Paul Cluver, Elgin
South Africa revisited part 16

Paul Cluver

Paul Cluver is the pioneer of the Elgin wine region. ‘It’s amazing how this valley has developed over the last 10 years,’ says Paul Cluver Jr, who I met with winemaker Andries Burger to taste through some of their wines. Technically, Oak Valley were the first to plant here with experimental vineyards in 1985, but Cluver planted the first commercial vineyards in 1986, and released the first wine: a 1990 Riesling.

‘When interest in South African wines exploded in the 1990s, various players began to recognize the potential of the valley,’ says Cluver. ‘All these big names from traditional wine growing areas began investing in this Valley,’ he says, naming Thelema, Tokara, Rust en Vrede, Vergelegen, Simonsig and Nederberg. ‘The average age of an Elgin brand today is 3 years.’

Cluver is one of South Africa’s few Riesling specialists, making three different styles: dry, ‘kabinett’ and noble late harvest. There are fewer than 200 hectares of Riesling in the whole country, though. ‘We almost pulled Riesling out,’ says Cluver. ‘It was hard to sell in South Africa.’

Andries Burger

Among the wines tried, the highlight was a pair of wines served blind. These proved to be two Sauvignons from 1997, both of which had aged really well. It was a remarkable demonstration of the special nature of the Elgin region.

For reds, the focus is on Pinot Noir, although it wasn’t always. ‘We had a dream of producing a Bordeaux blend from our property,’ says Cluver. ‘Paul Pontallier visited and at the end of the tasting he said that the red wine is the Pinot Noir, and so this changed our focus, back in 2002.’ 

Added later: I had a chance to revisit these wines in September 2012, and my notes are below. They're really impressive across the board, with lovely purity and focus. Elgin seems to have a talent for lots of varieties. With the Pinot Noir, Martin Prieur from Domaine Jacques Prieur in Burgundy has been consulting since July 2012, so it will be interesting to see how this progresses.

Paul Cluver Sauvignon Blanc 2011 Elgin, South Africa
Pure and exotic, with grassy, citrussy nose. The palate is crisp and precise with nice purity and minerality. Textured and fine. 91/100

Paul Cluver Riesling 2011 Elgin, South Africa
Assertive and aromatic with a fine, expressive limey nose. Lovely fresh appley, citrussy palate. Rounded but dry. Very fine. 92/100

Paul Cluver Riesling Close Encounter 2012 Elgin, South Africa
8.5% alcohol and 35 g/litre sugar. Very appley, lemony and fine with expressive floral notes and a lovely texture.  Brilliantly precise and pure. 92/100

Paul Cluver Gewürztraminer 2012 Elgin, South Africa
Lovely aromatic, Turkish delight and lychee nose leads to a fresh, textured palate with attractive, pretty fruit. Dry and crisp with lovely balance. 90/100

Paul Cluver Chardonnay 2011 Elgin, South Africa
From 25 year old vines. Lovely intense toasty nose, bold, full, fresh and spicy. The palate is fresh and toasty with apple and pear fruit, and really fresh acidity. Fabulous. 92/100

Paul Cluver Pinot Noir 2010 Elgin, South Africa
18% new oak. Fresh, assertive cherryish nose with some spice and clove notes. Juicy and bright in the mouth with a round texture and pure cherry fruit. Attractive, round and supple. 93/100

Paul Cluver Seven Flags Pinot Noir 2009 Elgin, South Africa
Elegant, fine and expressive. Spicy with some herbal notes and supple cherry fruit. Silky and fine with real elegance and freshness, as well as a savoury side. 93/100

Paul Cluver Noble Late Harvest 2011 Elgin, South Africa
Concenttrated, powerful, viscous and intense, showing lovely intensity of apricot, spice, lime and honey characters. Amazing wine with brilliant acidity and spicy complexity. 94/100

Earlier notes from October 2010:

Paul Cluver Close Encounter Riesling 2010 Elgin
Just 500 cases of this kabinett style were made. It’s 9% alcohol and has 35 g/litre residual sugar, from a vineyard next to a railway track. Lovely, precise limey nose. Fresh with lovely minerality. The palate is precise with lovely off-dry, lemony fruit and precise minerality. Lovely purity and focus with high acidity. 92/100

Paul Cluver Sauvignon Blanc 1997 Elgin
A bit of toast with some herby notes on the nose. Lovely fresh fruit still. The palate is rich and herby with some toast notes and lovely citrussy freshness. Really impressive. 90/100

Paul Cluver Barrel Fermented Sauvignon Blanc 1997 Elgin
Wonderfully pure fruit: melon, herbs, citrus. Very fruity and aromatic, and even fresher than the regular Sauvignon Blanc. The palate is fresh and limey with subtly herbal notes, as well as white peach and a hint of cream. The oak merely adds texture, and is hardly noticeable. There’s life in this wine yet. 93/100

Paul Cluver Chardonnay 2009 Elgin
38% new oak, natural ferment. Tight and fresh with citrussy fruit and subtly toasty oak. Very restrained. The palate is fresh and tight with lovely focused citrus fruit and a hint of minerality. Tight wound with lovely potential. 92/100

Paul Cluver Seven Flags Pinot Noir 2008 Elgin
A barrel selection from a 4.5 hectare vineyard. It’s from a section that’s more rocky, and which gives more flavour and minerality. Sweet aromatic cherry fruit nose with some warmer spicy notes, as well as a bit of wood. The palate has lovely sweet, quite dense spicy cherry and berry fruit with some undergrowth and herb notes. Nice minerality and texture. There’s a savoury dimension here: it’s not a fruit bomb. 92/100

Part 1, Tulbagh Mountain Vineyards
Part 2, Cape Point Vineyards
Part 3, AA Badenhorst Family Wines
Part 4, Eben Sadie: Sadie Family Wines and Sequillo Cellars
Part 5, Paul Kretzel of Lammershoek
Part 6, Mullineux Family Wines
Part 7, Vondeling
Part 8, Scali
Part 9, Sterhuis
Part 10, Raats
Part 11, Migliarina
Part 12, Charles Back and Fairview
Part 13, Hermit on the Hill
Part 14, Klein Constantia
Part 15, Iona, Elgin
Part 16, Paul Cluver, Elgin

Wines tasted 10/10  
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An older report, from 2004:

Paul Cluver is a pioneer in the Elgin region, a cool-climate area at altitude, east of Stellenbosch. They were the first to grow grapes in this area that is traditionally known for its apple orchards. Now there are 12 grape growers in the region. According to managing director, Paul Cluver, the key differences between here and Stellenbosch are the rainfall and the temperature. Elgin is typically a few degrees cooler: when it’s 35 °C in Stellenbosch it might be 28–29 °C in Elgin. Rainfall patterns differ, too. Elgin gets winter rain but is drier in summer, and so irrigation is needed. Cluver’s estate has a reservoir that stores 2 million cubic metres of water. For me the whites were clean and commercial, but it was the red wines that really hit the mark.

Paul Cluver Riesling 2002 Elgin
Very fruity and rich. Modern and bright with a spicy edge to the limey palate. Crisp and modern in a commercial style. Very good

Paul Cluver Sauvignon Blanc 2002 Elgin
Crisp grassy nose is bright and fruity. Modern fruity style with a crisp, grassy palate. Very good+

Paul Cluver Chardonnay 2001 Elgin
Very rich fruit with distinct toasty oak notes on the nose. Quite a rich oak-dominated palate which is savoury with good concentration. Nice but oaky. Very good

Paul Cluver Cabernet Sauvignon 1999 Elgin
Nice appealing savoury nose with ripe, spicy berry fruit. Good concentration of juicy, spicy berry fruit on the palate. Nicely poised in a savoury intense style. Very good/excellent

Paul Cluver Pinot Noir 2001 Elgin
Lovely cherryish nose with savoury, slightly medicinal edge. Herby and rich. Nice juicy savoury palate which is savoury and herby, spicy and with good balance. Very good/excellent

Paul Cluver Riesling Noble Harvest 2001 Elgin
Intense, limey nose is very ripe and full, in a honeyed style. Rich, thick-textured palate shows citrus fruits with a spicy marmaladey edge. Good acidity. Very good/excellent

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