I recently joined some colleagues to taste a number of current releases from Rustenberg Estate in Stellenbosch, South Africa. The winery has been very active in our local Ontario market through its agent Woodman Wines & Spirits, and many of the wines are either currently available, or will be released in the near future. We met with Murray Barlow, who is in charge of winemaking and marketing at his family’s estate.
Rustenberg was founded in 1682, and over the centuries has undergone many cycles of growth and decline. But the modern story begins in 1941, with the purchase of Rustenberg by Murray’s grandparents, Peter and Pamela Barlow. Subsequently the Barlows were able to purchase another important vineyard that had been separated from the estate in the early 1800s, and now the estate is largely back to its original size: 880 hectares of which 110 are under vine. The last 70 years under the Barlow family have brought stability and focus, and the family is now the longest-lasting ownership in the estate’s history.
The winery specializes in Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, and Bordeaux varieties, particularly Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, with small amounts of Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec. They also grow some Chenin Blanc and other white grapes that are currently used in a sweet straw wine, but plan to experiment with Chenin table wine in the future. The vineyards are situated on the slopes of the Simonsberg Mountain, and are largely red soils based on various types of decomposed granite.
We began the tasting with Rustenberg’s excellent 2014 Estate Chardonnay that is currently available in Ontario, and my original review is below. The wine is barrel fermented with wild yeasts, and is aged in French oak, 25% of which is new.
RUSTENBERG CHARDONNAY 2014, WO Stellenbosch
Vintages #598631 • $19.95 • 750ml. • 90/100This Chardonnay from South Africa features attractive aromas of lemon, apple and melon fruit, with sweet vanilla, a hint of smoky oak, and flinty minerality. The wine is dry, with fresh acidity, balanced alcohol, and a medium-full body. On the palate the oak and vanilla notes are integrating nicely into the lemon-apple core of fruit, and the slightly creamy texture is balanced by acidity and minerality on the finish. This is a terrific Chardonnay, priced very attractively.
Tasted May 13, 2016 • WOODMAN WINES & SPIRITS (Agent) • Find it at your nearest LCBO • Share Recommendation
The Estate Chardonnay’s older brother, the 2013 single vineyard Five Soldiers Chardonnay, will likely be available through Vintages Classics later this year. Relative to the Estate Chardonnay above, the fruit is more concentrated and the oak treatment is more extended (15 months versus 12) with a much higher percentage of new oak. As a consequence, I think it needs a little more time for the oak to settle and integrate, but the balanced structure and rich but bright fruit suggests a fine future.
The 2015 Rustenberg Estate Sauvignon Blanc is scheduled for release in February of 2017, and I will prepare a full review at that time. The Sauvignon Blanc is grown in the highest portion of the estate vineyard, at 550 meters above sea level, so although the environment is generally warm, the vines receive some cooling benefits from altitude. This environment is reflected in the wine, which shows riper grapefruit, apple, melon and pineapple fruit, with most of the herbaceous element ripened out, save for a pleasant nuance of dried herbs. The wine is dry, with less acidity than usual in Sauvignon, though it is still crisp and nicely balanced with the alcohol — an attractive and interesting style. It is expected to be priced at about $15.00.
The 2015 Petit Verdot rosé, released subsequent to this tasting, may be the only rosé made from Petit Verdot. My Vintages reivew follows.
RUSTENBERG PETIT VERDOT ROSÉ 2015, WO Simonsberg - Stellenbosch
Vintages #451773 • $13.95 • 750ml. • 87.5/100Petit Verdot is an unusual grape with which to make rosé, but it actually makes sense if you want a rosé that shows some real colour. With just 45 minutes from crushing to pressing, the small, deeply-coloured grapes are able to impart a lovely medium salmon-pink colour to the wine. Aromas of cherry, raspberry, strawberry, watermelon, fragrant red apples and apple blossoms compose the attractive nose. The wine is dry, with medium alcohol and a medium-full body, and while the acidity is slightly elevated, I would have enjoyed just a touch more to bring this into full balance. A hint of tannic burr and some herbal-fennel notes on the palate add some complexity. All-in-all, a very good rosé at an excellent price.
Tasted May 27, 2016 and May 31, 2016 • WOODMAN WINES & SPIRITS (Agent) • Find it at your nearest LCBO • Share Recommendation
The Rustenberg Estate Cabernet Sauvignon is made from the youngest vines on the estate, and well represents both the variety and its origins.
RUSTENBERG CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2013, WO Simonsberg-Stellenbosch
Vintages #443374 • $19.95 • 750ml. • 88.5/100The wine is deep ruby-purple, with a light purple rim. On the nose the vibrant ripe blackberry, plum, cherry and black currant fruit are balanced by a hint of varietal character — an undernote of dry leaves and a top note of menthol. The wine is dry, with elevated acidity and alcohol, and firm, rather fine tannins that exhibit some grip. Add a cedary note that underpins the ripe fruit, and builds a little on the finish. An excellent value that can certainly be enjoyed in the shorter term, but will benefit from a year or two of cellar time.
Tasted May 31, 2016 • WOODMAN WINES & SPIRITS (Agent) • Find it at your nearest LCBO • Share Recommendation
The John X Merriman Bordeaux-style blend is derived from older vines from the estate vineyards. The wine is a tribute to John Xavier Merriman, who purchased part of the estate in 1892, and was influential in helping viticulture in the area recover from phylloxera. He later became the last prime minister of the Cape Colony.
RUSTENBERG JOHN X MERRIMAN 2012, WO Simonsberg-Stellenbosch
Vintages #707323 • $24.95 • 750ml. • 89/100This is a Bordeaux-style blend featuring 49% Cabernet Sauvignon, 38% Merlot and small amounts of Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec. Ripe blackberry, cherry and black currant fruit aromas are complemented by slightly smoky oak spice and sandalwood, with hints of forest floor and dry earth. The wine is dry, with balanced alcohol and acidity, and elevated, fine tannins. While the fruit is very ripe on the palate, the savoury and lightly spicy underpinning adds interest and complexity. Very good value.
Tasted May 31, 2016 • • Find it at your nearest LCBO • Share Recommendation
The last two wines were a Merlot and an older Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2014 Rustenberg Merlot, which will be released in January of 2017, is an attractive, fruit-forward and well-structured wine that I will review in due course.
But the 2009 Peter Barlow Cabernet Sauvignon, named in honour of Murray’s grandfather, gave us a glimpse into the ageability of the estate’s premier Cabernet Sauvignon vines. The wine is deep ruby-purple, with aromas of rich blackberry and black currant fruit, a light dusting of dry herbs and garrigue, and notes of vanilla oak spice.The wine is well-structured, with elevated acidity and alcohol, integrating tannins, and rich, ripe and still-youthful fruit on the palate. The wine spent two years in French oak, 64% new, and is now into its fifth year in bottle — and just beginning to grow out of its youth. While this is drinking very well now, it deserves years in the cellar. What a lovely, vibrant wine! (91)