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Stellenbosch Cabernet tasting lays down a marker

Decanter content director John Stimpfig attended a landmark tasting of Stellenbosch Cabernet vintages from 2000 to 2011 in South Africa. Read his review and see his top wines.

On the eve of Cape Wine 2015, 20 of Stellenbosch’s best known Cabernet producers came together in a collective show of force at Cape Town Waterfront’s plush One & Only hotel to present a historic tasting to a packed audience of South African buyers and press.

Wineries included Vergelegan, Kanonkop, Rustenberg, Delaire Graff, Glenelly and Waterford with a range of vintages from 2000 to 2011. Le Riche’s veteran cellarmaster Etienne le Riche said, ‘This was the best tasting of Stellenbosch Cabernet I have ever experienced.’

The subtext of the tasting was a timely riposte by the Stellenbosch old guard to some of South Africa’s young guns making significant waves in newer regions.

Event moderator, South African Greg Sherwood MW of Handford Wines in London, told Decanter, ‘there’s no doubt that regions like Swartland are doing a great job in promoting its edginess, newness and excitement. But that’s no reason to overlook or forget that Stellenbosch has an incredible story to tell with its great Cabernets. These wines are world-class, have great ageing potential and represent incredible value.’

‘Cabernet is still the yardstick by which all regions are judged, and over the years, Stellenbosch has proven to be the most successful area in South Africa for making great Cabernet,’ added Le Riche who is also a member of the Cape Winemaker’s Guild. ‘I want Stellenbosch to become famous for the variety that does best here. And that variety is Cabernet.’

Johan Malan, who helped organise and coordinate the tasting, also argued that Stellenbosch is South Africa’s best region for Cabernet and has a proven track record of over seventy years. ‘The important thing to remember is that Cabernet chose Stellenbosch. Not the other way around.’

‘This event is really the launch of a campaign to re-establish Stellenbosch’s Cabernet credentials amongst global consuStellenbosch Cabernet tastingmers,’ he continued. ‘In the longer term, we’d like to take it around the world to a number of major cities.’

Cabernet Sauvignon is the third most planted variety in South Africa and the most planted in Stellenbosch with a 20% share of the vineyard surface.

Yet there are major challenges for Stellenbosch Cabernet. Jan Boland Coetzee, winemaker at Vriesenhof, commented that some winemakers hadn’t done enough with plant material and leaf roll virus. Vergelegen’s Andre van Rensburg had the same view: ‘we need to sort this out as soon as possible.’

Stellenbosch’s Kingdom of Cabernet

These are my top six wines from a truly spectacular tasting of top Stellenbosch Cabernet at the One & Only Hotel at Cape Town’s Waterfront. These wines can be drunk with food now or cellared for a number of years, depending on the vintage. They also represent almost unbelievable value for the prices asked. Proof positive that Stellenbosch Cabernet at its best is a match made in heaven.

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