There was a time when you would have to wait a few years for a good red wine. Reds that are considered premium are typically matured in small barrels for twelve to twenty-four months, and a few high-end producers then leave the bottled wine in the cellar to â€œknitâ€ and bottle mature for up to two years.
The result is that a red made in last yearâ€™s 2005 vintage would only be available in 2009. Very, very few local producers still keep to this kind of maturation program. In this age of the quick commodity, the onus shifts to the consumer to mature it if he or she thinks thatâ€™s necessary. In the last few years this trend of releasing younger and younger reds has been obvious.
Looking at the shelves today, most of the reds will be from the 2003 vintage, but a good number are likely to be the 2004 vintage already. The zenith of this accelerated release program was my experience of selecting a pinotage from a wine list last week (it was, typically, without vintages even though the main courses cost R80 and the wine prices were not shy) to find that the Beyerskloof offered was the 2005! This wine is clearly a best-seller, so much so that the pull-through on production is fast enough to warrant the release of such a young red. Obviously it doesnâ€™t get too much wood, but even soâ€¦ my new Platter guide was even a vintage behind!
Intrigued, I tasted it. It was a veritable fruit bomb, with soft tannins and loads of sweetness, and quite alcoholic to boot. A real â€œnew worldâ€ wine, as they say, no doubt picked at â€œoptimal ripenessâ€. I chose the pinotage because I was again matching this variety to curry and spicy food, a relationship that has been successful in the past. This time, the pinotage also tasted good with a soy-based, slow-cooked half duck.
But when the food was finished the wine was not â€“ and even though we were three thirsty lads at the table, it remained unfinished. This bottle stands as a marker for where our wines are headed. Ripe and fruity, they are engineered to be drunk very young. Yet, paradoxically, they often donâ€™t drink too readily, the chunky intensity and fatness not very refreshing and certainly not inviting another glass. Many of these modern reds have no savoury dimension, a reason I choose wine in preference to juice.
What these wines will drink like after a few years remains to be seen, since they lack the preservatives of acidity and tannin. But youâ€™ve bought the wine, so itâ€™s not the producerâ€™s problem anymore.