levels of anxiety and sense of restlessness.
All this points to the mystical qualities of the wine, which are demonstrated by the fact that wine does not evolve only during fermentation and maturation in barrels but also after bottling.
There are many examples that bear testimony to the true ageing potential of wine, especially the famous vintages crafted by the French for centuries.
Locally Chateau Libertas has proved the longevity of South Africans beyond doubt, though it might not compare with French appellations of far more superior quality and stock.
However, hats ought to be doffed to the wine after reaching the milestone of 80th anniversary recently. It's a wine that has no doubt earned its spurs by maintaining its status as a big-selling wine for decades.
Believed to be South Africa's oldest red blend, Chateau Libertas was created by one Dr William Charles Winshaw, an American-born medical doctor and former Texas Ranger, in Stellenbosch in 1932.
It has always been blend of mostly Cabernet Sauvignon and smaller components of Cinsaut until around 2000.
Today the blend reflects a ripe berry fruit character owing to the combination of Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Merlot, Ruby Cabernet and Petit Verdot.
To mark the 80th anniversary, Distell recently hosted the event at Stellenbosch's The Big Easy restaurant, which is situated in the historic house that was Winshaw's home until his death at 96 years of age in 1968.
Needless to say, it was quite a privilege to retrace Chateau Libertas' lineage by tasting the 1940, 1957, 1962, 1978, 1982 and 1994 vintages of the wine.
One would expect these wines to have been flat as a tyre by now but surprisingly they have mellowed and maintained quality beyond belief. They attested to the consistency and uncompromising quality of winemaking that went behind their crafting all those years.
If there were any doubts about the pedigree of local wines, these vintages removed it unquestionably.
While Chateau Libertas is sold nationally at about R34 a bottle today, I have been to auctions where an old vintage of the wine fetched up to R6000 a bottle.
Question is how does one tell which bottle of wine has ageing potential.
It's a critical call that involves several factors, including the assessment of the wine's acidity, oak maturation, balance, tannin structure, quality of fruit and other elements.
The wine's acidity is very critical as are elements such as the quality of the grape, tannins, balance and even storage.
But nothing beats enjoying one's wine now rather than to perhaps wait for the proverbial Godot.