Rustenberg not rusty

A wine, like a person, undergoes interesting changes with age. I say “interesting” and not “promising” or “satisfying” because not all wines age well – but the fact that they have a lifeline is a part of the fascination of wine. A wine’s potential to age also gives it a certain cache: the world pays more for wines that mature gracefully, and this ability is lauded on back labels.

Yet this capability is becoming academic as wines are drunk within hours of purchase and producers are responding by making wines that are ready to drink within a similarly short time. Keeping a wine to enjoy its maturation cycle is a hobby of a very small and steadily dwindling number of people.

So it is something of a treat – and something of an exploration into the unknown – to taste wines from previous decades. One cannot help thinking, when tasting a great older wine, that the cellar that produced it is a quality operation, that the grapes were well-treated, and that the vintage was a good one. At the same time, you also expect the new vintage wines from such a cellar to be impressive, and carry the promise that gratification delayed will be rewarded.

Rustenberg is a good example of a cellar that delivers on all fronts. With estate label wines that are certainly among the Cape’s finest, the focus is on cabernet and chardonnay, certainly a classical bent. But they also produce some very interesting and less mainstream wines, like a tiny production of roussanne, a variety that could easily be mistaken for viognier, but to my palate has less of the billowing florals of that variety, and is more appealing for that.

What marks the new release of Rustenberg wines is a definite sense that they’ve been created for the longer haul. Dense, complex and packed with quality tannins, appreciating them now requires a good decanting. Winemaker Adi Badenhorst, always ready with a glib quip, is certainly serious when he vows that these will stand the test of time, as the Rustenberg reds are known to do. The 1974 and 1978 Rustenberg reds are still lively, delicious drinks.

When drinking wines of this age, provenance is key, for the producer must have the inclination for making long-lasting wines. You cannot in fairness expect your Pick de Plonk to mature (though often a rough wine is certainly helped by a rough decanting).

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At Rustenberg, this desire to make wines that can age is even carried through to their second label, Brampton, where the Old Vines Red 2004 is surprisingly serious and therefore great value at under R50 from the farm.