There are many winelovers who would not think of tucking into a festive feast of beef fillet, leg of lamb of a haunch of venison without a bottle or two of excellent Cape cabernet sauvignon. Their source of origin is likely to be Stellenbosch or Paarl, both regions which have proven over decades to be home to the terroir required to produce acclaimed cabs. Here’s news of three champions, each one of whom will grace tables set for holiday fare, from gourmet braais to trad and trendy menus for Christmas and the New Year that follows.
NEDERBURG II CENTURIES CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2013
Ladies first, so take a bow Andrea Freeborough, cellarmaster at Nederburg, who is celebrating the fact that the 2013 Nederburg Cabernet Sauvignon has been judged the best cab at the IWSC 2017 competition. It triumphed against others from several countries, scooping the Warren Winiarski Trophy, following on a similar victory last year when its companion cab, the Nederburg Private Bin R163 cab collected the trophy for best cabernet at the show.
This year’s winner, part of the II Centuries range, was made from low- yielding dryland Paarl vineyards, and spent 30 months in new, second and third-fill oak. It is a compelling cab, rich yet fresh, with ripe tannins and the characteristic cabernet flavours of dark berries and plums, with notes of cassis and aromatic wood. It packs an alcoholic punch at 15% and in something of a hat trick, its successor, the 2014 vintage, is Platter’s Red Wine of the Year in its just-released 2018 guide.
My 2013 sample was packaged to impress in a leather banded black velvet-lined case, which must have added considerably to the costs. It makes a fine gift for any and every occasion.
LE RICHE 2014 CABERNET SAUVIGNON AND 2014 CABERNET SAUVIGNON RESERVE
There can be very few people in the wine world who do not share Etienne le Riche’s well-deserved reputation as 'king of South African cabernet' although as modest as he is, he would not flaunt that informal title. But he does say with conviction that Stellenbosch is Cabernet country, and has spent more than three decades proving this statement through a succession of brilliant vintages. The Le Riche cabs have now officially come of age as its 21 years since Etienne went on his own, setting up his cellar in the Jonkershoek valley and sourcing the best grapes for his wine across the region.
The maiden vintage in 1997 was voted five stars in the Platter guide and this was followed by a succession of acclaimed cabs. His son grew up at his side, went on to study viti- and viniculture and joined his father as winemaker in 2010. Today Etienne continues to be the driving force behind the winery, while Christo adds a modern touch while maintaining the philosophy of quality, consistency and elegance.
In 2013 the family built a new winery on the lower slopes of the Helderberg but grapes are still sourced from Stellenbosch growers in different microclimates.
I was unable to attend the Le Riche family’s recent vertical tasting of their cabernet, but have been privileged to sample the two 2014 vintages, the flagship Reserve and the cabernet sauvignon that's the backbone of the range.
The Reserve is, as its name implies, the wine that embodies the best that can be made, where no effort or cost is spared to ensure quality that is made to age. The 2014 spent 22 months in French oak, 62% of it new, and presents an impressive classic cab, with prominent freshness as wafts of cedarwood and blackcurrant are repeated as flavours, alongside juiciness , lively tannins, and a long finish. Already rich and elegant, but will continue to improve for up to a decade, its an aristocrat whose qualities are reflected in retail prices of around R550.
The Cabernet 2014 does not suffer by comparison, as it's a hugely enjoyable wine that delivers everything cabernet fans look for: berry and plum aromas dominate, but there’s a hint of vanilla and cedarwood. The tannins are smooth and nicely balance the juicy fruit and agreeable freshness which adds up to pleasure that is also so approachable: this style adds appeal to a wider market who may have found earlier Le Riche cabs on the austere side. Like the Reserve, alcohol levels are kept at 14% and consumers can expect to pay between R210 and R250 in stores countrywide. Both wines will elevate main courses of beef, lamb, meaty fish and game bird dishes to memorable celebrations.