With the Cape Fine & Rare Wine Auction putting the spotlight on some of South African wine treasures and Tim James addressing the age-worthiness of Cape Wine in a recent winemag.co.za article, I was reminded about the beauty and the story of older vintage wines. But then, how does this fit in with a focus on making wine less intimidating, more accessible and consumer-friendly?
For someone who loves wine and who are intrigued by bottles that have been stored in cellars for decades, it is quite difficult to ask this question. But when I meet with my marketing team, one of the issues on the table is how to stay in touch with a changing wine demographic. Is the ageing Baby Boomer generation not the main market for such treasured vintage wines? Are younger generations, with the exception of those in the trade of course, still interested in the history and do they appreciate the taste of mature wine?
One young wine lover, Peter Pentz did a recent survey among his own (young) friends and contacts on social media and realised that most of them (now out of lockdown) purchase their wine in the supermarket. That was an interesting finding, given that we all believe the pandemic to have opened the way for online wine sales and that we would think younger generations use the platform most. His deduction is that younger people want the wine immediately and they can’t necessarily afford to buy a few boxes online to validate shipping, so they rather buy a bottle or two for tonight’s get-together. Does this mean that the online wine customer is actually older? Someone with deeper pockets? And if indeed, perhaps the online space can be much more than a spot for bargain hunting, it can be a great place to market older vintage wines.
While this might be just speculation, I think the online space gives great opportunity for rare and vintage wines. These scarce bottles would usually not have been opened to taste anyway and online gives you an excellent opportunity to tell the story of the wine. If you were interested in wine and had buying power, how would you resist the 1821 Grand Constance, for instance. This wine reached a record-breaking R420 000 at the Cape Fine & Rare Wine Auction last week. “It is believed that the Grand Constance 1821 was only one of 12 known to still exist from an allocation originally destined for the French emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte.” (Read more)
But with the exception of this Constantia beauty, are there other South African wines that we feel worthy of such high value? Of course wines sometimes reach exceptional prices at charity auctions, but that is a different animal altogether. No one debates the allure of a matured Romanee-Conti, Chateau Lafite or Margaux, but are we confident in the quality of older South African wines? I agree with Tim James that there are some South African wines that are maturing beautifully. Going back as far as our European counterparts, it might be more of a challenge, but there are definitely wines of around 15 years old that are very interesting – not only to those who want to taste it, but also for someone who want to speculate with wine.
Being modest when it comes to our ageing potential in general is a good point. A wine’s maturation potential has much to do with the specific vintage and growing conditions. In one of my older blogs I also debated the ageability of SA wine (Well-matured SA wine – fact or fiction). I referred to our warm climate and also that style expectations are often more about fruit than balance and accessible softer tannins that are impressive at an early age rather than those who need time to mellow. Of course, we have beautifully structured wines that can exceed the typical maturation expectation. Just as France produces Vin de Table as well as First Growths, not all Cape wines are equal.
In South Africa, our exposure to matured wines is limited and we might not always know what to expect of a well-aged glassful. Many wine drinkers might also enjoy easy-drinkers as part of their daily wine experience. I do think, however, the fact that wine has the ability to mature, to develop and to intrigue add so much to its allure, that it shouldn’t be ignored. Matured wines don’t have to be exclusive or intimidating, let’s rather see them as mysterious and exciting – whether we want to actually try them or perhaps keep a virtual cellar for online speculation!