Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are regularly touted as the go-to varieties for showcasing terroir and character of site. This is fact, for two reasons: one, both are gorgeous wines with chemistries capable of gripping specific geographical nuances and expressing these tastes of place of vineyard origin in the glass.
In South Africa, I’d add Cabernet Sauvignon to these two cultivars. The more one starts to look at the Cabernets coming from the country, the greater the realization that this King or Red Grapes offers a dazzling array of flavour spectra reflecting the diversity of Cape terroir.
Fynbos-nuanced Helderberg Cabs…The famous Simonsberg centipede…Velvety ripeness from Paarl…Restless River’s saline-savoury knock-out of Hemel-en-Aarde. Yes, Cabernet Sauvignon’s got a lot to give, and a lot to like.
Some of the first Cabernet wines I remember carried the Swartland (black land) address and were crushed at the massive co-op. On week-end winter mornings, I’d accompany my dad to Malmesbury to pick-up a few cases. And from an early age learnt that Cabernet Sauvignon is synonymous with power, size and cheek-clenching tannins. (Facial cheeks, that is.)
With 1 747ha under Cabernet, Swartland is the third-largest address for this grape after Stellenbosch and Paarl. Although in light of the excitement the regions, rock star winemakers are generating with Shiraz, Chenin Blanc, Cinsaut – to name a few – Cabernet Sauvignon ain’t getting much chance to rock along.
The region is capable of making fine Cabernet, this is for sure. Org de Rac, the organic cellar outside Piketberg, has been showing this over the past decade. Not only through quality, but with a discernible regional fingerprint.
Judges like it, too. Recently two Org de Rac Cabernet Sauvignons hit 91pts in the www.winemag.co.za Cabernet Sauvignon Report. As well as standing out at Wine of the Month tastings.
The two winemag high-flyers were both from the 2018 vintage, namely the Org de Rac Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve and the straight Cabernet Sauvignon.
With the attention drawn to this and feeling in a Swartland vibe, I hauled out the Org de Rac Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 on a wild and stormy night. Decanted, the wine is in colour as dark as the mood of a shebeen-owner after the recent announcement of the booze ban.
Talking to Frank Meaker, Org de Rac cellarmaster about the wine, the following (In the voice of Tony Soprano): The vines grow on gentle south-facing slopes, set in beautiful magenta-hued soils that are iron-rich and unique to the Cape viticulture landscape. Farming is strictly organic, with all the natural critters massacring invasive pests with Quentin Tarantino-esque bloodlust. Soils are fertilised with natural products, including the anal discharge from wild sea-birds known as guano.
Being some 50km from the sea, Org de Rac sees gentle maritime air-flows and its desolate location creates an impression of space, time and silence. And peace, too.
Frank has been working with Cabernet Sauvignon, including that from some royal Stellenbosch properties, for over four decades. So he’s got a handle on this variety. The juice lives, and the quality of that life is determined about managing the skin-contact during ferment. Easy and gentle enough during the pump-over to avoid alerting the aggressive tannins those purple-black skins can show. Yet powerful enough to express the vibrant and vivid fruit profiles and to offer a palate-weight discernible and alert, without being cloyingly dense.
Aged in used French (80%) and American oak (20%).
Aroma and taste is reflective of the region. Org de Rac’s mauve-pink soils rich in iron and well-drained, ensure clarity on the nose. Dark fruit and more Provencal herbs than fynbos, with a slight edge of cinnamon. In the mouth, there is dusty stoniness, very much like the wines of Bordeaux’s St Estèphe in a cool vintage.
This presence of clean earth brings a feathery dryness to the wine, the refinement carrying through to a bed of fallen overripe fig, mulberry stems and seasoned cedar-wood. A hint of kelp and clam-shell adds a maritime profile to the wine, while the firm tannins assist in elevating the stature which is bordering on blue-blood status. Overall, shier on the succulent juicy fruit shown by Stellenbosch and Paarl Cabernet Sauvignons, with a voice of stone but a heart of gold.
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