These historic SA wines, some from the 1940s, are up for auction - and may fetch R40,000 per bottle

Business Insider SA
A selection of the rare historic wines on auction in Stellenbosch this weekend. Image: Supplied.
A selection of the rare historic wines on auction in Stellenbosch this weekend. Image: Supplied.
  • Bottles of historical South African wines, some over 50 years old, will be sold at auction in Stellenbosch next week.
  • Among them is a rare and celebrated GS Cabernet 1966 with an estimated selling price of R40,000 a bottle.
  • Vintage bottles of Chateau Libertas are also on auction and expected to reach up to R35,000 each.
  • The auction will be a hybrid in-person and virtual event - and interested buyers can already place pre-bids online.
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A selection of rare historical wines is going on auction in Stellenbosch, and online, this weekend. 

The wines come from the revered Tabernacle's collection, an underground wine cellar in Stellenbosch home to a wine library built in 1979. The cellar stores thousands of rare wines in pristine conditions, including half-bottles of Constantia wines from 1821 and wines covering every decade from the 1920s to the 20th century.

In all, Strauss & Co will auction off 99 different wines - among them two South African flagships that will likely fetch upwards of R25,000 per bottle.

The first is the famous GS Cabernet 1966, of which three individual bottles are going under the hammer - with a starting price of R25,000 each.

Bottle of GS Cabernet 1966.
GS Cabernet 1966. Image: Supplied
 This historic vintage seldom comes up for sale - but the 2019 vintage is widely available for roughly R500 a bottle. 

A spokesperson for Strauss & Co was unwilling to speculate on how much the 1966 bottle will fetch on Sunday, although auction documents online estimate R30,000 to R40,000 each.

Two years ago, a single bottle of GS Cabernet 1966 sold for R32,830 - and in 2019, a bottle fetched a record price of R34,140.

Even if the bottle fetches the maximum estimate of R40,000, this is still some way off the South African record of R1 million paid for a single bottle of wine last year.

Critics who've tasted the GS Cabernet 1966 have, however, been full of praise. 

Jancis Robinson called it the country's "greatest red". She also recently referred to the wine on Twitter in defence of the local wine industry:

In her review, Robinson said it was "…absolutely stunning – such a beautiful combination of maturity and delicacy … Lightly minty, fragrant and it spread right across the palate with satin texture. Gorgeous."

Even so, the auction house believes the successful bidder will likely hold off quaffing the wine over dinner upon returning home - the secondary market for rare wines from South Africa is growing, and it has sustained annual returns of about 15% over the last decade.

Michael van Deventer, the Tabernacle curator, says there's an additional allure to this specific wine that has attracted significant local and international interest.

"The initials GS are said to be those of dancer extraordinaire, horseman and self-taught winemaker, George Spies, who sourced the grapes from Durbanville," Van Deventer said. "He was rumoured to have made the wine without the approval of his bosses at Stellenbosch Farmers' Winery, which is why he didn't lend it his actual name."

Despite the compelling story, there's little evidence to prove the association with Spies - but van Deventer doesn't believe the possibly less exciting truth will get in the way. 

"Not even his daughter has confirmed his relationship to the wine," Van Deventer said. "What everyone agrees on, though, is that it is an exemplar of red wine excellence and longevity."

The auction lot includes vintage bottles of iconic South African wine Chateau Libertas. 

A recently produced bottle of Chateau Libertas costs just R55 in most liquor stores - but the auctioneers expect the vintage reds, some of which date back to the 1940s, to fetch up to R35,000 per bottle.

Bottle of Chateau Libertas 1959.
Chateau Libertas 1959. Image: Supplied.

At the lower end of the scale are bottles of 1974 Zonnebloem Shiraz and a 1973 Prosper Maufoux from France, both estimated to fetch maximum prices of R1,500.

Zonnebloem Cabernet 1963. Image: Supplied

The highest estimated price on the list belongs to the French - a 1971 bottle of Pétrus Pomerol is expected to sell for between R50,000 and R70,000.

Proceeds from the wine auction will go towards a project honouring the memory of former Distell director Duimpie Baily, who is credited with playing a significant role in developing quality standards for the South African wine industry.

The auction takes place in Stellenbosch on Sunday 10 July at 11AM, and interested parties can also bid online via the Strauss & Co website.

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