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Tasting notes from South Africa

text and photographs © 2010 Tom Cannavan

These notes accompany our in-depth feature on South Africa 2010.


The Meerlust farm dates back to the 1690s, with the manor house and oldest part of the cellar (part of which is visible behind winemaker Chris Williams in the photgraph, right) dating from that period. Just three kilometres from the sea at False Bay, evidence of early plantings suggest sweet white wine grapes were grown, though the wine it made was probably of indeterminate quality as its main purpose was to serve to sailors to keep scurvy at bay.

It was the father of the current owner, eighth-generation Johannes Myburgh, who changed the estate from a bulk wine producer to an estate bottling its own wines. Initially a producer of only red wines, Meerlust was one of the first in the Cape to attempt a Bordeaux blend. That wine, The Rubicon, first appeared in the 1980s and went on to become a true Cape icon.

Meerlust's winemaker is Chris Williams, who worked with Michel Rolland in Bordeaux through 1997, at Château Bon Pasteur in Pomerol. But Chris also travelled around Bordeaux with Rolland, which he says "was great exposure to sampling the fruit from all across the region and doing a lot of experimentation." Chris also mentions that there is no real culture of 'wine consultants' in South Africa, in terms of people like Rolland who go into established wineries and work with them to improve their operations.

Chris has done a lot to improve the Rubicon, mainly in the vineyards where he stopped using some blocks that were not good enough and tightened up lots of controls. Large vineyards were broken down into smaller lots and now as much as 60% of fruit is dropped from the vine for The Rubicon. The cellar has also been gutted and replaced with smaller tanks and a gravity-flow system. However, Chris says "There is no winemaking formula. Decisions on cold-soaking, fermentation, etc. are made day by day and vintage by vintage."

Chris also has his own boutique wine label called 'The Foundry', also made at Meerlust, but with a production of only 2000 cases using Rhône varieties.

Meerlust's wines

UK Agent is MMD and Inverarity Vaults, but see all stockists on wine-searcher.

Meerlust Chardonnay 2008
Barrel fermented, but only 60% in tight-grained French barriques, rest in large, older barrels. From 20-year-old vines on an alluvial bed, which Chris thinks helps with the tightness. Lovely fresh Chardonnay style, with melon and soft oatmeal notes, and an apple coolness to the fruit. It is a tighter style, with a lovely lemon confit palate, that cool orchard fruit is there too keeping it dry and savoury, and the acidity has lovely elegance and freshness. 90/100. £14.00, Selfridges, Harrods, Handford

Meerlust Pinot Noir 2008
Small, Burgundian cellar within main cellar with small tanks, hand-plunging. Fine, light colour. Nice muskiness and smokiness, with a lovely nose that is berryish and soft. Nice old vine, bracken Pinot Character in the mouth, with truffle and lovely Pinot notes that are earthy and deliciously tangy with the fresh acidity playing against nice tight tannins and spice. 90/100. £16.00.

Meerlust Merlot 2006
18 months in Nevers oak., around 60% new. Around 10% Cabernet Franc in the blend. A touch of leafiness and and a solid, plumy red and black fruit. The palate has good density and a big, dry palate, with a really firm, liquoricy edge. The dark, rich fruit is edged with good acids and tannins in a leaner, more savoury style. 90/100. £16.00.

Meerlust Rubicon 2005
69% Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, 24 months in Nevers and Alliers oak, 75% new. Lovely claretty nose, with an earthiness, pencil-shaving finesse and beneath a very plump, ripe black fruit quality. Elegant, aromatic spiciness. The palate has a lovely mouthful of dense, dark, quite brooding fruit, the earthy notes tightly wound, the tannins supple but tight and firm, the acidity juicy with firm chicory and bitter chocolate notes. Lovely length, a little bit of almost bloody ripeness and, again, very Bordeaux-like qualities. Very fine indeed. 93/100. £22-£24

The Foundry's wines

Uk Agent is Richards Walford, but see all stockists on wine-searcher.

The Foundry Grenache Blanc 2009
Barrel fermented in old Chardonnay barrels. Lovely fresh nose, very aromatic, with some peachiness from Viognier and a little herbal lift. Very nice,ripe fruit,with delicious juiciness and a sweet finish with lots of tang and really good length. 89/100. £8.99, Wine Society.

The Foundry Viognier 2007
Quite reductive at first, with the palate showing nice fruit and nice mouthfeel. Quite fleshy, bold, with good dry extract a little like dried apricot. Nice acidity to oin a very balanced finish. 89/100. £11.99

The Foundry Syrah 2004
Beautiful charry, schisty, pepper and spice nose, with really nice savoury northen Rhone style, the dark, dry, bitter chocolate fruit. Lovely wine, with a big sour cherry raft of fruit and a mouthwatering finish of black cheery, spice and a schisty earthiness. 93/100. £16.99

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