#317 Ridgeback Cabernet Sauvignon 2018

TASTING NOTES

👃🏼 The vanguard carries waves of rich, ripe blackcurrant, offset ever so slightly fresher black cherry fruit. There are also prominent savoury roasted black plum fruit notes, along with stewed prunes, and lovely sweet star anise and clove spice complications.
👄 On the palate, the concentration is really impressive, with superbly rich  fruit and a dense, velvety mouthfeel. Keeping it upright is some lovely juicy blackberry acidity. But just because the fruit is velvety, that is not to imply that the wine is soft. The tannins are big and firm. Which is I guess is just what is needed in the context of all that fruit, everything presents as very tidy indeed.
The finish is superbly savoury, with linger tobacco leaf, roasted plum skins hanging out until the curtain comes down.


TECHNICAL SPECS

🔬The north-south facing vineyards used for this premium wine are grown in deep Oakleaf soils. Leaf-plucking in the bunch zone enables sufficient sunlight penetration into the canopy ensuring ripe tannins and optimal berry flavour at harvest. Grapes were handpicked between 22-24 Feb 2018 at a Balling of 24.5 – 25.2° Acid was at 5.55- 5.75g/l & the pH was 3.67

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As of 01 January 2024, Cabernet Sauvignon was still the most planted red cultivar in South Africa. It’s African spiritual home is the region of Stellenbosch, at the centre of the South African winelands, but every single major wine district in South Africa produces cultivar bottlings of Cabernet Sauvignon that can compete on the World stage… well,  the New World stage, at least.
And yet for all it’s prominence, there is not still historical certainty over how this cultivar reached South Africa. And this glaring historical omission lead us on a bit of an Easter Egg hunt to try and pinpoint the “origins of life” with regards to Cabernet Sauvignon in the Cape Winelands. In our search, we leaned heavily on previous work from historians, journalists, and wine buffs; Tim James, Joanne Gibson, Tobie Taljaard, James Pietersen, and Leon Coetzee.
In one sense, the year of 1973 was the first vintage that required accurate-ish records on what goes into each bottle of wine coming out of South Africa. And this is because this was the first year that the now-rather stringent “Wine of Origin” labelling system and legislation came into being. Along with it, therefore came a slew of recorded “Wine of Origin” Cabernet Sauvignons – many of them from the now world famous Cabernet region of Stellenbosch.
But we know that – for at least 30 years before then, South Africa was bottling wines labelled as “Cabernet”, with producers like Nederberg and Alto dating their “Cabernet” wines back to 1966 and 1965, respectively, and the trailblazing Zonnebloem producing Cabernets as far back as 1945.
But there are still earlier historical flags we can plant. Professor Abraham Perold was already campaigning extensively in his book, Handboek oor Wynbou”, which was published in 1926, for farmers to invest in Cabernet Sauvignon vines to improve the quality of their wines. From this we can deduce from that he had already been observing, documenting, and assessing the merits of cabernet grapes in winemaking for sometime, which would make it fairly safe to guess that Cabernet was already spreading through the South African winelands between 1915 and 1925.
But, we don’t need to guess, because there are photographs from South Africa’s oldest wine-growing region – Constantia – that show a Groot Constantia “Cabernet de Sauvignon” from the 1903 vintage. Historian Tim James wonders if this couldn’t perhaps be one of the oldest cultivar bottlings of Cabernet Sauvignon in the world, given that – for the most part – Cabernet was more often than not – blended with a host of other grapes in all the regions where it was already established in the early 1900s.
Further back still, there are parliamentary documents from both 1889 and 1888 that mention “extensive plantings of Cabernet Sauvignon in Constantia, but no specific mention of who planted them. Some have speculated that it was “one of the influxes of Huguenots”, though historian Joanne Gibson has made it very clear that this is not her opinion. She is more inclined to credit the one-time Groot Constantia owner and manager, Jacob Pieter Cloete, who “extremely well travelled and very connected”. Gibson surmises that “the earlier proprietors were too busy making sweet wine to worry about a variety like Cab[ernet Sauvignon], whereas by the mid 1800s the market wanted drier wines, so JP Cloete would have planted accordingly.”
But while Constantia may have been first on the Cabernet train, and Stellenbosch may feel like it fills the majority of the First Class seats on that train, Paarl has been showing that it’s very much…on track…when it comes to producing big, rich, concentrated Cabernet and Cabernet-based wines that can compete with South Africa’s top tier. Today’s wine is exactly one such bottling. If you have yet to sign up for your Monthly HanDrinksSolo Wine Subscription then you’ll have to hunt this wine down on your own.
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