Starting 2022 In Style – Reviewing the Sensational New Thelema Estate Rabelais 2019…

The Thelema Rabelais red blend originally started out as the prestigious Thelema Cape Winemakers Guild blend before evolving into the Rabelais label with the 2007 vintage, being produced originally from only Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. From 2009, Petit Verdot started to replace the Merlot portion and now the blend appears fairly settled at approximately a 90% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Petit Verdot mix. The Rabelais represents the very best Bordeaux components from the Thelema range where the wines clearly show concentration, polished ripe tannins and undeniable refinement.

As with so many Cape Bordeaux Blends of this quality, the Rabelais cuvee has now earned itself an impressive following, both at home and globally, making the wine increasingly sought after and necessitating tighter and tighter allocations at the estate. If you missed the impressive 2015 or the eye wateringly great 2017, it’s time to track down some of the delicious 2019.

Thelema Mountain Vineyards Rabelais 2019, WO Stellenbosch, 13.5% Abv.

The 2019 Thelema Rabelais is another incredibly refined creation being a blend of 90% Simonsberg Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Petit Verdot. Since the 2015 vintage, this flagship wine has shifted into a sixth gear and is now hitting some exceptionally high quality notes. Always classical and composed, the aromatics boast notes of perfumed violets, dried herbs, black cherry and seductive hints of crème de cassis with undertones of sweet cedar wood spice, brûléed coffee beans, brown toast and some dusty mineral strands of crushed slate and graphite. The palate is silky soft, predictably sleek and polished and displays impressive textural elegance with fine filigree tannins, fresh acids, subtle complex layers of black currant, cherry cola, capsicum and breakfast espresso. This is another head-turning, eye-opening wine that displays wonderful balance and harmony. Fabulously pure, precise and regal on so many levels. Simply outstanding. Drink from 2024 to 2040+.

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

Another Sutherland Vineyards Stunner – Tasting their 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon Release…

It’s when you taste wines like this that you realise that Elgin can do no wrong. Whether Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah or Petit Verdot, this little cool climate pocket is just simply a viticultural garden of Eden. Unfortunately for the grape vines, this cool microclimate oasis also produces some of the most incredibly high-quality apples that I have tasted from anywhere in the world, making vineyards compete for space and economics.

If vitis vinifera is going to fight back, it is going to be with wines like this Sutherland Cabernet Sauvignon that hearts and minds will be converted. Grown on classic Tukulu-Glenrosa soils, these 12-year-old vines seem to be in a very happy stage of development yielding 9.7 tons per hectare. The fruit was destemmed, hand sorted and fermented in stainless steel tanks with a pump over one a day. After fermentation, the wine was racked into 30% new French oak barrels and aged for 18 months before bottling.

Sutherland Cab Sauvignon 2017, WO Elgin, 13.98% Abv.

2.1 g/l RS | 3.56 pH | 5.3 g/l TA

Elgin always seems capable of producing some of the most beguiling expressions of wine whether made from Pinot Noir, Syrah, Petit Verdot or Cabernet Sauvignon. The aromatics of this beauty show a nuanced complexity of pressed violets, sweet black tea, saline black currant, sweet herbs, wet tobacco and subtle hints of black cherry preserve. True to the vintage, the palate is fabulously elegant with silky tannins, a fine-grained crushed stone minerality, a weightless intensity and a long, cool, fresh finish that is simply mouth-watering, all delivered in such an effortless style. This is surely one of the most enjoyable Cabernet Sauvignon reds you will experience from the 2017 vintage. Drink now and over the next 10 to 12+ years.

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

Reviewing The New Release Thelema Cabernet Sauvignon 2018…

Always one of the more notable single varietal Cabernet Sauvignon releases of the year, this 2018 vintage from Thelema Mountain Vineyards is certainly a wine that is going to appeal to collectors of premium Stellenbosch Cabernet. With some of the most exceptional terroir in the Western Cape, Thelema have rightly resurrected and restored their premier league standing as one of the most sought after and age worthy wine producers in the Cape, a position they held throughout the 1990s and early 2000s.

This 100% Cabernet Sauvignon is produced from three clones of Cabernet, namely 46c, 169A and 338c which were planted at 2,000 to 2,300 vines per hectare in 2002, 2003 and 2008 on decomposed granitic Hutton soils. 2018 was a warm dry vintage with a late start resulting in a smaller crop yield of well structured, intense grapes. All fruit was destemmed, crushed and pumped into stainless steel tanks and saw two aerated pump-overs per day during fermentation before being racked into barrels for malolactic fermentation and an additional 18 months of ageing in French oak barrels, 40% of which were new.

A lot of consumers have stocked up their cellars with a good proportion of wines from the 2015 and 2017 vintages and quite rightfully so. These were probably the two greatest vintages modern-era winemaking has ever seen in South Africa. But I would caution consumers on tucking into these two great vintages too early in the same way many European consumers did with the opulent and seductive 2009 and 2010 Bordeaux reds. Indeed, they were very hard to resist such was their immediate overt appeal. My advice would be to buy into the 2018s and 2019s that are being released in South Africa at the moment to allow the more coveted 2015s and 2017s to be savoured on more special occasions in the future.

Thelema Mountain Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2018, WO Stellenbosch, 13.83% Abv.

2.1g/l RS | 3.48pH | 5.7g/l TA

On opening the 2018 Thelema Cabernet Sauvignon, it is clear to see that this is a cooler, leaner vintage style. The aromatics are about as classic as you’ll find for premium Stellenbosch Cabernet with an initially high toned exuberance of pressed violets, tilled earth, iodine, kelp, black currant together with very well integrated notes of sweet sandal wood, cedar spice with the obligatory broody baritone graphite nuances never far away. On the palate the wine begins with a steely textural sternness with plenty of tightly wound spring tension, saline cassis, black berry and bright crunchy acids. Allowed to breath for 5 to 6 hours, this serious wine starts to shed some of its linearity to gain extra palate layers of sweet fleshy black berry fruits, complex spicy tannins and a long dark chocolate and black currant finish. Cellar this classic vintage for ideally 2-3+ years more before revisiting and drink comfortably over the next 10-15 years.

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

Tasting a Stunning Pair of Whites from Sutherland Vineyards…

I have always known about the exciting Sutherland Vineyards winery in Elgin owned by the Webb family of Thelema fame but it was really only when their 2015 Chardonnay was rated 95+ points in a blind Decanter Magazine panel tasting for South African Chardonnay a few years ago that I started to pay a lot more attention to both the brand and the wines.

I was of course on that Decanter panel that rated this wine so highly along with other South African greats like Ataraxia 2015, Neil Ellis Whitehall Chardonnay 2015 and Rustenburg 5 Soldiers 2015. So it was a real pleasure to taste not only their new release Chardonnay 2019 recently but also their delicious 2017 Viognier Roussanne Rhone-style white blend.

Also, another one of my guilty pleasures has always been the copious amounts of their Sutherland Grenache Rose that I drink when I visit South Africa. Great value, dry, vibrant and expressive, it too has become one of my perennial summertime favourites. Elgin is definitely not just about cool climate Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Riesling. This fiddle plays an array of fabulous tunes.

Sutherland Chardonnay 2019, WO Elgin, 13% Abv.

This is another wonderfully expressive Chardonnay from Elgin that always seems to show a really individual character. The aromatics balance enticing nervy yellow citrus nuances with seductive vanilla pod spices all underpinned by a bold stony minerality and delicate struck match reductive complexity. The palate is joyfully concentrated with sweet tangy pineapple and lemon pastille candied notes, a sweet and sour mouth-watering acidity and the pronounced hallmark Sutherland wet river pebble liquid minerality. Subtly savoury and herby but always vibrant and electrically fresh in the mouth, this is a wine that is enviably super individual but always stylistically classically orientated. Drink now or cellar 3 to 5+ years. Certainly a wine for white Burgundy lovers to try!

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

Sutherland Viognier Roussanne 2017, WO Elgin, 14.5% Abv.

3.7g/l RS | 3.29 pH | 6.10g/l TA

This is also a very attractive little white Rhone blend from a region more known for Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. A blend of 70% Viognier and 30% Roussanne, the wine was fermented and matured in 2nd and 3rd fill barrels which lends the aromatics a delicious rich savoury nuance punctuated by leesy notes of white toast, waxy lemons, bruised yellow orchard fruits and quince preserve. The palate has a full, fleshy textural feel not dissimilar to a ripe cool climate Chardonnay but also displays delicious notes of ripe peaches, lanolin, vanilla pod spice and a lovely stony, slatey minerality. This is certainly a wine that is reminiscent to some of the serious northern Rhone white expressions that cost 3 to 4 times the price. The perfect counterfoil to Chardonnay or oaked Chenin Blanc, this will put a very big smile on a lot of people’s faces. Drink now and over the next 3 to 6 years.

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

Thelema Mountain Vineyards Releases Another Very Impressive Merlot Reserve 2019…

It is kind of ironic that while single varietal Merlot wines are by no means my favourite red expressions, I do get very excited for three new releases every year. One is Masseto from Bolgheri, one of my all time favourite red wines, another is Chateau Petrus, though it might be more sensible and affordable to broaden this group to top-end Pomerols. The final Merlot release that is always highly anticipated, if indeed it is even produced in a certain year, is the Thelema Merlot Reserve.

A limited release wine using only the finest Merlot grapes of the vintage from the best parcels on the Thelema estate. Normally a straight Merlot release will be produced 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 really impresses and with a cooler vintage producing smaller more concentrated berries, the finished expression possesses great natural acidity and an array of intense berry fruit flavours. The grapes were destalked, hand sorted and fermented in stainless steel before being aged for 18 months in 100% new French oak barrels.

Thelema Estate Merlot Reserve 2019, WO Stellenbosch, 13.64% Abv.

2.4 g/l RS | 3.68 pH | 5.3 g/l TA

It always amazes me how Thelema manages to coax such an incredible amount of complexity out of their Merlot Reserve wine. This 2019 is certainly a coin with two sides though. On one hand, the aromatics are super cool, restrained and classical with text book right bank Bordeaux notes of violets, sweet piquant plummy black fruits, sandalwood, rose hip, bramble berries, coffee beans and a wonderful undertone of graphite. On the palate, all caution and classicism is thrown to the wind to reveal a bold, fleshy, dense unctuous wine with an incredibly textural harmonious mouthfeel. There are layers upon layers of black and blue berry fruits, hoisin plum sauce, brûléed espresso notes and fabulous depth. Think 2017 vintage’s weightless concentration and balance combined with 2015s dry extract, flesh and muscle. Like any great Merlot should be, this wine is eminently drinkable in its youth but should age gracefully for at least 10-15+ years. The world of fine Merlot has another exciting wine to seduce drinkers.

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

Thelema Mountain Vineyards Releases Their New Rabelais 2018 Icon Cape Bordeaux Blend…

The Thelema Rabelais red blend originally started out as the prestigious Thelema Cape Winemakers Guild blend before evolving into the Rabelais label with the 2007 vintage, being produced originally from only Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. From 2009, Petit Verdot started to replace the Merlot portion and now the blend appears fairly settled at approximately a 90% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Petit Verdot mix. The Rabelais represents the very best Bordeaux components from the Thelema range where the wines clearly show concentration, polished ripe tannins and obvious refinement.

The last in a trilogy of drought vintages, the 2018 harvest produced fruit of sufficient quality for Thelema to produce their iconic Rabelais blend again. This year, the Cabernet Sauvignon portion comes in at 85% with the remaining 15% devoted to Petit Verdot yet again. After fermentation, the wine was left for 12 hours on the skins before pressing and racking into 100% new 225 litre French oak barrels for malolactic fermentation and further ageing for 20 months.

Thelema Rabelais 2018, WO Stellenbosch, 13.32% Abv.

RS 1.8 g/l | pH 3.46 | TA 5.9

Quite an individual wine, this 2018 Rabelais is beautifully characterful and expressive with vivid notes of sour black plum compote, saline black currant, kelp and oyster shell, unsmoked cigars and freshly cracked black pepper all tightly smothered beneath an aromatic iron curtain of graphite and cedar spice. The palate shows an impressively polished texture with sleek marble like tannins… firm but super tight knit and precise, a medium bodied harmonious weight of red and black berry fruits and an incredibly long, saline, rock salt finish. Plenty of attractive wet river pebble minerality combines with graphite, lead pencil and complexing brûléed wood spice nuances to offer all the ‘salt & pepper’ complexity that should evolve in bottle to one day make this a truly classy, complex Cape Bordeaux blend. Crack the odd bottle after 5+ years but keep the rest for at least 10+. A fabulous 2018 blend that speaks of the vintage.

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

Recent praise from UK wine critic Matthew Jukes, after tasting the 2017 release.

Thelema Estate Impresses with the New Release of Their Famed Merlot Reserve 2018…

The message seems to be getting out – the 2018 vintage in the Western Cape produced some seriously good wines. Or should the emphasis be on some of South Africa’s top producers who produced some very impressive new releases? Either way, the final results in bottle are impressing the critics and when the new edition of the South African wine bible, the Platter South African Wine Guide is released, I predict that the 2018 vintage will boast a broad new array of vinous treasures.

I recently started reviewing the various 2018 releases from one of my favourite Stellenbosch estates, Thelema Mountain Vineyards, and once again, the final results are head turning, none more so than the new Merlot Reserve.

Thelema Estate Merlot Reserve 2018, WO Stellenbosch, 14 Abv.

After the super impressive 2017 Reserve Merlot, who could possibly have thought that the 2018 vintage would serve up such a classic Merlot expression. The aromatics are rich and intense with complex notes of violets and sweet lavender, freshly collected sea shells, sweet red and black berries, blue berry compote, wet tobacco, graphite and subtle sweet sappy notes. The palate is medium to full-bodied and also boasts a pronounced maritime salinity supported by leafy black cherry notes, roasted coffee beans, black tea, tangy rose hips and spicy black plum nuances. This Reserve Merlot shows the power and density of a cool climate Cabernet Sauvignon with the suave, plump mineral tannins of a serious Right Bank Bordeaux Merlot icon wine. Concentrated, muscular but fleshy and finely balanced, this is yet another stand out red wine from one of South Africa’s true first growth estates and should evolve beautifully in the coming years. Drink from 2022-2038+

(Wine Safari Score: 95+/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)

Thelema Estate Making the Most of Merlot – Tasting the Merlot Reserve 2017…

There is no doubt what so ever that when you taste a new vintage of Thelema, whatever the cuvee, you just know that the estate is on the ascendancy again with wine quality rising to match its historical reputation as one of South Africa’s most famous and revered producers. This wine certainly is a real surprise for a South African Merlot and exhibits a taut, fresh palate texture and classism that has more in common with the great old Thelema Merlots from 1994 and 1995 than with more recent expressions from the early 2000s.

 

When I speak of Thelema on the ascendancy, I speak purely from a UK centric stand point as I am confident to say that in the home market, the Thelema brand has never been more revered or admired. This Merlot is yet another step in the right direction for Thelema as they strive to cement their rightful place in the international world of fine wine.

 

Thelema Estate Merlot Reserve 2017, Stellenbosch, 14 Abv.

This wine exhibits alluring aromatics of dark pithy black plum, black berry spice, sweet leaf, earthy red currants, plum sauce and a cornucopia of led pencil wood spice, dried herbs and sweet cedar notes. Texturally, the palate weight is super sleek and taut harking back to the classical styles from the mid 1990s despite the elevated alcohol level at 14 abv. The tension, verve and stony minerality wash across the palate finishing with a long lingering note of sweet black bramble berry spice and a subtle cedar complexity. I love the linearity, precision and focus that is often absent in the majority of other South African single varietal Merlots. This wine’s crystalline acids bring an energy and crispness that frame the wine in such a classical manner. While I have never claimed to be a massive fan of single varietal Merlot unless from California, the Right Bank of Bordeaux or from pockets of Tuscany, I fail to see how much better this variety can perform solo in a South African context unless you blend in other grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc or Petit Verdot. This 2017 Reserve certainly tastes like a keeper. For the record, the 1994 and 1995 Thelema Merlots are still going strong! Maybe it’s time to drink up and replace with a few bottles of this impressive new wine?

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

Majesty and Power with Sublime Beauty – Tasting the Monumental New Thelema Rabelais 2015 Red Blend…

Starting life out as the prestigious Thelema Cape Winemakers Guild blend, this famous South African red wine changed to the Rabelais label with the 2007 vintage, being produced originally from only Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. From 2009, Petit Verdot started to replace the Merlot portion and now the blend appears fairly settled at approximately a 90% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Petit Verdot mix.

 

With most 2015s already long since released, there can’t be more than a handful of epic Cape icon reds from the 2015 vintage that have not yet been proposed to the market. The iconic Kanonkop Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 is one such wine but undoubtedly, others will emerge. But what they don’t all have is a rock solid track record and of course a historical producer prestige worthy of the finest global collector. They just don’t come much more famous than Thelema, and without doubt, I can see this wine reigniting the engines of passion and collectability for this winery yet again on a global scale.

 

Thelema Rabelais 2015, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5 Abv.

What must surely be among the last of the great renowned 2015 Cape reds to be released, the Rabelais 2015 Bordeaux blend is an epic rendition of this classic Cape wine. Supremely dark, dense and almost overwhelming, this wine speaks loudly, boldly but also incredibly intelligently and at no point courts excess or any extremes of style. The nose is fantastically deep, dark and intense with hints of campfire ember smoke, black currant pastille allure, maritime salinity and a subtle note of freshly cut hedgerow. There is an oak imprint, but finer and more integrated at this “youthful” age it couldn’t be with the vanilla pod spice melting into seductive notes of cedar, cassis, graphite, granitic minerality and stony quarry dust tannins. I loved the 2013 expression of this wine and in preparation for this rating retasted the majestic Rabelais 2014 for added perspective. In the end, it is as clear as day that the Thelema Rabelais 2015 not only represents a benchmark of quality within their range but also a high point of hedonistic, compact opulence that may not be repeated at this level for a decade or more. A reassuringly bold, restrained, classical 2015 that will undoubtedly serve to move the market for this great vintage ever upward in desire and demand. Drink from 2021 to 2042+

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