Reading through the wines | Zonnebloem

Reading through the wines

Posted on: 24 July 2020

“Where there is no wine there is no love.”
Euripides (c. 480–406 BC)

Zonnebloem red winemaker’s love for aged wine

I am a hopeless romantic. Since I can remember the story of how my beloved grandparents met at the Stellenbosch train station, I was enthralled with the giddy splendour of romance.

Although I have fallen in and out of love, there is one kind of love that has me weak at the knees: older, mature wines. The romance of wine without a doubt improves with age – an older wine is one crescendo after another of a romantic ballad.

Older wines are by their very nature mysterious and unpredictable. Many times, there is very little information available about the conditions in which the wine was made, the choice of wood or even the winemaker at the time. How did this wine just quietly slumber for years and become this complex, this rich, this sensational? I find so much joy in how a wine expresses itself many years later to what can be compared to a musical performance – powerful and goose bump-worthy!

As a fresh graduate working at Elsenburg College in the Department of Agriculture, I spent many moments with Beyers Truter on their Beyerskloof farm. He embraced our eager minds as young, starry-eyed winemakers and fed our curiosity with incredible wine tasting experiences and unforgettable encounters with the best winemakers of the time.

On one such occasion winemaker Bartho Eksteen poured a glass of wine for each of us from a red wine magnum (1.5L) he brought along. He covered the label and encouraged us to describe the wine with possible guesses as to cultivar, growing region, vintage etc.

The colour was light, almost a stone-red, brownish colour and we found dark cherry, cigar box, ripe tomato, an elegant spiciness and a rather underlying wildness in the taste. We knew it was an older wine but reading between the wines of our experience-library we all thought, surely it must be a Pinot Noir?

On revealing, the wine was a 1983 Chateau Libertas. It surprised us all. Wines of the time were very much Cinsaut driven, even in single cultivar wines like a Cabernet Sauvignon, you would find traces of this ‘work-horse’ winemaking grape due to its affordability.

Years later I learnt in the Tabernacle at Adam Tas in Stellenbosch, the sanctuary for an incredible collection of old wines taken out occasionally for exclusive auctions, that Cinsaut was the backbone of most of the older Zonnebloem wines. These are wines made more than 60 years ago!

Now that I encounter more older vintages with Cinsaut as a leading grape varietal, I am always delightfully surprise as to how intense, vibrant and giving a wine varietal it is.

I guess that similar to how one would become acquainted with an older wine, so too are the layers of love deep and at many times, the discovery, endless.