Home Reviews

Thelema Cabernet Sauvignon 2003

8
SHARE

Endearmints.
Endearmints.

Wine appreciation – part science, part philosophy. We all know that Thelema’s reds have a trademark minty character about them – the eucalyptus trees on the Stellenbosch property heavily implicated as the source of this – but the question is whether this should be celebrated or denounced. “How to achieve savoury without becoming lean and green?” asks cellarmaster Gyles Webb rhetorically.

Yesterday vertical tastings from 1999 to 2010 of the Cabernet Sauvignon and from 2004 to 2010 of the single-vineyard The Mint Cabernet Sauvignon.

“Black label”
2010
Ripe black berries and cigar box on the nose. Sweet fruited and rich on the palate, relatively broad compared to previous vintages, moderate acidity and fine tannins. Appears to be more “modern” in conception.
90

2009
Dark fruit, crushed herbs and a subtle chocolate note on the nose and palate. Great concentration and lovely freshness. Wonderfully dry without being at all astringent on the finish.
92

2008
Very ripe dark fruit on the nose and palate. Appears slightly hollow and lacks the precision and finesse of better vintages.
86

2007
Cassis, some leafy character and attractive oak spice on the nose. Full but balanced on the palate with lush fruit, fresh acidity and firm but fine tannins. Has real gravitas.
94

2006
Red and black cherry plus a pronounced minty note on the nose and palate. Rather lean with acidity sitting a little apart.
86

2005
Big and rich but somewhat counter-intuitively showing more red than black fruit and perhaps a bit short on detail. Has reached plateau of optimal drinking.
88

2004
Cassis on the nose and palate. Relatively rich with moderate acidity and slightly coarser tannins than usual. The first vintage that saw grapes from The Mint block excluded.
88

2003
Colour shows very little advancement. More red than black fruit plus a subtle and an entirely attractive menthol quality. Medium bodied, clean and fresh. Great fruit purity, fine tannins. Remarkably youthful.
93

2002
Significant evolution evident. Overtly minty plus plenty of developed character. Light bodied and short.
84

2001
Dark fruit and some leafiness on the nose. Rich, full and already quite mellow.
87

2000
Red and black fruit plus some herbal character. Medium bodied, clean and fresh with some nice tannic grip still in evidence. All that’s good about the house style.
89

1999
Red fruit, hints of tomato cocktail and forest floor. Medium bodied with bright acidity and fine tannins. Old-school Stellenbosch red.
85

The Mint
2010
Dark fruit with a leafy edge. Juicy and fresh with fine tannins.
86

2009
Dark fruit with a green edge. Rather straightforward.
85

2008
Indistinct in terms of aroma and flavour. Relatively dilute and short.
84

2007
Overtly herbaceous. Very lean and green.
82

2006
Cassis and intense mint on the nose and palate. Good concentration and freshness – all things coming together for good in this vintage.
90

2005
Dark fruit, mint and chocolate on the nose and palate. Also slight reductive note. Rich and full.
87

2004
Red and black fruit, overt green notes – mint and fynbos. Fresh acidity and fine tannins. Very particular.
86

8 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Christian. You don’t really celebrate nor denounce the menthol character judging by your scores. Although your Mint scores are ever so slightly lower (average 85.71 for the Mint versus 88.50 for the black label if my rudimentary maths doesn’t screw me) it isn’t really a significant difference. What are your feelings? Do you like the minty character or not? I personally enjoy a slight minty edge to some Cabs and Merlots. It brings a freshness to the palate that I truly enjoy.

    • Hi Hennie,
      Think Christian is pretty spot-on with scores. The wines are not really directly comparable score wise since ‘The Mint’ showed both the pitfalls and brand benefits of a genuine single vineyard wine without the blending opportunities to ‘tweak’ the vintage influences which was clearly apparent in the ‘Black label’ and even more so from 2007 when the youthful vineyards came into play + the not insignificant benefit of the P.V. in the blend.
      The key question; ‘What happens when ‘The Mint’ vineyard finally passes-on?

      • Hi Francois,

        Do you think it’ll be a major issue when the vineyard eventually passes on? Or is the brand worth more than the quality of the liquid (as evidenced by a fairly average set of scores from Christian) in this particular case?

        James

  2. Hi All, My observation would be that “mint” is not only acceptable but desirable on condition that there’s sufficient fruit weight in evidence – it lends the wine a rather nice coolness. However, in those vintages short on fruit, then the mint becomes too conspicuous. In broad terms, mint has more positive than negative connotations and it’s not that difficult to understand why wines showing overt mint have their fans but I tend to find them problematic in that 1) they tend to suggest all is not right in the vineyard and 2) simply exaggerated in the glass. After a point, however, commercial considerations trump aesthetics and given that “The Mint” carries a price premium relative to “Black Label”, I’m pretty sure that Team Thelema will find a way to continue making it!

  3. Is decent/favourable amount of mint character more connected to clones and maybe nearby eucalyptus trees rather than something wrong in the vineyard? If I heard right Thelema Mint is mostly due to a certain clone? Surely most (there are exceptions) wine with 14.5 % and above get greenness not due to unripe phenols? Would be nice to get your opinion.

    • Hi Elias, The elephant in the room for me is the issue of leafroll virus and the related problem of vine stress. The Mint vineyard was planted in 1985 and Gyles Webb quite openly admits that it is virus infected – over and above its proximity to eucalyptus trees, the virus must be affecting the flavour profile of the end-wine. As I understand, virus is one of the key reasons that SA reds can present as being both ultra-ripe and green simultaneously.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here