You know your reputation as a wine writer is sound when you leave a wedding with a free bottle sample. Okay, it was a wine industry wedding, possibly the one of the year. Groot Constantia cellarmaster Boela Gerber exchanged vows with genteel-handed physiotherapist Michaela Nevin during a wonderful summer-evening ceremony on the Estate.
Some of Boela’s winemaking pals brought wine along to ensure the love would be spread, and I ended having a bottle of Vergelegen GVB Red 2008 shoved into my willing arms by André van Rensburg, Boela’s equivalent at Vergelegen. The kind-hearted Van Rensburg had been moved to tears by the wedding’s outpouring of goodwill and all those predictions of eternal love. As a fellow-Afrikaner I know that there is nothing quite like a bit of sentimentality and warm-feeling to bring out the spirit of generosity among our ilk.
The Vergelegen GVB was opened earlier this week for closer scrutiny and it reminds me why Vergelegen is, after Kanonkop, the finest red wine farm in the country.
Cabernet Sauvignon is – and always will be – king in South Africa. Yes, a Tannat/Grenache/Cinsault/Viognier blend made in an ancient blackened oak barrel by a sweaty T-shirted dude from 230 yr old vineyards may catch the current short-term marketing hype, but our only red world-beaters will always be Cabernet.
Van Rensburg understands this. I have spoken to him on countless occasions. And he mentions the word “Cabernet” almost as much as he mentions the words “pussy” and “Western Province rugby”.
He loves the grape. Loves the Vergelegen terroir on which it grows. Adores working with the wine. And as I am fortunate enough to have experienced, loves sharing it.
The Vergelegen GVB is a three-way blend led by Cabernet (88%). Comes in at 10%, with a drop of Cabernet Franc added.
But Cabernet, and specifically Helderberg Cabernet, charges to the fore with the power and regality the region is known for. The rough chill of the Helderberg’s sea winds and the deep granite soils build a stern backbone here in alert tannins and an aggressive, masculine succulence. And there is fruit. Sure, the Merlot kick adds a red-fruited, plummy glow as well as a bit of silk on the mid-palate. But the charge is led by typical South African Cabernet at its best. A spurt of blackberry and dried fig followed by a slash of grated mace, a hint of dried heather and stony dry edge which adds freshens instead of prickling the tannins.
The mouth-feel is broad and poetic, rich and plush and decadent with a brisk finish. Lots of power. Evocative. Searingly memorable.
That 2008 harvest, characterised by a wind-free November, cloudless summer nights and a splash of fresh rain in early January, was not an iconic vintage. But with a great winemaker, which Van Rensburg is, and fine terroir, a fantastic wine can be coaxed from an average growing season.
I score it 986/1000. And it’s going to get better in a year or two.