Stellenbosch Cabernet tasting lays down a marker

Decanter make pleased director John Stimpfig attended a landmark tasting of Stellenbosch Cabernet vintages from 2000 to 2011 in South Africa. Read his review and see his top wines. On the eve of Cape Wine 2015, 20 of Stellenbosch’s best known Cabernet producers came together in a collective show of force at Cape Town Waterfront’s plush One & Only hotel to present a historic tasting to a packed audience of South African buyers and press.
Wineries built-in Vergelegan, Kanonkop, Rustenberg, Delaire Graff, Glenelly and Waterford with a range of vintages from 2000 to 2011. Le Riche’s veteran cellarmaster Etienne le Riche said, ‘This was the best tasting of Stellenbosch Cabernet I have ever experienced.’
The subtext of the tasting was a timely riposte by the Stellenbosch ancient guard to some of South Africa’s young guns building significant waves in newer regions.
Event moderator, South African Greg Sherwood MW of Handford Wines in London, told Decanter, ‘there’s no doubt that regions like Swartland are doing a fantastic job in promoting its edginess, newness and excitement. But that’s no wits to overlook or forget that Stellenbosch has an incredible tale to tell with its fantastic Cabernets. These wines are world-class, have fantastic ageing potential and represent incredible value.’
‘Cabernet is subdue the yardstick by which all regions are judged, and over the years, Stellenbosch has proven to be the most successful area in South Africa for building fantastic Cabernet,’ added Le Riche who is also a member of the Cape Winemaker’s Guild. ‘I want Stellenbosch to become well-known for the variety that does best here. And that variety is Cabernet.’
Johan Malan, who helped organise and coordinate the tasting, also argued that Stellenbosch is South Africa’s best province for Cabernet and has a proven footstep confirmation of over seventy years. ‘The vital thing to remember is that Cabernet chose Stellenbosch. Not the additional way around.’
‘This event is really the launch of a campaign to re-establish Stellenbosch’s Cabernet credentials amongst global consumers,’ he continued. ‘In the longer term, we’d like to take it around the world to a number of major cities.’
Cabernet Sauvignon is the third most planted variety in South Africa and the most planted in Stellenbosch with a 20% share of the vineyard surface.
Yet there are major challenges for Stellenbosch Cabernet. Jan Boland Coetzee, winemaker at Vriesenhof, commented that some winemakers hadn’t done enough with plant material and leaf roll virus. Vergelegen’s Andre van Rensburg had the same view: ‘we need to sort this out as soon as possible.’
Stellenbosch’s Kingdom of Cabernet
These are my top six wines from a truly spectacular tasting of top Stellenbosch Cabernet at the One & Only Hotel at Cape Town’s Waterfront. These wines can be drunk with food now or cellared for a number of years, depending on the vintage. They also represent nearly unbelievable value for the prices questioned. Proof positive that Stellenbosch Cabernet at its best is a match made in heaven.
Waterford Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2009
92 points
Made from Helderberg fruit by Kevin Arnold and Mark le Roux, this classical 2009 has attractive leafy, herbal aromas with intense cassis berry fruit. On the palate it is rich, structured and refined with juicy acidity, firm tannins and gorgeous layers of tobacco, blackcurrant, cedar and violets. Long end and plenty of ageing capacity.
Alc 14.4% ABV. Rand 210.
Drink 2015-2027.
Kanonkop Cabernet Sauvignon 2005
93 points
Very deep colour for a ten year ancient wine and no lack of primary fruit on the powerful nose. This is a forceful, dense and structured Cabernet which is only just entering its prime. Plush tannins, ink, mocha, black fruit, some sous-bois, tea leaf and a mineral edge combine to make this a stand out wine by one of the Cape’s greatest and most classical producers.
Alc 14% Cellar door.
Drink 2015-2027
Thelema Mountain Vineyards Rabelais 2011
91 points
Winemaker Rudi Schulz makes this from a blend of the estate’s best Bordeaux components carefully selecting the best individual barrels of Cabenet for the ever impressive Rabelais. Fantastic perfume, deep colour and rippling concentrated fruit easily handles the oak regime with total ease. Dark berry fruit, with coffee and mocha and blueberry notes there is a hint of cedar and vanilla. Utterly tasty with lush tannins, superb acidity and balance, this is fine, complex and long.
Alc 14.85% Cellar Door 390 Rand.
Drink 2016-2030
Le Riche Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2005
93 points
According to Etienne Le Riche, this is one of his greatest Cabernet Sauvignons, which might clarify why it was John Platter’s Red Wine of the Year in 2005. Terrific elegance and definition here, with flavours of grilled meat, cassis, licquorice, graphite and tobacco. Perfectly evolved undergrowth notes and ripe sweet tannins. A blend of Cabernet fruit from Firgrove, and Jonkershoek this was made in classical open top concrete fermenters. Ready now, but plenty of life and pleasure subdue to come. A corker of a Cabernet.
Alc 14.46% Cellar Door.
Drink 2015-2025
Vergelegen Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.
92 points
Andre Van Rensburg quipped that he isn’t quite sure why this is called a reserve because it is the only cabernet he makes. Shame, because this is remarkably excellent and only 5000 suitcases are produced. No overripe fruit here. Instead, this is leafy, juicy and fresh with cassis and savoury cigar box. The acidity is wonderfully integrated with the tannins and the nearly unobtrusive oak. And it wears the 14.5% alcohol very, very lightly. Benchmark stuff and a pleasure to drink.
Alc 14.5%. Cellar Door 250 Rand.
Drink 2015-2025
Stark-Conde Three Pines Cabernet Sauvignon 2011
95 points
Modern, vibrant and vivacious. But also classical and right to its Stellenbosch roots. Fantastic florality (jasmine and violets), polish and presence here with ripe creamy cassis and coffee notes on the palate. The Cabernet fruit is grown on decomposed granite from the Jonkershoek Valley and winemaker Jose Conde’s expert fruit handling means that the silky tannins and violet notes really stand out and sing. This wine is all about elegance, freshness, pleasure and refinement. A genuine class act and a joy to drink now and for the next ten years.
Alc 14.5% Cellar Door
Drink 2015-2025.
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