What a wine! Thirteen years old, still vibrant with life. This week’s most stunning experience came from a South African wine, bought and put in the cellar many years ago. Then forgotten, until this week.
quick web search made me a bit nervous. It was not unlikely that its best days
already had passed. Better open it and face the harsh reality.
Magnificent! That is the right word to describe the Steenberg Merlot
1999. It met me with a hue of brick. Overwhelmingly rich, with layers of flavour sensations. The nose
delightfully mature and complex, just slightly smoky with hints of sweet roots.
The sensational explosion came in the palate. A rich concentrated, spicy blend
of laurels, root vegetables, raisins and well integrated oak. Great body. Balanced with
velvet tannins, moderate alcohol and very good length. And after a little while
the minty notes evolved together with some sweet raisins.
Isn’t it time for a revival of the Merlot? This Steenberg confirmed my
belief in the grape’s maturing potential. It also showed the ability to make
great Merlot in South Africa. A Morgenhof Merlot Reserve 1998 some time ago
gave the same impression, even if this wine from Steenberg was well ahead of its
Steenberg is one of the reputable South African wine farms dating back
to the seventeenth century. Unusual is that the farm was founded by a woman.
Catharina Ras came from Lübeck to South Africa already in 1662. In 1682 she was
allowed to lease some land in Constantia from Simon van der Stel, a lease that
was converted to ownership in 1688. Catharina was also known for her bad luck
with husbands, the fatality rate was so to say high and she was married five
times. But that is another story.
Steenberg is today owned by Graham Beck. The 62 ha Constantia vineyards
include plantings of Sauvignon blanc, Semillon, Merlot,
Cabernet Franc, Shiraz and Nebbiolo. The latter a rare guest in the South
African vineyards, which in the hands of the winemaker JD Pretorius is
transformed into a beautiful, well-structured wine with the typical nose of leaves
in decay and a substantial load of tannins.
Unfortunately, I have not tasted any newer vintages of their Merlot. But
now I have a great reason to find a bottle. Hopefully, a sip of it will
convince me to put some into the cellar and, in ten years’ time or so, give me
another stunning experience.