Boekenhoutskloof hit the path of fame running from the start; I guess many, if asked, would say the first wine was that legend of a syrah, the 1997. Its place in history is cemented not only by its extraordinary authentic expression of syrah but that the vineyard supplying the fruit was grubbed up after that vintage to make way for an industrial park – for heaven’s sake!
In fact, the first wine from this renowned stable was a 1996 cabernet (I still have a bottle) from a Franschhoek vineyard; it still supplies the fruit today though in recent years a little cabernet franc has been blended in. This cabernet along with a 97 semillon were the first two wines rated in the farm’s inaugural Platter entry (earning a bunch of grapes each, when that, thankfully short-lived, practice pertained). The famous syrah received a mention in the intro, before receiving a five-star rating two years later; the first of many for this label.
The cabernet has been no slouch either, cellarmaster and co-owner of Boekenhoutskloof, Marc Kent, confirming no fewer than nine Platter five-star ratings have been awarded since that maiden ’96.
Consistency has been a hallmark, not only of quality, but the range itself. The original threesome – cabernet, syrah and semillon – have been joined by a Noble Late Harvest and, since Kent became a member of the Cape Winemakers’ Guild, an occasional Syrah Reserve. (Although The Chocolate Block is listed under Boekenhoutskloof in Platter, the label suggests it’s more of a stand-alone brand, though under the Boekenhoutskloof umbrella.)
The announcement then of a new wine under the famous label with its ‘seven Cape chairs’ is likely to cause a stir. Even more so when it’s a cabernet from Stellenbosch. This development arose after the Boekenhoutskloof team acquired the historic Helderberg Winery (formerly Co-operative, founded in 1906) in 2009.
The innate association Stellenbosch has with cabernet, the Helderberg being one of the prime slopes, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the search was soon on to produce a Stellenbosch Boekenhoutskloof cabernet; ‘Our duty was clear,’ says Kent, declaring that ‘the Helderberg is to Stellenbosch what the Médoc is to Bordeaux.’
What did surprise me when I first glanced at the familiar label was the vintage: 2014. Not the easiest of years, nor the kindest to late-ripening cabernet. Sandwiched between drenching spring downpours and winter-like March rainfall, harvest took place under fairly mild conditions with just a couple of heat spikes.
A comparison was necessary – and what better excuse to open an older bottle of Boekenhoutskloof cab. I chose 2007, another difficult year; the lead up to and towards the end of harvest also wet and cool but with a longer, extreme heatwave. Patience was all for cabernet producers unused to conditions more akin to Europe towards the end of the season. Those who had it were well-rewarded, including Kent; 2007 records one of Boekenhoutskloof’s nine cabernet five-star ratings.
And what a magnificent wine it is; in a word, striking and seemingly still youthful with plenty of guts for many more years. Two years in new French oak (Sylvain and Saury are the preferred coopers) has only added classy dimension to the ripe cassis fragrance, also fleshing out the flavours within the precise, firm frame. Truly impressive.
The youngster, which includes a splash of cabernet franc, faltered a little at first; Helderberg cab is known to be a more elegant style, coming from the cooler end of the area, closer to the ocean. Given a while, there came a gentle red-berried perfume, clearly from cabernet, oak much less apparent, though it has spent time in barriques from the same coopers as the Franschhoek model. Similarly, that first evening, shyness overcame nearly all but a tense withdrawnness, just a glimmer of sweet fruit.
As I do with all serious wines (R420 a bottle from Wine Cellar is its most evident claim to seriousness), the bottles were stoppered after a glass with supper and returned to the cellar for further contemplation the following evening.
The 07 continued on song at perfect pitch; its Stellenbosch cousin had settled a bit, giving a clearer picture of its dainty, sweet fruit but in a noticeably light-weight style. Thank goodness, Kent & Co haven’t tried to wring everything out of it; there is balance which should achieve harmony in the short to medium term. I somehow feel, even then, that it will remain a pleasant rather than fully satisfying drink
I was left wishing perhaps the team had waited until 2015, which surely would have delivered more worthy a wine from that sterling vintage. Oh well, it’ll be something to look forward to next year.
Boekenhoutskloof Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 – Alc 13.9%, rs 2.5, TA 5.8 g/l