Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon

By Jamie Goode | 14th July 2022

I know I am guilty of this: I chase the novel, and in the process I neglect things that have always been good, and which have often been exciting. Familiar things get neglected. ‘There is no place like home,’ is often only spoken after a flirt with novelty.

In this case, it’s one of South Africa’s classics. Something that has put the country’s wines on the fine wine map. Cabernet Sauvignon from Stellenbosch. And the reason I’ve chosen to write about it now is that I’m staying in Stellenbosch – my first time back to South Africa since November 2019 (thank you Covid) – and last night I tasted a lot of Stellenbosch Cabernet and came away enthused.

Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon

Cabernet Sauvignon is, admittedly, not an obvious choice for the Mediterranean climate that the Cape’s winelands enjoy. But neither is the Napa Valley in California, and there this variety thrives, to the point that its success is pushing out other heritage varieties. In Stellenboch, Cabernet has also found a home. I also think that the era of big, over-ripe examples bolstered by oak – which for a while looked to be the most popular style – is passing, and many of the best producers are now aiming at balance and freshness, allowing the fruit to come to the fore and only using oak as a background support.

This tasting also allowed us a chance to look back at some older vintages, and the encouraging thing is that these wines manage to offer immediate pleasure, but also seem to age well, too.

These were some of my favourites.

Leeu Estates Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 Stellenbosch, South Africa
This shows a wonderfully expressive blackcurrant fruit nose that’s floral and beautifully fresh. It has some generosity, and also some silky texture, backed up by firm tannins. A thrilling expression of this grape variety.

Stark Conde Three Pines Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 Stellenbosch
This is from the Jonkershoek Valley. It is fresh, sweetly fruited and has an appealing lushness to the blackcurrant fruit, with nice purity and freshness, and a hint of elegance. The fruit swallows the 70% new French oak really well.

Stark Conde Three Pines Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 Stellenbosch
Lush, sweet, ripe blackcurrant fruit nose. The palate is gravelly and chalky with nice freshness. It’s quite mellow and is ageing beautifully.

Le Riche Ocean Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 Stellenbosch, South Africa
This is one of two special terroir wines made in small quantities (300 bottles of each) to show the difference between mountain and ocean terroirs in Stellenbosch. The Ocean comes from two vineyards at low altitude near the sea. This is ripe, generous but balanced with sweet blackcurrant fruit and some grainy detail. It shows lovely ripe, lush fruit but keeps its focus.

Le Riche Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 Stellenbosch, South Africa
This comes from two sites, one at 280 m in Jonkershoek, and the other at 320 m on the Simonsberg, with deep red granitic soils. This is fresh and fine with red berry fruits to the fore. It is floral with nice weight and has some freshness and structure, with lovely red fruit focus and linear tannins.

Le Riche Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 Stellenbosch, South Africa
Supple, fresh and berryish with some blackcurrant fruit. This has aged really well with a silkiness to the texture.

Neil Ellis Cabernet Sauvignon Jonkershoek 2018 Stellenbosch, South Africa
Fresh blackcurrant fruit with fine-grained structure. There’s a lot of fruit here but it’s also quite fresh and chalky, showing some structure for future development.

Neil Ellis Cabernet Sauvignon Jonkershoek 2011 Stellenbosch, South Africa
This is still youthful with fresh blackcurrant fruit dominant. It has a nice focus, showing good depth, and potential for further ageing.

Kanonkop Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 Stellenbosch, South Africa
Fresh, direct and taut, this is still just a baby, offering concentrated blackcurrant fruit with some spicy structure and a sense of freshness.

Kanonkop Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 Stellenbosch, South Africa
So fresh and supple with a hint of structure and notes of spice and blackcurrant. There’s some chalky, gravelly detail here. It’s still so youthful.

Muratie Martin Melck Cabernet Sauvignon Family Reserve 2018 Stellenbosch, South Africa
This is supple and fresh with sweet berry and blackcurrant fruit. Ripe with a hint of olive and some nice structure. Very refined.

Glenelly Lady May 2015 Stellenbosch, South Africa
This is a Cabernet Sauvignon dominant blend. Sleek, ripe and aromatic with nice blackcurrant and berry fruit, backed with good acidity and some chalky structure. Juicy, fine and fresh.

Glenelly Lady May 2010 Stellenbosch, South Africa

90% Cabernet Sauvignon in this vintage. Fresh, vital and structured with nice cherry, berry and plum fruit. Has lovely finesse and structure with a bit of grip. Hints of olive and herbs, too. Lovely.

Meerlust Rubicon 2018 Stellenbosch, South Africa
This is a Cabernet-dominated blend. Elegant, resolved and fine with lovely blackcurrant, cherry and red berries, as well as some herbs and spice, and a note of tea leaf. It’s from one of the drought years and may not age as long as some of the Rubicons do, but it’s very fine.

Meerlust Rubicon 2009 Stellenbosch, South Africa

A cool year. Wonderfully spicy blackcurrant fruit: brooding and fine. Really expressive on the palate with lovely chalky blackcurrant fruit showing great balance. So many layers.

Waterford Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 Stellenbosch, South Africa
Taut, dense blackcurrant fruit with firm structure and some nice red berry notes, as well as a touch of oak. Nice weight here.

Waterford Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 Stellenbosch, South Africa
Supple and expressive with nice grainy blackcurrant fruit and some grip. Good focus here, and the wines seems youthful still.

Oldenburg Per Se Cabernet Sauvignon Rondekop 2019 Stellenbosch, South Africa
Fresh and vibrant with lovely blackcurrant fruit, showing some spicy framing and nice structure. This is focused with lovely structure and ageability.