It’s hard not to view Stellenbosch cellar Alto as a victim of its own success. Take the red blend known as Rouge. Just under 400 000 litres produced annually, selling for R75 a bottle from the tasting room but often marked down by retailers to R55 a bottle – this according to Ross Sleet, marketing director of Cape Legends, Distell’s premium wine division, to which Alto belongs.
When I reviewed the 2011 vintage earlier in the year, it struck me as “entirely straightforward” and gave it a score of 84/100 (see here). The question is if you’re making these kind of volumes, is it realistic to strive for more exciting wine? Boekenhoutskloof’s The Chocolate Block suggests that with suitable investment both in winemaking and branding that it is not entirely impossible and Sleet says Cape Legends are busy upgrading both aspects of Alto.
The thing is Alto has historically been capable of greatness. The memory of an Cabernet Sauvignon 1971 tasted before Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show this year will probably stay with me for ever (see review here) and an Cabernet Sauvignon 2001 shown yesterday during a lunch to mark Alto’s 90th year as a wine estate was more than respectable.
This was current winemaker Schalk van der Westhuizen’s first harvest in charge of the Alto cellar and he obviously got off to a good start. The wine currently shows cassis and a touch of earth. Juicy and fresh on the palate, tannins still nicely grippy. A bit short of finesse to be considered excellent (abv 14.27% and RS 3.26g/l) but still pleasing to drink. Solid, dependable wines such as this is the least Alto should deliver.