With all the attention – and adulation -being given in recent years to the fine red blends of the mid 20th century, it’s a little surprising that there have not been more new wines inspired by them. At least three reasons occur to me: Firstly, the attention has been diverted to standalone cinsaut (the most interesting/surprising component of those classic blends), as part of the wave of enthusiasm for lighter-style blends. Secondly, not many producers want to extend their ranges – I suspect more have moved in the opposite direction. Third, the best cabernet is from Stellenbosch, whose producers have, on the whole, been less affected by the more radical elements of the Cape wine revolution, while cinsaut and that style are more associated with the Swartland, and scattered mavericks.
So, for a tasting I organised recently, I could only summon five blends with the Bordeaux varieties plus cinsaut. In fact the tasting was not entirely focused. It was originally conceived to compare the latest released of the blends-with-cinsaut, Leeu Passant Dry Red 2015, with Van Loggerenberg Breton 2016, a varietal cabernet franc. Why compare them? Partly because they are to me the finest two new Cape red releases in recent years, but more because when I tasted the Leeu Passant it reminded me in some ways of the Breton.
The makers of the two wines also seemed keen on the experiment, and to meet each other … so that was the genesis of the tasting. But it did also seem a good opportunity to seek out other blends-with-cinsaut. (And I also included Boekenhoutskloof The Journeyman 2015, a superb wine from 90% cab franc with merlot, but in a very different style from the Breton, largely for the simple but compelling reason that I thought it would be good to have Marc Kent at the tasting!)
What was most interesting was that the cinsaut was a significant factor in most of the wines, though differently proportioned, adding freshness, lightness, red fruit, and floral perfume. The Leeu Passant was for me undoubtedly the standout of the blends, with a miraculous harmony of components: weight, structure via acid and tannin, poise, fruit, power, charm, texture – all these are there, in a whole that is unmistakeably serious and destined to grow in complexity.
Le Riche Richesse 2014 (R160) has just 12% cinsaut in a five-way Bordeaux blend, and this no doubt adds to the element of easy charm. The wine is notably herbal – those who don’t like a green tinge to the aroma and flavour of their cab-based blends might not enjoy this, but I did, if not as much as the other wines. Like most of them, the wood usage here was understated and exemplary.
The most singular of the wines came from a 2014 Alheit equal blend of cabernet sauvignon and cinsaut. Hugely perfumed aromas, defined primarily by cinsaut fruit and the fully whole-bunch pressing, which must have included some carbonic maceration. The acidity is more prominent than the unobtrusive tannins. I confess I didn’t much care for this wine on the night, finding it too perfumed and confected, and light on structure, almost trivial. But I was able to sample it over the next two days, and found that a savoury element emerged to harmonise with the reduced scentedness and provide a more balanced deliciousness, revealing more to it than when dominated by the aromatics. The wine is destined for release only in 2018, which delay should accomplish some of what my few days of open bottle did – I look forward to tasting it again in a year or so, when I think it should come across as a more considerable wine.
The Great Red 2015 is the maiden red (there’s already a Great White 2015) from The Great South African Wine Company, a joint venture between the winemaker (Carl van der Merwe) and owner (Wendy Appelbaum) of DeMorgenzon. It is available from the producer so far, at R165. Cabernet sauvignon is the largest component, followed by cinsaut, cab franc and petit verdot. Again, it is still pretty young – with some sweet oak notes that will integrate with a year or two. A very successful blend, ripe and fairly plush, plenty of fruit (the cinsaut stressing the bright, red side of things), firmly but gently structured – cinsaut surely playing its traditional softening role. Incidentally, everyone loved the quirky label, modelled on old medicine-bottle labels – while rather disapproving of the rather opportunistic stress on “natural wine”.
The last of our blends was perhaps the first such (correct me if I’m wrong, please) of the Cape’s modern era, in this case the second vintage of Stellenrust’s Cuvée Quota, 2013, the name wittily reminding us of the KWV-imposed production quota system of last century. Unfortunately these Stellenrusts have not been available to the public, as Singita gets them all. There was a bit of reductiveness on the wine and it shows more development in colour and flavour than expected, but it is attractive and interesting, and I particularly enjoyed an element of savoury austerity alongside the fruit weight – something that is characteristic of Stellenrust’s reds.
Future years should bring more of these blends – at least, I very much hope so. It’s a chance to revive and make deservedly popular a distinctive Cape-styled, cab-based blend.
As to that comparison between Leeu Passant Dry Red 2015 (which I originally wrote about here http://grape.co.za/2017/03/4176/) and Van Loggerenberg Breton 2016 (here http://grape.co.za/2016/12/wow-welcome-van-loggerenberg-wines/), I was gratified to feel, having both wines before me, that it made sense. A restrained, fresh elegance, somehow combining modesty with confident assertion, links them for me – it’s not, unfortunately, a very common thread in the Cape’s reds based on Bordeaux varieties.