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Le Riche Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 1998

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Le Riche Wines was founded by Etienne Le Riche in 1996 after more than 20 years at prominent Stellenbosch property Rustenberg. The maiden 1997 vintage of his Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon was rated 5 Stars in the 1999 edition of Platter’s and the wine has enjoyed cult status ever since.

Concentrated.

Over the weekend the 1998 which was remarkable for its pure, clean and supremely concentrated fruit. I’ve always considered Le Riche as very much classically orientated in his approach but this wine was surprisingly modern, fantastic fruit expression but the tannins not nearly as firm as might have been expected. Impossible not to be impressed by it however and my score was 17/20.

According to the Le Riche website, the 1998 was exclusively from Firgrove grapes (whereas the famed 1997 included both Jonkershoek and Firgrove) and was harvested on the extraordinarily early date of 11 February. In terms of treatment in barrel, the wine was matured for 16 months in French oak, 60% new. Interesting to note that while the 1997 had an abv of 12.75% and the 1998 13.32%, the recently released 2009 clocks in at 14.5%.

7 COMMENTS

  1. Most quarters seemed taken aback that Le Riche never made your Top 10 Cabernet Report 2012. However paging through last nights toilet reading material, AKA Platter 2012, I noticed LeRiche themselves pointed out that Etienne is taking a lesser role and that his two kids are playing a more prominent role in terms of winemaking. Their wine style is thus undergoing a stylistic change, a less classical and more modern approach can be expected.   

  2. Hi Dionysus, Drinking the Le Riche Reserve 1998 was intriguing. I suspect why the first few vintages of these wines caused such a stir is that they had such good fruit purity and weight that they easily stood out relative to the competition. Other producers have subsequently caught up at Team Le Riche is compelled to re-invent themselves…

  3. Hi Christian, thank you for the review.  It is always pleasing if people can enjoy our wines aged.  It is interesting to read your comments on the alc.  We have also noticed it during vertical tastings.  Although a change in style might be the case, it was not intentional on our account.  We have always strived to harvest on the edge of ripeness, trying to avoid greenness in our wines and maintain a good fruit and tannin balance.  This is however hard to reach.  Regarding the older vintages with lower alc, we have traced this to a couple of factors.  Firstly, 1997 was the coldest vintage in SA since the mid 1970’s!  Harvest was only in mid April, thus the 12.5% alc.  Subsequently, temps have all been above the 30 year average forcing alc’s upward.  In parallel, the quality of our vines and vine material has also increased significantly since the 90’s.  This would lead to more efficient canopies producing more sugar and flavour.  Thirdly, it could be bush vine related, as our Firgrove fruit at that stage came from a bushvine block.  

    Regarding a change in style at le Riche since Yvonne and I became involved, this is not the case.  The 2012 Platter comments were not written by us.  The 2008 vintage, rated in 2012 and made by Etienne, was a bit of unusual one.  He is still very much involved, although his day to day activities are less.  However, Yvonne and I firmly believe in the style that he produced, and will try and emulate this as best we can.  It is very helpful to have his guidance though.

    Thank you for the blog and comments, makes for some interesting reading    

  4. Hi, Christo – thanks for partaking in the debate. As a mere consumer reading this (and, I must add,  I generally have high regard for the Le Riche reds), it looks really plausible that there’s been a change in thinking behind these wines, despite some vineyard differences. The simple reason for this is the massive change between 1998 and 2009. All things being equal, cooler vintages should have lower ABV’s than the warmer years, but it’s the other way around in this case. I realize that all things are not equal, but the difference between the 13.32% from 1998 (super hot vintage, in fact, at the time the hottest global vintage on record ever) and the 14.5% from 2009 (super cool vintage – if not the coolest, then along with 2003 and 1997 certainly one of the coolest over the last few decades) is huge and does, to me, indicate a stylistic change.
    Vintage wise, it’ll thus be more sensible to compare 1997 and 2009 – and the difference is even bigger then… By the same token, one might readily expect the 2010 vintage, which was  SO MUCH hotter than 2009, to have an ABV of much higher than the 14.5% of the 2009 (either that or less physiological ripeness at the same alcohol level). That’s how I think about this, anyways.  

  5. A few thoughts,

    1- More efficient yeasts playing a significant role in sugar conversions 2- Gradual and significant increases in temperatures over the past 50 years, as noted by Christo, 3- In particular, shorter periods of winter vine dormancy are noted, 4- Some very interesting points made by Brian Croser in a blog above which might also relate to this. GD

  6. Agreed, Grant, like I said, ” I realize that all things are not equal,..” – but the differences are just too big not to include a change in winemaking style. I just pulled my Platter’s (2012 ed.) closer and read what they wrote about Le Riche. Both the intro and the wine descriptions indicate a stylistic change, which, to my mind, is the kind of change that simply makes them follow what everyone else is doing. Of course, the more progressive producers have already started to move in the other direction again (freshness, elegance, provenance and, most important of all: natural balance). I’m not necessarily saying the wines will be worse off, simply because I haven’t tasted the new vintages. I’m just arguing the point that there does indeed seem to be a stylistic change, a mind-shift. One that doesn’t have me particularly excited. 

  7. Hi Kwispedoor

    Thank you for your comments.  As I said, we have not made a conscious decision to change our style, but I cannot guarantee that we still taste the same way we did 12 years back. 2008 had the highest alc we ever bottled, but we have worked hard to reign them back in since then (I have harvested blocks at 13.5% in the last 2 years to try and achieve this).   In terms of winemaking method, every thing is the same.  We have increased our barrel ageing time, but this started in 2003 already.  We strive for fruit clarity, freshness and balance in all our wines.  However, our perception of ripeness might have changed along with the rest of the world.  But, the wine world is constantly evolving and if you do not keep up with the rest (as even Bordeaux is forced to do) you will get left behind… 

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