Wine, rain, and winter chills - It's red wine season!

Words: Johlene Lehnberg ǀ Photos: Courtesy of Fleur de Cap, Simonsig Wine Estate, The High Road, Steenberg Vineyards & Standveld Vineyards

Love them or hate them, the French have captivated the world since Marie Antoinette first suggested, "Let them eat cake," and still continue to do so today, be it with fashion, food and, of course, wine.

South African winemakers, especially those favouring classic noble Bordeaux or Rhône grape varieties, are not afraid to indulge in a French affair when it comes to their wines. Ever wondered what wine geeks mean when they refer to Rhône or Bordeaux blends? Bordeaux blends may only be made from grapes traditionally grown in this part of France, such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, while Rhône wines are associated primarily with Shiraz. This is because the French regulate which varieties can be used for commercial production for each region within their country, and Bordeaux is by far the most famous.

When it comes to Bordeaux blends, the 'big five' grape varieties are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Malbec. Whilst most are familiar with red Bordeaux blends, there are also excellent white Bordeaux blends made from predominantly Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon grapes. Depending on where the grapes are grown, what varieties are selected for the blend and how the wine is made, each variety lends a different layer of flavour and complexity.

Cabernet Sauvignon: Powerful with ample black fruit, adds structure.
Merlot: Soft, red, and black fruits.
Cabernet Franc: Herbaceous character, adds perfume.
Petit Verdot: Deep red coloured, black fruit, spicey.
Malbec: Dark pigments, full bodied.
Semillon: Light, ripe citrus to rich and honeyed.
Sauvignon Blanc: Crisp, refreshing, tropical to herbaceous flavours.

With a thriving wine industry producing hundreds of varieties and blends, South African red-wine lovers can get their hands on excellent home-grown, Bordeaux-style wines made right here in the Cape Winelands. Here are some examples:

Fleur du Cap Laszlo
Made only in exceptional vintages, Fleur du Cap Laszlo 2008 is a big, bold Bordeaux-style blend comprising 35% Merlot, 32% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Petit Verdot, and 11% Malbec. It has rich, complex layers on the nose that flow through onto the palate and meld seamlessly with tobacco flavours balanced with exceptionally well-integrated oak nuances.
Cellardoor price at Die Bergkelder in Stellenbosch: R310

Red Bordeaux-style blends

Simonsig Tiara 2010
This elegant yet full-bodied wine comprises 78% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot, 3% Cabernet Franc, and a splash of Malbec. This beautifully balanced wine flaunts a perfumed bouquet of bramble and red berries, enhanced by layers of spice and fine-grained tannins.
Cellardoor price: R200

The High Road Director's Reserve 2010
This wine shows great complexity layered with cassis and blueberry fruit, vanilla oak, and chocolate nuances supported by a backbone of rich, ripe tannins. The 2010 vintage is a blend of 69% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc, and 4% Petit Verdot.
Cellardoor price: R250

The High Road Classique 2010
The Classique, also from The High Road, is made in a more accessible, easier drinking style and is a blend of 41% Cabernet Sauvignon, 39% Merlot, and 20% Cabernet Franc. The wine is fruit forward, showing ripe, black cherry, and mulberry fruit. Ripe, soft tannins make for an elegant wine that can be enjoyed now.
Cellardoor price: R110

White Bordeaux-style blends

Strandveld Adamastor 2012
This classic wine comprises 53% Semillon and 47% Sauvignon Blanc. It is full and creamy on the palate, with roasted oak flavours and dry minerality on the aftertaste.
Cellardoor price: R142

Steenberg Magna Carta 2009
The crème de la crème of Bordeaux-style South African white wine, this is the one for special occasions. Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon meet in the enticingly perfumed aromas of orange blossom and tangerine, supported by fresh minerality. This wine's balanced structure and firm body, with hints of lanolin, gives an elegant feel on the palate. Multiple layers of flavour coat the mouth and flow through into a lingering finish that delights and leaves you eager for the next sip.
Cellardoor price: R525

Food for thought

Whilst every Bordeaux-style blend differs, you can expect a powerful, full-bodied red wine with plenty of spice and fruit. Most people prefer to enjoy these blends with hearty steaks. But these wines are versatile.

The robust, powerful red blends are perfect for winter and can be enjoyed with plenty of rich, flavourful dishes such as roast leg of lamb, lamb chops, and flavourful pheasant dishes, as well as hamburgers or strong cheeses, such as Gorgonzola.