The Return of a South African Cult Wine

The Return of a South African Cult Wine

26 May, 2021

I confess I have form with a previous version of this wine, but prior to this incredibly impressive vaccination program may not have admitted to it.... About the only obvious downside to the vaccination program is that the simple "have you had / when did you have your first / second jab" question almost always gives away our age to within a couple of years.  So much for privacy and never asking a lady her age! So I may as well date myself.

This story takes me back to the late 90s as a (then) young gun starting a business in the beer services industry back in South Africa.  I confess the nineties were my dark decade with wine, coming after 4 years as a student in Cape Town (far more engaged with visits to wine estates than perhaps I should have been) and prior to popping out the other side of Y2K with an established business. Whilst I certainly continued to enjoy the fruits of the vine, it tended to be more consumption than discovery led.

But I clearly remember one wine jumping out and grabbing my attention. It was a fairly casual lunchtime affair, possibly just into the 2000s, involving sun (yes, that yellow thing in the sky), a pool, a braai, and a big table.  Meat being the plat du jour, some hearty reds were required, and there waiting for us were 3 bottles of a completely new wine from a "bright young thing" winemaker, Chris Keet.  The name amused us: Cordoba Crescendo. Imagine naming a wine farm lying between Stellenbosch and Somerset West after a Spanish town (!).

And here's the thing ..... it was the very antithesis of the big, overblown, heavily alcoholic reds so popular, not just in South Africa but around the world, at the time. To be sure, it was a Bordeaux Blend, but unusually it was Cabernet Franc dominant. And it was precise. It was balanced. It was savoury without losing the fruit flavours. It was complex. And it was enormously drinkable. Those 3 bottles did not last long!

I never got to drink it again. The maiden 1995 vintage got a Platter 5 Star rating on release in 1998, and it became one of those cult wines that the Western Cape winerati kept to themselves and didn't easily share with those of us up North. And then it disappeared.

Only now have I discovered the story. Chris Keet had leased some old-vine vineyards on the Cordoba farm, the owners of which enthusiastically backed him, even to the extent of beginning a replanting program in 1999. But by 2001 they lost interest and it all started to fall apart. The last official release was the 2003, but whispers abound of "blank bottle" versions of 2004, 5 and 6 being flogged off for next to nothing. None found their way to a table near me...

A long fast-forward to 2017 when the Cordoba farm was acquired by Bertrand Oddo, one-time CEO of Chateau Clarke and a director of Rupert and Rothschild in Franschoek. Scooping up Schalk-Willem Joubert as Cellarmaster from R&R, they set about crafting the direct descendent of the original Crescendo.

To avoid confusion and any IP issues with the town in Spain (welcome to the world of social media!), the farm was rechristened Taaibosch, meaning "tough bush" and named after the abundant species of Cape Fynbos found on the farm.

Taaibosch [Tie-Bosh] is a majestic estate situated at the foot of the Helderberg Mountain, with panoramic views stretching to Cape Point, Table Mountain, and the Stellenbosch Hills. The vineyards are planted at an altitude of 400 meters above sea level and with a direct South West aspect facing to False Bay. It is this unique positioning and altitude which provide these vineyards with the required cooling influence for long, optimal ripening during the summer months.

The maiden 2018 Taaibosch Crescendo has just been released (I'm told I'm the first stockist in the UK to actually have the wine physically in-store), and it's a belter.  And indeed, it is the direct descendent of the original comprising 65% Cabernet Franc, 30% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. Hand-harvested and fermented in a combination of steel and cement vessels, the wine was then matured for 3 years in a combination of 225L oak barrels, 9000L Foudre vessels and traditional 4500L cement tanks.

Beautifully ripe and pure Cabernet Franc provides the core of the precise red berry fruits, with a touch of blackberry and graphite. The fine, chalky tannins complement the wonderful tension of the wine which is supremely elegant. The alcohol level is a refreshingly modest 13.5%.

As regards that final test against which all wines must be judged - drinkability - I'll just say that I tackled my sample bottle with a steak off the braai, fully intending to leave half the bottle overnight to see how it developed.  Err ... that never happened... must try harder!

It's an unexpected delight to have this resurrected wine on my shelves, and I'm sure it's set to add to the excitement around the quality of wines from South Africa.

Buy the wine here.