The Heartbeat Wine that is South African Cabernet Sauvignon

The sun is high, high above the mountain that can no longer cast any shade. That mountain is a good mountain, it is Simonsberg mountain outside Stellenbosch and I am drinking South Africa’s best wine varietal. Cabernet Sauvignon. For me, that is, as like mistakes and secrets, all opinions and tastes and loves are personal.

Simonsberg produces the best Cabernet Sauvignon in this wild southerly land, and the farm where the wine is being drunk is on a steep slope. If you look away from the mountain, you can see Cape Town. The farm is Delheim.

First the talk is on wines from this piece of earth covered in layers of coffee-stone and granite and clay. The Cabernet grows well here, cooled in summer by gusts of southerly wind. In winter the storms roll in from the north-west, hitting the vineyards with ice water and drenching the soil.

The Mountain that is Simonsberg.
The Mountain that is Simonsberg.

I taste the mountain in the wines. Kanonkop Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 is such a wine. It is young and purple-red, but the fruit and life is in the wine and the tannins tender as a lover’s farewell whisper. It is already alive on the nose with that smell of new Jewish pine coffin and spilt chicken blood drying in the noon sun.

The power is immense, just as immense as the beauty the graceful flavours present. It is a soft wine on the mouth. But vivid and expressive with flowers dry and cut, a hunk of rare roast prime-rib, wet tar baking on a desert highway and crushed plums. Rounded, and polished the wine is complete and very rewarding in a red wine kind of way. It has character of place. Rugged and strong, and very beautiful it could break your heart if you let it, which you might just.

The other Cabernet Sauvignon comes from lower down the mountain, a high wine from a low place. Delheim Grand Reserve 2009, a famous wine with a black, dark label.

Where has this wine been, because I know not of it? It just passed me by in a stealthy, shy way.

The Grand Reserve is made from grapes growing in clay soil at the foot of Simonsberg. It is not very high, but there is a lot of clay. The vines lay on even ground, except where the dips make the ground uneven.

I expected a big and ripe and willing wine because of this location. But I got joy. And wonder. It was quite special.

Beast and the Beauty.
Beast and the Beauty.

It is Claret-like, except South African. On the attack, the Grand Reserve shows long runs of broody dark fruit offset by some very dry fynbos brush with perhaps a touch of buchu. Freshness makes one eager to drink the wine, for which there is a reward. Deeper on the palate, a hit of Partagas No 4 Habana cigar-box and a splash of unexpected fig-paste.

What is very nice about this wine, charming, in fact, is the gentle finish. It is extremely well mannered when swallowed, taking care not to violate the mouth and throat with aggressive tannins or persistent acids. Balanced and in harmony and very pretty, the Grand Reserve is a magnificent show of Cabernet Sauvignon.

The wine is swallowed, and I look up at the mountain and begin to make plans. Because there are a lot of plans to make, now.

However, some bastard opens an evil bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon that stops my dreaming, which is rude and evil.

It is a Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 from Rutherford, Napa Valley and is as crude and uncultured as any Californian can be.

A purple, whoreish colour meets my eyes when the wine falls into the glass. The smell is of new, cheap furniture freshly rubbed with Cobra polish, mingled with the sweetish aroma of a Mexican waitress’s cheap perfume.


When I venture a taste, things only get messier. It is heavy and dense. Illiterate and thuggish. Syrupy with sweetness, over-extracted and hideously medicinal. The tannins are dry and bad.

I apologise to my host for bringing such a crude wine. It upsets the afternoon. Because the Cabernet’s from the Cape are kind, good wines. They talk of a sense of belonging to this place in Stellenbosch. Also offering individuality and character. And above all wonderful and delicious and generous tastes of great red wine.

We stood up as one, because the sun also rises when there’s Cabernet around.

·       Emile Joubert


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