A Tale of Two Cabs

We had Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, Gareth Edwards and Phil Bennett, Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce. Every piece of seminal art seems to require a partnership of sorts, and as wine is art I tend to think that the Helderberg/ Simonsberg Cabernet Sauvignon partnership plays a profound role in colouring in the South African wine canvas.

The beautiful individuality of each region, separated by mere kilometres and a valley, delivers Cabernets of such stark contrast and unique, beguiling power that it is nothing else than a tremendous privilege to have them in the local wine basket.

Recent deliveries accentuated this, and quite spectacularly so, with the arrival of the Rust-en-Vrede Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 and the Kanonkop Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 in a solicited wine parcel.

Lying on the Helderberg side, it is no secret that Rust-en-Vrede has tweaked its Cabernet style over the past few vintages. This is not so much the result of Coenie Snyman taking over the reins from Louis Strydom as proprietor Jean Engelbrecht’s realisation that the modern palate is leaning a bit to the ripe instead of the more charming Old World austerity his previous generations seeked ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ and found ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ with amazing results. The result is wines that harness the sun and a luxurious bright plumminess, while allowing the Helderberg’s unique clay and shale soils to leave a haunting breadth and depth to the wines.

Nowhere in the Rust-en-Vrede portfolio is this harmony more evident than in the Cabernet Sauvignon, and the 2008 is a spectacular example.

Compared to the 2007, which won Snyman the Diner’s Club Winemaker of the Year for 2009, Rust-en-Vrede Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 is chunkier, grittier, more guts. It is all Proudly South African: in-your-face with a heady perfume of dry Malay spice, prunes and oozing overripe fig. On the palate the wine is lovely and grainy: crushed hazelnut and black fruit with a brush of fynbos and smoke.

The mouth-feel is fuller than a Christo Wiese briefcase at Heathrow customs, with a long, lean aftertaste you’ll still remember at dawn.

While Engelbrecht may have style variations, Kanonkop proprietor Johann Krige believes in the “don’t reinvent the wheel” adage. And the Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 underscores Kanonkop’s pedigree as arguably South Africa’s leading red wine farm.

From the outset the wine is drier, restrained classical. You also get that whiff of granite and pine-needle Thelema’s Gyles Webb refers to as “Simonsberg centipede”, very unique to Kanonkop and its immediate neighbours.

Less exposed to the sun than Rust-en-Vrede and its neighbours, Kanonkop captures a taut and lean frame, dressing the figure in multi-coloured fruity velvet robes and finishing the work off with a hat brimming with power and grip.

The Kanonkop Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 is not as fleshy, showy as the flagship Paul Sauer blend. Yet there is something about the farm’s Cabernet Sauvignon that makes it a more interesting, cerebral wine.

Place a glass next to one filled with Rust-en-Vrede’s 2008, and I’m ready to take on the world with the rest of South Africa.

Play it again, Sam.

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