Explore Cape Town’s kingdom of Cabernet in Stellenbosch

Cabernet Sauvignon is the most regal of the noble wine varieties, and nowhere makes better ‘Cab’ in the Cape than the Stellenbosch winelands.

Cabernet Sauvignon vines can be planted almost anywhere there’s enough late-summer sunshine to ripen the thick-skinned grape bunches. But to produce world-class “Cab”, this hardy vine needs the perfect terroir (a complete natural environment for wine to be produced, including soil, topography and climate).

“To make great Cabernet you need a very specific set of climatic conditions,” explains David. Trafford owner and winemaker at De Trafford Winery says that the range of soils, elevation and aspects in and around Stellenbosch make it the perfect region for cultivating Cabernet.

“Cabernet is the last variety to ripen in the season and is exposed to all the trials and tribulations of the vintage,” explains Johan Malan, cellar master at the family-owned Simonsig Wine Estate. “It needs the perfect terroir to perform at the highest level.”

That terroir is to be found in and around the university town of Stellenbosch, a 20-minute drive from Cape Town’s city centre, where the range of climatic conditions, altitude and soils provide a variety of terroirs that allow the king of the noble wine varieties to express itself.

The altitude and cooler temperatures of the Jonkershoek Valley offer more elegant wines, while the warmer north-facing slopes of the Helderberg and Simonsberg provide bigger, bolder expressions that lean more toward Napa than Bordeaux.

While local winemakers have, in the past, embraced big, bold Cabernet the times are changing.

“We must make Cabernets that are true to our own soils and climate,” emphasizes Malan. “Although we are in the New World, stylistically our wines have an Old World character; they are more austere, with dry tannins and a slightly herbaceous character.”

The King of Cabernet

The Stellenbosch winelands beyond Cape Town have been billed the ‘Kingdom of Cabernet’. We asked winelands tour guide Stephen Flesch where we could find the very best Cabernet Sauvignon on offer. Here’s what he told us…

I often take guests to Le Riche Wines, which is now based in Raithby, off Winery Road.

The only white wine they make is a Chardonnay, as their main focus is on Cabernet Sauvignon. They have two releases: a regular Cabernet and a Reserve. In my opinion the Reserve Cabernet is one of the top Cabernet Sauvignons in the country.

Etienne Le Riche was the winemaker, but his son Christo has now taken over as the cellar master, with guidance from Etienne. They have a lovely cellar where they welcome people to taste their wines. It’s a well-appointed, modern cellar that they built last year. They are also interesting in that they’ve never had their own vineyards; they’ve always had contracts with growers.