With the Bordeaux wine region commissioning the planting of new varieties more suited to a changing climate, the profile of the traditional South African Bordeaux-style blend might soon have to be revisited. Currently this blend is cobbled together from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec. And this format has not only led to some of the Cape’s most celebrated wines but also its most commanding brands. Think Rubicon from Meerlust and Paul Sauer, courtesy of Kanonkop. In icons, we trust.
Welgemeend, out Klapmuts way, made the first Bordeaux-style blend from vintage 1979, with Stellenbosch’s Meerlust introducing Rubicon out of the 1980 harvest. Delheim, perched on the Simonsberg above Muratie, caught-on one year later, the Delheim Grand Reserve 1981 popping the estate’s cherry in joining the quest to establish these styles of wines in South Africa.
Exactly one day before this compulsory state of house-bound solitude, Nora Thiel, daughter of Delheim’s late pater familias Spatz Sperling, sent me back to Cape Town with a bottle of Delheim Grand Reserve from the comet 2015 vintage. Whether this was a gift out of sympathy or generosity, I don’t know. But it did give me a chance to give the wine a decent going-over, and in the process to long for the rugged slopes of the Simonsberg from my urban state of capture.
The first impression was that one does not need superior sensory devices to ascertain a large amount of Cabernet Sauvignon in this wine. And to be more specific, Stellenbosch Cabernet. The blacked garnet colour and the aromas of pine-cone and cured beef create a sense of luxuriousness before the first sip, creating the same degree of expectation as some of this wine region’s other greats: Paul Sauer; Muratie’s Ansela; Thelema Rabelais; Rubicon; Vergelegen V; Tria Corda from Overgaauw.
And yes, it is Cabernet that leads the way here – 84%, to be precise, with 11% Merlot to broaden things out and 5% Cabernet Franc for that edgy twang. The components were vinified apart before each being drawn off into 300l barrels, 30% new. For 16 months. Then the different wines were blended, with the harmonious whole then going into barrel for four months to allow the sensorial and chemical elements of the different varieties to integrate.
With five years’ age on it, the Delheim Grand Reserve 2015 is in that splendid condition of optimistic eagerness. The testosterone gruffness of youth has levelled out into a sleek, bright-eyed young-adult, knowing its place in the world and where it is going. Commanding attention and showing beauty, it is a wine of brilliance that, with careful consideration is bound to become a classic.
Polish and grace are terms that spring to mind as the wine enters the mouth. These aspects will last, but the reverberations of taste, style and fruit move to the fore as the wine slides onto the mid-palate. There is an autumnal glow of dark, dense black fruit. Just-picked, it is lying in a quiet loft of some wooden house deep in the forest. On the rim, wildflowers and fynbos, those typical features of vines rooted to the ancient Simonsberg soils of weathered granite and clay. While Cabernet Sauvignon is obviously stealing the show, the performance is enhanced, for sure. The sensual glow of the Merlot. With Cabernet Franc providing rhythm and freshness.
It is fulfilled.
Some 30km west, and slightly north, of Delheim and the Simonsberg, Diemersdal in Durbanville also finds itself with a Bordeaux-style wine of status. Private Collection, it is called. And with no other purpose than that of rigorous research and sweat-breaking study, I cracked-open a Diemersdal Private Collection 2016 to partake in a comparison of the respective terroir differences between Stellenbosch and Durbanville.
Diemersdal is especially known for Sauvignon Blanc, but in its history dating back to 1698 red wine grapes have been part and parcel of the estate’s offering. And Durbanville does have a formidable reputation when it comes to red wines – GS Cabernet 1966, arguably South Africa’s most famous red wine, was made from Durbanville grapes.
The Diemersdal Private Collection 2016 uses all five Bordeaux varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon (54%), Merlot (25%), Malbec (18%), Cabernet Franc (2%), and Petit Verdot (1%). After fermentation the five separate wines were racked into 225L French oak barrels, 25% of which were new. Here the wines matured individually for 18 months before blending.
A maritime influence is immediately sensed, the classic grape varieties expressing a calm and regal elegance. Flavours are integrated and precise, the substantial Malbec element harnessing the flashier nuances of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot with an interesting grip of earthy spice. All Diemersdal’s vineyards are unirrigated, resulting in balance in grape chemistry as well as integration of varietal expression. The slight liquorice note offered by cool climate Cabernet Sauvignon works gorgeously with the bright red-fruited Merlot. Still a pup, the wine is hinting at cigar-box and pine-needle. Just an indication of what is yet to come, ability to mature being a feature that keeps South African Bordeaux blends as excellent as they deserve to be seen.
Enjoyed this article?
Subscribe and never miss a post again.