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Winter is the season to explore the warm flavours of the Cape’s reds, writes Graham Howe
10 June 2011

As temperatures drop I always enjoy the time of the year when red wines come into their own to complement rich winter fare. I’ve tasted my way through a mixed case of exciting new blends from newer producers like Avondale, Shannon Vineyards and Oldenburg, as well as a few classics from old Stellenbosch favourites like Delheim, Muratie, Slaley, Villiera and Yonder Hill.

Variety is the spice of food and wine so I’ve included a few marvellous Merlots I’ve discovered along the way that are guaranteed to beat the winter blues. BIG REDS Avondale La Luna 2006. This family wine estate near Paarl, practises a unique mix of organic and biodynamic viticulture known as bio-logic farming. La Luna, their new flagship, is a harmonious blend of organically grown Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot. It celebrates the way Avondale farms in harmony with nature. I enjoyed the alluring cedar and truffle aromas, forest floor notes, vibrant plum and mulberry flavours and the soft tannins.

Delheim Family Blend 2009. This release celebrates the sixtieth anniversary of the founding of the family farm in the Simonsberg by legendary winemaker ‘Spatz’ Sperling. His children, marketer Nora and winemaker Victor Sperling, created this wine in the quirky, feisty and unpretentious spirit of the grand patriarch of the Stellenbosch wine route. The Family Blend combines Malbec, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon in an elegant and easy-drinking wine with rich, spicy mocha and blackberry flavours and silky tannins. Muratie Ansela van de Caab 2007. While revisiting this classic Bordeaux-style blend, named after the emancipated slave who married the farm’s founder, I discovered its new partner. The Melck family of Muratie has launched a new flagship named after the founder — Laurens Campher 2010. This barrel-fermented, woodmatured blend of Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Verdelho and Chardonnay has exotic honeysuckle and pineapple flavours — a great match for spicy Asian fare.

Slaley Broken Stone Cabernet Sauvignon/Shiraz 2006. The Hunting family farm in the Simonsberg has released an easydrinking blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz, the great grapes of Bordeaux and Rhône. I enjoyed the enticing aromas of violets, menthol and peppers with delicious raspberry, plum and spice flavours. Lindsay’s Whimsy 2007, a delightful blend of Pinotage, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz, has a captivating floral nose with typical raspberry and sweet fruit character.

Yonder Hill Inanda 2007. When it comes to big red wines with staying power, Yonder Hill, a family wine farm on the Helderberg, is one of the Cape’s best-kept secrets. Inanda 2007, a Bordeauxstyle blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot is a smorgasbord of chocolate, mocha, cassis, cherry and mulberry flavours on a mouth-filling palate, matured in oak for 20 months. Also try Yonder Hill Merlot 2007, a velvety wine with luscious blackberry, choc and mocha flavours.

Villiera Merlot 2008. Villiera, the Grier family estate in Stellenbosch, has been making awardwinning Merlot for more than two decades. The current 2008 Merlot is all cedar and mint with alluring dark berry fruit, rich and full with juicy soft tannins and a long svelte finish. I also enjoyed revisiting Villiera Monro 2005, the cellar’s flagship red blend, a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc with great intensity of flavour, structure and texture. Mount Bullet Merlot 2009. James and Stuart Downes at Shannon Vineyards in the Elgin Valley are acclaimed growers of sitespecific wines: Mount Bullet Merlot 2009, Rockview Ridge Pinot Noir 2009 and Sanctuary Peak Sauvignon Blanc 2010. (Made at Newton Johnson in Walker Bay, Mount Bullet 2008 was the only Merlot to win five stars in Platter’s SA Wines Guide 2011.) This elegant wine with an earthy, mineral texture and ripe red fruit is full bodied with silky tannins.

Oldenburg Cabernet Franc 2008. Oldenburg Vineyards is the newest cellar in the exclusive Banhoek Valley atop Helshoogte Pass in Stellenbosch, home to topdrawer wineries such as DelaireGraff, Thelema and Tokara. Visitors are dropping into Oldenburg’s new tasting room to enjoy the spectacular views and taste the maiden 2008 vintage — Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah — along with Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay 2010. The Cabernet Franc 2008 is a winter warmer with ripe cherry, cassis, mocha and chocolate flavours.