When Plaisir de Merle Cabernet Sauvignon first appeared on the scene in the mid-1990s, it caused quite a stir. Paul Pontallier of Brodeaux First Growth Château Margaux was on board as consultant and the wine featured riper tannins, higher pHs and much subtler acidities that was common in the Cape at that time.
When Niel Bester, winemaker since the maiden 1993 vintage, recently presented a tasting of 10 different vintages including 1994, 1995, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011, the two wines from the 1990s seemed positively antiquated in style.
The 1994 was a bit tired but the 1995 showed well (score: 88/100). Cassis and tobacco. Good fruit expression, bright acidity, fine tannins. Some savoury complexity by virtue of age but still going strong – nothing forced about it. Abv 13.5%, RS 1.8g/l, TA 5.6 and pH 3.7. “Great wine depends on great fruit and cannot be achieved by manipulation in the cellar,” was apparently Pontallier’s advice to Bester.
Significantly, Bester used only 40% new oak until the 2008 vintage but from then on has upped this to 60% new oak under a directive from Distell head office to win more accolades. While there hasn’t been a huge jump in abv (2008 at 13.9%, 2009 at 14.4%, 2010 at 14% and 2011 at 14.2%), the wines certainly seem riper (more blue and black fruit to the fore) as well as more extracted. My concern is that this label is losing its trademark refinement and becoming more generic.
Wine of the day was the 2003 (score: 91/100). Cassis and just a hint of developed character to add interest. Great fruit purity, fresh acidity and good grip. Still remarkably youthful. Abv 14.0%, RS 1.8g/l, TA 6.0 and pH 3.65. All the proof needed that this Simonsberg-Paarl farm can mix it with the best in the country and no need to chase bigness for the sake of it.