The tasting of Le Riche wines presented in Cape Town last week has been covered well by Angela Lloyd and Christian Eedes, so I won’t dwell on it, as I’d intended to. It showed again, though, that Stellenbosch can produce very good cabernet, fairly approachable in youth (if you like young cabs – I don’t, really) and capable of developing well (if you like older cabs – I do). The 1999 Le Riche Reserve was drinking very well indeed, intensely flavoured with tertiary development, well balanced and with fully resolved tannins. In some ways, though, the younger 2005 straight Cab was even more enticing, with classic aromas, a gorgeous ripe fullness in its maturity, sweet fruit and a dry finish – and, I thought, a touch of rusticity (which is a suggestion about character, not quality).
I think the early wines showing involvement from the second Le Riche generation (notably that of Etienne’s son Christo) evidence too much ripeness and also new oak maturation. I don’t really buy Christo’s argument that, with some vineyards which could be picked at 12.5% potential alcohol in the 1990s, “I’m having to pick at 14+ percent”. Having to? There’s some problem with viticultural management, I’d suggest, if it’s really more than a matter of stylistic choice. The CWG Auction Reserve 2011 (though should we assume that to have been made entirely by Etienne, as he was – and remains – the CWG member?) was very oaky, and rather too ripely sweet-finishing, for my tastes at least. Actually the fruity, sweet ripeness is also there on the dense, youthfully tannic 2007 Cab Reserve. So maybe this turn to egregious ripeness was prompted by Etienne himself rather than Christo.
The current 2014s, however, seem to show evidence of some return to the elegance and restraint (in southern hemisphere terms at least) for which Etienne was always renowned, though they are emphatically ripe. The straight Cabernet has some early real charm – with none of the dourness than characterises some cabs in what was a difficult vintage. The Reserve 2014 is very good, not too rich and sweet, though quite showy; it’s beautifully made and well balanced, with a fine tannin structure.
Even though modern Bordeaux (actual Bordeaux) suffers from the dominant American market’s preference for ultra-ripeness, I still tend to find traces of an austerity in Bordeaux that I like, without much of the sweetness (perceived if not actual) that I don’t like in New World cabs. Ever hopeful of finding that character at a modest price, I recently bought, without having tasted it, some very minor 2014 Bordeaux from local importers Grande Domaines, at around R200. So, the evening of the Le Riche tasting, I opened a bottle of that Les Monts de Beaumont 2014, the second label of a modest Haut-Médoc producer. I like a herbal character and austerity, but this was a bit too much. Too late I realised my foolish mistake. I have another three bottles of it, which I’ll leave for five years or more, in probably forlorn hope that I’ll like it more once it has matured a bit. I’d be more content if I had three bottles of the basic Le Riche: I have more faith in the prospects of that. A lesson in prejudice, which I shouldn’t have needed, well learned.