Meerlust Rubicon 2014
Bordeaux blends are among my favourite French styles of wine, but while my palate yearns for their wet gravel nose and balance of juicy fruit and chalky tannins, my wallet resents their lofty price tag.
Typically, a good quality Bordeaux wine will set you back upwards of $50 a bottle, and up to $5,000 for a bottle of the famous blend from Liber Pater in Graves. Not that I’ve ever tried one with such an extravagant asking price!
Here in Australia, we do have some more affordable wines made in the Bordeaux style in which cabernet, merlot, cabernet franc and petit verdot are blended to produce a medium-bodied red wine, but they generally lack the gravelly nose and chalkiness of the French icon.
If you’re after a local “Bordeaux blend”, I’d lean towards those from either the Coonawarra in South Australia or the Margaret River region in WA where you’ll find wines with a lifted nose, vibrant fruit and a nice balance of tannin and acid.
If you love the Bordeaux style but aren’t keen on parting with an amount equivalent to the capital of a small Pacific nation just to secure a bottle, you could do worse than looking to South Africa, and the Stellenbosch district in the Western Cape region.
The Stellenbosch wine region is around 40 kms east of Cape Town and only 20 kms from the maritime influence of False Bay to the south. The vineyards are generally planted on the rolling hills of the district where the variations between sheltered valleys and sunny slopes result in disparate outcomes for producers. The soils in the region are ideal for growing high-quality red wines as the high clay content of the granite and sandstone sub-strata means that they drain well yet retain enough water to make irrigation largely unnecessary.
A key point of difference between Stellenbosch and Bordeaux is the weighting of the varietals they use in the blends. In the French port city in southwestern France, it’s merlot which accounts for the lion’s share of production, while in Stellenbosch, cabernet sauvignon is the grape primarily grown. And the bias towards cabernet in the South African region flows through to the balance of the quintet of varietals used in their blends.
A South African friend recently dropped in a bottle of what he claimed was one of his favourite reds from Stellenbosch, the Meerlust Rubicon 2014. “It’s lekker my china” my mate Nev, declared. After consulting Google Translate I worked out that he’s pretty impressed by the drop which is a blend of 67% cabernet sauvignon, 14% merlot, 12% cabernet franc and 7% petit verdot. So by weighting, it doesn’t look on paper to emulate a true Bordeaux blend but crack the stelvin, pour a glass and there are lively blackcurrant and cassis characters on the nose and a herbaceous plumminess through the middle.
There’s none of the gravelly chalkiness of some of the wines from Saint-Émilion and Pomerol but nonetheless, there are very pleasant notes of cherry and chocolate with a touch of tobacco and leather on the edges. It’s no more than medium weight on the palate, but the tannins are sleek, if not restrained, and give the impression that it will improve with a few more years in the bottle.
Best of all, the Meerlust Rubicon sells at around only $50 a bottle, which sounds expensive, but compares very well against the French alternative! You can find it in some Springbok stores around the country, or online from a number of e-commerce retailers.
The Meerlust may not be as sweet on the palate as a true Bordeaux style, but its delightful mouthfeel and linear acidity give it a certain elegance that I suspect even the Frogs would be proud of!