Meerlust recently released the 2004 Rubicon â€“ the 25th vintage of this famous Cape wine. The first vintage to see the market was the 1980, making it one of the first â€œBordeaux blendsâ€ from the Cape. Today, winemaker Chris Williams is less inclined to call it a Bordeaux blend, preferring the idea of a flagship Meerlust wine made with Bordeaux grape varieties.
The distinction is one of philosophy. Williams, an articulate and thoughtful wine-maker, wants to capture the soul of the Meerlust property in the wines, not follow a template that has been set in Bordeaux. Therefore, to take these grapes, native to Bordeaux, and to make a wine that tastes rather of this corner of the Cape than of that corner of France.
Tasting back over older vintages of Rubicon, it is clear that the philosophy in the past was to mimic the French model quite closely. Vintages 1986, 1991 and 1994 all show a lean and tannic character, with rather strappy acidity. But from 1998 onwards, the wine first becomes more â€œnew worldâ€ â€“ riper and richer and more handsomely wooded â€“ and then gradually more refined until we reach the elegant 2004.
Williams says that his marketers rein him when he starts talking about soil. Before eyes glaze over, he relates how Meerlust has ten soil types and, within this, 50 different forms. This diversity is the puzzle that the winemaking team have to unravel in order to create wines that are both excellent and unique to this property.
If this sounds like a daunting task, it is, and Williams is the first to be humbled by the immensity of the challenge â€“ one that is unlikely to be completed in his lifetime. Fortunately he is working with a family, the Myburghs, that understand the meaning of long term â€“ they have been farming here (and making wine) since 1756; which is beginning to look like a term that can compare to Bordeaux!
Talk also turned to the price of the recent release. At R230 there is ample evidence that this is a very fair price, probably even a good price. Take the heritage factor of this property. If ever there was a farm and a wine that suggests iconic status, this is it. With so many Johnnie-come-lately producers charging more than R500 per bottle, you have to respect a more â€œhonestâ€ price. If you donâ€™t really buy into that stuff, consider that the farm only releases Rubicon after four years of maturation (as opposed to most others at two years) and that the wine from this point on has a proven track record of maturation potential. Your R230 spent now will look trifling in ten years. And we all know thatâ€™s guaranteed.