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south african wine, part 4

P.O. Box 33, Stellenbosch 7599, South Africa 
Tel:  +27 21 809-1200  Fax:  +27 21 809-1219 
E-mail: wine@rustenberg.co.za Website: www.rustenberg.co.za   

Winemaker Adi Badenhorst in the Rustenberg vineyards

[For a more recent review of Rustenberg's wines (2013) see this article.] 

One of the Cape’s historic wine estates, Rustenberg was originally established in the late 17th Century. The original property was divided in two in the 19th century, and it eventually succumbed to the twin perils of economic recession and phylloxera. In 1892 the two properties were purchased (one by John X. Merriman, the other by his brother in law Jacob Barry). The farms were revitalized, the vineyards replanted on phylloxera-resistant American rootstocks, and wine was made again. The two parts of the estate were reunited in 1941 when they were purchased in 1941 by Peter and Pamela Barlow, parents of current owner Simon.

Rustenberg is a beautiful estate to visit, with a substantial 160 hectares of vineyards on the slopes of the Simonsberg and Heldeberg, with their characteristic red soils. Annual crush here is an impressive 1000 tons, which is a lot for such a high quality operation.  

I arrived late afternoon, and I was shown around by winemaker Adi Badenhorst [note added later: Adi has now left Rustenberg and is making his own wines in the Swartland - they're brilliant]. As well as being a bit of a dude, Adi is an interesting person, and he’s making some very impressive wines. Most of our time was spent looking at the vineyards. I reckon you can learn a lot about a producer by seeing what’s happening with their vines. Rustenberg are going the Rhône route, planting Shiraz and Roussanne, among other varieties. They also have an unusual vineyard with Pinot Noir vines being grown on stakes (left), the way Syrah is grown in the northern Rhône. There’s clearly some thinking going on here. Rustenberg has made a big effort to plant with virus-free clones that have been imported from France, and I reckon this shows in the quality of the wine.

The 2004 Shiraz and Cabernet were being bottled, and we had a quick try. The 2004 Shiraz is an impressive wine: it’s dark, meaty, olivey, spicy and savoury. Delicious stuff. The 2004 Cabernet is also a winner: well defined with good structure and nice fruit.

 I tried a barrel sample of the 2005 Chardonnay, which isn’t settled before fermentation, and undergoes a natural ferment. It’s rich, slightly murky and shows good weight. Nicely textured. The 2005 John X Merriman (Rustenberg’s red blend)  has a lovely tight, earthy, minerally fruity nose. It’s well defined and a bit chocolatey with good tannic structure. Delicious and quite serious – a steal for the UK retail price of £9.99.

Then time to taste some bottled wines. There are two quite distinct labels, with the name Brampton being used for the more commercial wines and Rustenberg reserved for the Estate wines. The Peter Barlow and the Five Soldiers Chardonnay are among the very best of their type.

Brampton Sauvignon Blanc 2005
Very tanky yeasty, esteric edge to it. Quite fruity and primary. Very good 82/100

Rustenberg Chardonnay 2003 Stellenbosch
Lovely nose: toasty and tight – quite rich and generous, with some oak showing, but it’s classy oak. There’s a herbal freshness, too. The palate is smooth, rich and toasty with nice evolved nutty fruit and good freshness. Very good/excellent 91/100

Rustenberg Five Soldiers Chardonnay 2003 Stellenbosch
Quite an expressive, fresh minerally nose combining tight, citrussy notes together with tight fruit and seamless oak. The palate is rich, smooth, elegant and classy: not a big wine, but lots of class and elegance. Very good/excellent 93/100

Brampton OVR 2004
A blend of Cab, Merlot and Shiraz. Expressive green leafy, chalky edge to the nose, together with fresh red and black fruits. The palate shows lovely fresh berry fruits underpinned by a subtly, spicy minerally savoury structure. Good tannins. Very good+ 88/100

Brampton Cabernet Sauvignon 2004  
Mineralic, gravelly blackcurrant nose. The palate has nice weight of pure black fruits with good structure from the grippy tannins. A fresh fruit-driven style with good approachability and some savouriness. Very good+ 89/100

Brampton Shiraz 2004
Sweet ripe fruits nose with lovely richness and a meaty, spicy character. The palate is rich and full with lovely spiciness. Nice dark fruits here. The purity of fruit and impressive structure work well together. Very good/excellent 90/100

Rustenberg Peter Barlow 1999 Stellenbosch
A fantastic wine. Classic cedary, chalky, gravel edge to the black fruits nose, showing some evolution and hints of tar. Very fine and aromatic. The palate shows wonderful balance between the dark fruits and the earthy, tannic structure. Good acid. A wonderfully complete wine with potential to develop further. Very good/excellent 94/100

Rustenberg Peter Barlow 2001 Stellenbosch
Sweet, open, opulent nose with lots of ripe black fruits. Very rich, but with some seriousness, too. Rich, sweet dark fruits on the palate with lovely structure and weight, together with a bit of spiciness. Fine but firm tannins. A really serious effort with lots of character: a wonderful wine. Very good/excellent 94/100

Wines tasted 12/05
Find these wines with wine-searcher.com

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