If God was a wine lover, the Grabouw-Elgin area would be his kind of place. In a country blessed with arguably the most splendid wine-land scenery anywhere on earth, this region of valleys, mountains, rocks, orchards and lakes must count among South Africa’s finest. It is also producing some pants-wetting gorgeous wines, with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling having thrust Elgin into the fore.
Oak Valley also produces a passable Bordeaux-blend, and Shannon has caused a few rattling Zimmerframes and pacer-recharging with its bulky Merlot. And then there are the brisk, refined bubblies produced by the late Ross Gower, wines whose legacy is fortunately still with us.
Recently I got a sample pack from South Hill, a small, deluxe and relatively youngish operation off the main N2 drag. Interesting was that of the three wines, two were Cabernet Sauvignons, the third being the ubiquitous Sauvignon Blanc.
There is something agreeable about a bit of new money venturing into a trendy region and backing itself with Cabernet Sauvignon, that old stalwart which may be sigh-inducing to the wild yeast and bushvine bunch, but still produces South Arica’s best wines. By a long shot.
With a far cooler climate than Cabernet Sauvignon’s traditional South African home of the Simonsberg and Helderberg, Elgin obviously brings a startling difference to the variety. Slower ripening and longer time on the bunch sounds great. But there is also less aggressive sun, something this pedigreed variety needs to kick it into another gear of flavour development and African expression.
The South Hill Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 is therefore ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ unsurprisingly – an example of supreme Cabernet restraint. It is as shy as a virgin on a first-time date with a tattooed hell-raiser, a blushing aloofness that makes her more ravishing. Here you will not find the crushed blackberry, pine-needle and in-your-face raw blood riffs that define Simonsberg’s best Cabs. South Hill is soft and caressing; gentle and teasing.
The mouthfeel is gentle and slow. A bite of ripe plum, a whiff of soft tobacco, a feather-like tickle of patchouli. Despite the gentle oaking regime ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ only 20% new wood, 20% 2nd fill and the rest older (all French) ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ a showy caramel cream trait is apparent, hinting at just how restrained the flavour development of this Cab has been. But the wood should pass in a year or two which, when revisited, will confirm suspicions that this here is a very special wine in the making.
The other Cabernet was a ros+¬ ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ South Hill Cabernet Sauvignon Ros+¬ 2009. Now if there was one summer I’ll remember for quaffing ros+¬ in volumes that will make an Irish landlord blush it is the one of 2011.
Ice cold, a dry ros+¬ is a beautiful thing on a hot summer’s day. The South Hill was one of the best ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ it is difficult to remember as it went down so quickly. This wine was bled-off after two hours skin contact at just the right colour of sun-bleached pink underwear. It hits the mouth like a splash of icy ocean water on a hot day, lively citrus and peachy flavours with a delectable hint of white pepper, a characteristic of dry ros+¬s more than a year in the bottle. Bone-dry. Delicious.
And one more example that ros+¬s deserve recognition as serious wines and further proof of South Africa’s ever-increasing wine quality. No matter which hill you are on.