‘The distance between insanity and genius is measured only by success.’ If that quote could be applied to just one winemaker, it would be André van Rensburg. Never one for mediocracy, he has, over the years, often been accused of being obsessive in the pursuit of his vinous vision and so the madman image has stuck with him for nearly thirty years. Frequently misunderstood, some might say that he suffers a personality disorder, particularly when, in conversation, expletives abound. Opinionated in the extreme, he remains, without exception, respected by his industry peers.
If success can be measured by the countless local and international awards he has enjoyed during his already long and distinguished career, then you could almost argue that André should be ready for retirement. Chatting to his long-time friend and now importer Richard Kelley MW, he describes how his first encounter with the relatively unknown André was in 1995. “Even then, the winemaking genius was apparent. We became good friends. Our long-standing relationship is a tale of two ill-matched individuals: the outspoken rock spider and the quiet English rooinek. The quintessential odd couple. Over the last three decades, I’ve come to understand that André is the greatest winemaker in the world. It’s something he reminds me of every time we meet.”
Everything about these two new wines seems to speak of his almost three decades of experience gained at Vergelegen, yet they also seem to express a certain unique, unbridle passion and artisanal precision that was perhaps more difficult to bottle when creating such large volumes at the Anglo-American owned farm. Both the red and white thrill from the moment they are poured, they impress in a passionate, heartfelt manner which shows that André has undoubtedly poured his heart and soul into these two new maiden releases.
André van Rensburg Artisan Wines Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2021, WO Stellenbosch, 13.86% Abv.
1.6 g/l RS | 6.8g/l TA | 3.11 pH
This very impressive maiden release is a blend of 86% Sauvignon Blanc but also features a 14% splash of Semillon for some extra salt and pepper complexity and mid-palate textural finesse. Regarded as his signature white grape, this beautifully crafted wine is certainly no “facile poolside quaffer” as André’s UK importer and close friend, Richard Kelley MW sternly proclaims. And indeed he is right!
This is a very serious barrel-fermented example in the style of top white Bordeaux expressions that is approachable now but will undoubtedly benefit from further maturation of up to a decade or more in the cellar. In the glass, the aromatics are packed with apple blossom, ruby grapefruit, citrus lemon, crunchy green apple, savoury gooseberry, fresh dill and tantalising touches of lemongrass and tangerine peel. But it’s on the palate where the true class and pedigree of André’s winemaking is revealed, boasting a concentrated, energy packed mouthful bursting with tangy gooseberry, lemon oil, crystallised ginger and lemongrass spice underpinned by a dusty, granitic crushed gravel minerality. The texture is super compact and dense, glycerol and mouth coating with just the most subtle hints of vanilla oak spice, a lick of lanolin, lime leaf and a spine-tingling acidity on the finish. This is certainly one of the finest Sauvignon – Semillon blends I have tasted in the past several years. Chapeau André!
(Wine Safari Score: 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
André van Rensburg Artisan Wines Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2020, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5% Abv.
2.8g/l RS | 5.6g/l TA | 3.63 pH
I often wonder whether André made greater red or white wines in his previous life as head winemaker at Vergelegen. The problem is that his whites were so exceptional, that sometimes what he achieved with Cabernet Sauvignon and the other Bordeaux varieties was maybe sometimes overshadowed. But for me, André, the self-proclaimed Chateau Petrus-lover, was always the quintessential red wine obsessive, producing some of the most classically styled reds in South Africa when sweet, fruity, over ripe Parkerized wines were the flavour of the day. Like Sauvignon Blanc is his white signature grape, so too are Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot his red counterparts.
This Van Rensburg red features 67% Cabernet Sauvignon and 22% Merlot but also includes a small addition of 7% Malbec and 4% Cabernet Franc and the wine was aged for 18 months in French oak barriques, 50% of them new. The aromatics are set to slow-release and gently ease their way out the glass in a leisurely fashion to reveal a complex melange of earthy violets, melted milk chocolate, forest berries, freshly tilled earth, raspberry liquor chocolates and undertones of dried herbs, melted tar and black berry compote. The palate is silky soft and beautifully elegant with a medium-bodied weight, soft brittle tannins and an almost 2017-esque weightless concentration of black berries, red currants, light soy, cherry tobacco and crème de cassis. There is an incredibly fine, seamless mouthfeel that is cool, compact and incredibly classical and fine boned. This is André flexing his winemaking muscles to the max, creating a superstar Bordeaux blend that is going to make some serious waves in the local and international marketplace. I feel privileged to vinously share in the next chapter of this great winemaker’s wine journey. Drink now or cellar for 15+ years.
(Wine Safari Score: 97/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
The wines are available in the UK from South African specialist Museum Wines at circa £21 and £26 per bottle for the white and red. http://www.museumwines.co.uk