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Thelema Merlot 1994


For dinner, the first Thelema Merlot 1994 from a twelve-bottle case kept in perfect storage conditions since release. Actually, the second bottle as the first was corked – thank you, Portugal.

Can SA make great Merlot? Stellenbosch property Thelema is one of the foremost practitioners of the variety in the modern era and how interesting to revisit this wine 17 years from vintage. In a word, classically styled.  On the nose, red fruit, black olive, dusty oak and some earthiness. The palate is  medium bodied with fresh acidity and fine tannins. Plenty of the interesting savoury character that comes with development but primary fruit still remarkably intact. Alcohol by volume a modest 13%. Fine and serious and a far cry from the big, rich, soft wines which pass as ultra-premium Merlot currently. Score: 16.5/20.


  1. Fair question. Basically, and unfortunately, it comes down to commercial imperatives at present. Most of the developing  markets we are growing in still see screwcap as something that belongs on cheap wine. It is a tough preconception to overcome, and with the world market as schitzophrenic as it is at the moment, I can’t take the risk of alienating new customers just becoming acquainted with the brands.

    Having said that, I think there will be a time when we’ll have everything under screwcap. It is the most consistent seal in wine’s imperfect closure world, and having tasted wines as far back as 1972 under screwcap I have no doubt about the ability of wines to age and go the distance under stelvin.

    We’re only five years away too from the release of the Penfolds 20 year study into the efficacy of every type of wine closure which will be very instructive. The ten year results were encouraging for screwcap on a comparitive basis.

    Happy New Year

  2. I’m guessing that the South African market still has reservations about screwcap for high-end wines too. It would be nice to see some estates start offering a screwcap option, in addition to cork on these wines. 

  3. There are already some producers that do it, Darryl, like Vrede en Lust with their Boet Erasmus. You’re right, though – bottling line issues alone doesn’t account for the minute incidence of alternative closures on the same wine. South African producers on the whole are missing a huge marketing opportunity as it makes all sorts of sense regarding premium wines.


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