Damascene Vineyards. Picture: Charles Russell
Damascene Vineyards. Picture: Charles Russell

Wine cellar looking a little sparse after the festive season? Need some liquid respite from the shock of being back at work? These six stellar new releases will keep you well stocked and cosseted for the year ahead.

Wade Bales Regional Series Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon 2017

Cape-based wine merchant and négociant (a marketer who selects wines from various estates) Wade Bales has expanded his acclaimed Regional Series with a cabernet sauvignon that captures the best of Stellenbosch.

"I love the idea of regional diversity, identifying what each wine region is great at, what it’s naturally gifted with, and then focusing our efforts on that style of wine," Bales says.

As with the 2018 release of his Constantia White, a Bordeaux-style blend of sauvignon blanc and sémillon, Bales assembled an all-star cast of winemakers from Stellenbosch for this latest release.

They are Abrie Beeslaar (Kanonkop), Louis Strydom (Ernie Els wines), José Condé (Stark-Condé), Morné Vrey (Delaire Graff) and Nico van der Merwe, who each selected their best barrel samples from a year that has already been deemed a superb vintage for Stellenbosch. The samples were then tasted, tested and blended to create a single wine that is expressive of the region.

The wines in the final blend come from vineyards stretching from Jonkershoek to Helderberg. They offer a true snapshot of premium Stellenbosch cabernet. No wonder it bagged five stars in the 2020 Platter’s Wine Guide.

Available in a wooden six-bottle collector’s box for R2,700 (R450 a bottle), wadebales.co.za

The. Cabernet Franc 2015

This varietal has a low profile in SA, especially bottled on its own. But the collaboration, now in its second vintage, between Niels Verburg, of Luddite Wines outside the Overberg town of Bot River, and Brian Smith, of Elgin Ridge Wines in the Elgin Valley, aims to change that.

Fruit was sourced from a vineyard near Bot River on a site where "the soils are really good for red wine", Verburg says. "We’re warm without being as hot as Stellenbosch, so we don’t get the greenness that cab franc gets in other areas."

It’s naturally fermented, aged in French barrique barrels, and Christian Eedes of Winemag describes a palate of "luscious fruit and quite soft, fine tannins". In short, it’s been given all the love and attention you’d expect for R5,000 a bottle.

Yes, the price is sure to set tongues in the wine world wagging.

"We wanted to make a super-premium cabernet franc, but we also wanted to make a statement that SA wine can get to that price point," says Verburg. "If we don’t raise the price of wines in this country we soon won’t have a wine industry, because everyone is pulling up their vines to plant citrus and apples."

Sustainability issues aside, Verburg argues that in the glass the wine is worth every cent.

"We have put this vintage up against Cheval Blanc, which is three times the price, and the first release against Margaux and Mouton Rothschild, and it holds its own," he says, referring to wines from those estates.

R5,000, elginridge.com

Delaire Graff Estate The Banghoek 2016

Cabernet franc is also the star of the latest premium Bordeaux-style blend from Delaire Graff Estate atop the Helshoogte Pass outside Stellenbosch, where Vrey continues to cement his reputation as one of the most skilled winemakers in the business.

The Banghoek is mostly cabernet franc, but a third of it is cabernet sauvignon and it also contains small splashes of petit verdot and malbec. The wine pays tribute to the dramatic Banghoek Valley, drawing its fruit from the estate’s cool mountain vineyards.

The year 2016 was not an easy vintage in the region, but the concentrated flavour of the smaller bunches shows through in a wine of great intensity and bold fruit, underpinned by firm yet fine tannins. The Banghoek’s name may translate as "scary corner", but there’s certainly nothing frightening about this wine.

R1,800, delaire.co.za

Stellenbosch Vineyards Damascene Syrah 2018

With the names of cellars on his CV that run from the Côte-Rôtie region of France’s Rhône Valley to Franschhoek’s acclaimed Boekenhoutskloof, Jean Smit knows a thing or two about crafting great syrah.

His new project, Damascene, is all about combining his considerable talents with that which some of the unique vineyard sites the Western Cape has to offer.

"What I love about Damascene is always seeking out that next moment that shifts my perspective on winemaking," says Smit. "When you walk into a vineyard, or onto a virgin site, and it contains everything you ever wanted in one place."

Alongside an old-vine sémillon from Franschhoek and a cabernet franc from the Bottelary Hills, the Damascene Stellenbosch syrah shows just how good this cultivar can be in the right hands.

Grapes come from two carefully selected sites, one on the Polkadraai Hills —for perfume and spice — and the other on the Bottelary Hills — for structure and fruit character. The palate shows a beguiling combination of intensity and freshness, with immense character and elegance that have earned the wine rave reviews.

And Smit is only just getting started. New vineyard plantings and more Damascene wines from unique sites are in the pipeline, along with a dedicated cellar in the Elgin Valley. This is a label to watch.

R400, winecellar.co.za

Moya Meaker Elgin Pinot Noir 2018

Smit certainly has his hands full at the moment. Alongside Damascene there’s his Moya Meaker pinot noir, named for the mother-in-law of business partner David Curl. Meaker was an elegant 1950s beauty queen adept at turning heads. And the same quality could be ascribed to this smart pinot noir from the Elgin Valley.

The Moya Meaker pinot noir is produced from grapes grown in a single 3ha vineyard framed by the Hottentots Holland, Groenland and Kogelberg mountains. "This wine is all about perfume, the purity of red and black fruit, vibrancy and texture," says Smit.

Unlike so many fruity and forgettable pinots, there’s a distinct weight here, an earthiness and concentration that again proves why Elgin is a hot spot for top-drawer pinot.

R250, winecellar.co.za

Anna Christina Méthode Cap Classique 2018

Tapping into unique pockets of terroir is the philosophy behind Sense of Place, the flagship range from co-operative producer Stellenbosch Hills. Its latest offering is a Champagne-style bubbly celebrating the heritage of the Vlottenburg region that is today home to Stellenbosch Hills.

This classic blanc de blancs comes from a single chardonnay vineyard, meaning small volumes (only 3,000 bottles), hand-picked fruit and plenty of attention to detail, easily evident in the glass. Fresh Granny Smith apples are underpinned by charming yeastiness, thanks to the wine resting on the lees for 15 months. A fine dance partner for a summertime sushi platter.

R195, stellenbosch-hills.co.za