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Wine Legend: Meerlust, Rubicon 1995

Meerlust, Rubicon 1995 is a legend because…

This ancient property was one of the first in South Africa to offer a high-quality Bordeaux-style blend, and it remains a benchmark for Stellenbosch wines. Meerlust has been in the hands of the Myburgh family since 1756, and the incumbent now, as in 1995, is Hannes Myburgh, who represents the eighth generation of his family. Although the precise proportions of the Meerlust blend do vary from vintage to vintage, the wine is always dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon, which comprises about 70% of the blend. Stellenbosch may in recent years have produced Bordeaux blends with greater power or concentration, but few can match Rubicon for sheer finesse.

Looking back

Rubicon was first produced in 1980, after Nico Myburgh, the father of Hannes, visited Bordeaux and perceived that its climate was similar to that of Stellenbosch. Always intended as a top-of-the range wine, it is not made in every vintage. Thus no Rubicon was produced in 1985 or 1990. In such years the fruit is used for Meerlust’s varietal wines from Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. The ebullient and perfectionist Giorgio Della Cia was the winemaker of this 1995 vintage, and had come to South Africa from his native Friuli in Italy to establish a distillery. He decided to stay on and joined Meerlust in 1978. He eventually retired in 2003, and was replaced the following year by Chris Williams. Williams had been Della Cia’s assistant winemaker in 1995.

The vintage

The southern hemisphere winter of 1994 was cold and wet, but conditions improved when spring came early, with a perfect bud break. The growing season was warm, but so dry that water stress became a problem that was only alleviated when rain arrived in February. Ripening resumed rapidly and the harvest was able to take place in ideal conditions.

The terroir

Meerlust lies 15km south of the town of Stellenbosch, and its 160 hectares of vineyards are cooler than most in the region, thanks to their proximity to False Bay, which is just 5km away. This brings in cooling breezes and mist during the summer months, which helps moderate the temperature and give a slower, more even ripening season. The soil is mainly decomposed granite mixed with clay, alongside parcels of gravelly loam. The gravel components provide excellent drainage, even in the clay soils. Merlot is planted on the richer, heavier soils, while Cabernet grows in the stonier sectors. The Meerlust estate is fortunate in that it is never affected by frost or hail. Up to half the crop is removed each year, ensuring excellent concentration and even ripening.

The wine

After the grapes have been picked by hand, the varieties are vinified separately. The Merlot tends to be fermented at relatively cool temperatures. But for the Cabernet Sauvignon Della Cia favoured an extended maceration in order to give the wine sufficient structure for long ageing. The selection for Rubicon is made after the malolactic fermentation is completed. Today the malolactic takes place in barrels, but in 1995 the wine remained in tanks. At this stage the blend is composed. Rubicon is aged in 80% new, 300-litre Nevers oak and 20% second-year barrels. It is then given two years’ bottle age before being released.

The reaction

In 2000 Decanter’s Michael Broadbent described the vintage as ‘One of the Cape’s classics… Good fruit, lovely flavour and remarkably good value.’ In the same year Pierre Rovani reviewed the wine for The Wine Advocate, finding a cornucopia of fruits: ‘It exhibits fabulous aromas of dark fruits, spices, and some candied strawberries. It has a lovely satiny structure, excellent focus, elegance, and is crafted in a feminine style. This concentrated, spicy, cherry and blackberry syrup-flavoured offering has an exceptional finish filled with plums and tangy blackcurrants.’

The facts

Bottles produced 60,000
Composition 68% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Merlot, 9% Cabernet Franc
Yield 35hl/ha
Alcohol 12.8%
Release price 85 Rand
Price today £28

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