Tasting T3.13 South African Cabernet Sauvignon Blends

As promised in the foreword to tasting T3.15 we embark tonight on our South African Cabernet Sauvignon based blends. These wines are yet a further indication of the strong vinous bond between France and South Africa, particularly in the early years of the South African wine industry.

Traditionally the western cape produced specific single varietal wines. Nico Myburgh father of the current custodian of Meerlust, Hannes Myburgh, discovered that the terroir in the Bordeaux area of France was similar to that of the Eerste River Valley. They both have a distinctive climate, characterised by a cooling sea breeze. Both have a soil structure made up of decomposed granite and clay.

Returning to South Africa he set about creating his own blend. In 1980 after several years of experimentation with his winemaker Giorgio Dalla Cia they announced their new blend 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc.

This is unlikely to be the first blend made in South Africa, but it was quite important as the wine, Meerlust Rubicon, became an iconic wine in South Africa. It is the second wine we tasted.

In this tasting, Cabernet Sauvignon is the predominant grape however it is only a single varietal in one of the wines (Moreson Magia). In the main it is married in a mix of the traditional ‘Bordeaux Blend’ of grape varieties of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and a touch of Malbec. However, there are also guest appearances of Cinsault, Carignan and Shiraz.

One of the benefits of the new world wine rules is the lack of many of them. Whilst the appellation controlee (AOC) system in France maintains along with quality a traditional use of grape and method. In the new world, however, these restrictions do not apply and as such it does enable us, the wine buyer, to answer some of those ‘what if’ questions we might raise. A particular case would be of different blends from the old-world traditions.

Having said that, the first two and fifth wines tasted are indeed blends of the traditional grapes. This proves that even when you can change things up a bit, sometimes the traditional ideas still work too.

I know I have previously mentioned some of our South African wine trips, indeed one wine in this tasting is a bottle (part of many) that we sent back to the UK during our last trip there in 2017.

We arrived at the airport in Cape Town quite early in the morning. Once through passport control we were collected by our guide who then proceeded to drive us around various wineries over the next three or four days.

Our first stop was Rust en Vrede where we sat on a lovely little terrace by the side of their tasting room. Ever keen to take the opportunity to assist me in my wine tasting, Kim got stuck in with her usual gusto, after all it was time for breakfast.

It is perhaps unsurprising that before we had left the winery, she had ordered a few cases to be despatched to us in the UK for later enjoyment. The 2012 Estate red that we sent back is the sixth wine we will taste this evening.

The wineries are,

Benguela Cove (Walker Bay)

Benguela Cove Wine Estate is a specialist producer and wine destination, at the start of the Walker Bay wine region. Located in the Western Cape, between Cape Town and Hermanus.

The estate boasts the longest stretch of ocean facing vineyards (2.6km), grown at the lowest altitude (2.7m above sea level). The vineyard position at the edge of the southern coast of South Africa is quite unique. A south-easterly sea breeze is chilled by the Benguela Current flowing up from Antarctica.

Meerlust (Stellenbosch)

Meerlust, with its historic manor house, classic wine cellar, family cemetery, dovecote and bird sanctuary is situated fifteen kilometres south of Stellenbosch. The blue crescent of False Bay a mere five kilometres away. In the summertime, ocean breezes and evening mists roll in from the coast to cool the vineyards. The grapes ripen slowly, thus achieving full, concentrated varietal flavours.

Moreson Wine Farm (Franschoek)

Clayton Reabow has been at the helm here since 2006 and was named Diner’s club winemaker of the Year 2019. A pilot. His wines are often named after call signs or other aviation references.

Hogan Wines (Stellenbosch)

Hogan Wines started in 2014 and is a small, family-run business with Jocelyn Hogan Wilson as winemaker. It is located in the beautiful Banhoek Valley and sources grapes from various regions of the Western Cape. They select vineyards suited in terms of climate and soil to the varietals they make.

Kanonkop  (Stellenbosch)

The name Kanonkop is derived from a hillock (kop) on the Simonsberg mountain. This lies above the wine estate from where, during the 17th and 18th centuries, a cannon (kanon) was fired to announce the arrival of sailing ships entering Table Bay.

Founder Paul Sauer first cleared land and planted grapes during World War Two. The cellar was built in 1942. By the 1960’s they had 110 hectares under vine and all grapes vinified in the Kanonkop cellar were sold to the Stellenbosch Farmers Winery. This was one of the largest co-operatives. In 1973 the first wines bearing the Kanonkop label were produced.

Rust en Vrede (Stellenbosch)

Rust en Vrede Estate lies south of Stellenbosch. Nestled on the lower slopes of the Helderberg Mountain between 85m and 130m above sea level with a view on Table Mountain to the West. Vineyards are situated on North facing slopes, with a small portion of North-East and North-West facing slopes. Shielded from the powerful South-Easterly wind by the Helderberg and Stellenbosch mountains. It is also protected from the South-Westerly wind off the Atlantic by the foothills of the Helderberg. Rust en Vrede is a warmer microcosm in the Helderberg area, which is why they specialise in red wines.

Tonight’s wines will be tasted by David, Harry, Kim and Jen.

Benguela Cove – Collage 2019

Bunches were hand-picked and sorted. Varietals and Vineyards were vinifies and matured separately so they could be tasted individually. Only the best were used to make a blend. Maturation for 18 months in 45% new French oak.

Note: Blueberries, blackberries and cherries immediately on the nose. Vegetation and herbaceous notes are ripe and prominent. A nice and well-rounded body with fruit taking centre stage. Good acidity with easy, fine tannins. Showing a good ability to continue ageing for a while. A lovely, pleasant, easy-drinking wine.

Meerlust – Rubicon 2017

68% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc and 4% Petit Verdot. Each variety fermented separately, then undergoing malolactic fermentation in 60% New French Nevers and 40% second fill casks. 8 months in barrel, then blended together and given another 10 months in barrel.

Note: Cherries, plums and damson very clear on the nose. Silky smooth on the palate and very easy to drink. Strong, thick tannins which are very juicy, enveloping the mouth with a full body. Balance working out well, good structure and very linear. The harmony of fruit and tannins are like eating a steak. High acidity as well making for good ability to age for a decade minimum. Sour cherries really coming round with food!

Moreson – Magia 2017

The grapes are not crushed so as to limit the damage to the berries. Once fermentation is complete the wine is left to lie on the skins for a period of two weeks. Free run juice is drained and transferred to barrels and malolactic fermentation starts. The wine is matured for 24 months in 100% New French oak. Blending of different parcels then take place to create Magia and it is transferred to old oak barrels for 1 month to complex.

Note: Blackcurrants, blueberries and vegetation extremely powerful. Extremely warm, the sunshine from the cape sneaks through this wine. It is an intoxicating, exciting smell, truly exquisite and savoury. Incredibly smooth in the mouth and oh so simple to taste all of the glorious fruit and vegetative notes. Fine but strong tannins with heaps of acidity. This is still very much a baby and has a long way to go. This should age extremely gracefully, it is fantastic already anyway!

Hogan – Divergent 2017

The Divergent blend comprises of 34% Cabernet Sauvignon, 34% Cinsault and 32% Carignan. All were crushed and destemmed except for Cinsault which was 30% whole bunch and naturally fermented. After fermentation the different varietals were pressed and separated in 225L barrels. The blend was then made in August, with the wine spending a further 4 months in barrel.

Note: Deep and dark fruit aromas on the nose, cooked fruits with plums coming through. Extremely enticing and rich on the nose with a wonderful playfulness. Notes of leather and vegetation lingering towards the finish as well. Ripe fruits, extremely intense aromas of fruits with pepper coming into play on the finish. Strong tannins, integrating nicely so far with lots of ability for ageing. An absolute powerhouse of a wine. Leave this for a decade and come back to it as it will be fantastic.

Kanonkop – Paul Sauer 2014

Cabernet Sauvignon 74%, Cabernet Franc 9%, Merlot 17%. Fermentation takes place in open fermenters with 5 days on skins. 24 months in new 225L French Nevers Oak.

Note: This is at a very different level, elegance and finesse ooze from the rim of the glass. Blueberries extremely intense, cedar and tobacco leaf notes nicely coming through as well. Blackberries, plums and cherries very prominent on the palate. Protruding tannins, very powerful but becoming smoother with the full body of this wine. Good acidity and tartness of plums towards the finish. Many more years ahead of this one. Drinking beautifully.

Rust en Vrede – Estate Red 2012

56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 36% Shiraz, 8% Merlot. Primary fermentation took 7 days followed by 21 day maceration. Malolactic fermentation in oak barrels. After fermentation the varietals are vinified separately. Matured in 85% French and 15% American oak for 18 months. Then for a further 12 months in bottle before release.

Note: Farmyard, herbaceous aromas and blackberry leaf. Plums, blackberries and dried fruits coming through. Extremely savoury as well with cedar and tobacco. Incredible sour cherry notes on the palate, very dry with soil and dried fruits taking centre stage. Powerful tannins which blend perfectly with the intense fruit characteristics on show. Time still needed for acidity and tannins to blend in nicely, still a long way to go. A very different wine to anything else we have tasted. Really impressive.


These wines were very much made with a rustic style. As we alluded to earlier in this article, a lot of the winemaking techniques used for these blends were that of Bordeaux techniques. However, due to the increase in heat of the climate, you can see the ‘sunshine’ coming through. None of these wines were what we could call ‘hot’ due to alcohol, however some were not far off.

They were all extremely pleasant and very lovely to taste. All with their own certain differences and interesting aromas. I would definitely recommend any of these wines, however for me personally the Magia from Moreson and Paul Sauer from Kanonkop stood out, in terms of cost and quality of wine. 

The scores:

Benguela Cove 2019 – 90 Points

Rubicon 2017 – 92 Points

Magia 2017 – 94 Points

Divergent 2017 – 94 Points

Paul Sauer 2014 – 96 Points

Rust En Vrede Estate 2012 – 96 Points

As you can see some great results and definitely something for everyone in this tasting.

We shall see you next week for another 60th Tasting… me thinks Chablis 😉

David & Harry

Share this post

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published