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


View wines by score category:


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.

Buitenverwachting 2012

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.

Overgaauw 2015

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.

Whalehaven 2013

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.


By Wine & Origin

Almenkerk 2013Elgin86
Alvi's Drift Signature 2016Worcester79
Asara Vineyard Collection 2014Stellenbosch88
Barton 2015Walker Bay86
Bein 2015Stellenbosch86
Bein Little 2016Stellenbosch87
Bein Reserve 2015Stellenbosch88
Bonnievale 2016Bonnievale84
Boschendal 1685 2015Western Cape92
Buitenverwachting 2012Constantia89
Creation 2016Walker Bay81
Creation Reserve 2015Walker Bay87
De Helderberger 2015Stellenbosch85
De Trafford 2012Stellenbosch84
Delaire Graff 2014Stellenbosch90
Eagles' Nest 2014Constantia85
Eikendal 2014Stellenbosch87
Eikendal 2015Stellenbosch88
Ernie Els 2015Stellenbosch86
Glenelly Glass Collection 2015Stellenbosch86
GlenWood 2016Franschhoek84
Groenland Premium 2015Bottelary- Stellenbosch89
Groot Constantia 2014Constantia87
Groot Constantia 2015Constantia86
Groote Post 2015Darling86
Hartenberg 2015Stellenbosch87
Hermanuspietersfontein Posmeester 2015Western Cape87
Holden Manz 2013Franschhoek88
Idiom 900 Series 2012Stellenbosch73
Jason's Hill 2015Breedekloof88
Jordan Black Magic 2014Stellenbosch88
Kings Kloof 2014Stellenbosch87
Klein Doolhof 2012Wellington83
Klein Doolhof 2013Wellington86
Kloovenburg 2015Swartland87
Knorhoek 2015Stellenbosch87
KWV Cathedral Cellar 2014Western Cape89
La Bri 2015Franschhoek84
La Chenade 2014Lalande de Pomerol91
Laibach Claypot 2015Simonsberg-Stellenbosch83
Laibach Woolworths Organic The Ladybird 2016Western Cape87
Lanzerac 2015Stellenbosch86
Longridge 2014Stellenbosch87
Lourensford 2014Stellenbosch86
Lourensford Limited Release 2015Stellenbosch90
Marianne 2013Simonsberg- Paarl88
Namaqua 2015Olifants River83
Namaqua Cellar Door 2014Olifants River80
Oldenburg Vineyards 2013Stellenbosch85
Org de Rac 2015Swartland92
Org de Rac Reserve 2014Swartland88
Org de Rac Reserve 2015Swartland87
Overgaauw 2015Stellenbosch87
Remhoogte Aspect 2014Stellenbosch86
Romond Rebus 2012Stellenbosch88
Shannon Mount Bullet 2014Elgin88
Shannon Woolworths 2015Elgin90
Shannon Woolworths 2016Elgin85
Steenberg 2014Constantia86
Steenberg 2015Constantia87
Thelema 2014Stellenbosch84
Thelema Reserve 2013Stellenbosch88
Uva Mira The Mira 2014Stellenbosch87
Whalehaven 2013Coastal Region89
Whalehaven 2014Coastal Region87
Yonder Hill 2013Stellenbosch84
Yonder Hill 2014Stellenbosch89
Zorgvliet 2015Banghoek88