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Around the world with Cabernet

JOHANNESBURG – The world of wines and viticulture is intriguing, complex, fascinating, yet amazingly beautiful.

To give an idea of vines diversity, there are over 12,000 varieties of which around 200 are grown commercially for both winemaking and distillations, of which 30 are virtually “brands” on their own, where the general wine lovers can associate to.

Varieties such as Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay — amongst a few — are often referred to as classics.

They are grown in every single wine-producing country across the planet in main wine and emerging regions.

Among the great classic grapes of the world, a relative “newcomer” to the scene is Cabernet Sauvignon, recognised as one of the greatest in the context of world plantings.

A nature miracle, the result of a hazard cross-pollination between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc, the offspring takes its name from each parent’s origin.

Cab Sav — as it is often referred to — was “born” in Bordeaux, France around 300 years ago. It’s a young wine when one compared to Pinot Noir, which has been around for over a 1,000 years, at least.

Cabernet travelled well outside its hometown and seems to adapt to a multitude of climate and soils, as long as there is ample warmth and sunshine.

Perhaps the most extreme location and ambitious project in the world where Cabernet is grown, is in Yunnan province in China in the foothills of the Himalayas.

Vineyards here range between 2,200 to 2,600 metre in altitude and the LVMH project — overseen by Moet Hennessy project of Ao Yun — released their first vintage in 2013 at a release price of R3,800 per bottle.

No record exists to confirm Cabernet Sauvignon’s first arrival in South Africa, but it is likely that the varietal has been in the Cape for over 200 years.

By the beginning of the century, it had become one of South Africa’s top-quality red varieties and can be found today in virtually all of the country’s wine-producing areas.

Definition of a good Cab Sav

So, you might be asking yourself what the definition is of a good to great Cab Sav (from an objective point of view) and how to recognise next time if your purchase was spot on.

The textbook notes of perfectly ripe, black fruits such as blackcurrant, cassis and blueberries, along with a touch of green capsicum are typical characteristics of the variety with further notes of cassis liqueur, depending on ripeness and concentrations, tobacco/cigar, graphite and pencil shavings, vanilla, depending on the oak (barrel) used.

Our best and most famous Cabernet Sauvignon offers tremendous value by world standards.

My five to go, in no particular order:

Hartenberg Estate CWG Carl Schultz Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 MC 96 Points

A classic Stellenbosch producer, their Cape Winemakers Guild offerings are pure textbook.

The Cabernet has a ripe red and black fruits medley, lead pencil, structured and is fresh and elegant with a firm tannic grip.

Only 822 bottles were produced. Now until 2035 onwards. The approximate price is R1,500.

Orange River Cellars Northern Cape Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 / 2017 MC 91 Points

A great example of Cabernet’s adaptability to different climates and terroir — alongside the mighty Orange River — this is textbook medium-bodied Cab Sav.

It has black fruits and a touch of leafy freshness adds charm to the offerings.

It’s an honest wine that ticks all the right boxes with ample crunch and savouriness and is exceptional value for everyday sipping with your favourite food.

Serve lightly chilled. The approximate price is R45.

Cederberg Five Generations Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 MC 95 Points

From a 17-year-old vineyard barely 1.5 hectares in size and 5,200 bottles produced, Five Generations is the highest altitude Cab Sav in the Cape at just over 1,000 meters above sea level.

Brimming with succulent dark red fruits, unmistakably Cabernet with exceptional purity, it has just the perfect amount of oak spiciness, structured and taut.

There is grit and length and is hard to resist now, but will be best from 2025 onwards. 

The approximate price R585.

Warwick Estate The Blue Lady Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 MC 95 Points

The current release of what started back in 1986 as La Femme Bleu “The Blue Lady”, Stellenbosch Cab is perfectly interpreted by current winemaker Nic van Aarde, benefiting from the stellar 2015, one of South Africa’s finest vintage of the last 40 years.

Notes of cassis liqueur, succulent blackcurrant’s, a touch of graphite and cigar notes add a layer of luxury feel to the overall offerings.

This is a world-class wine available from now until 2038 onwards.

The approximate price is R350.

Kleine Zalze Vineyard Selection Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 MC 93 Points

For fans of serious Cab Sav, this wine features perfectly ripe blackcurrants, dark plums, spicy blueberries.

This lively offering has energy and grip, is full-bodied without being heavy.

This engaging seductive, fruit-driven style will confidently last up to 2027 onwards.

The approximate price is R140.

* Miguel Chan is the Group Sommelier for Tsogo Sun


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