Re-corking Mythical GS Cabernet 1966 to find a World of Wonder

Re-corking Mythical GS Cabernet 1966 to find a World of Wonder

Getting to see how cork has allowed great wine to develop and age is one of the most satisfying and rewarding moments for a leading closure partner to fine wine. These days one needs deep pockets or some very good friends to obtain old wines with which to experience this reward. Fortunately, our recorking programme has allowed my senses into the inner-circle of fine old wines and be hands-on when dealing with these vinous treasures.

We were recently tasked to replace the corks of the very few bottles left from 2 existing stocks of GS Cabernet 1966, widely regarded as one of the finest ever made in South Africa. Critics such as British Master of Wine Jancis Robinson rated it 20/20 in the past, giving it a near-mythical status.

Its accolades are backed by an intriguing back-story to this wine. The fact that it was never sold in a restaurant and never seen on the shelf of a wine-shop is one of them. A good deal of this information is quoted from Joanne Gibson’s award-winning piece, ‘The mystery of South Africa’s greatest red’, written for then WINE magazine in April 2008. With this she won the South African Wine Writers Prize, awarded by the Franschhoek Literary Festival. (read here

From left: Higgo Jacobs, consultant, Johan Malan, WineCellar, Michael van Deventer, Distell, Jean Vincent Ridon, consultant, Joaquim Sa, Duimpie Bayly, SA wine legend and Piet Fischer, grandson of George Spies.

The GS stands for George Spies, the legendary winemaker who was the head of the cellar of Stellenbosch Farmers Winery, the company that merged with Distillers Corporation in 2000, nowadays known as Distell. In the 1960s, Spies presided over a number of well-known Cape wine brands. It was his curiosity and vision that led to the GS wines.

At his own cost, he embarked upon an experiment project in his spare time. With no single-vineyard wine being made in South Africa at that time, Spies found an exceptional Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard in the Durbanville wine region close to Cape Town, and made two vintages harvested exclusively from it: 1966 and 1968.

Seeking fruit purity and varietal expression, he kept the wine away from wood barrels and bottling was done a few months after pressing. This is almost unheard of in today’s wine world where classical red wines, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Tempranillo are aged for up to 10 years in small barrels.

Recorking these wines 54 years later was a truly magical experience for all involved. The shrivelled old corks were removed, looking their age. Then each bottle was tasted by a team of wine-experts from Wine Cellar and Distell, to gauge the state of the wine so to make sure it is in good enough condition to vindicate re-corking for the future.

Removed old GS corks.

This GS Cabernet Sauvignon, more than half a century old, was poured into the tasting glass, a rivulet of garnet and purple. The colour was gorgeous, and the aroma of rich old wine soon filled the re-corking space. Amazing, it was if a genie had escaped from a bottle after 54 years, announcing its presence and character to those in attendance. The wine was alive and fresh, a harmonious balance between acidity, fruit and tannins. Then came the flavours: dense dark berries and cedar; pine-needles and cigar-box. And that fantastic hint of fynbos wild-flowers that are a feature of South African Cabernet Sauvignon.

It was here where the extraordinary centuries-old relationship between cork and wine once again became evident. The reward of a wine that ages and matures from youth to expressive beauty and, eventually, elegant complexity. Seeing that this wine was not aged in wood, it was solely dependent on the humble natural cork for its ageing and optimal maturation in the bottle.

Finally, argon gas was brought in to keep the now-open wine free of oxygen spoilage. We selected fine NDtech corks to punch into the old bottles and protect the wine.

And we toasted another glass to the cork, and another job well done.

Joaquim Sá

Managing Director: Amorim Cork South Africa