Who can remember when last Boekenhoutskloof used their famous “seven chairs” label design for a new wine? I’m pretty sure it was the maiden 2005 Journeyman. Anyway, now there’s another new wine, and anything that comes from Marc Kent’s domain is worthy of attention. That’s domain with an e. Like a kingdom.
Brand Boekenhoutskloof bought the Helderberg Winery in 2009, but their Helderberg Wijnmakerij label apparently never really worked and has now faded away into nothingness. This new wine, however, Boekenhoutskloof Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, is part of the legacy of the Stellenbosch investment. Marc Kent (Boekenhoutskloof visionary and, surely, chief guy, even if no longer directly much involved in the nitty-gritty of winemaking) says that they were able to discover and experiment with various parcels of cab on the Helderberg for a few years, before coming up with this blend of some different sites.
It was Marc, of course, who made the first cab for Boekenhoutskloof – in fact, the 1996 was the very first wine from the new winery. That Franschhoek wine (now with a bit of cab franc – like the new wine) has an eminent track record: nine five-star ratings from Platter over the years, for example – and whether any other wine can beat that, I rather doubt. So it’s an interesting move to confront that version with the new one from Stellenbosch. I’d like to try them side by side – but what I have with me tonight is the Helderberg one, on one of its earliest outings into the wide world (it is to be released shortly, at the same price as the Franschhoek version).
One difference I can point to is that the new one is in one of those rather heavy tapered bottles, unlike the rather heavy straight-sided bottle that the Franschhoek Cab has come in (and which stack gratifyingly easily), presumably to help distinguish them. The wine is young and raw, of course, and deserves quite a few years in a cool quiet place to bring out the tranquillity and grace it sequesters. I would like to assert that it’s undrinkably young – but have to admit I managed to down half a bottle of the stuff this evening, though some of that, I insist, is just trying to grapple with what to say about it.
It’s undoubtedly a good Cape cabernet, even a very good one. There’s ripe fruit giving smooth tannins nicely matched with acidity. Plenty of rather delicious flavours, and some nice perfume, of the expected varietal kind. Personally I’d have liked the tannins to be a little more aggressive at this early stage – they are velvety and smooth, which I’m sure is the point in a wine that is largely destined to be drunk 5-10 years before it should be, but I’d have liked a bit more bite to them. A modest touch of austerity is surely appropriate for a serious cab? I’ve just poured a little more into my glass to test this, and, yes, I’m convinced that it’s just a bit too unchallenging, suave and easy-going.
The other and associated problem for me is the touch of sweetness to the finish. The residual sugar is 2.5 grams per litre (matched with acid of 5.8 g/l and a comparatively modest alcohol of 13.9%) – but, as so often in that context, that’s just a bit too much for a properly, classically dry wine, and it detracts that little bit from the freshness.
So. Sorry for being critical about what is a pretty good wine, that should bring a lot of pleasure to many. I just wish that Boekenhoutskloof, one of our top wineries, had been that little bit more ambitious with their foray into Stellenbosch. This is just a bit too standard, too safe. It’s going to be interesting to see what new chief winemaker Gottfried Mocke will make of the 2016 – the first for which he’ll be totally responsible. I hope and expect it to be at another level (troublesome harvest notwithstanding); more exciting.