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South Africa, part 5: Cabernet sauvignon and Bordeaux blends

>> Monday, July 12, 2010

Cabernet sauvignon is the red grape with the biggest plantings in South Africa, followed by its Bordelais cousin the merlot. Cabernet can make excellent wines on its own but more and more wineries have discovered that it can make even more interesting wines if you blend it with some other (Bordeaux) grapes.

At the Dalla Cia winery we meet one of the veterans of Bordeaux blends. More than so actually, Giorgio Dalla Cia can be called the “father” (godfather?) of South African Bordeaux blends. for 25 years he was winemaker at Meerlust and created a wine called Rubicon. It was the first Bordeaux blend in south Africa and is now one of the most famous wines from here. He’s now running his own winery together with his son George. George recently made a cuvée called Giorgio 2006 as a tribute to his father. The grape mix is 70% cabernet sauvignon, 20% merlot, and 10% petit verdot. The wine has been aged for 18 months in French oak barrels. It has a distinct French feeling to it, with hints of cigar box and a certain austerity. The tannins are distinct but soft. They also make a “pure” cabernet, but they add 10% petit verdot in this too. It improves the structure of the wine, says George. For many years Giorgio dreamt of making his own grappa (the famous Italian wine brandy) but until 1994 it was illegal to produce. But today the grappa is a big part of the Dalla Cia activity, as well as the restaurant Pane e Vino.

Next door to Dalla Cia you find another winery, Stellekaya with the winemaker Ntsiki Biyela, South Africa’s first female, black winemaker. Perhaps she’s tired of hearing that description repeated over and over, so let’s just say that she is a very talented young winemaker that creates wines with balance and complexity as well as personality. She only makes red wines and most of her wines are based on Bordeaux grapes. Some are quite unconventional blends. Hercules is made from sangiovese, merlot and cabernet sauvignon and is elegant, easy-drinking but with plenty of taste. Cape Cross is a mix of merlot, pinotage and cabernet sauvignon and has aromas of ripe fruit with a touch of oak, but not too much in spite of it spending 22 months in barrel. The wine is very well balanced and delicious. She also makes a pure cabernet as well as a merlot, both excellent. And let’s not forget her “simplest” wine, Boschetto that sells in South Africa for a very reasonable 40 ZAR. It is a blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, shiraz and sangiovese and according to Ntsiki “it can be had with any kind of light dishes”. Of course! It is a nice, fresh and mineraly wine. Watch our video interview with Ntsiki Biyela at Stellekaya here!

Talking about cabernet sauvignon – it is a variety that is often made with aging in oak. However, it need not always be so. David van Niekerk at High Constantia is experimenting with a cabernet cuvée without any barrel aging at all, simply because he wants to get even more fruit in the wine. We look forward to seeing (or tasting) the results of his experiments!


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