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)

 

Tasting a 2013 Vintage Horizontal with Thomas Webb of Iconic Thelema Mountain Vineyards…

Thelema Mountain Vineyards is an absolute Cape classic, located high on the slopes of the picturesque Simonsberg Mountain in the heart of Stellenbosch, the true 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.


For the last few years, Thomas Webb has taken over the reigns from his father Gyles Webb, who established Thelema in 1983 by purchasing a run down fruit farm. The first wines were released in 1988 and they soon became some of the most sought after wines in the Cape winelands and pretty soon came to typify the new quality and modern style parameters that were being pursued in the post 1990 South Africa, ahead of the first democratic elections in 1994.

Chatting to Thomas at our recent 2013 red vintage horizontal tasting, I recalled how in the mid 1990’s I used to battle to secure even just a few bottles of their Chardonnay, Merlot Reserve and their famous Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon. The wines, despite their fame, we’re not produced in huge quantities and were actually quite a defined, limited boutique offering. Today, Thelema still sells a healthy 70 percent of their wines in the local home market, a revealing sign of their continued fame and fashion among local South African fine wine consumers.


Thelema Merlot 2013, Stellenbosch, 14.5 Abv.

Cool dark spicy nose showing black fruits, dried herbs, baking spices and macerated black plums. Also a noticeable dried bush veld and cherry skin pithiness. The palate is sleek, tight knit and cool, packed with fleshy black berry fruits, black plum, and black current. There is tension here and classical fine grained mineral tannins lurking underneath the elegant creamy texture. A Merlot definitely on the more serious end of the spectrum. 

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


Thelema Merlot Reserve 2013, Stellenbosch, 14.5 Abv.

This wine shows evidence of a step up in quality and intensity with 100% new French oak being used for maturation. The nose is sweet and savoury revealing an alluring earthy vein along with blueberries, tannery leather, dried herbs, and a Cabernet-like cedary oak spice lift. The palate is rich and intense, showing very polished, textured and suave luxurious sweet tannins. There is extra power here and harmonious fleshy depth with cassis leaf, subtle herbal notes and sweet tobacco on the long vibrant finish. Impressive wine with only approximately 3000 bottles produced from vines planted in the mid-1980’s.

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


Thelema Cabernet Sauvignon The Mint 2013, Stellenbosch, 14 Abv. 

A really individual style with a dusty lift of pronounced peppermint and sweet cassis spice together with cedary, mineral spice and boiled black currant sweets, pastille, and herbal mint tea notes. The palate is full and fleshy, rich and round, with fine purity and creamy, caressed tannins. The finish is modern and opulent, with black currant leaf, reductive saline cassis notes and that characteristic eucalyptus lick. Very enjoyable to drink. A real crowd pleaser.

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

Thomas Webb pouring a glass of the CWG 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, the predecessor of the Rabelais

Thelema Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Stellenbosch, 14 Abv. 

There is officially no reserve Cabernet Sauvignon in the Thelema range, but this classic black label Cabernet Sauvignon is a serious piece of kit. Aged 20 months in 40% new French oak, there is lovely varietal typicity here (despite the sneaky splash of Petit Verdot in the blend), with a dusty mineral nose of dried basil and thyme, hints of fynbos, graphite, and perfumed potpourri dried herb spice. Beautifully textured, the palate shows great purity and precision and intelligent winemaking. Like all the Thelema wines, there are fine polished tannins, real elegance, focus and finesse. Classy and classical, this is an impressive expression of Stellenbosch Cabernet with complexity, age-ability, and confidence of style. Benchmark in everyday.

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


Thelema Rabelais Blend 2013, Stellenbosch, 14 Abv. 

Alternatively called the Thelema Cape Winemakers Guild blend, this 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 on a 90% Cab / 10% PV mix. Dark, cool, broody black fruits reveal hints of cassis leaf, saline oyster shell, graphite, iodine and blueberry crumble. Palate is taught and fresh, with real precision and incredibly fine, pin point velvety tannins. A very elegant package, the acids give this wine extra tension and real steely cut. Classy and restrained, the Rabelais will improve immeasurably with at least another 10 years in the cellar.

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

The stunning mountains at the Helshoogte Pass
A sneaky glass of the newly released Chardonnay 2015 to refresh the palate after a lovely horizontal tasting.