I am on record for describing Merlot as a bit of a weed. I mean, when you compare it to even Malbec, Petit Verdot or Cabernet Franc let alone the grandeur of Cabernet Sauvignon, it soon becomes apparent that this is a very difficult grape to produced high quality, premium iconic wines from. Which is why for many years I have said there were only three places in the world that should bottle single varietal Merlot: Bordeaux (specifically Pomerol and St Emilion), Tuscany (specifically Bolgheri) and California (more specifically the Napa Valley and Sonoma).
But every time I get comfortable in my mindset, a wine like this delicious Thelema Merlot comes along to challenge my perceptions. Normally a straight Thelema Merlot release will be produced only if the quality of the vintage does not merit the Reserve selection. Whether it is the use of the Clone 102 Merlot grown on Richter 99 rootstocks in Hutton and decomposed granite soils or perhaps the age of the vines, planted in 1988, this is certainly a Stellenbosch wine that often over performs. In 2019, no Merlot Reserve was produced due to severe weather fluctuations during bud break and flowering, followed by cool windy conditions which contributed to less and more uneven bunches with smaller berries and generally lower alcohol levels.
The grapes for this 2019 Merlot were gently de-stemmed, retaining as many whole berries as possible after which the fruit was transferred to its stainless-steel fermentation tank. The grapes were then inoculated with a commercial yeast which the estate feels helps the fermented wine develop a more beneficial flavour profile. Malolactic fermentation took place in barrel where the wines were aged for 18 months with a 25% new French oak portion. The wines were only racked once during this period before being prepared for bottling.
Thelema Mountain Vineyards Merlot 2019, WO Stellenbosch, 13.5% Abv.
2.8g/l RS | 5.4g/l TA | 3.55pH
Displaying an attractive medium deep ruby colour in the glass, the 2019 Thelema Merlot has an open and expressive aromatics with notes of bruleed coffee beans, piquant red berry fruits, red currant, red plum, dried mint leaf, sage and hints of Chinese five spice mixed with sweet cedar. There is a definite generosity of fruit on the palate with a plush, soft textured mouthfeel that boasts spicy, fleshy, chocolatey tannins, yet more red berry fruit characters and a notable balance that really shines the light on the harmonious elegance Merlot can attain. A delightful, characterful Merlot that will offer a lot of drinking pleasure to followers over the next 6 to 8+ years.
Cabernet Sauvignon is the bedrock of the Stark Conde winery in the Jonkershoek Valley ward of Stellenbosch and at 87% Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2019 new release also includes a small percentage of 10% Petit Verdot and 3% Malbec. This super concentrated vintage sees a pronounced intensity and flavour focus as a result of the reduced peaberry-sized crop that yielded high colour, very good phenolics and a lower-than-average alcohol level.
Stark Conde also produce two more premium Cabernet Sauvignon based blends in the Three Pines and the Oude Nektar cuvées, both of which have much higher price tags than this beautiful benchmark “estate” Cabernet blend. Quite simply, very few wine producing countries can hit this level of age-worthy, classical quality for such an incredibly affordable price. Seek it out and make some space in your cellar! (Recommended retail price at £24.99 per bottle in the UK)
Stark Conde Cabernet Sauvignon 2019, WO Jonkershoek Valley, Stellenbosch, 13.5% Abv.
This 2019 is certainly deep, dark and opaque with a broody blackberry and black plum core from 18- to 30-year-old Cabernet Sauvignon vines. On the nose, the wine really impresses with alluring aromatics of violets, raspberry herbal tea, sweet tannery leather, freshly tilled earth and mocha spice before opulent notes of earthy blackberry, blueberry and graphite. With such incredible power and intensity of fruit on display here, the subtle cedar wood and black chai tea spice nuances are absorbed by the black fruit and mineral depth. Despite the vintage’s slightly lower-than-average alcohol level, the palate is wonderfully plush and dense with a classically fresh sweet and sour vein of crème de cassis, black cherry and leafy mulberry over sweet expansive fleshy tannins. When the perfect terroir meets the perfect variety and the finest winemaking know-how is utilised to capture that in a bottle, this is what you get – mesmerising quality at such an affordable price. Drink this classically configured Cabernet powerhouse over the next 10 to 15+ years. What an absolute steal… only possible from South Africa!
(Wine Safari Score: 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Available in the UK from their exclusive importer, the South African Fine Wine Specialist, Museum Wines.
In September, Chris “Butch” Alheit returned to the United Kingdom to present his new 2021 vintages at his importer’s portfolio tasting. With over 120+ wines from South Africa being poured, most with their producers in attendance, I decided to write up a series of “snap-shot” tastings for drinkers and collectors to use as a quick and easily accessible reference for a whole series of new releases. I fortuitously had another opportunity only a few weeks later to retaste the entire Alheit range again with Chris in Cape Town at the Cape Wine 2022 wine show in October. So my below scores are an aggregate of the two tastings.
Chris explained that in general, his vineyards ripened around 10 days later in 2021 than the previous year, with low yields but very high quality across the board. In 2021, no Huilkrans Chenin Blanc was made as the crop from this Skurfberg “lieu dit” vineyard was simply too small. Then there was the Magnetic North catastrophy which saw the entire tank of Chenin Blanc from this famous vineyard ruined by a faulty tank gasket seal that imparted an unpleasant bitterness to the wine. As if Alheit demand and supply is not strained enough in a regular vintage, 2021 with its exceptional white wine quality will create even more severe headaches for collectors and drinkers looking for allocations of these incredible wines. But I recommend you persevere as the wines are once again truly outstanding.
Alheit Vineyards Hereafter Here 2021, WO Western Cape, 13% Abv.
Made from young vine Chenin Blanc vineyards from Upper Blaauwklippen, Polkadraai and the Swartland, the idea is that some of these grapes will eventually be channelled into Cartology in years to come as the vines age. Deliciously cool, silky and taut with green fruits, white flowers, white citrus, green apple and crunchy peach nuances. Acids are mouth-wateringly tangy and the fruits crystalline and pure with impressive clarity and balance. A clear step up in quality and intensity on the maiden 2020 release.
Alheit Vineyards Cartology 2021, WO Western Cape, 13% Abv.
A blend of 90% Chenin Blanc and 10% Semillon from circa nine dryland bush vine parcels around the Cape with a minimum age of 35 years but with most between 40 to 80 years old. The entry shows a massive vibrant concentration of white citrus, peach and tangerine with complexing notes of wet thatch, fynbos and struck flint reduction. The palate is rich and textured, plush and fleshy, showing the true class and pedigree of the 2021 vintage. This must be among the finest Cartology releases produced to date. Do not miss it!
Alheit Vineyards Fire By Night Chenin Blanc 2021, WO Swartland, 13% Abv.
Previously known as Broom Ridge, this wine has reverted back to its original name and label due to popular demand. From vineyards on the property Chris bought in the Swartland, the vines were planted between 1971 and 1985 on decomposed granitic soils. The aromatics are predictably stony, dusty and pithy with white peach, crunchy pear, green tea, fynbos and tangerine undertones. The palate shows its usual tell-tale reductive flinty hints together with an incredible liquid minerality that is supported by crystalline pure fruits and pinpoint fresh acids. Once again, a very impressive showing from this Paardeberg vineyard.
Alheit Vineyards Nautical Dawn Chenin Blanc 2021, WO Helderberg, Stellenbosch, 13% Abv.
Grapes for this single vineyard wine come from a beautiful higher altitude site in the Helderberg planted in 1978 that overlooks False Bay. The soils are weathered decomposed granite that look like caster sugar in texture. True to this vineyard’s terroir, there is an incredibly pronounced rock salt salinity on the wine with an overt maritime sea breeze complexity that combines with notes of peach, pear, lime peel, tangerine and a savoury liquid minerality on the finish. Intense, complex and certainly quite profound. Wow!
The grapes from this famous La Colline vineyard were planted in 1936 and offer up complex notes of melted bee’s wax, incense, sweet baking herbs, black currant, lemon rind and tangerine. There is a generous, concentrated fleshy savoury fruit core all held in perfect equilibrium by fresh taut acids. Still showing a complexing hint of smoky reduction, this is undoubtedly a profound Semillon offering from one of the most famous vineyards in the country. Pop this in your cellar for 3 to 5 years and then drink over 8 to 10+ years.
Alheit Vineyards Hemelrand Vine Garden 2021, WO Hemel-en-Aarde, 13.5% Abv.
A blend of 36% Chardonnay, 27% Roussanne, 18% Chenin Blanc, 16% Verdelho and 3% Muscat. This field blend offers up rich earthy, peachy fruit notes with yellow orchard fruits, white flowers, citrus oil and lychee with subtle baking spice nuances. The palate is fresh and full fruited with a fruit salad melange enlivened by juicy, tangy acids and a delicately savoury, mineral finish. Plenty of intensity on display here but also a fine purity and a harmonious balance. One of the best Hemelrand Vine Garden releases to date.
Alheit Vineyards Lost and Found Hanepoot Straw Wine 2019, WO Breedekloof, 7% Abv.
Looking at this rich, unctuous wine in the glass is akin to gazing through an ancient piece of Jurassic fossilized amber – ripe, captivating and most definitely warmly inviting. But this is no normal sweet wine and one sniff of the rich, ripe, potent aromatics reveals an enchanting bouquet of freshly boiled marmalade jam, green mango preserve, barley sugar, sweet herbs, wet straw and dried apricots. Give the dense, glycerol wine another slow swirl in a big Zalto Bordeaux bowl and it shifts gears again to offer yet more pithy orange peel nuances and seductive notes of quince jelly, pressed grapes and burnt caramel. Like some of South Africa’s other truly great sweet wines, the aromatics are so complex and seductive that you almost forget to sip the wine! Incredibly viscous and fleshy on the palate with a round glycerol opulence, there is no suggestion at any point that this wine is going to be overly sweet and clawing with its 450 g/l RS. In fact the sweetness is kept smartly in check by a searing acidity that scythes through the caramel and barley sugar laden fruit layers with samurai sword precision. The finish is gloriously mouth coating, hedonistic and persistent with just the most subtle sappy, pithy, bitter orange peel vermouth twang.
Stellenbosch and its nine wards have basically made Cabernet Sauvignon its very own flagship grape over the past thirty or forty years. Indeed, it is when we open some of these older wines from the 1980’s or 1990’s that we see just how well suited the various terroirs of Stellenbosch are to making premium ageable Cabernet Sauvignon. Within the region, there are undoubtedly a handful of top producers who regularly push the boundaries of quality and finesse and Thelema Mountain Vineyards most definitely falls into this category.
Located high on the slopes of the picturesque Simonsberg Mountain in the heart of Stellenbosch, Thelema Mountain Vineyards can be considered an absolute Cape classic. 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. But 2019 was an unusual year with severe weather fluctuations during bud break and flowering, followed by cool windy conditions which contributed to less and more uneven bunches and certainly smaller berries making for wines with intensity and a surprising amount of elegance at lower alcohol levels.
Thelema Mountain Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2019, WO Stellenbosch, 13.5% Abv.
1.6g/l RS | 5.6g/l TA | 3.66pH
The 2019 vintage Thelema is a plush, dense offering with dramatic fleshy layers of red and black berry fruits and aromatics that show true Cabernet Sauvignon nuances of red currants, earthy cassis, hints of violets, sweet grilled herbs, sweet tobacco, capsicum and black tea. The nervy herbaceous notes are balanced by fleshy red and black fruits, spicy black plum, sweet yellow capsicum, coffee bean spice and a strong undertone of graphite and stony minerality. Medium bodied with a velvety texture, the wine has plenty of freshly tilled earth savoury complexity, a subtle integrated oak spice and powdery dry tannins on the elegant finish. Still showing plenty of youthful restraint and reserve, this is a classically constructed Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon that will reward at least 10+ years ageing in the cellar before drinking.
This deliciously complex white is a barrel-fermented blend of 54% Roussanne, 30% Chenin Blanc, 9% Verdelho and 7% Viognier. All sourced from a single vineyard at the entrance of the Stark-Conde Oude Nektar farm, it is planted to a mix of varietals in order to match the complex mosaic of soil types found on this unique plot of land. The grapes are all picked at the same time, pressed and co-fermented together as a genuine field blend.
Stark-Conde Field Blend 2021, WO Jonkershoek Valley, Stellenbosch, 13% Abv.
Very Southern Rhone in its varietal mix, but decidedly Mediterranean on the nose with lifted aromatics of wild garlic leaf, white blossom, sweet green herbs, bruised apple and subtle waxy incense notes over a dusty, stony granitic minerality. The barrel fermentation lends additional savoury, honied notes of lemon biscuits, warm white toast and peach stone fruits. On the palate there is a fabulous vibrancy and tangy acid freshness of crunchy yellow orchard fruits, white peach, ripe tangerines and a long, slightly pithy, phenolic finish of tart green pears and wet river pebble minerality. The richness and textural generosity of the of the Roussanne and Viognier is beautifully managed, enlivened by the salinity and freshness of the Chenin Blanc and Verdelho. Field blends seem to be the new trend setters for white wines in the Cape and I have not tasted many better than this yet. Another super exciting Cape white blend that expresses its own sense of place. Drink this on release and over the next 6 to 8+ years.
The back label of this wine says it all. It starts by proclaiming … “Chenin Blanc is a relatively rare varietal in our area of Stellenbosch, but the higher, cooler slopes and granite soils are well suited to producing an intense, mineral style.” We are of course talking about the Jonkershoek Valley, a Ward of Stellenbosch more famous for Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah than Chenin Blanc. But with some super famous Chenin Blanc wines like Mev. Kirsten from Sadie Family Wines, Ian Naude’s Old Vine Series Chenin Blanc and Chris Alheit’s Nautical Dawn all coming from various other top Wards of Stellenbosch, the potential for producing block buster Chenin Blanc wines around Stellenbosch is unquestionable.
Self-taught American cellarmaster Jose Conde (who’s married to the owner Hans Schroder’s eldest daughter) first attempted making wine in 2000, and he chose to experiment with his favourite grape, Cabernet Sauvignon. As luck would have it, his father-in-law Hans Schroder farmed arguably the best Cabernet grapes in the region. Made with basic equipment and using traditional methods, the maiden vintage yielded just 2,400 bottles, but against the odds and to everybody’s surprise the wine went on to win 5-stars in the Platters Wine Guide, rated 92/100 points in Wine Spectator, and was selected by UK wine writer Oz Clarke as one of the Top 20 Wines of the Year. I remember this wine very well as I was one of the first wine merchants in the UK to buy and sell it in the early 2000s. And a cracker it was too!
Today, the team at Stark-Conde includes the prodigiously talented winemaker Rüdger van Wyk who creates fine wines using minimal intervention in the cellar. With vineyards ranging in elevation from 150 to 600 metres above sea level, the Stark-Conde estate offers some incredibly fine red wines of distinct character and sense of place and this new 2021 Chenin Blanc is no different. The winery also produces a well known white field blend which I look forward to tasting and reviewing soon.
Monk Stone Chenin Blanc gets its name from the large boulder which punctuates the organically grown, high-altitude vineyard block at Stark-Conde. This bush-vine Chenin Blanc vineyard is planted along dramatic terraces which were sculpted to prevent rain erosion. The wave and ripple patterns formed by these terraces, together with the large boulder, recall a traditional Japanese rock garden, and hence the name “Monk Stone”.
Stark-Conde Monk Stone Chenin Blanc 2021, WO Jonkershoek Valley, Stellenbosch, 13% Abv.
7.6 g/l TA | 3.10 pH
A beautiful rendition of Stellenbosch Chenin Blanc that initially shows a youthful reserve before slowly opening up with aromatics of yellow orchard fruits, granitic minerality, dried green herbs, tangerine peel, green pear and saline oyster shell maritime hints. The minerality and salinity are front and foremost on the palate that shows all the classic 2021 vintage characteristics of purity, clarity, freshness and intensity. Loaded with electric tension, vibrantly fresh acids, the wine reveals a tart juicy green fruited melon concentration and again, an abundance of pithy minerality and rock salt salinity on the persistent finish. Deft winemaking on display here complemented by exceptional vintage quality. Drink this on release and over 8 to 10+ years.
(Wine Safari Score: 95+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
The wines of Stark-Conde are available to trade and consumers from their UK importer:
Damascene is the super exciting South African winery partnership between top talent Jean Smit, previously the winemaker at Boekenhoutskloof, and David Curl, the former owner of Bordeaux’s Chateau Gaby. The maiden Damascene bottlings were only in 2017 but already the winery has, since then, established itself as one of the most exciting new producers on the Cape fine wine landscape.
While the new 2021 vintages have just been released to great acclaim in South Africa, the 2020 vintages are the current releases on the UK market and in May 2020, I caught up with Jean Smit in London to taste through his exciting range of whites and reds.
As Jean explained, the idea of Damascene’s wines was to represent the different regional identities of the South African winelands with grapes being sourced from across the Cape. The wines are made in a well-equipped cellar on David Curl’s Elgin apple farm, which also supplies the Pinot Noir for the Moya Meaker label.
Damascene Semillon 2020, WO Franschhoek, 13.5% Abv.
Sourced from two old vine vineyards plss as noted in 1962 and 1942, this wine was fermented and aged on lees in 1000 litre Austrian foudre and offers up beautifully bright, fragrant, piercing aromatics of white citrus, white blossom, lemon and lime peel, a hint of sea breeze salinity (from the 1962 vineyard) and kelp nuances. Taught and concentrated with a fine glycerol texture, lemon grass, lemon butter, white citrus, tangy green apple and a hint of lanolin on the finish. Delicious and crystalline. A very impressive expression of Old Vine Semillon.
(Wine Safari Score: 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Damascene Chenin Blanc 2020, WO Stellenbosch, 13.5% Abv.
Sourced from three blocks on the crest of the Bottlary Hills. Granite (5% on skins), Greywacke and Shale soils which give acidity & lemon lime notes. Rich, savoury and yellow fruited, with lots of honey suckle, ginger, white blossom and dusty mineral spice. Aged 11 months in old oak barrels. The wine shows bruised yellow peach and yellow plum that follows to a palate loaded with tangerine, Seville oranges and honey on warm toast. Lovely complexity, flinty minerality, tart acids and impressive depth of flavour. Wow!
(Wine Safari Score: 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Moya Meaker Pinot Noir 2020, WO Elgin, 13.5% Abv.
10 barrels (300 litre light toast) using 777 & 667 Pinot Noir clones. No stems and 11 months ageing. Reveals a lovely rose petal, black cherry and bramble berry perfume with hints of pink musk. Texture is pure and sleek, beautifully polished and focused with pomegranate, blood orange, hints of cured meats and complexing wood smoke notes. Pinpoint focus and precision with really bright acids and textural elegance.
(Wine Safari Score: 94/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Damascene Cabernet Franc 2020, WO Stellenbosch, 13.5% Abv.
Aged 11 months in 1000 litre Austrian foudre. The terroir is based on poor granite soils in the Bottlary Hills. The nose shows sweet red and black berry fruit, bouquet garnier, potpourri, fennel, dusty granite, sweet cedar and grilled herbs. The palate is pure and elegant with a salivating fresh acidity supported by a fine line of tannin grip but all exceptionally well balanced. A really delicious expression of Franc!
(Wine Safari Score: 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Damascene Syrah 2019, WO Stellenbosch, 12.5% Abv.
75% of whole bunches used with no submerged cap. 2/3 Karibib fruit (lending pepper & perfume), 1/3 Bottlary (north facing for extra tannins). Boasts sweet dark red and black berry fruits, potpourri, musk perfume and a savoury cured meats complexity. Beautifully pure and elegant with red berry concentration, great textural finesse and soft integrated acids. Wonderful harmony and pedigree. This is something very special indeed.
(Wine Safari Score: 97/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Damascene Syrah 2020, WO Swartland, 13% Abv.
75% whole bunches used then aged in 2000 litre foudre from vines grown on brown schist soils. Aromatics are dark and broody with incense, waxy crayon, earthy black berry, black plum, lavender and wild bramble berry notes. The palate shows plenty of power, depth and concentration with focused mineral tannins, plenty of broody savoury black and blue berry fruits with a hint of black olive tapenade. Very Northern Rhone like in character and also quite individual. Another cracking wine.
(Wine Safari Score: 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Damascene Syrah 2020, WO Cederberg, 13.5% Abv.
Made using 45% whole bunches (on average), from one block at 940m above sea level. Shows classic Cederberg Shiraz aromatics of blue and black berry fruits, blue berry crumble, grey slate minerality and sweet vanilla pod dust. Palate is full and round with dense, sweet creamy tannins, cinamon spice, tart underlying acids and a taut linear structure. Lovely depth, fruit intensity and balance showing the true purity offered by Syrah from high elevation vineyards.
(Wine Safari Score: 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Damascene Cabernet Sauvignon 2019, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5% Abv.
Grapes mainly from Vlottenburg vineyards grown on koffee klip and granite soils (graphite notes) and Helderberg and Bottlary Hills (cranberry notes). Aged 12 months in 80% new 225 litre oak barriques, second year in 1000 litre Austrian foudre. Lovely sweet cedar, wet tobacco, tannery leather and a mix of red and black berry fruits and grilled herbs. Rich, plush and creamy with cassis, blueberry, musk, red cherry and creamy tannins with bright mouth-watering acids. Very impressive expression of Stellenbosch Cabernet!
Mvemve Raats is a critically acclaimed collaboration between friends and winemakers Mzokhona Mvemve and Bruwer Raats. Bruwer is of course the owner, winemaker and mastermind behind Raats Family Wines, where he has earned a reputation for producing top notch Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc over the past 20+ years.
Mzokhona Mvemve, the first Indaba Scholarship recipient, is a graduate of Stellenbosch University and one of South Africa’s first qualified black oenologists. Together, since the 2004 maiden MR vintage, they have created one of South Africa’s most consistently high scoring premium quality icon Bordeaux blends in the Cape.
Assembling a new vintage of MR de Compostella is a massive feat of precision winemaking, organoleptic assessment and blending to create a wine whose whole is clearly greater than the sum of its parts. It is for this reason that utmost attention is paid to all blending building blocks from all varieties to ensure that the finished wine has the density, intensity, structure and finessed power to age for at least 20, 30 or 40 years in bottle. If these prerequisites cannot be met, the MR wine will not be bottled, like previously in 2010 and 2019, when the wine was declassified into the Raats Family Jasper red blend.
With the 2018 MR receiving the highest of international critical scores yet, and then no 2019 bottled, all eyes were on the 2020 to see what Bruwer and Mzokhona could create using their winemaking magic. With the international global release scheduled for late November, I recently met up with Bruwer Raats to assess the new 2020 edition of this Cape icon Red.
MR de Compostella 2020, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5% Abv.
Never made with exactly the same blend in any two vintages, the 2020 is a classic Cape Bordeaux assemblage of 30% Cabernet Franc, 28% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Malbec, 16% Merlot and 5% Petit Verdot with a total production of only 1,000 x 6. The wine displays a real intensity in the glass with a ruby red rim and a red / black plum heart. The aromatics are vibrant and fabulously perfumed, bursting from the glass with expressive notes of red and black berry fruits, black currant, raspberry, red and black cherry, before notes of earthy blueberry emerge with suggestions of pressed violets, lavender, sweet sandalwood, star anise and graphite spice. On the palate, the vintage’s regal elegance emerges with exhilarating acids framing the plush opulent red and back berry fruits, saline cassis, tart red cherry and a blueberry confectionary generosity. Tasting the wine with Bruwer Raats, inevitable comparisons were made to the iconic 2017 MR, with both wines sharing a beautifully bright acid freshness and a weightless concentration of pure berry fruits with only the slightest suggestion of vanilla oak spice. This really is a wine with a mixed palette of colours, flavours and fruits and the most seamlessly elegant, finessed velvety tannins. Following on from the 2018 blockbuster, with no 2019 MR produced, this 2020 is a bold, enchanting, characterful wine full of precision that trumpets the return of this incredible benchmark Cape classic. A breathtaking wine on so many levels. Drink from 2024 to 2045+.
In November 2019, winemaker Wim Truter joined Meerlust, taking over from Chris Williams to become only the third winemaker to take the reins at this historic estate. Chris had finally followed his own calling and decided to move on to the next chapter of his winemaking career to further grow his own Foundry Winery brand. So, while technically the 2018 vintage is still regarded as the fruits of Chris’s labours, Wim Truter has done a fine job overseeing not only the release of this new Rubicon blend but also the declassification of the 2019 Rubicon vintage into the Meerlust Red 2019 for the first time since 2011. Meerlust Red 2019 reviewed here… https://gregsherwoodmw.com/2021/10/17/the-resurrection-of-the-meerlust-red-blend-tasting-the-2019-vintage-release/
There are few premium brands in South Africa who produce the high quantity of quality wine that Meerlust Estate does, and so it was inevitable that the Covid-19 pandemic and resulting lock-down would have a disproportionately negative effect on sales of this world-famous brand that is listed by almost every leading hotel, restaurant and bar in South Africa as well as in a never-ending list of top restaurants and 5 Star hotels around the world. As a result, consumers have had a longer run of availability with the exceptional 2017 Rubicon that was rated 96+/100 on the Fine Wine Safari. But the time has finally come for the 2017 Rubicon to pass the baton over to the highly anticipated 2018 vintage. Meerlust Rubicon is undoubtedly one of South Africa’s greatest wine ambassadors. If you have not tasted it yet, you are indeed missing out on one of the great Bordeaux blends produced in the Cape.
Meerlust Estate Rubicon 2018, WO Stellenbosch, 14.3% Abv.
2.6 g/l RS | 5.54 g/l TA | 3.63 pH
The 2018 Rubicon is a classical blend of 67% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc and 4% Petit Verdot, with every parcel of each variety fermented separately before undergoing malolactic fermentation in 300 litre barrels and large foudré. After 8 months in barrel, the components were blended and given another 10 months in barrel for harmonization before bottling. Wonderfully deep in colour, the nose is splendidly expressive showing quintessential Cabernet Sauvignon notes of pressed violets, black plum, sun raisin black currants, black salty liquorice, black chai tea, sweet cedar spice and layers of graphite and spearmint. While the aromatics are dominated by rich, dark berry fruits, the palate is classically proportioned with plenty of overt elegance and textural finesse – a great feat considering the heat and drought of the 2018 vintage. The extra bottle age before release has undoubtedly been a positive for this powerful, structured blend, helping to further round out the suave creamy tannins and harmonise the earthy black berry fruit layers, making the acids polished, glassy and fresh rather than taut and crunchy like many other 2018 reds. Unexpectedly approachable in its youth, I would have no hesitancy to cellar this super smart blend for another 10 to 15+ years.
(Wine Safari Score: 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Wines available to the UK trade from Maisons Marques et Domaines Ltd and should retail for circa £30pb.
I first met brothers Pierre and John Philip (JP) Winshaw in 2018 when I was asked to co-chair the incredible Whole Bunch Tasting titled ‘The Wines That Raised Us’, just before the Cape Wine 2018 trade fair. The Winshaw brothers had pulled a number of incredibly rare old South African heritage bottles out of their grandfather, Bill Winshaw’s cellar, to present to the who’s who of the world’s wine trade. It was at this prestigious tasting that I rated my first South African wine 100 points – the Chateau Libertas 1957, now a legendary wine.
Today, the Winshaws combine traditional farming with grape growing on their Stellenbosch property Klein Welmoed, selling fruit to some of Stellenbosch’s most notable producers. But the brothers not only make their own wines under the Usana label, but they have also more recently, started making a premium range of Cape Bordeaux blends under the Winshaw Vineyards label. The line-up includes a delicious straight Malbec (which I recently rated 93/100) and two super cuvees, one based around Cabernet Sauvignon and one based around Cabernet Franc. The two red blends honour their great-grandfather Dr William Charles Winshaw, founder of Stellenbosch Farmers Winery (SFW), and the second their grandfather Bill, another key figure in the history of the SFW.
Ahead of my departure for Cape Wine 2022, I decided to get into the spirit of things by tasting and reviewing the Charles Winshaw Cuvee, their Cabernet Sauvignon based blend.
Winshaw Vineyards ‘Charles Winshaw Cuvee’ 2017, WO Stellenbosch, 14% Abv.
A serious blend of 74% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Cabernet Franc, 10% Malbec and 4% Merlot, I tasted this wine over the course of three days to assess its true fine wine potential. On opening, the aromatics showed classical Stellenbosch Cabernet notes of sweet tobacco, tannery leather, black currant, black plum, chai tea and freshly tilled earth notes. The palate was full and glycerol with creamy soft sweet tannins, layers of black and blue berry fruits with the classic 2017 vintage weightless concentration. Fabulously balanced with classical poise and harmony. But on day two and day three, the wine shed some of its initial sapidity and sweet tea leaf and tobacco notes to reveal an incredible purity, depth of blue and black berry fruits and a seamlessly vibrant cherry-laden tangy intensity on the finish. I am so pleased I gave this wine the time and space to really show its blue-blooded pedigree. As the cliché goes, the first glass was delicious, but the last glass was mind blowing. Track this beauty down if you can as the R300 local price tag (£16-£18) is ridiculously cheap. Drink now and over the next 12 to 15+ years.