Profiling Some of the World’s Greatest Cabernet Sauvignon Terroir With the Stellenbosch Cabernet Collective…

The story of the Stellenbosch Cabernet Collective begins with a tale of passion and creativity. Rising out of an alluring landscape, rich history, vibrant culture and unparalleled architecture, Stellenbosch is one of South Africa’s most prominent wine producing regions and desirable tourist destinations. Today, the region has become the focus of many profoundly adept oenologists and agronomists who use their unique premium local African terroir to produce top quality Cabernet among other wines.

A love for country, community and producing fine wine has given rise to a collaborative group of 35 members that desire to see this regions Cabernet Sauvignons performing against the best on a global platform. To highlight this groups excellent work, I recently revisited South Africa’s “Vintage of the Century” and tasted through 28 excellent Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 reds from the Stellenbosch Cabernet Collective members.

Delaire Graff Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2015 – 96/100 GSMW

Smooth, sweet fruited, pure and suave. Very impressive.

Jordan The Long Fuse Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – 92+/100 GSMW

Earthy, savoury black fruit. Classical.

Waterford Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – 94+/100 GSMW

Black fruited, plush and sweet cedar and tobacco. Very nice.

Le Riche Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2015 – 96/100 GSMW

Dark, classical and suave Cabernet Sauvignon. Super sophisticated wine.

Kanonkop Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – 97/100 GSMW

Violets and perfume. Sleek blueberry and cassis magic.

Kaapzicht Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – N/S

Faulty Bottle.

Alto Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – 93/100 GSMW

Cool, dusty Cabernet Sauvignon packed full of mineral and tobacco notes. Pure and full of finesse.

Neil Ellis Jonkershoek Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – 93/100 GSMW

Cedar and savoury spice, cherry cola and black bramble berry fruit spice.

Webersburg Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – 90+/100 GSMW

Black berry and graphite melange. Sweet, plummy, savoury length.

Fleur du Cap Series Privee Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – 91/100 GSMW

Leafy black fruits with sleek, polished graphite tannins.

Rust en Vrede Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – 93/100 GSMW

Cool, rich and very polished with seamless black fruits and sweet mineral tannins.

Warwick Blue Lady Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – 95/100 GSMW

Modern, creamy and plush with a pure fruited core and a long black cherry fruited finish. Very classy.

Oldenburg Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – 94/100 GSMW

Dark, savoury sweet fruited core, showing tobacco spice and tannery leather nuances on the finish.

Mooiplaas Tabakland Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – 89/100 GSMW

Riper style with notes of stewed black fruits, cedar, fruit cake and a long, plush ripe finish.

Glenelly Estate Glass Collection Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – 94/100 GSMW

Cool, sleek and spicy with classical cedar and tobacco notes and a classical, dense powerful Cabernet finish.

Villiera Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – 93/100 GSMW

Full of black berry fruits and graphite minerality, earthy black currants and sweet, lithe tannins. Smart wine.

Lanzerac Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – 91/100 GSMW

Dense and dark, packed with spice and freshly cut hedge row, earthy black fruits and a long sweet fruited, intense finish.

Ernie Els Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – 94/100 GSMW

Reductive cassis notes, saline black currant and oyster shell , graphite, cedar spice and a complex, concentrated finish.

Bartinney Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – 94/100 GSMW

Earthy savoury black fruits, plush fruit core, with notes of brûléed coffee beans, cherry confit and a long plush, opulent finish.

Spier 21 Gables Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – 94+/100 GSMW

Notes of gunpowder and graphite spice. Palate is sleek, fleshy and pure fruited showing plenty of classy wine making.

Muratie Martin Melck Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – 91/100 GSMW

Sweet plum and cherry tobacco notes melt into black cassis and freshly tilled earth with hints of fruit cake spice.

Thelema Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – 95+/100 GSMW

Sleek, suave, classical Cabernet with masses of elegance and power, purity and very sweet, fine tannins.

Peter Falke Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – 93/100 GSMW

Dusty black fruits complemented by mineral notes, black cassis, cherry and graphite spice. Very precise fruit flavours and a long sleek, focused power.

Neethlingshof Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – 89/100 GSMW

Shows hints of fruit cake, cedar spice and bruised black orchard fruits.

Simonsig The Garland Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – 93/100 GSMW

Cool and creamy texture with dry mineral graphite tannins, a sleek polished styling loaded with cassis, black plum and sweet fruit cake length.

Starke-Conde Three Pines Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – 94+/100 GSMW

Full of dark black and blue berry fruits with a creamy, plush, opulent, generous concentration. Very smart wine.

Kleine Zalze Family Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – 91/100 GSMW

Aromatics of freshly tilled earth, tannery leather and Christmas pudding, fleshy and suave with an elegant texture, chalky tannins and a sweet and sour berry finish.

Zonnebloem Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – 91+/100 GSMW

Dusty earthy black berry fruits resound with a hint of smoky oyster shell reduction. Impressively polished texture full of sleek mineral tannins and a restrained, pure fruit length.

This tasting was attended by over 30 private clients as well as several high profile wine journalists including Jancis Robinson OBE MW. At the end of the evening there seemed to be a solid consensus that 2015 was without doubt one of the greatest vintages Stellenbosch has ever witnessed. I look forward to doing this tasting again in a couple of years time looking at all the 2017 Cabernet Sauvignons! 🍷

Damascene Wines – New Kid on the Block Rocking the Cape Wine Scene…

I first heard about Damascene Wines last year when a few big scores in the local South African home market hit the headlines including a mammoth 97/100 from Winemag.co.za editor Christian Eedes. The young blood behind the venture focusing on producing high quality vinous expressions from unique Cape vineyards is Jean Smit, also known for his work at Boekenhoutskloof as well as a brief spell at Iona some years back.

Damascene Wines is now in the process of securing distribution in several key global markets including the UK for their limited volumes of fine wine, but as Jean was very quick to point out to me, “it is really important that global distribution partners share our attitude and philosophy that is the driving force behind the whole Damascene project.”

With a sell-out Semillon 2018 already in the bag, this white is joined in the range by a fine Pinot Noir, an accomplished Cabernet Franc and an exceptional benchmark Stellenbosch Syrah. Damascene is undoubtedly one of the most exciting new producers to come onto the South African wine seen for some time.

Damascene Semillon 2018, WO Franschhoek, 14 Abv.

The fruit for this vintage was picked from a venerable old vineyard in the Franschhoek valley. Planted in 1942 on alluvial soils of decomposed Table Mountain sandstone, a portion – roughly 15 percent – of the bush vines have naturally mutated into Semillon Gris. Both variants were harvested and co-fermented to add further complexity to the wine. Approximately one-third of the way through fermentation the grape must was transferred to second- and third-fill French oak barriques, for 11 months of sur lie barrel maturation. No lees stirring took place, and the prevention of malolactic fermentation ensured the wine retains its excellent natural acidity. Total production: 707 x 750ml | Bottling date: 8 February 2019 Alc: 14.06%Vol | pH: 3.32 | TA: 5.5 g/L | RS: 3.2 g/L | VA: 0.51 g/L.

Such beautiful subtle aromatics of white citrus, wet chalk and dusty grey slate lead to a fabulously sleek, creamy textured Semillon palate full of glycerol lanolin mouthfeel layered with pithy orange peel zest and tangerine oil complexity. The acids are supple and well integrated with spicy, piquant, mellow yellow fruits. Full, broad, super stony and mineral, this wine is beautifully harmonious, textural and focused! Keep it for 2-3 years before opening and then drink over 5 to 10.

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

Damascene Pinot Noir 2018, WO Elgin, 14.1 Abv.

When David and Genevieve Curl purchased an apple farm in the Elgin valley in 2010, they immediately planted a 3.12-hectare parcel of Pinot Noir on a ridge with ancient of clay-rich Bokkeveld shale. Clones 667 and 777 on rootstock 101-14 were chosen to capitalise on Elgin’s cool climate terroir. Focused on the ultimate goal of crafting small quantities of premium Pinot Noir, the vineyard’s planting density of 6250 vines per hectare encourages stiff competition between the vines, resulting in better flavour and concentration in the fruit. Low disease pressure in the vineyards assisted the desired spontaneous fermentation in the cellar, with only two batches inoculated with a locally isolated yeast strain to fully express the character of the two Pinot Noir clones. To capture the elegance of the fruit, and avoid excessive extraction, the wine spent just 10 days on the skins, with a combination of short pump-overs and punch-downs twice per day. Malolactic fermentation occurred spontaneously in 300- litre French oak barrels, 30% of which were new. The oak barrels were carefully selected from five leading Burgundian coopers, with a range of toasting levels – mostly Light and Blonde. Total production: 3600 x 750ml | Bottling date: 8 February 2019 Alc: 14.1 %Vol| pH: 3.39 | TA: 5.4 g/L | RS: 1.5 g/L | VA: 0.53 g/L.

Rich, character filled nose with plenty of promise. Opening in the glass, the wine reveals hints of mocha and chocolate, cherry liquor, black berries, savoury cured meats, forest floor, freshly tilled earth, black bramble berries with positive green aromatic complexing notes. Warming luxurious inviting style, the palate is obvious and generous with a fine plush glycerol texture, spicy pin point tannins, seductive wild strawberry, kirsch liquor and baking spices, before darker berry fruit nuances take over to carry this wine over the finishing line. 

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

Damascene Cabernet Franc 2018, WO Stellenbosch, 12.87 Abv.

Situated on the cooler east-facing slopes of the Bottelary Hills, this trellised vineyard was planted in 2004 with the CF1 clone of Cabernet Franc. On soils of decomposed granite, and at an altitude of 260-metres above sea level, this lowyielding vineyard produces smaller bunches that offer incredible concentration, structure and ripeness at lower sugar levels. Bunches were de-stemmed directly into stainless steel tanks where whole berries were coldsoaked for three days before being inoculated with a carefully selected yeast strain. For optimum extraction pump-overs took place up to three times per day, with fermentation temperatures peaking at 28˚C. Spontaneous malolactic fermentation took place during the 11 months of maturation in a single 1000-litre oak foudre. The wine was racked just once, two weeks prior to bottling. Total production: 1175 x 750ml | Bottling date: 8 February 2019 Alc: 12.87 %Vol| pH: 3.32 | TA: 4.9 g/L | RS: 1.5 g/L | VA: 0.46 g/L.

An inviting aromatic offering shows classic varietal Cabernet Franc perfume, spice and lift. The nose suggests delicious notes of black currant pastille, crushed black cherry, graphite and lead pencil complexity. The palate has a very focused black currant wine gums intensity with subtle vegetal, stemmy cedar spice notes. Despite the impressively low alcohol level, this wine has a beautiful texture and mouthfeel with a lithe elegance, bright acids and a superbly harmonious finish. Incredibly well designed, this wine shows a lot of appeal and will seduce a lot of Cabernet Franc lovers. 

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

Damascene Syrah 2018, WO Stellenbosch, 13.4 Abv. 

100% Syrah from Polkadraai and Bottelary Hills, Stellenbosch. While both vineyards are situated higher than 300-metres above sea level, planted with SH9 and SH22B Syrah clones, and with soils dominated by decomposed granite, they each bring their own nuance and complexity to the wine. The vineyard on the Polkadraai Hills was planted on a south-east slope in 1996, and contributes most of the perfume and spice. Structure and fruit intensity comes from a vineyard of low-yielding granitic soils in the Bottelary Hills, a ‘mother unit’ planted on a north-west aspect in 2001. To showcase the impact of site in Stellenbosch Syrah, the harvested fruit was separated into numerous smaller fermentation batches, with whole-cluster fraction of each batch ranging from nil to 100 percent per vessel. Open top fermenters and two 1000-litre oak foudres received a combination of pump-overs and pigéage (punch-downs) two or three times per day. The remaining two 1000-litre oak foudres were treated with the ‘submerged cap’ technique to enhance the body and fruit concentration of the wine.

A unique element in the final blend came from a portion kept as 100% intact whole clusters, that underwent carefully-controlled carbonic fermentation. These were sealed in a stainless steel tank and stored under pressure for 30 days before pressing. Without pump-overs or pigéage during fermentation, this carbonic macerated component contributes enormous purity of fruit and silky tannins to the final blend. All fermentations took place spontaneously with naturally occurring yeast. Malolactic fermentation also occurred spontaneously, with maturation in 1000-litre oak foudres for 11 months. The wine was bottled without fining, to ensure a more complex and authentic expression of Syrah. Total production: 2728 x 750ml | Bottling date: 8 February 2019 Alc: 13.4 %Vol| pH: 3.8 | TA: 5.4 g/L | RS: 1.5 g/L | VA: 0.65 g/L.

Beautiful intensity and perfume, the nose screams classism and aromatic complexity with an open inviting modern allure. This wine turns the volume up but there is no distortion, only purity and then more purity. Herbal and Rhoney, there are wonderful savoury earthy meaty notes loaded with black berry and blue berry fruits, olive tapenade and hints of German-deli smokey, meaty brilliance. The texture is incredibly fine and focused and personifies the ‘Jean Smit’ wine making style that shines right through his entire range of wines. This Syrah hits a special zenith of quality and brilliance that only a select few South Africa wineries manage to achieve. 

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

Glenelly Estate Prepare to Release their Greatest Creation to Date – Tasting the Epic Lady May 2015 Flagship Red Blend…

The Glenelly Estate is a beautiful winery buried in a little corner of the Idas Valley in Stellenbosch. The property was famously bought in 2003 by Madame May de Lencquesaing of Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande fame in Pauillac, Bordeaux, with a vision to transform the property into one of the preeminent fine wine producers in Stellenbosch.

In February 2020, I visited the estate for a lengthy and informative tutored tasting with Cellar Master Luke O’Cuinneagain. After a final flight of three vintages of their flagship Lady May red blend, tasting the 2010, 2013 and 2014, I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to try and also taste the as yet unreleased Lady May 2015. It required a few thumb screws and persuasion, but Luke finally obliged with a sneak peak of this fantastic Bordeaux blend from the iconic 2015 vintage.

You can expect a possible release of this iconic wine hopefully towards the end of 2020.

Glenelly Estate Lady May 2015, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5 Abv. 

79% CS, 8% M, 8% PV, 5% CF

Deep, dark and broody, this wine speaks with all the authority and confidence of a 5 star block buster vintage. Brimming with black menthol cassis, boiled black berry sweets, black cherry and tight grained cedar spice, this wine wears a super hero gown of graphite and stony minerality and whispers quality from the moment it hits the glass. Tight, focused and impressively compact, there is a seamless saline black currant balance with linear polished marble tannins and a super intense concentration. This is the culmination of years of winemaking refinement and is without doubt the finest red wine produced to date at the Glenelly Estate revealing the true terroir quality potential of these groomed, premium Stellenbosch vineyards. Drink from Release with decanting and over the next 20+ years.

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

Glenelly Estate Starting to Reach Its True Noble Stellenbosch Potential…

The Glenelly Estate is a beautiful winery buried in a little corner of the Idas Valley in Stellenbosch. I have been meaning to visit for many years to understand the essence of the winery and their philosophy but somehow always seemed to cross paths with CEO Nicholas Bureau or else their long time winemaker Luke O’Cuinneagain at tastings in London.

The property was famously bought in 2003 by Madame May de Lencquesaing of Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande fame in Pauillac, Bordeaux, with a vision to transform the property into one of the preeminent fine wine producers in Stellenbosch.

With vineyards planted on near virgin granitic rich soils, Glenelly Estate had the opportunity to map out a varietal path that completely suited the style of wines they were looking to make. There would certainly be none of the red tape and restrictions Madame May had become so use to in Bordeaux. With sizable plantings of Chardonnay, Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, Glenelly have all the building blocks for making some impressive wines.

In February 2020, I finally visited the estate for a lengthy tutored tasting with Cellar Master Luke O’Cuinneagain. Nicholas and Luke generously opened an impressive array of older wines to illustrate not only the development of the wines in bottle but also the evolution of the Estate’s winemaking and their ongoing quality improvements. Undoubtedly these are wines made in a more classical, restrained style and the French heritage is undeniable, radiating out of every glass and making all the wines in the range excellent gastronomic friendly expressions.

My conclusions after my tasting remain firmly that the hard yards have been completed and that the best years still lie ahead for this estate and its high quality wines. Glenelly Estate is definitely one to keep a very close eye on in the future.

White Wine Flights:

Glenelly Estate Unwooded Chardonnay 2011, WO Stellenbosch, 13 Abv.

Super complex notes of terpenes, bruised yellow citrus and earthy root veg. Bright crunchy tangy acids make for a delicious mouthful that’s evolving beautifully. Very pleasurable glassful.

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

Glenelly Estate Unwooded Chardonnay 2012, WO Stellenbosch, 12.5 Abv.

Dusty wet chalk aromatics melt into struck match, bruised peach, papaya and ripe lemon peel. Lush and layered, plenty of leesy quince, honeysuckle, ripe pear purée and a smokey, glycerol finish. Showing a lovely harmony.

(Wine Safari Score: 88/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Glenelly Estate Unwooded Chardonnay 2019, WO Stellenbosch, 13 Abv.

Youthful and bright, this shows vibrant notes of cream soda, dusty green honeydew melon and dusty crushed limestone. Lovely texture and fleshy mouthfeel, finishing with notes of melon, green apple and subtle minerality. Lovely gourmet wine.

(Wine Safari Score: 89/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Glenelly Estate Reserve Chardonnay 2012, WO Stellenbosch, 13 Abv.

Like its unoaked sibling, this shows a hit of reduction, dried mint leaf, peppermint and lemongrass. Equally plush and textural, this has a broad glycerol mouthfeel, savoury lemon peel fruit, subtle oak spice and a hint of peppermint crisp on the finish.

(Wine Safari Score: 90/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Glenelly Estate Chardonnay Grand Vin 2013, WO Stellenbosch, 13 Abv.

Taut and restrained aromatics, this shows plenty of minerality, wet chalk, white citrus and limestone nuances. But the palate blossoms to show abundantly sweet textured flesh, lemon herbs and a vibrant energetic finish with impressive persistence.

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

Glenelly Estate Chardonnay Reserve 2014, WO Stellenbosch, 12.5 Abv.

Cool and restrained, this displays plenty of stony minerality layered with lemon and herbs, lemon cordial and dried mint leaf. Palate is savoury and fleshy with bruised yellow orchard fruits, ripe papaya and dry fynbos. Concentrated, mouth filling and impressively persistent.

(Wine Safari Score: 90+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Glenelly Estate Chardonnay Reserve 2015, WO Stellenbosch, 13 Abv.

This nose is expressive and exotic with savoury bruised yellow fruits, melted wax and incense notes. The palate shows sweet herby glycerol weight in a more oxidative frame. The texture is sleek and the balance finely poised with plenty of concentration and tangy acids on the finish.

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

Glenelly Estate Chardonnay Reserve 2016, WO Stellenbosch, 13 Abv.

This vintage shows hints of ripe lemon and herbs, dry fynbos, honey on white toast and subtle mint leaf complexity. Super focused concentration, bright tangy acids and impressive length, you can see the pedigree potential of this wine. The aromatics are a little reticent but the quality is clearly apparent. Impressive for a hot, dry vintage.

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

Glenelly Estate Chardonnay Reserve 2017, WO Stellenbosch, 13 Abv.

A more steely expression with purity and clarity. Fine notes of lime peel, lemon cordial and wet limestone and lemongrass herbs make for a fresh, vibrant aromatic profile. The hallmark concentration is there with glycerol, textured intensity of lime cordial, green apple and cedar spice on the finish. A lovely mouthful from a good vintage.

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

Glenelly Estate Chardonnay Reserve 2018, WO Stellenbosch, 13 Abv.

Lifted and expressive with dried fynbos, peppermint tea and herbal spice mixed with bruised white peaches, lemon iced tea and lemongrass herbs. Bright and zippy, this wine shows plenty of overt energy, crystalline citrus pastille fruits and a seamless creamy balance. Delicious expression.

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

Red Wine Flights:

Cabernet Sauvignon driven wines with supporting components of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot laced with a small percentage Syrah a la Claret in the good old days of Bordeaux.

Glenelly Estate Reserve 2013, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5 Abv. 15%

Syrah in the mix, this smells and tastes of classic old school Bordeaux with sweet tobacco leaves, herbal spice, tannery leather, cigar box and sweet savoury black currant and black berry intensity with a clear vein of graphite. Creamy and cool fruited, this is plush and textured with earthy black orchard fruits, lead pencil, graphite and a sweet piquant cedary finish. Drink now or cellar for a few more years.

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

Glenelly Estate Reserve 2014, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5 Abv.

Dark and broody, this wine shows plush opulence with aromatics of coffee beans, black plum, cedar spice and pronounced graphite intensity. Soft and sumptuous, this has plenty of overt early drinking generosity laced with black chocolate and piquant spicy tobacco notes. Ready to go now, but certainly no rush.

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

Glenelly Estate Lady May 2010, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5 Abv.

90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Petit Verdot, 5% Merlot

Rasping dusty chalky aromatics of classic Cabernet Sauvignon, crushed gravel, graphite, tannery leather and grilled herb spice. Super youthful at 10 years old, this wine speaks of pedigree. Polished and finely balanced, this has oodles of old world classicism, spicy cedar, piquant black berry and silky suave focus. Very impressive but will certainly get better with further ageing.

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

Glenelly Estate Lady May 2013, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5 Abv.

85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Cabernet Franc, 4% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot

Again, plenty of classicism and mineral driven tension, but this lovely wine shows more energy, greater linearity and superb focus. Saline cassis, tart black cherry confit and earthy damson plum complexity shows this is a serious fine wine. Sleek, pure and generous but retaining elegance and restraint, seamless blissful harmony and pin point focus. Beautifully complex and integrated, this is definite Grand Cru Classe quality!

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

Glenelly Estate Lady May 2014, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5 Abv.

74% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 12% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot

Intricate yet generous, this youthful expression shows creme de cassis, violets, peppermint crisp milk chocolate and dark spicy plum. Plush and sweet fruited, the 2014 is forward and showy, revealing the plushness achieved at Glenelly in all of their reds. With its sweet tannins, fleshy glycerol mouthfeel, fruit concentration and bruleed earthy coffee bean finish, this fine wine is ready to go now however, extra tertiary development will only elevate this wine further.

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

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)