In all the hype surrounding red and white blends, signature Pinotage, Chenin Blanc, fashionable varieties such as Shiraz and ones new to this country, which all undeniably bring excitement, noble variety Cabernet Sauvignon often gets overlooked. Yet there is much enjoyment to be found in this category and it remains the most widely planted red-wine variety in South Africa, accounting for 11.3% of the national vineyard (2015 figure).
There are some remarkable South African examples, some the stuff of legends, like the GS Cabernets made in the 1960s by George Spies. On tasting the fabled 1966 vintage, highly regarded wine writer Jancis Robinson OBE, MW waxed lyrical: “…absolutely stunning – such a beautiful combination of maturity and delicacy – but with far more fruit integrity than most 1966 red Bordeaux would have now. Perhaps it was hard work in its youth but I imagine it will be at least a few months before I tasted a mature Cabernet as good as this… Lightly minty, fragrant and it spread right across the palate with satin texture. Gorgeous.”
Winemaker David Finlayson makes the ‘GS’ Cabernet Sauvignon in homage to this wine, with the permission of the Spies family, from one clone of Cabernet Sauvignon grown on his Paarl farm, Edgebaston.
At this year’s AfrAsia Bank Cape Wine Auction, which raised R15 000 000 to further education in the winelands, The Touch Warwick Cabernet Sauvignon – The Debut Lot fetched an unprecedented R1.3 million.
Then there are Cape institutions, such as the quintessential Alto, Kanonkop and Meerlust Cabernet Sauvignons, and the velvety Uitkyk Carlonet (which today has a splash of Shiraz) that brings back memories of happy sipping in Rovos Rail’s dining car in the 90s en route to a shoot in Mpumalanga.
There are many more sterling examples emanating from the Stellenbosch district. Winemaker Etienne le Riche has made it his varietal calling card by focusing on producing outstanding Cabernets. Also in the picturesque Jonkershoek valley, Stark-Conde’s Three Pines has to be among the finest I’ve tasted.
Around the corner, there are also some great examples to be found. On the nearby foothills of the Simonsberg there’s Rustenberg with its site-specific Peter Barlow and elegant Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignons perfectly expressing the area, and Neil Ellis produces a fine example from Jonkershoek fruit. Higher up, at the crest of the scenic Helshoogte Pass, Thelema produces some stunners including the cult status The Mint Cabernet Sauvignon, and Delaire Graff’s Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve is a must-taste too. Moving to the Blaauwklippen Valley, Vriesenhof, Waterford and De Trafford all produce excellent examples, as does Rust en Vrede further along in the ‘Golden Triangle’.
Much-loved family farm Delheim has been producing classy Cabernets on the Simonsberg foothills for decades. Over the road, Warwick’s Blue Lady Cabernet Sauvignon remains consistently good too. In the same neighbourhood, Simonsig launched its maiden single vineyard super premium limited edition Cabernet, The Garland, which is structured for the long haul, with the 2008 vintage,.
Moving over to the Helderberg slopes, Vergelegen’s Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon remains a seamless offering. Closer to the coastline, Flagstone’s whimsically named The Music Room Cabernet Sauvignon also offers consistent drinking pleasure.
Further afield, other good examples are Springfield’s Méthode Ancienne and Whole Berry Cabernet Sauvignon from Robertson and a personal favourite, Cederberg’s barrel-selected Five Generations Cabernet Sauvignon. And, for something completely different, Asara’s cellarmaster Francois Joubert makes The White Cab from 100% Cabernet grapes sourced from a single vineyard on the farm.
We’re really spoilt for choice when it comes to South African Cabernets from all corners of the winelands. Winter, especially when we’ve been fortunate enough to be blessed with much-needed rains like this year, is the perfect time in the southern hemisphere to enjoy a bottle with comfort food like a hearty lamb knuckle casserole (with a generous dash added to the pot, of course).
If you’re enjoying summer in northern climes, another somewhat overlooked category in South Africa is Chardonnay, what with the focus having been so firmly on Chenin, which has been raised to new heights by winemaking proponents of the variety in recent years.
Once relegated to an ‘anything but Chardonnay’ (ABC) status and often over-extracted and over-wooded, the Chardonnays emanating out of the Cape winelands today are elegant, structured and show increasing finesse. At this year’s Decanter World Wine Awards, the Platinum-awarded DeMorgenzon Reserve Chardonnay 2015 was also the Best in Show. Groot Constantia and Uva Mira too have flown the South African flag high as number one in the world at the Chardonnay du Monde in France in recent years. Uva Mira’s The Single Tree Chardonnay 2014 also achieved a Master Award for wines scoring over 95 points at The Drinks Business Global Masters competition in the UK recently.
The winter solstice having come and gone, we are slowly moving towards summer at the Cape. Top on my shopping list come the warmer days will be a few Chardonnays from the cool-climate Cape South Coast region, including ones from top-notch producers such as Bouchard Finlayson, Creation, Crystallum, Hamilton Russell, Paul Cluver and Newton Johnson. Also on my list will be some old favourites, from Robertson producers De Wetshof and Springfield, and Stellenbosch producer Jordan. I’ll definitely be sniffing out some new ones to try too.
– Lindsaye Mc Gregor