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Meerlust Estate Rubicon, Stellenbosch 2014

Red Wine from South Africa
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2014 is the 29th vintage of this now iconic South African red, which remains a classic Bordeaux-style blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc and petit verdot. A delicious wine with spicy dark fruit and fine chalky tannins.
is no longer available
Code: SA12601

Wine characteristics

  • Red Wine
  • Full-bodied
  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Now to 2035
  • 14% Alcohol
  • oak used but not v. noticeable
  • Cork, natural

South Africa

South Africa is undoubtedly one of the world's most dynamic wine producers. Established winemakers re-emerged onto the international scene in the early 1990s, following the demise of the apartheid era, and new wines, wineries, highly qualified winemakers, and even new regions have appeared steadily ever since. This makes South Africa more exciting than ever, but more complicated, too.

Most South African wines are varietally labelled - a key factor in any buying decision. Styles vary of course, and our notes aim to clarify this, but you will probably already know whether you like sauvignon blanc (now among the world's best), chardonnay, riesling, syrah, pinot noir, or cabernet.

South Africa's most famous grapes - white chenin blanc and red pinotage - will be less familiar unless you are already a convert. South African chenins are quite different from those in the Loire - almost always dry, but ripe and full of flavour (often with the complexity that comes from the increasingly...
South Africa is undoubtedly one of the world's most dynamic wine producers. Established winemakers re-emerged onto the international scene in the early 1990s, following the demise of the apartheid era, and new wines, wineries, highly qualified winemakers, and even new regions have appeared steadily ever since. This makes South Africa more exciting than ever, but more complicated, too.

Most South African wines are varietally labelled - a key factor in any buying decision. Styles vary of course, and our notes aim to clarify this, but you will probably already know whether you like sauvignon blanc (now among the world's best), chardonnay, riesling, syrah, pinot noir, or cabernet.

South Africa's most famous grapes - white chenin blanc and red pinotage - will be less familiar unless you are already a convert. South African chenins are quite different from those in the Loire - almost always dry, but ripe and full of flavour (often with the complexity that comes from the increasingly sought-after old-vine fruit and the use of oak). Pinotage, a South African creation, is for many a love-it-or-hate-it grape. Pinotage's 'parents' are pinot noir, which imparts its strawberry aromas and lovely texture in young wines, and more complex, farmyard characteristics in more mature examples, and cinsault, the southern French grape, which adds spice and body. It was developed in South Africa in 1926. Shiraz is now making a name for itself in South Africa with some superb examples bottled varietally and showing characteristics that often places it between the plush New World style pioneered by Australia and classic Rhône balance and elegance.

More significant in South Africa than much of the New World (notably New Zealand and Chile) are blends, which make selection more complicated, as the style of the wine is less easy to anticipate. As in Australia and California, however, many of the best wines here are blends - a sign of maturity in the industry. Bordeaux blends were favoured initially but there are increasing numbers of Rhône and southern French influenced blends, including some eclectic mixes, many of which are among South Africa’s best wines.

The Regions

The vineyards of South Africa are at a latitude of about 35o south, with hot, dry Mediterranean-type summers tempered by oceanic influences in the south, particularly the very cold Benguela Current. Much of the country is mountainous or hilly with a multitude of terroirs for winemakers to play with. Soils are ancient and complex, and many and varied from region to region, and even vineyard to vineyard. Rainfall is very varied from one area to another, largely depending which side of a mountain or range a vineyard lies on, and in some parts irrigation is essential.

South Africa’s rigorous Wine Of Origin scheme demarcates vineyard areas, including some single vineyards, and guarantees the geographical source of the wine much like the old French appellation contrôllée system recently renamed AOP, though there are no controls on yields and grape varieties as there are in France..

Bordeaux-style blends are one of the Stellenbosch region's great strengths. Wines such as Kanonkop's Paul Sauer, Meerlust's Rubicon and Warwick's Trilogy are South African icons, produced over many years, and with proven ageing capacity. The striking Simonsberg mountain names the ward (or area) most highly sought after for these reds, but Stellenbosch produces a wide range of wine styles, from excellent chenin blancs and sauvignons to robust pinotage and Cape Blends.

Paarl is its less-well-known neighbour, also warm, and best known for its robust but smooth reds. Franschhoek is understandably one of the most-visited towns in the Cape (with lots of French Huguenot history and some of the best restaurants in the region). It has a number of famous producers, most notably Boekenhoutskloof, but most do not produce exclusively from Franschhoek fruit. Cape Chamonix is an exception we rate highly, producing a wide range of wine styles from bubbly to cabernet franc led red blend Troika.

The generally warmer Swartland region has been at the forefront of the development of Rhône varietals in South Africa, led by stars such as Eben Sadie, as well as home to some of the best old chenin blanc vines. Further north, and much cooler is Citrusdal, where fresher styles are produced and chenin blanc can achieve real finesse.

The Cape peninsula, to the south of Cape Town itself, is home to Constantia, known for its cooler climate thanks to the influence of the two oceans that almost circle it. Here, sauvignon blanc and the Bordeaux grapes predominate, but there are lovely examples of aromatic varieties too, notably Klein Constantia's elegant riesling and its wonderful sweet muscat Vin de Constance, and the vibrant sauvignon blancs from Cape Point vineyards to the south. Rhône varietals are successful new additions.

Elgin, en route to Hermanus, is another very cool region, very much up-and-coming for sauvignon blanc, as is Elim, which is even further south and the source of our former Exhibition Sauvignon. Robertson is almost due north of Elim, but way inland and far hotter. A small number of family producers manage to make excellent sauvignon here, too, but it is also a good source of chardonnay, increasingly pinot noir, and elegantly styled pinotage and Rhône varietals, not forgetting the excellent fortified muskadels which are unique to the Cape.

The most important factor in deciding whether or not to buy is often the producer's name. This is easily achieved when some of the grandest 'old' names, such as Meerlust, Hamilton Russell, Kanonkop, and Klein Constantia, still rank among the country's best producers. Where it gets trickier is when the winery is new, has no track record, or the winemaker is not a household name.
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Meerlust Estate

When the Myburgh family first purchased the Meerlust Estate in 1756, they could not possibly have predicted that the family would still be making some of the country’s most prestigious wine there hundreds of years on (making it by far the longest family-run wine estate in the Cape), or that later generations would transform the landscape of South African wine production altogether. In fact, their estate has also been immortalised in art, painted by one of South Africa’s most renowned artists, and in 1987 was declared a national monument.

It was actually a previous German owner who gave the estate its name. Meerlust means a yen for the sea, whether a vague longing from afar or a positive delight in being in, on or near it. A romantic poet might call it Sea Fever. At just 5km from False Bay, the estate’s proximity to the ocean plays a huge part in its wine production: the ocean breezes and evening mists keep vineyard temperatures regulated during the hot, dry summers.

Drought-resistant clay and granite soils provide further natural assistance, but during the drier spells drip-irrigation is also used, causing the vines to dig deeper into the soils and resulting in grapes with higher individual character. The brilliant vineyard location and careful management encourage the grapes to ripen slowly, giving them greater complexity.

Until the 1960s, Meerlust participated in traditional South African viticulture, and therefore only grew grapes for sweet white wines. Not only did...
When the Myburgh family first purchased the Meerlust Estate in 1756, they could not possibly have predicted that the family would still be making some of the country’s most prestigious wine there hundreds of years on (making it by far the longest family-run wine estate in the Cape), or that later generations would transform the landscape of South African wine production altogether. In fact, their estate has also been immortalised in art, painted by one of South Africa’s most renowned artists, and in 1987 was declared a national monument.

It was actually a previous German owner who gave the estate its name. Meerlust means a yen for the sea, whether a vague longing from afar or a positive delight in being in, on or near it. A romantic poet might call it Sea Fever. At just 5km from False Bay, the estate’s proximity to the ocean plays a huge part in its wine production: the ocean breezes and evening mists keep vineyard temperatures regulated during the hot, dry summers.

Drought-resistant clay and granite soils provide further natural assistance, but during the drier spells drip-irrigation is also used, causing the vines to dig deeper into the soils and resulting in grapes with higher individual character. The brilliant vineyard location and careful management encourage the grapes to ripen slowly, giving them greater complexity.

Until the 1960s, Meerlust participated in traditional South African viticulture, and therefore only grew grapes for sweet white wines. Not only did Meerlust replant their vineyards with much less common varieties like cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc and pinot noir, they also adopted the almost unheard of approach of plot-by-plot vineyard management to allow the terroir to shine through.

100% of the grapes used are hand-cultivated directly from Meerlust’s estate and leased vineyards next door. Meerlust is currently headed by eighth-generation Hannes Myburgh. Hannes studied oenology in Germany and gained experience working on prestigious vineyards, including first-growth Lafite in Bordeaux – a particularly helpful placement, as the terroir has similarities to that of Meerlust’s in South Africa.

It was this discovery by Hannes' father Nico that led to the creation of the iconic Meerlust Rubicon. When he visited Bordeaux in the seventies, he realised that while their vineyards and soils were similar, unlike Meerlust their most successful wines were blends, and he took this inspiration back to Meerlust with him.

In 1980, after years of experimentation, he decided the ideal blend was 70% cabernet sauvignon, 20% merlot, 10% cabernet franc. The Rubicon is so-called because – like Caesar’s decision to cross the river of the same name in 49BC – it marked a change in history, and this Bordeaux blend – the first of its kind in South Africa – was certainly a turning-point for South African winemaking.

Sticklers for quality, the Meerlust team has always insisted that Rubicon is only made in the very best years, and so in less favourable vintages (of which there have only been a few) all the wine is declassified to the Meerlust Estate Red. Normally made only from younger and less well-situated vines, this is half the price of its superior sibling (making it great value for money).

The winery is just as steeped in history as the rest of the estate: built in 1776, it was originally the wagon house before being used as the Meerlust cellars, and in 1974 it was refurbished with all the modern machinery needed to remain competitive as well as traditional. Today, the cellars are run by Chris Williams, who first worked for Meerlust in the early nineties and returned as cellarmaster in time for the 2004 vintage, helping them achieve awards year after year.
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South Africa Vintage 2014

All in all 2014 was a good vintage across South Africa. Paarl and Malmesbury had exceptional vintages despite higher than average yields, while Stellenbosch did well after wet weather posed some problems. Coastal areas enjoyed exceptional harvests. Quality does vary by region, and early varieties (notably sauvignon blanc) were hit by some unseasonal rain, but the lack of early heat spikes compensated.

The Cape 'enjoyed' a bumper crop, which is good news given burgeoning exports, but 2014 did present some challenges to winemakers, who struggled for cellar space towards the end of harvest! This meant some wine had to be sold off in bulk to make space, and some wine will have been bottled earlier than hoped and planned – not ideal at such a busy time in the cellar, especially after the gruelling three to four months of harvest that characterises the vintage.

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