Thelema Rabelais 2017 – Tasting and Assessing One of the Best Cape Icon Bordeaux Blends…

The Thelema Rabelais is a blend of the best Bordeaux varietal components from Thelema’s estate vineyards in Stellenbosch. The 2014 was suitably impressive in quality and was lauded as one of the best Bordeaux blends of the vintage on the South African market. But of course the epic 2015 vintage was a game changer, shifting to 6th gear in terms of quality, purity, balance and intensity.

The 2017 vintage was again a selection of the very best barrels identified and earmarked after harvest. The Cabernet Sauvignon vines were planted in 2002 on decomposed granite Hutton soils at a density of 2000 vines per hectare. The Petit Verdot vines were planted shortly afterwards in 2003.

The grapes were de-stalked, hand sorted, crushed and then fermented in stainless steel after a two day cold soak. After fermentation, the wine was left on its skins for two more days before pressing and then racked into 100% new French 225 litre oak barrels for 20 months of ageing.

(RS 2.0 g/l , pH 3.39, TA 6.2 g/l. 14 Abv.)

Thelema Rabelais 2017, WO Stellenbosch, 14 Abv.

The 2017 Thelema Rabelais Bordeaux blend sticks to its more recent successful recipe of 87% Cabernet Sauvignon with just a 13% splash of Petit Verdot to add extra interest. A fabulously deep garnet-purple colour, this expertly constructed work of vinous art slowly unfurls in the glass revealing complex notes of crushed black currants, earthy black plum, warm black berry crumble, sweet clove and cedar spice. There are also some distinctive dusty Cabernet Sauvignon aromas that mix harmoniously with notes of half-smoked cigars together with charged perfumed tones of violets, graphite and sweet black chai tea. Medium bodied and supremely tight knit and focused, there is a piercingly arctic fresh line of acidity that cuts through the plush textured fruit concentration like a surgeon’s scalpel through water paper. The intensity is awesome and the all round richness and opulence held tightly in check by the acids but also the super weightless, fine-grained polished marble tannins. The 2015 Rabelais was such an astonishingly great wine that it takes a modicum of courage to even suggest that this 2017 expression is every bit its equal and may well be superior. This great wine truly encapsulates the essence of where South African fine wine has come from but also where it is today. A wine that will give endless pleasure from release but has all the requisite building blocks to age gracefully for 20+ years. An exceptional must have Cape icon red. 

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

Tasting a Mixed Meerlust Vintage Line Up in London With Hannes Myburgh…

After the 2015 vintage, which Meerlust maintains was its fastest selling Rubicon release in the history of the brand, 2016 was always going to be up against it in outright quality terms. But this warm hot and dry drought vintage was tough on everyone but in the end, yielded soft, plush, forward, earlier drinking reds of excellent quality.

I reviewed the Rubicon 2016 recently but was certainly pleased to taste the entire Meerlust range again in London with owner Hannes Myburgh. What really struck me was the uniformity of quality and style and an overall opulence and accessibility that makes this a vintage ready to start cracking open now.

Tasting in London with Hannes Myburgh

I’ll be in the Cape again soon and look forward to getting a sneak peek at the already bottled 2017 Meerlust Rubicon who’s component parts I last tasted with Chris Williams in early 2019. Since then, Chris has of course decided to move on to his Foundry Winery project full time while still lending a stylistic ‘guiding hand’ to new wine maker Wim Truter while he settles in and learns the ins and outs of this historic Stellenbosch estate.

Meerlust Chardonnay 2018, WO Stellenbosch, 13 Abv

Classic youthful Chardonnay nose of lemon cream biscuits, puppy’s breath, vanilla pod and hints of oatmeal cookies. Fabulously cool, restrained and balanced, this has an incredible smokey Puligny meats Chassagne Montrachet nuttiness and minerality. Lovely freshness, definition and purity. Wow! This has Burgundy written all over it!!

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

Meerlust Pinot Noir 2017, WO Stellenbosch, 12.5 Abv

Spicy and intense with delicious foresty bramble berry notes, earthy sappy piquant red cherry and wild strawberry with hints of cedar and sappy spice. Palate is cool, sleek and light footed in a style built to accompany fine dining.

(Wine Safari Score: 91/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Meerlust Red 2017, WO Stellenbosch, 14 Abv.

Heavily orientated towards Cabernet Franc in this vintage with 55% supported by 33% Merlot and 12% Cabernet Sauvignon to lend extra back bone. As expected this wine embraces the aromatic cedar and clove spices of Franc together with red berry fruited elegance, wild bramble berries and a saline Cabernet cassis intensity that carries the finish and turbo charges the concentration. Fabulous value for money! Fill your cellar!!

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

Meerlust Merlot 2015, WO Stellenbosch, 14 Abv.

Dark, broody, exotic nose of brûléed coffee beans, black currant, earthy black plum and sandalwood spice. Texturally this is spot on with fabulous freshness, textural elegance and sleek creamy sweet tannins. One of the finer single varietal Merlots produced in SA.

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

Meerlust Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, WO Stellenbosch, 14 Abv.

Dark and richly black fruited Cabernet with nuances of graphite, sweet tobacco, violets and earthy black currant fruits. Tannins are sweet and sappy and the palate weight creamy and fleshly with a really friendly accessibility. A fine earlier drinking effort in this drought vintage.

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

Meerlust Rubicon 2016, WO Stellenbosch, 14 Abv.

Revisiting this classic wine after extra time in bottle helps it shine ever so brighter. There is sleek textural elegance, plush sweet polished tannins and earthy red and black currant fruit notes. Seamlessly assembled, this is a triumph for the vintage and shows a very agreeable early drinking opulence combined with palate breadth and depth. The cream always rises to the top. Ready to enjoy now!

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

Hogan’s Chateau Musar Inspired Red Blend Shows the Wonderful Diversity Available to Winemakers in the Cape…

Hogan Wines is a small, family-run business that launched its first wines in South Africa with the 2014 vintage. After seven years of working with various wineries in the Cape and overseas, Jocelyn Hogan teamed up with her parents, Dunstan and Trish Hogan to produce initially a pair of innovative wines at their cellar in the Banhoek Valley.

The maiden release Hogan Chenin Blanc 2014 was harvested from 38 year old, south-east facing bush vines planted on decomposed granite from Joubertskloof in the Swartland. This wine immediately garnered 4.5 Stars in the Platter Guide and 92/100 points from Winemag.co.za.

The maiden Divergent red blend comprises of 34% Carignan, 33% Cinsault and 33% Cabernet Sauvignon. The Carignan was picked from 12 year old bush vines from Wellington and the Cinsault from a vineyard of 40 year old unirrigated bush vines in the Helderberg. Finally, the Cabernet Sauvignon was picked from 16 year old trellised and irrigated vines from the Polkadraai area of Stellenbosch. All components were crushed and destemmed except for the Cinsault which retained 30% of whole bunches.

The Divergent red blend was of course inspired by the very sad premature death of the late great Serge Hochar of Chateau Musar on the 31st December 2014, only weeks before the 2015 Cape harvest and of course not long after his first visit to South Africa to speak at the famous Swartland Revolution gathering. Having met Serge many times, I am certain he would have been a big fan of Jocelyn’s red blend.

Hogan Divergent 2015 Red Blend, WO Coastal Origin, 13.5 Abv.

I have not tasted this wine for a few years, but considering it was made from a highly revered vintage, I thought it was time to revisit this Musar inspired blend. The nose is intriguingly exotic, at first showing earthy red berries, red liquorice, savoury notes of red orchard fruits, sundried red cherries, red plums, wet hay, grilled herbs and a finely interwoven granitic, stony mineral nuance. The palate is soft, sleek and ultra harmonious combining a density of palate weight and mineral tannins with an incredibly subtle intensity of fruit concentration. Certainly quite light on its feet, the Cabernet Sauvignon almost certainly lends some extra depth, frame and mass while the Carignan adds a garriguey complexity of dried herbs, rosemary and mint choc spice. The Cinsault is undoubtedly the glue that seamlessly combines these varietal partners all together in the most sumptuous, elegant, red berry fruited mouthful of deliciousness. This wine is settling down nicely at 5 years old and is certainly approachable now. However, the time it takes to evolve in the glass suggests that you might want to leave your bottles for another year or three before revisiting… if you have a will power of steel!

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

DeMorgenzon Enters the Race Early Doors for Best Chardonnay Release of Vintage 2018…

DeMorgenzon, or ‘the morning sun,’ was so named as it is the first part of the Stellenboschkloof valley to see the sun because of its high altitude and aspects which cover the top southern and eastern slopes of Ribbokkop, overlooking the famous pinnacle of Kanonkop from where a cannon used to be fired to alert the farms in the region that a ship had arrived into Table Bay. The first road from Cape Town to Stellenbosch ran through the Stellenbosch Kloof.

DeMorgenzon farm has a very long history and was originally a section of Uiterwyk, one of the oldest farms in South Africa. In 1682 Uiterwyk, the ‘outer ward,’ was let to Dirk Cauchet before finally being granted to him by Governor Willem Adriaan van der Stel in 1699. Fast forward 300 years to 2003 when Wendy and Hylton Appelbaum bought DeMorgenzon and have since transformed it into a 90 hectare wine farm.

Under the expert winemaking guidance of Carl van der Merwe, DeMorgenzon has re-emerged as one of the top wineries in South Africa producing a wide range of white and red wines which is spearheaded by their Reserve Range of wines which includes a Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay and Syrah together with the wineries iconic Divas Chenin Blanc.

DeMorgenzon Chardonnay Reserve 2018, WO Stellenbosch, 13.5 Abv.

The super expressive 2018 Reserve Chardonnay was hand-picked and whole-bunch-pressed before being matured in French oak barrels, 30% of which were new with the rest second passage and older. The nose hooks you from the very start, beginning an inescapable sensorial seduction. Fabulous layers of bitter lemon, orange peel zest, grapefruit marmalade, green apple and subtle cream soda lift are impressively tightly knit together with the most gentle, mineral suggestion of struck match reduction. The palate displays a notable clarity and purity together with harmony, finesse and a crystalline texture. Waves of orange zest, smokey lemon pastille, ruby grapefruit and yellow plum notes mix with a dusting of vanilla pod spice on a long, dreamy, lingering finish. This is benchmark premium Chardonnay from one of South Africa’s most talented winemakers. Drink now and over 5-8+ years.

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

Reenen Borman’s Collaborative Sons of Sugarland Syrah 2018 Puts This Vintage Well and Truly On the Map…

The Sons of Sugarland Syrah forms part of the Ron Burgundy Wines collaboration that includes young winemaking talent Reenen Borman and his business partners Henk Kotze and Fritz Schoon. These Syrah grapes are sourced from the granite hills of Stellenbosch which is perfectly situated close to False Bay just outside of Cape Town. The Sons of Sugarland Syrah 2018 is produced from the supposedly “superior” pure SH99 Syrah clone using 100% whole-bunch fermentation for the grapes.

 

This is a wine that has received rave reviews since its very first vintage and while the epic 2015 and 2017 releases raised a lot of excitement in Syrah-loving circles, the 2018 has some how managed to move the quality bar yet higher harnessing the purity, elegance, finesse and perfume of top Stellenbosch Syrah. If you have an expensive penchant for top Northern Rhone Cote Rotie wines but are starting to baulk at paying the ever increasing prices, this could be the wine for you!

 

Sons of Sugarland SH99 Syrah 2018, WO Stellenbosch, 14 Abv.

100% whole-bunch fermented and aged in concrete with no oak used at all, this 2018 Syrah is certainly a profound wine marked by its incredible perfume and aromatic complexity. Dark and inky in colour, the nose boasts seductive notes of violets, sweet jasmine, sappy crushed leaves, wood smoke and polished sandalwood that combine with promising aromas of asphalt, melted tar, black olives, cured meats and luscious black berry fruits. The palate is beautifully trim and toned with perfect proportions and silky, elegant savoury tannins that hark back to some of the finest Cote Roties of the Northern Rhone. Medium bodied and seamlessly harmonious in texture, this wine finishes with notes of graphite, black currant herbal tea and crushed blueberries dusted with roughly ground black peppercorn spice. Classical Stellenbosch Syrah delivered with incredible precision, purity and subtlety. A true wine of beauty and thoroughly delicious. Drink now and over the next 8 to 10+ years.

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

The Fine Wine Safari’s Top 10 Most Memorable South African Red Wines of 2019…

What a great year of fine wine it has been yet again. I am in such a fortunate position to be able to no only taste the greatest wines of the world in a regular basis here in London and on my travels, but also taste the finest wines produced in South Africa on a regular basis while retaining a very measured, objective outlook in terms of where they really fit in the pecking order of international fine wine.

For my red top 10 selection, I have not merely selected my highest scoring wines of the year as that would be a little bit predictable, but I have selected wines that I found not only outstanding in quality terms but also memorable and thrilling to drink.

Also, I’d like to offer a special thanks to all the producers, many of them who are very good friends, that have offered me their time for my regular visits, tastings and importantly, lots of joyous eating and drinking together. Your hospitality is never taken for granted and greatly appreciated!

Happy New Year 2019. I believe 2020 is going to be an exceptional year of success.

Top 10 Reds (in no particular order):

Naude Family Wines Old Vine Series Oupa Willem 2018 – 96/100 GSMW

MR de Compostella Red Blend 2017- 98/100 GSMW

Vilafonte Series C Red Blend 2017 – 96+/100 GSMW

Mullineux and Leeu Family Wines Iron Syrah 2017 – 97/100 GSMW

Raats Family Eden Single Vineyard High Density Cabernet Franc 2017 – 98/100 GSMW

Thelema Rabelais Red Blend 2015 – 96+/100 GSMW

Savage Red Blend 2017 – 96/100 GSMW

Kanonkop Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – 97/100 GSMW

Porseleinberg Syrah 2017 – 97/100 GSMW

Creation Emma Pinot Noir 2018 – 96/100 GSMW

Thelema Estate Prepares to Release Another Collectable Benchmark Cabernet Sauvignon with the 2017 Vintage…

Thelema Mountain Vineyards is a true Cape icon estate, located high on the slopes of the picturesque Simonsberg Mountain in the heart of Stellenbosch, the true South African Kingdom of Cabernet. With vineyards grown at elevations of between 370m and 530m above sea level, Thelema is one of the highest and coolest estates in the area with 100 percent of the fruit used coming from their own vineyards.

After the numerous block buster releases from the incredible 2015 vintage, including probably their greatest ever wine produced, the Thelema Rabelais 2015 Bordeaux blend, predictably all eyes have been on this estate as they prepare to offer their highly anticipated offerings from the lauded 2017 vintage. My recent review of the Merlot Reserve 2017 gave a snap shot view into the quality that connoisseurs and collectors have been expecting to see from this fine vintage.

But whatever heights South African Merlot can reach, it pales in comparison to the classic benchmark quality expected from the very best Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignons and Bordeaux blends. Make space in your cellar now – You are going to need it for this new release!

Thelema Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, Stellenbosch, 14.5 Abv.

This is a fabulous expression of pure Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon in a style true to the 2017 vintage. The aromatics are perfumed and seductive showing nuances of tart black cherries, crushed black berries and warm brown toast spread with black currant jam. But it’s the saline cassis lift that melts into notes of kelp, graphite, sweet cedar, cigar box, crushed violet petals and iodine that really add some thrilling complexity. Like many 2017s, the palate fruit and concentration is sleek, elegant and super light on its feet without compromising any focus or intensity. The tannins are powder soft, sweet and ripe leaving the crisp bright acids to act as the main backbone and frame to the wine. Lovely cool fresh tart black berry preserve and black cherry fruits are so vital and pure, lingering long on a truly classical, Bordeaux-styled left bank leaning Cabernet finish. A very impressive wine in its youth that will undoubtedly age with great harmony and finesse if cellared for 15-20+ years.

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