Do our reds age?

No theme to this column today, but a wandering through some of the wine experiences I’ve recently had. Always been a fan of Solms Delta for their idiosyncratic approach (you may recall the vine-dried or “desiccated” wines they make) and the fact that they have a fantastic on-site museum that explains the human side of our wine heritage. Now they are establishing a museum of music, a collaborative project with Richard Astor, whose farm is next door.

They’ve also started a harvest festival in the roots sense, where music and merriment replace commerce, uptight music and desultory picnic baskets. At the first one, the new Solms-Astor wines were launched. There’s a white blend, a red blend and a curious pétillant Shiraz. The blends are great table wines, easy-drinking but not simple, and lovely for the fact that they are dry wines without residual sweetness. They also have great names, the white called Vastrap, the red Langarm, and the 2007 vintages sell for R46 each. And if you are generally bored with clichéd back label blurb, check these out.

Another wine that makes good, lively drinking without being OTT is the Elgin Vintners Shiraz 2006. It’s got good spice notes, lots of fruit but also a tangy quality that refreshes. Only problem for me is the R78 price tag, I think this is more of a R60 wine.

Been launching into some older wines recently, opened the 2001 Delheim Vera Cruz Shiraz alongside their 2001 Grand Reserve. 2001 was a good vintage, and seven years should show these wines in a great light. This was true for the delicious Grand Reserve which has integrated beautifully and is really a polished wine – but less for the Vera Cruz which is tired and somewhat flabby. It’s still my opinion that the modern Cape makes Cabernets and Cab blends that age well, but have not yet cracked the code on Shiraz.

Of course, I say modern Cape because we now make wines that are easier to drink in their youth, and are less likely to age as well as the Cape reds made in the 1970s and 1980s. When you taste a 1974 Fairview Pinotage that’s still a lively, delightful wine today, you really appreciate this. In its youth, I heard from current winemaker Anthony de Jager, it was an austere, rather forbidding wine, with firm tannins. When last have you tasted a Cape wine that sounds at all like this today?

So I said no theme, but I have come back to a recurring feeling I have that our modern reds, for all the back label promises, are ill-equipped to mature (in the sense of improving) for longer than six to eight years. Whether this is actually a bad thing is debatable.