The Tabernacle, the famous underground cellar in Stellenbosch that houses some of South Africa’s rarest and most spectacular vinous treasures, is releasing a handful of historic wines for sale.
To be auctioned on 10 July by Strauss & Co, they include three individual bottle lots of the fabled GS Cabernet 1966, with a starting bid of R25 000 per bottle.
When doyenne of wine critics Jancis Robinson tasted this wine in 2015, she pronounced it perfect, giving it a score of 20/20, something she seldom does. She found it: “…absolutely stunning – such a beautiful combination of maturity and delicacy … Lightly minty, fragrant and it spread right across the palate with satin texture. Gorgeous.”
Such rare praise has elicited enormous international interest in the wine. Adding to its allure has been the mystery of its provenance, according to Michael van Deventer, curator of the Tabernacle.
“The initials GS are said to be those of dancer extraordinaire, horseman and self-taught winemaker, George Spies, who sourced the grapes from Durbanville. He was rumoured to have made the wine without the approval of his bosses at Stellenbosch Farmers’ Winery (SFW), which is why he didn’t lend it his actual name. We don’t know for sure. Not even his daughter has confirmed his relationship to the wine. What everyone agrees on, though, is that it is an exemplar of red wine excellence and longevity.
“There is also talk that Spies, if he did indeed make the wine, did it the way a white wine is normally vinified, with a very short stint on the skins, and that for the first 20 years it was totally undrinkable. Whatever the case, time has transformed it into a wine of remarkable freshness and character.”
Spies was the one-time boss at SFW of Duimpie Bayly, another South African winemaking legend. Bayly was a great champion of Chateau Libertas, the famous claret-style red conceived in 1932 as a table wine to aid the digestion, by founder of Stellenbosch Farmers’ Winery, Dr William Charles Winshaw.
A single bottle of the 1959 vintage will come under the hammer. The starting bid has also been set at R25 000.
When Wine Cellar director and Strauss & Co wine specialist, Roland Peens, tasted it in 2015 ahead of the Nederburg Auction that year, he spoke of its “lovely red fruit” and palate of “purity and poise, leaving your senses intrigued and delighted”.
There will be two lots of the 1963 Zonnebloem Cabernet Sauvignon up for the sale. Winemag editor, Christian Eedes, tasting the wine this March at a line-up of heritage wines that were being quality checked and recorked, was thrilled by it, describing it as “enticing and complex” with a “sinuous” palate of “weight and poise”, “dense fruit, bright acidity and tannins that still lend shape.” He scored it 97/100.
Meanwhile, well-known British wine commentator, Tim Atkin MW, recently awarded this wine a score of 96/100, and noted: “It says ‘full-bodied’ on the label, but this pure Cabernet Sauvignon is anything but, especially when you compare it with the styles that are produced today. Ginger spice and dried herb aromas are a prelude to a stunning palate of cassis, tobacco pouch and redcurrant, with excellent underlying structure, bright acidity and a vivacious finish.”
Two lots of Nederburg’s Auction Reserve Cabernet 1974 made by the renowned Günter Brözel will also be up for sale. Decanter called the wine a legend and noted that when iconic US winemaker Robert Mondavi tasted it in 1992, he exclaimed: “‘Rapture!…Still fresh and juicy with lovely structure….Long and lingering finish. Magnificent!”
With Cinsault making such a comeback, it will be interesting to see the response that the SFW Cinsault 1974 elicits. Tasting it in 2017, Greg Sherwood MW remarked on how youthful and intense it was, highlighting its “dense, dark supremely richly fruited” elegance, and its “crazy plummy concentration, plushness, freshness and exotic depth”.
“These wines represent a window onto an era of extraordinary South African winemaking,” said Michael. “The remarkable thing is that they were all made with no more aspiration than to delight the wine lovers of their day. Now collectors and connoisseurs marvel at their freshness, purity, and life, and today’s winemaking students set them as benchmarks.”
All the wines have been checked for quality and recorked. The Tabernacle’s recorking clinics over the past few years have been sponsored by Amorim.
For more on these wines and details of the hybrid (physical and online) auction, visit the Strauss & Co website.
The auction, open to anyone in the world, is now live to view here.
Buyers can now register and place pre-sale bids. For more information on how to bid, click here.
Auction date: 10 July at 11:00.
Proceeds from the sale will go towards a project intended to honour the memory of the late Duimpie (Francis) Bayly, a former director of Distell, who played a major role in developing quality standards for the South African wine industry.
Still in the planning stages, the memorial initiative will encompass the collection, writing up and preservation of knowledge, history, stories and academic inputs involving the country’s the wine industry.
The archived material will be housed in a centre to be accessed not only by members of the wine industry, but also the public. Further details will be announced by Distell in the near future.
WATCH: A short video of the pre-auction tasting at the Tabernacle on 22 June
About the Tabernacle
The recently revamped Tabernacle in Stellenbosch is a hallowed place amongst the wine fraternity and the other lucky few who have been admitted. An underground wine library built in 1979, it archives some of South Africa’s greatest vinous treasures. It has come to serve as a most precious historical, winemaking, and cultural resource.
Today thousands of bottles are stored here under ideal ageing conditions. The collection includes two half-bottles of Constantia wines dating back to 1821, various wines from the 1920s as well as all the other decades of the 20th century. More recently, other age-worthy reds from the 21st century have been finding their way into the Tabernacle.