Rustenberg cool oasis on a hot summer day

South African 'top 10' cabernet producers

We asked a great friend of ours and a person knowledgeable about SA wines (the Good Value Guru) to suggest his Top 10 Cabernet Sauvignon producers within a 2 hour drive from Cape Town. These estates consistently produce excellent wine year after year.

Producers of Cabernet Sauvignon varietal wines and blends (in alphabetical order)

Ordinarily we note which wines we bought but as we hoped to pull together a shipment of ’09 cabs we bought very few red wines on the estates so our purchases are not a reliable indicator of our preferences this time.

All the estates are in the Stellenbosch area except Glen Carlou which is in Paarl but on the edge of the Stellenbosch area furthest from Cape Town.  

Glen Carlou

 GGlen Carlou view towards Paar
Glen Carlou view towards Paarl

This estate was on the list for both Chardonnay and Cabernet (one of only two such estates).  Their flagship wine is the Grand Classique, a Bordeaux blend.  The 2007 (R120) had a nose of graphite or smoke and red fruits.  The palate had red fruits and tight tannins.  The strong tannins were probably a hold-over from the 2007 vintage which was one of the worst in the 2005 to 2009 period.  The Cabernet Sauvignon was from the 2010 vintage and newly released (R90).  It had a nose of boiled sweets whilst the palate was toffee and restrained black fruits with obvious tannins because it was so young.  Apparently the ’09 is ‘wow’.


Grapes tractored in at Kanonkop waiting off-loading at Kanonkop
Grapes tractored in Awaiting off-loading
Weighing the load of grapes at Kanonkop Tipping grapes into de-stemmer at Kanonkop
Weighing the load Tipping into de-stemmer
Removing the muck from the grapes by hand at Kanonkop Pumping grapes into a vat at Kanonkop
Removing the muck by hand Pumping grapes into a vat

The harvest of their Pinotage grapes was in full swing on the day we arrived – see the photos above.  They are very proud of their Pinotage (a varietal only found in South Africa - a cross between Pinot Noir and Hermitage) and promote the varietal vigourously.
We tasted their Cabernet Sauvignon ’08 (R230).  A classic Cape cab; really fruity on the nose and a palate of red berries with soft tannins; really good.  Their Paul Sauer ’08 bordeaux blend (R330) was sold out and the ’09 not yet released.  We also tried their Pinotage ’09 (R195) which was sweetish and full of spices; obviously well made but confirming our dislike of the varietal.


 Overgaauw tasting room
Entance to Overgaauw tasting room

The ’10 Cabernet (R109) tasted slightly smokey but was full of red beery fruit and tannins.  The nose was restrained.  Their Bordeaux blend Tria Corda ’09 (R159) had a nose of red berry cassis.  The palate was earthy and spicey (the latter from the Cabernet Franc they said) and full of red fruits with soft tannins.  This definitely lived up to its advance billing.  Whilst in the Kruger National Park we had their Shepherd's Cottage Sauvignon-Merlot 2009 as our barbecue wine – it was really excellent in that role.


 Rustenberg shade
Shade outside tasting room most welcome in 30°+

The other of the two estates that was nominated for both Cabernet and Chardonnay.  Their John X Merriman is a Bordeaux blend.  The ’09 cost R155.  It had a classic cab nose with herbaceous notes.  On the palate were loads of red fruits and strong tannins.  Their pure Cabernet, the Peter Barlow 06 (R295) was smokey and nettles but even more so, green on the nose.  The palate was fruity but also green.  Again a vintage issue to our minds – the ’06 is amongst the worst of the ’05 to ’09 vintages for red wine.  The ’05 was available in screw caps for R350 – the pricing speaks volumes.


 Saxenberg tasting room
Saxenberg tasting room

This was a bit of a surprise as it is their shiraz that normally gets the awards.  We tried the 2007 Cabernet (R185).  It had a nose of plums and on the palate were ripe black fruits and soft tannins; another victim of the 2007 vintage.


Barrel fermentation at Thelema
Barrel fermentation at Thelema

Thelema has three cabs.  The ’08 (R175) was quite closed when we started the tasting even though our portions were from the bottom of the bottle.  After a while it started to open up when the black fruits were great on both the nose and palate.  There were big tannins.  The Mint Cabernet ’09 (R200) had a strong mint nose as its name would suggest and the palate full of fruit; really good.  They think that the mint comes from eucalyptus trees bordering the vineyard.  Some time back we had a taste-off of SA and Aus cabs and several of the Aussies had a strong mint component.  So maybe the theory is right.  But at the time we thought that it was a clone matter.  The ’08 Sutherland Cabernet Sauvignon / Petit Verdot blend (R100) was peppery and sharp; it appears that the Petit Verdot is over-powering the cab at this stage.


 Vergenoegd tasting room
Vergenoegd tasting room

We have visited this estate often a they produce traditional style South African reds that are full of tannin and take time to be drinkable. We tasted the 2004 Cabernet (R120) and the 2003 Estate Bordeaux blend (R190). They both had excellent fruit on the nose and palate and vibrant tannins. The Cabernet also had hints of tobacco on the nose. The Estate was 60% cabernet with Merlot and Petite Verdot; the latter two varietals rounded out the cab and softened the tannins.

Two other names were on the list le Riche and Webbersberg. To visit the former ones has to make an appointment which is against our philosophy. The latter closes at 4pm on a Saturday so it was a toss-up between a visit or a nap under the shady trees at Jordan after lunch; one doesn’t have to be a genius to figure which won.

The wines we liked best were Kanonkop ’08 cab, Overgaauw ’09 Tria Corda, Thelema ’09 Mint cab and Vergenoegd ’03 Estate.