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Vergelegen “V” – an icon wine in the making? 

By Greg Sherwood

' “V” is the validation of Vergelegen’s striving to produce a wine that can stand on an equal footing with the most prestigious wines in the world whilst at the same time contributing to realizing Van der Stel’s original vision and the objective for South Africa to be globally acknowledged  as a producer of great wines. “V” has been achieved by maximizing the synergies between the vineyards, the winery, the vitality of the people who toil in both and the talents of a dedicated and passionate winemaker.'

If you were fortunate enough to be able to afford to buy a case of Vergelegen’s new wine, the “V”, then on opening the heaviest wooden slide top wine box to come out of South Africa yet, you would have been greeted by a smartly printed card with the above vinous proclamation. Indeed at between £55 and £58 pounds a bottle, this makes Vergelegen’s wine the most expensive offering from South Africa yet (if you don’t count the KWV Perold blends elusively retailing at over $100 per bottle).

In my recent columns for the Wineanorak, I have assessed several other top “cultish” offerings from South Africa, the previously most expensive being the Tete de Cuvee Pinot Noir 2001 from Bouchard Finlayson, retailing at £45 to £48 pounds a bottle and with my final conclusion being, yes a very good wine but perhaps a touch expensive. But where this new wine stands out is in the fact that it is a Bordeaux styled blend constituting 91% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot and 1% Cabernet Franc. All the prestige wines reviewed have been produced in minute quantities and the “V” is no exception, with only 25 x 225 litre French Barriques produced for the 2001 vintage.

As any wine affectionado will tell you, it is red Bordeaux and its top Cru Classé wines that rule the world of commercially available fine wines, with top Northern Rhone and Cote d’Or Burgundies seemingly far more nichey in comparison perhaps due to the smaller quantities produced. French Bordeaux is the confirmed international yardstick for fine wine quality. Even Vergelegen’s winemaker Andre van Rensburg confirmed to me that the most impressive bottle of wine he had ever drunk was a bottle of Chateau Petrus.

But many readers may not even have heard of the “V” blend yet such is its novelty and rarity. While there has been a certain amount of marketing publicity, customers still confuse this new wine offering with Vergelegen’s Estate red Bordeaux styled blend which retails for about £20 and is also highly famed for winning the prestigious Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande Trophy for the Best Red Blend in the world two out of three years running, only missing out on the clean sweep due to “cork taint problems” according to Andre (for which Vergelegen has been embroiled in legal battles with their cork supplier).

So how has this new iconic blend been received by consumers and the general wine trade? Well, the best starting point is always the SA wine bible, the John Platter Wine Guide, in which the 2005 edition scores the first vintage of “V” a straight 5 / 5 Stars. The 2001 they reckon was genuinely crafted to grab the attention of  the likes of Robert Parker, The Wine Spectator and other influential judges. Despite the single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon fruit frame in the wine, the so called “non-terroir” driven 2001 V hints that 5 to 10 years of aging may be required to allow the 21 months of new French oak to integrate and allow the hefty layers of fruit to unfold.

Over Chris tmas I decided to sample a bottle and decide for myself. I do find the Platter Guide on the whole an excellently written guide that is more consistent than most around. But nevertheless, when you are talking top, top flight international quality comparisons, there is no substitute for up to date international tasting experience. So what did my subsequent wine tasting tell me? Here’s my tasting note:

A deep crimson / purple colour, dense and viscous with thick long tears on the glass. The nose is broad, powerful and fairly complex but still very youthful and a touch two tone, showing spicy black currants and ripe plums and then following with slightly stand apart but attractive expensive toasty, mocha, vanilla and caramel new wood flavours. The wine is full bodied with silky, ripe, fine grained tannins leading to a long, lingering aftertaste of black fruits and chocolate, mocha new oak. The alcohol of 15% is only really noticeable on the first taste and then recedes as the fruit power takes over on the palate (or the senses get dulled?) A lovely balanced acidity keeps the wine fresh and mouth watering as the textured fruit layers stream over the palate. A dense, concentrated wine that still retains a certain classical “ripe Bordeaux vintage made in a modern style” type of appeal.               Score: 95-96+/100

So there’s my snap shot view of my first tasting of the Vergelegen “V” 2001 for what it’s worth! I have to add quite strongly that while the wine is drinkable now, just in the same way a bottle of 2001 or 2002 first growth claret would also be, drinking it now would not do the wine or winemaker any justice. I would agree with the general consensus and start drinking in perhaps 5 years time when flavours will have melded and integrated and there’s a hint of tertiary bottle development to add to the wine’s complexity.

In like for like comparisons with other top international prestige wines, I think this wine actually offers fair to good value for money even at £55 pounds a bottle. One has to bear in mind that any top flight Cabernet Sauvignon based Bordeaux styled blend from California, Australia, New Zealand or Bordeaux itself, which is capable of aging and improving, will not be cheap if made in luxuriously small quantities and by a prestigious world class winery, as is the case with this wine. It was quite interesting to hear a British fine wine connoisseur’s comments that “he felt the Vergelegen “V” stood up well to the £165.00 pound Shafer Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon 1996 that preceded it” during a Chris tmas drinking session. While the Shafer might have a similar Parker score to my above Vergelegen score, I think the three for one maths tells me where my money would probably be spent!

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