The Stellenbosch wine region is rapidly being defined by the tale of two Cabernets: Sauvignon and Franc. At this stage Sir Sauvignon is still way ahead in terms of offering wines showing recognised splendour and magnificence, obviously due to the fact that it is more widely planted in Stellenbosch than Monsieur Franc. Being associated with iconic wine brands such as Kanonkop, Rustenberg, Rust en Vrede, Meerlust, Waterford and Le Riche – to name a few – has, too, made Cabernet Sauvignon a no-brainer in attracting traction in the mind of the wine consumer searching for the big red stuff.
It was Uva Mira winemaker Christiaan Coetzee who, during a long conversation atop one of his sky-hugging vineyards 600m up the Helderberg, planted this thinking that Cabernet Franc is fast becoming a serious Cape wineland offering, capable of garnering as much star-struck attention as the wines made from Cabernet Sauvignon. Especially in the Helderberg where sunlight radiation runs to 5000 watts, air-flow is indeterminably constant and the 80 million year-old soils of decomposed granite offer growing matter of the kind the Cabernet Franc variety tends to find as likeable as its more famous Sauvignon off-spring does.
The much-hyped release earlier this year of Taaibosch Crescendo definitely adds to the excitement around the potential Cabernet Franc has to make and contribute to magnificence wines. There is no turning back now. The variety is a player. And the best and most is yet to come.
Taaibosch is the premier result of the France-based Oddo family’s foray into Stellenbosch. It began with Pink Valley Rosé lower down the Helderberg slope from the Taaibosch vineyards and winery. Now, after a relatively short period of cellar-building, soil-ripping, vineyard-planting and rejuvenation of established plants, the Taaibosch Crescendo 2018 has been released. To loud acclaim and hype, the rapturous welcoming of Taaibosch largely resting on the reputation the same farm had achieved under previous owners as Cordoba. Cordoba had a huge reputation in the 1990s and early 2000s, so much so that the current owners milked the name of Cordoba’s flagship red wine Crescendo.
Comparisons, however, stop there. Besides new owners, the sherriff is Schalk-Willem Joubert. The Taaibosch wine is a different animal all together than Crescendos of old. Different winemaker. Different vineyard and cellar. Different style.
In the Taaibosch Crescendo Cabernet Franc dominates the blend with a 65% component, followed Merlot (30%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (5%) making-up the balance.
The currently established vineyards comprise 18 year-old bushvines farmed without irrigation. And to organic principles, but without the bunny-hugger ethos which South African organic producers still struggle to shake. “Organic is about soil-health, which makes for healthier vines and better wine,” says Joubert. “This is quite a simple equation, and one we follow rigorously on Taaibosch. But it is not a marketing tool – this is not organic wine, but great wine that happens to result from organic farming.”
The one thing that struck me about the visit to Taaibosch was that although the accent is on the spectacular terroir, the health of the soils and the personal attention each vine is given, there is none of this “wine is made in the vineyard” bullshit. That spectacular Taaibosch cellar, technologically as advanced as any other in the Cape, was not built just to coax grapes from berries wine. It is about timing, precision and focussed aspiration.
Grapes are hand-picked and cooled-down in a cold-room before given a cold-soaking. After inoculated fermentation, the Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon components are matured separately for 14 months in French oak barriques, of which 35% are new.
Then comes the blending, something Joubert and his team does with the attention to detail and mastered intuitiveness of a symphony conductor.
The wines are removed for blending, whereafter the total blend is moved to two different sets of containers – 70% to wood foudré and the rest to concrete eggs. Here the blend lies for a year, before being drawn off and placed in concrete for three months to finish-off the maturation. The wine is bottled unfined and unfiltered, spending three to six months in bottle before release.
The maiden Taaibosch Crescendo 2018, already deemed a cult wine despite its modest R300 price-tag, easily and confidently slips into the very top offering of South Africa’s classic wine offering. There is something very accurate, immaculate and polished about the wine – that nothing-out-of-place, tuning-fork clarity one gets when experiencing a Charlie Parker saxophone riff or reading a JM Coetzee paragraph of precisely placed sentences constructed from perfectly chosen words.
An initial fresh, juicy entry onto the palate leads to the wine exposing firmly weighted flavours of blueberry, cherry and dried pomegranate, with a slight hit of fennel and fynbos, the latter also being a pronounced feature of Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon. Reflecting its ethos, the wine’s run is precise and clear. From entry to finish, this is complete red wine glory which can be studied and analysed, or just experienced for the very deliciousness thereof. The Cabernet Franc component gives brightness and grace in structure, while the dab of Merlot weighs-in with a turn of fruity succulence with Cabernet Sauvignon ensuring a firm, brooding finish.
Whatever the tale holds in-store, it is being told very well.