Meerlust Rubicon 2016 – Slow and Steady Outlook Assures Another Great Vintage…

Meerlust Estate has been the pride of the Myburgh family since 1756. Today, the dedication to quality winemaking continues under the guidance of 8th generation, Hannes Myburgh. Cellar Master, Chris Williams has worked on the estate since 1995 and has been in charge of winemaking since 2004.

 

The Cabernet Sauvignon is grown on low yielding, predominantly biotite partially decomposed granite gravel topsoil rich in quartz and feldspar to a depth of approximately 600mm with a loamy clay subsoil. The Merlot vineyards are planted on more clay rich, yet well drained soils to ensure moisture retention and availability to the vines roots right through the summer. There are considerable deposits of iron-rich Laterite in the Merlot vineyards which accentuates the fruit definition and mineral profile of the wine.

The Cabernet Franc Vineyard is situated on very well drained, stony Vilafontes soil with approximately 20% clay which is ideal for this variety.The Petit Verdot is on Oakleaf 3 soils on a northerly aspect to ensure full phenolic ripeness. The 2016 growing season was unusually cool but quite dry, presenting unique problems of fruit set and ripening. Irrigation was used strategically even on the mature vineyards to ensure slow ripening and proper flavour and tannin development. The Merlot and the Cabernets were extensively suckered from early in the season, and during veraison ‘vendage vert’ was applied extensively to ensure an evenly ripe crop.

 

Meerlust Rubicon 2016, WO Stellenbosch, 14 Abv.

The Rubicon component parts were transferred to barrel early for malolactic fermentation in 55% new Nevers French oak, 25% second fill barrels and the remaining 20% in older French oak barrels. The final blend of the 2016 is indicative of the vintage and its impact on the estate’s vineyards with 49% Cabernet Sauvignon, the lowest in Rubicon history, with 28% Merlot, exhibiting this varieties great expression in the unusual 2016 vintage, 20% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petit Verdot. The wine was barrel aged for 16 months before bottling. Having tasted this wine a few weeks after bottling in 2018 at the winery, it has certainly settled down beautifully and first impressions suggest further ageing in bottle will only be beneficial. It is pure, bright and generous with sweet notes of plump ripe black plums, sweet cherry tobacco, sappy sandalwood, graphite and cedar spice. The palate is still a touch taut on the entry but quickly fans out onto the mid-palate with sappy sweet black plum fruits from the high percentage of Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Thoroughly honest in style, generous and approachable, this wine is both vibrantly fresh and charmingly drinkable now on release with impressively integrated creamy oak. A wine that recognizes its vintage limitations but still succeeds in delivering a wonderfully delicious and gregarious Bordeaux blend expression. Drink now until 2028+.

(Wine Safari Score: 92/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

The Fine Wine Safari Top 10 South African Red Wines of the Year 2018…

What a fascinating and historical year 2018 was for red wines in South Africa. With the exception of only a few wineries, most premium producers released their incredible 2015 wines made from what is generally being regarded as probably the best quality vintage in South Africa’s modern post-apartheid era of winemaking.

Having already released the Fine Wine Safari Top 10 Whites of the Year, I have been overwhelmed with the comments of agreement and support for my selections. But then again, many will argue that the list included a multitude of excellent 2017 vintage wines and that the “white category” still remains South Africa’s strongest talent. While all of this may be true, 2018 saw the release of multiple red wines that pushed quality boundaries like never before. We’ll hand some of that to the vintage conditions of 2015 and 2017 but I’d also like to credit the growing confidence, expertise, knowhow and ambition of winemakers across the South African landscape.

If you are a seasoned veteran of premium South African wines, you will nod knowingly and expectantly at many of my red selections. If you are new to the South African category, perhaps living in the USA, Europe or Asia, make an effort to track these wines down now as many might still be available and all are definitely worth buying, even at their sometimes lofty price points! In my mind, they all represent relative value for money for what they are. Enjoy!

Kanonkop Paul Sauer Red Blend 2015, Stellenbosch – 98+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Meerlust Rubicon Red Blend 2015, Stellenbosch – 97+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Vilafonte Series C 2016 Red Blend, Paarl – 97+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Boekenhoutskloof Journeyman Red Blend 2015, WO Western Cape – 97+/100 GregSherwood MW

Donovan Rall Ava Syrah 2017, Swartland – 97/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Tokara Telos Red Blend 2015, Stellenbosch – 97/100 Greg Sherwood MW

MR de Compostella Red Blend 2016, Stellenbosch – 96+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines Iron Syrah 2016, Swartland – 96+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Le Riche Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, Stellenbosch – 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Duncan Savage Red Blend 2015, WO Western Cape – 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everyone who helped make 2018 such a memorable year! 🍷🎄 🦄

Don’t miss my “Year in Photographs” coming up before New Years Eve 2018.

Drinking An Iconic South African Red – Unravelling the Meerlust Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 1976 and the South African Fine Wine Investment Market…

In the week that Wine Cellar South Africa launched (and sold out of) its first fine wine investment fund built around (physical) iconic South African wines from the 2015 vintage, I thought it was fitting to drink a wine that illustrates the true greatness of South Africa’s best red wines. In light of the Wine Cellar VIP 2015 offering, many international commentators less intimately connected to the fine wine market have stated that “few South African wines improve appreciably with extended ageing” and thus the fine wine investment model is built on a sandy foundation.

Firstly, one needs to clarify what extended ageing implies. From a wine trade / merchant point of view, one could reasonably expect the quality of wines included in the VIP 2015 Fund to age and certainly improve incrementally for easily 10+ years… and many on the list for certainly 20 years plus. Secondly, to say that there is no secondary market for aged South African fine wine is blatantly wrong. There is massive demand but merely little to no supply… and the older stock that does make it to market commercially is either small parcels kindly released by the wineries themselves from archive stocks as more of a marketing endeavour or the stock is from provenanced private collections. Either way, it is an insignificant, non commercial quantity unable to influence the market in any meaningful way and adds no liquidity.

I have been involved in the top end of the UK fine wine trade for 20 years now, many of which I have actively been promoting and selling the very best wines from South Africa to international collectors and connoisseurs. Admittedly, you need to sell the best names from the best vintages, but that is certainly no different anywhere else in the fine wine world. Many top South African red (and white) wines clearly age very very well and while you always need to be selective and take professional advise, this fact is now indisputable.

To many, the term or idea of investing in a wonderful agricultural product like wine is sacrilege, a dirty word, a dirty concept. But for time immemorial, the concept of “investing in wine” implied buying double your requirements, with money you did not always readily have, and then selling half the wine several years later when more scarce to finance the drinking of the other half. In essence, this is still the model many fine wine investors (drinkers) that I deal with on a day to day basis follow. Indeed, I cannot name one private client on my books who is tea total and who only invests in wine for the hard cold cash returns. They are all passionate about wine.

One thing is very clear to me however. For South African fine wine to gain a genuinely fluid and dynamic foothold in the fine wine investment market globally, there has to be a strong and confident “wine investment culture” locally in the home market of the wines in question. The demand for older vintages needs to begin at home and then ripple out to international markets. For far too long it has been international buyers piling into the Nederburg Auction wines, the Cape Wine Makers Guild Wines or the odd rare fine wine older vintage auction offering. This Wine Cellar VIP 2015 Fund marks the turning of a corner, where locals put their money where their mouths are and invest in iconic wines from possibly a once in a generation quality vintage. With over 12,000 bottles included in this fund, we should over the coming years, see stocks of these perfectly cellared older vintages released onto the market for local and international consumption at a premium that is commensurate to the quality and rarity of the given wine. Supply and demand will decide that premium.

For what it’s worth, I bought this wonderful Meerlust Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 1976 from the winery in March 2018 and drank it recently at a South African themed fine wine lunch in London. Poured sighted, there wasn’t a taster on the table of seven that did not sit in awe of its youthful elegance. A true testament to the ageability and longevity of classical Cabernet Sauvignon produced by one of South Africa’s top estates. The message now disseminating out of the South African fine wine scene is not whether the country is able to produce age worthy wines of super premium quality, but whether the industry as a whole has the skills and knowhow to market these wines globally in a proper confident manner, for the correct premium price tag and importantly, to the correct target market segments? Time for everyone to up their game in the South African fine wine trade.

Meerlust Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 1976, W.O. Stellenbosch

A beautiful mahogany colour, the nose is initially tight and cedary, spicy and quite restrained, but 20 minutes of air in a decanter after the cork is pulled allows this grand old wine to open its shoulders. Wonderfully mellow but still vibrantly youthful, beguilingly complex, fragrant and intriguing. The palate is loaded with lovely sweet raisined cranberries, violets, sweet tobacco, black tea and an earthy red currant sappy depth. Texturally this is so fine, initially quite piquant and spicy but also beautifully elegant. Incredible to think this wine is 42 years olds and still going strong. A bold, powerful and elegantly regal red showing the real potential of South Africa’s greatest terroirs and the true premium standing of great Cabernet Sauvignon. What a treat!

(Wine Safari Score: 94+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Meerlust Estate Previews Probably the Greatest Expression of Their Rubicon Red Blend in 38 Years of Production – Tasting the Meerlust Rubicon 2015 with Hannes Myburgh…

“Alea iacta est. The die is cast,” Julius Caesar is supposed to have said as he led his troops towards Rome in 49BC. The crucial border of the ancient capital was the Rubicon River, and the decision to cross it marked an irrevocable point in history. It would profoundly shift the course of Roman politics – there could be no turning back. On Wednesday the 24th January, Hannes Myburgh and the Meerlust Estate might just have crossed another epic Rubicon with the unveiling of their 2015 Meerlust Rubicon Bordeaux Blend in London.

Not due for release in the South African market for several more months, this is a wine that both owner Hannes Myburgh and winemaker Chris Williams believe could be the greatest expression of Rubicon ever made. As a long time follower of this wine, having tasted every vintage back to the maiden 1980 multiple times, I have to agree with them. Many great vintages of Rubicon have been produced over the past 38 years, but the 2015 vintage release coincides with what is almost certainly the greatest vintage for South African red and white wines in the modern winemaking era.

As if just to cast out any doubts, Hannes Myburgh unveiled the as yet unlabeled 2015 vintage at the end of a fascinating Rubicon vertical masterclass at their UK importer’s 2018 portfolio tasting.

Meerlust Rubicon Bordeaux Blend Vertical Tasting

Meerlust Rubicon 1986, 12.19 Abv.

A really traditional expression, the colour is still dark opaque brick red brown. The nose is classically proportioned revealing English breakfast tea, cedar spice, earthy bramble berries, lactic creamy milk chocolate and sweet tannery leather notes. Palate is super fresh, vibrant, almost tart, with a delicious earthy melange of red currants, tertiary sous bois, bruised red orchard fruits and bruised red plum. So fresh still, incredible purity, classical sweet cedary tannins and a very long brûléed coffee bean finish. Leaves you speechless. Drink now to 2030+.

(Wine Safari Score: 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Meerlust Rubicon 1991, 13 Abv.

Very fine wet earth complexity to begin, this wine is perfumed and intense showing saline cassis, iodine, briney oyster shell, sweet boxwood notes and complex hints of grilled herbs. The palate still shows such rich vibrancy, sweet black tea intensity, black current coulis and a suave, creamy sweet tannin finish. So fresh, bright, pure, dense and utterly youthful! Lovely structure balanced by big concentration. Utterly spellbinding. Drink now to 2035+.

(Wine Safari Score: 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Meerlust Rubicon 2001, 13.5 Abv.

One of the all time greats from Meerlust, this was one of Giorgio dalla Cia’s last great vintages which won the Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande Best Bordeaux Blend Trophy in 2006. Still beautifully vital and intensely coloured showing a crystalline ruby red hue. The nose is jam packed full of black cassis fruit, brûléed coffee beans, violets and sweet dried baking spices. Plush, lush and almost weightless in the mouth, the palate is so broad, concentrated, vibrant and intense, with the most harmonious youthful balance and seamless silky balance with just a hint of salinity and mineral graphite on the finish. So suave, so regal, this is a wine that defines elegance. A true South African icon. Drink now to 2040+.

(Wine Safari Score: 96+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Meerlust Rubicon 2005, 13.94 Abv.

So very classical on the nose, you could be sitting on the banks of the Grionde in Bordeaux drinking a classical Pauillac when you taste this wine. Chris Williams’ second solo vintage, he considers this wine possibly one of the best Meerlusts ever made. Still starkly youthful, the nose is packed with black tea, cedar spice, violets, dried herbs and pot pourri complexity with an underlay of saline cassis, oyster shell and slightly drying, powdery grippy tannins. At this embryonic stage, it has all the power, grip and intensity to justify long term aging. Very classy, slightly showy and deliciously fresh with a great long future ahead of it. Drink now to 2045+.

(Wine Safari Score: 94+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Meerlust Rubicon 2010, 14.5 Abv.

A blend of 62% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot that was matured for 24 months in 60% new oak from Nevers. The 2010 Rubicon has a well defined smokey bouquet showing sweet blackberry mixed with blueberry fruit opulence. Another very classical expression, this wine also has Bordeaux left bank written all over it. Quite dense and youthful, showing grilled herbs, graphite, bold sweet tannins and an elegant, balanced acidity. This is going to continue improving for a good 15+ years. Not quite as eye catching yet as some Rubicon vintages, but you can expect this wine to blossom further and improve in bottle. Drink now to 2040+.

(Wine Safari Score: 93/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Meerlust Rubicon 2015, 14 Abv.

(Bottled in November 2017)

A mesmerizingly dark black purple colour, this youthful wine is wonderfully crystalline, focused and pure, possessing such pretty aromatics of cherry blossom, rose petals, caramelised cranberries, violets, cherry pie, raspberry infused herbal tea and a subtle creamy vanilla pod extravagance. The palate is ultra suave, opulent yet effortlessly fresh and defined, supremely balanced and concentrated. Such gorgeous depth and seamless elegance, a tantalizing brûléed buttered brown toast complexity, creamy filigree tannins and an incredibly long, spellbinding finish. This is going to be a definite future icon vintage on par with the very best Cru Classe wines produced in Bordeaux but at a fraction of the price. Get in early, get in quick, and go long. This is one of the most profound Rubicons of the modern era. Drink from 2020 to 2045+.

(Wine Safari Score: 97+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Another Block Buster On the Way – Tasting the 2017 Meerlust Chardonnay with Owner Hannes Myburgh…

This 1756 wine estate has long been the pride and joy of South Africans since the 1970s and the corresponding love for this estate and its wines is practically ingrained in the South African psyche.

I’ve known both owner Hannes Myburgh and winemaker Chris Williams for a very long time so catching up with either of them in London is always a privilege. After a brief visit to Ireland, Hannes was straight back into the London trade to present a fantastic Rubicon Vertical in London, for which the write up is to follow soon.

But the Meerlust Chardonnay is a wine which has a following almost as passionate and loyal as that of the Rubicon. So today, given the opportunity, I dived straight in to review this new vintage classic.

Meerlust Chardonnay 2017, WO Stellenbosch, 13 Abv.

A very pale, faded apple core yellow, this is another wonderfully expressive Chardonnay from Chris Williams championing the “less is more” mantra with this restrained style. The nose is complex yet classically restrained revealing layers of smokey green Granny Smith apples, green pears, crunchy honeydew melon and a tantalising suggestion of struck match and dusty minerality. Lovely clarity, purity and focus throughout. Despite the lower 13 Abv, this wine is jam packed with intense flavours of sweet ripe lemons, lime cordial, honey suckle, toffee apple and green gauge fruits, embroidered and embellished with intense piercing fresh acids. Very polished and grown up, you can see instantly why this impressive wine remains a perennial consumer favourite. Another real beauty to drink from release and for 10+ years.

(Wine Safari Score: 94/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

The Ageability of South African White Wines ~ Tasting Meerlust Chardonnay 2006…

I’ve been meaning to organise a grand blind South African aged wine challenge in London with Wine Advocate journalist Neal Martin for some years. But life just seems to get busier and busier and time shorter and shorter for both Neal and myself. Profiling aged South African whites is a tricky endeavour, but when you pick the right wines, the results can be a revelation. But of course, the “right wines” are hard to come by, even in South Africa itself.


I had this bottle of Meerlust Chardonnay 2006, bought on release, on my cellar rack for many years and while I thought it would probably be stoically solid, I had no idea how impressive it would actually be on opening. Well, today it was accidentally opened in error by my wife after I was out at rugby practice with my son all afternoon. But, once opened, I certainly decided to indulge and revel in its sublime youthful brilliance. 


The Burgundians often seem annoyed when buyers ask them about their opinion on premox in white Burgundy, in quite the same way many South African producers used to roll their eyes at continual questions over the burnt rubber characteristics perceived in some wines. But it’s only when you taste a wine like this Meerlust 2006 that your blood really starts to boil at the many white Burgundy failures tasted oxidised at only 6 to 8 years old. 


Meerlust Chardonnay 2006, WO Stellenbosch, 13.5 Abv.

Deep golden yellow lemon colour, there is wonderful clarity and rich allure here. The nose is opulent and complex showing buttered sweet corn, lemon marmalade and salted caramel popcorn. So vital, youthful, vibrant, taught and fresh, showing almost no tertiary development at all. Incredible at 11 years old. As the wine opens, subtle notes of dried basil and thyme herbal spice develop mixed with sweet chalk and wet slate notes. The palate reveals amazing tension, maritime salinity, lemon zest and chalky granitic pithy depth. Wow, so tight and citric with youthful breadth and depth. It’s wines like this that make premoxed white Burgundy inexcusable at any price point. This wine could hardly be more fresh, complex or youthful at 11 years old. A real revelation. Absolutely delicious… for a South African benchmark wine.

(Wine Safari Score: 94/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Another Fantastic Preview – Tasting the Impressive Meerlust Chardonnay 2016 with Owner Hannes Myburgh…

I was so pleased to catch up with Hannes Myburgh several times during his short trip to the UK recently to hear all about the great progress being made at the estate and also taste probably the best full range of wines I’ve ever tasted from one South African producer.


So many highlights, but tasting the 2015 Meerlust Pinot Noir again was very special and the Chardonnay 2015, wow, beautiful. If you bought the 2015, you are going to want to tuck into the 2016 with equal enthusiasm.


Tasting Notes: Bright clear brilliant straw yellow, this Chardonnay has a beautifully dusty fragrant nose of fresh straw, lemon peel, lees contact, biscuits and savoury wet chalk. Tasted along side the 2015, a 5 Star Platter award winner, you have the perfect benchmark to really compare and contrast the absolute quality of the 2016. This wine is every bit as impressive, with incredible concentration, seamless textured layers of cantaloupe melon, yellow citrus, waxy lemons, pineapple pastille and the most subtle, integrated oak notes. While the 2015 leans towards Meursault, the 2016 is slightly more Puligny Montrachet in character with nuanced nuttiness and vital, fresh acids. It’s certainly a wine that carries real presence, projects massive intensity of flavour and does not put a foot wrong. If this does not get another 5 stars, I’ll eat my hat! (Wine Safari Score: 94+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)