Ol Man River is one of the songs from the 1927 musical Showboat that has been sung by a variety of performers over the years, including Frank Sinatra. (You can check a young and beautiful Blue Eyes doing his version on YouTube – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xTnw_MmVptQ – in 1946, and already it’s had more than 600 000 views).
Which is a long way of getting around to introducing Dave Hughes, South Africa’s Ol Man Wine… Maybe it’s just because of his snowy white head of hair and luxuriant bushy Father Christmas beard that make us think he’s been around longer than he has. He often has to put up with jokes about having been around so long that he welcomed Jan van Riebeeck to our shores…
But Hughes is having the last – and sweetest – laugh because he is renowned the wine world over. He was in London judging spirits at the International Wine & Spirits competition a few weeks ago when he had dinner with an old friend, David Nathan-Maister, former owner and proprietor of the Devon Valley Hotel.
He casually let slip that Nathan-Maister had acquired 12 bottles of Constantia Wine at auction, dated at circa 1820 – and they’d had some with dinner. “I have no idea what Nathan-Maister paid for them but I know he sold one for thousands of pounds – because one of the Russian gentleman we were dining with bought one!”
The provenance of the Vin de Constance was that it was acquired from a British cellar and then shipped to France. “It was rebottled from the original little bottles into larger, more modern bottles of about 700ml capacity – and that was in 1880 – because the original bottles were smaller and somewhat fragile.”
Hughes said the wine was really special – it was evolved with beautiful sweetness and a rich nuttiness and long, lingering finish – and that tasting it was “historic”.
As if those hearing the tale were not already green enough with envy, he then revealed they enjoyed an 1880 Tokay and then a 100-year-old Jamaican rum to finish off the evening.
“The rum was really quite special,” Hughes recounted. “Made in about 1860 it, too, was only bottled in 1880. Nathan-Maister got hold of it because a lot of it used to be sold in the Army & Navy stores up until the end of World War II. He bought rather a lot of these old stocks last year – and it is just gorgeous!”