King for more than a day…

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

Cabernet has been on my mind a lot recently – and on the taste buds too!

I was on a panel judging a line-up of 121 local examples for a forthcoming issue of Classic Wine magazine. Coincidentally, the night before the tasting the Decanter World Wine Awards ceremony took place so we heard the news and results just before we set to work. It was fantastic to learn that South Africa had won five International Trophies, improving on last year’s haul of four and cementing second place to France, which took home seven.

Little wonder that Decanter Publishing Director Sarah Kemp described it as “the best year ever” for South African wines, while Chairman of the Awards Steven Spurrier praised “some excellent wines”.

Congratulations to the International Trophy Award winners: Spier for the Creative Block 3 2011, which was awarded best Rhône varietal under £15; Paul Cluver’s 2013 was the best Sauvignon Blanc under £15; Jordan’s 2013 Chardonnay was top of the pile in the over £15 category for Chardonnay; while KWV notched up its first International Trophy for The Mentors Noble Late Harvest 2012, best sweet wine under £15. The fifth trophy – for best Bordeaux varietal under £15 – went to Stellenbosch estate Hartenberg for its 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon.

It has to be said that Cabernet Sauvignon is not the first grape one would associate with Hartenberg – Shiraz is. But the estate’s performance at Decanter ensures there’s no doubt about their proficiency with the grape. And at R125 a bottle, the wine is remarkably well priced.

I couldn’t help but recall all the flak that South Africa has copped over the past 20 years since its readmission to the global wine world for displaying a distinctive unripe, green and herbal character on its red wines – especially on Cabernet Sauvignon.

While I obviously can’t disclose the results of the tasting until Classic Wine magazine is published, the panel as a whole were really pleased with how Cab performed as a category. To a man, we were all girding our proverbial tasting loins for an attack of green, weedy, herbaceous and tannic wines. I’d be lying if I said we didn’t have any but they honestly were very few and far between, with possibly five examples of the 121 wines tasted.

That’s a massive positive for the category.

Just a few days later and the first tranche of wines for Platter 2015 arrived at my door. To date I’ve tasted through 10 producers, many of whom make Cabernet – but at vastly different price points. These range from a few hundred rand a bottle to as little as R30 or R50. What I’ve discovered has been delightful: ripe wines with ample fruit, judicious use of oak (staves in some cases), beautiful balance and harmony, and just such delicious drinkability and appeal. This mirrors what the Classic Wine panel found.

Hartenberg is probably a good reflection of the strides that South Africa has made in terms of taking international criticism on board, looking long and hard at viticultural and winemaking practices, and adapting them according to market demands.

When it comes to red wine preference, over the past few years I’ve often opted for Bordeaux-style blends rather than straight Cabernet but on the basis of Decanter’s Awards, Classic Wine’s category review and what I’ve seen so far of the wines for inclusion in the 2015 Platter Guide, I think that’ll change!

– Fiona Mc Donald