Wine Legend: Nederburg Cabernet Sauvignon 1974, Paarl, South Africa
Bottles produced n/a
Composition 100% Cabernet Sauvignon
Release price n/a
Price today £66
A legend because…
South Africa is not short of historic estates, and with vineyards first planted in the late 17th century, its wine industry is not best pleased when it is considered a ‘New World’ region. Most of those original plantings were in Constantia, close to Cape Town, but other regions enjoy a long history too. Nederburg in Paarl was founded in 1791 and consolidated its reputation by hosting – and producing wines for – its celebrated annual auction. International sanctions during the apartheid era were a setback for wine quality overall, so the auctions helped to maintain standards.
German-born Günter Brözel was winemaker here from 1956 to 1989, and was responsible for the excellent Cabernet Sauvignons. These were something of an exception in the context of South African wine in the 1970s, as so many vineyards were badly virused and struggled to ripen. Brözel was probably better known for Edelkeur, a botrytised Chenin Blanc, though its high residual sugar did not meet the requirements of the wine regulations at that time so it could not be sold. As a compromise, allowing Edelkeur to be offered to a limited clientele, the Nederburg Auction was founded in 1975. The annual event continues to this day.
The 1974 vintage was of exceptional quality and the vines remained entirely healthy. It was widely regarded as the best vintage of the decade.
Records are sparse, but it seems probable that the grapes for this wine were grown at Plaisir de Merle farm in Simondium. This lies on the east-facing lower slope of the Simonsberg Mountain. Its well-drained soil is mostly composed of weathered granite that retains sufficient water to help the vines survive even a very hot summer.
In the 1970s regulations for South African wine were lax, and many wines that were labelled as Cabernet Sauvignon also included a generous, sometimes even dominant proportion of Cinsault. The variety Cinsault was widely planted and high-yielding, helping estates to stretch their so-called Cabernets. However, winemaker Brözel often insisted that this wine was indeed 100% Cabernet. It was fermented to full dryness.
Shortly after release in the late 1970s, Platter’s South African Wine Guide noted: ‘Richly flavoured dry red with great depth and excellent keeping qualities, an elegant wine, not too heavy on the palate.’
Robert Mondavi was enthusiastic in 1992: ‘Rapture! Sweet spice, cake mix and whiffs of thatch. A beautiful, gentle, sweet-fruited entry. Still fresh and juicy with lovely structure and plum pudding, spice and fruitcake flavours. Long and lingering finish. Magnificent!’
In 2014 Michael Fridjhon wrote: ‘Maroon, with great depth, only now bricking at the edge. Almost Porty in its ripeness and texture, yet surprisingly elegant on the finish.’
Roland Peens reviewed the 1974 on his blog Wine Cellar in 2015: ‘Many wines from this era and vintage show a slightly Porty character… This 1974, however, is utterly composed, fresh and deeply complex. The nose reminded me of an aged Hermitage… So elegant and pure, with red berries, a hint of toast, nuts and exotic spice. The palate was astonishingly refined, deep and elegant.’