The first local varietal bottling of Merlot is credited to Stellenbosch property Overgaauw in 1982 and today it is our eighth most planted variety with some 5 500ha in the ground, roughly 6% of the national vineyard.
There are plenty of single-variety examples around but these are typically positioned as an easier version of Cabernet Sauvignon, which is to say a red wine offering the classic nobility of a Bordeaux grape but without the austere tannins. As a result, local Merlot often makes for less ambitious and less expensive wines than either straight Cab or Bordeaux-style red blends.
Of course, Merlot does achieve greatness as the predominant component in the wines of Pomerol and St-Émilion and the challenge for serious local producers is to emulate this success. Are they getting even close?
In the first in-depth look at the category for some time, the panel looked at 67 current-release examples and it must be said that wines of real distinction still seem to be somewhat elusive.
The most basic wines were at best light and fresh and at worst, sweet and simple. There is probably a place for such fare in the market place presuming that they don’t breach R100 a bottle. However, it must be asked if varieties such as Cinsault or Pinotage are not destined to perform a better job when it comes to providing affordable everyday drinking?
67 entries were received from 50 producers. The judging panel was chaired by myself and further consisted of two trusted colleagues, namely Roland Peens and James Pietersen, both of Wine Cellar, Cape Town merchants and cellarers of fine wine. We tasted blind, ratings done according to the 100- point system. Final scores were awarded on the basis of discussion that involved retasting where necessary rather than relying solely on arithmetic averaging.
Christian Eedes, Editor, Winemag.co.za
Boschendal 1685 – 2015
Price: R110 | Total production: 26 598 bottles | Abv: 14%
Matured for 12 months in French oak, 20% new. A pretty nose displaying red and blackberries, flowers and dried herbs plus attractive oak. The palate is complex and balanced – fruit that is juicy and sweet in the best sense, while the acidity is fresh and tannins fine, the finish long and A particularly refined execution.
Org de Rac 2015
Price: R64 | Total production: 9 900 bottles | Abv: 14.39%
Matured for 13 months in French oak, 100% new. Initially shy on the nose but opens up to reveal red and black berries, some olive, fresh herbs plus spice and toasty oak. Sweet, rich and properly ripe on the palate – good depth and breadth of fruit plus bright acidity before a savoury finish.
La Chenade 2014 Lalande de Pomerol
Wine Cellar price: R295 | Total production: 18 000 bottles | Abv: 13.5%
80% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc. Red and black berries, floral perfume and some leafiness plus vanilla and spice. Rich and full with lovely fruit density, fresh acidity and smooth tannins.
Delaire Graff 2014
Price: R295 | Total production: 5 000 bottles | Abv: 14.7%
Matured for 16 months in French oak, 80% new. Red and blackberries plus and attractive herbal edge. Good fruit purity, fresh acidity, and well-judged oak. Rich and smooth textured.
Lourensford Limited Release 2015
Price: R300 | Total production: 1 700 bottles | Abv: 14.5%
Matured for 18 months in 300-litre French oak barrels, 84% new. Red and black fruit plus a certain olive- like quality and attractive oak. Rich and full but balanced – good fruit definition and fresh acidity, the finish long and savoury
Shannon Woolworths 2015
Price: R159.95 | Total production: 7 289 bottles | Abv: 14%
Matured for nine months in fourth- and fifth-fill French oak. Very aromatic on the nose with notes of red and black fruit, olive, flowers and fresh herbs. Super-rich and dense on the palate but balanced thanks to fresh acidity, the finish long and savoury.
Price: R160 | Total production: 20 700 bottles | Abv: 14.5%
Matured for 22 months in French oak barrels, a combination of first-, second-, and third-fill. Dark fruit, olive, a certain leafiness and some earthiness. Rich and full with a not unattractive sweet‘n sour quality, the finish long and savoury.
Groenland Premium 2015
Price: R140 | Total production: 2 300 bottles | Abv: 14.61%
Matured for 12 months in French oak, 100% new. Dark fruit, some herbal character and toasty oak. Rich and full with smooth tannins, the finish long and savoury.
KWV Cathedral Cellar 2014
Price: R115 | Total production: 29 520 bottles | Abv: 14.16%
Matured for 14 to 16 months in French oak, 40% new. Black berries, some olive and an attractive herbal edge to the nose. The palate displays sumptuous fruit, fresh acidity and smooth tannins – carefully crafted.
Price: R130 | Total production: 20 000 bottles | Abv: 14%
Matured for 18 months in French oak, 30% new. A perfumed nose showing red berries and an attractive herbal edge. The palate is medium bodied with pure fruit, fresh acidity and firm but fine tannins. Commendable for its elegance.
Price: R183 | Total production: 5 400 bottles | Abv: 14.5%
Matured for 14 months in French oak, a third new. A herbal top note before red and black berries and some attractive oak character on the nose. The palate is rich and round with plenty of upfront sweet fruit and soft tannins.
Yonder Hill 2014
Price: R190 | Total production: 3 900 bottles | Abv: 13.95%
Matured for 18 months in French oak, 65% new. The nose shows red and black berries with some fresh herbs in the background. Medium bodied and nicely structured – pure fruit, fresh acidity and a lovely latticework of tannins. Relatively lean but nicely focused.
|Alvi's Drift Signature 2016||Worcester||79|
|Asara Vineyard Collection 2014||Stellenbosch||88|
|Barton 2015||Walker Bay||86|
|Bein Little 2016||Stellenbosch||87|
|Bein Reserve 2015||Stellenbosch||88|
|Boschendal 1685 2015||Western Cape||92|
|Creation 2016||Walker Bay||81|
|Creation Reserve 2015||Walker Bay||87|
|De Helderberger 2015||Stellenbosch||85|
|De Trafford 2012||Stellenbosch||84|
|Delaire Graff 2014||Stellenbosch||90|
|Eagles' Nest 2014||Constantia||85|
|Ernie Els 2015||Stellenbosch||86|
|Glenelly Glass Collection 2015||Stellenbosch||86|
|Groenland Premium 2015||Bottelary- Stellenbosch||89|
|Groot Constantia 2014||Constantia||87|
|Groot Constantia 2015||Constantia||86|
|Groote Post 2015||Darling||86|
|Hermanuspietersfontein Posmeester 2015||Western Cape||87|
|Holden Manz 2013||Franschhoek||88|
|Idiom 900 Series 2012||Stellenbosch||73|
|Jason's Hill 2015||Breedekloof||88|
|Jordan Black Magic 2014||Stellenbosch||88|
|Kings Kloof 2014||Stellenbosch||87|
|Klein Doolhof 2012||Wellington||83|
|Klein Doolhof 2013||Wellington||86|
|KWV Cathedral Cellar 2014||Western Cape||89|
|La Bri 2015||Franschhoek||84|
|La Chenade 2014||Lalande de Pomerol||91|
|Laibach Claypot 2015||Simonsberg-Stellenbosch||83|
|Laibach Woolworths Organic The Ladybird 2016||Western Cape||87|
|Lourensford Limited Release 2015||Stellenbosch||90|
|Marianne 2013||Simonsberg- Paarl||88|
|Namaqua 2015||Olifants River||83|
|Namaqua Cellar Door 2014||Olifants River||80|
|Oldenburg Vineyards 2013||Stellenbosch||85|
|Org de Rac 2015||Swartland||92|
|Org de Rac Reserve 2014||Swartland||88|
|Org de Rac Reserve 2015||Swartland||87|
|Remhoogte Aspect 2014||Stellenbosch||86|
|Romond Rebus 2012||Stellenbosch||88|
|Shannon Mount Bullet 2014||Elgin||88|
|Shannon Woolworths 2015||Elgin||90|
|Shannon Woolworths 2016||Elgin||85|
|Thelema Reserve 2013||Stellenbosch||88|
|Uva Mira The Mira 2014||Stellenbosch||87|
|Whalehaven 2013||Coastal Region||89|
|Whalehaven 2014||Coastal Region||87|
|Yonder Hill 2013||Stellenbosch||84|
|Yonder Hill 2014||Stellenbosch||89|