This week sees the launch of the 2006 vintage of Vergelegen “V”, the ultra-premium offering from the Somerset West farm owned by mining house Anglo American. The wine is a blend of 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc and 5% Merlot, and spent 24 months in French oak, 100% new. Alcohol by volume 14.25%, residual sugar 2.9g/l, total acidity 6.2g/l and pH 3.44. Total production: 22 barrels (down from a usual 27).
The wine was first made in 2001 (no 2002 as fruit quality wasn’t up to scratch) and while previous vintages have been rather imposing, the 2006 comes across as more graceful and stylish, even pretty. The nose shows dark fruit and fynbos, the palate is relatively medium bodied with fresh acidity and fine-grained tannins.
Was “V”’s relative lack of finesse earlier on the result of winemaker André van Rensburg being coerced by his employers into making a blockbuster? “There was a lot of expectation from Anglo that we should have a super-expensive wine in the portfolio but really it was my fault. Initially “V” had too much of everything. It was a designed wine rather than from the vineyard,” says Van Rensburg.
He’s at great pains that the wine should express “a taste of Vergelegen”, his feeling being that wines from the property should possess “power without being brutish or rude”. In particular, he’s against the current tendency to pick ultra-ripe. “As grapes get riper and riper, you lose the uniqueness of the property. Everything starts tasting the same. The only difference between one wine and the next is the quality of the winemaking – how much kak you manage to avoid in the cellar. The drinker ultimately has no chance of identifying whether the wine comes from Stellenbosch or Robertson. That’s surely not the point of the exercise,” he says in typically forthright fashion.
As for the role of growing conditions in 2006, these were somewhat challenging and lent themselves to a more “elegant and classy” wine, this in contrast to 2005, which was “easy and obvious”, the resulting wine being “giant, dark, brooding” as well as “slow in developing”. According to Van Rensburg, vintage gives wine its DNA: “Some years, you get natural athletes that are born to perform; other years, you need good training and discipline in order to get somewhere,” 2006 being the latter sort of year.
“V” has always come under particular scrutiny as it was the first local wine to be positioned at or around $100 a bottle, a crucial price point for single-variety Cabernet Sauvignon out of Napa Valley, California, dividing the serious players from the wannabes (the 2001 launched at R650 a bottle and the 2006 is set to sell at R795 a bottle). Van Rensburg admits that trading conditions have been tough in recent times (“the recession kicked Vergelegen in the goolies”) and the 2006 vintage of “V” is being released a year later than planned. Even so, he welcomes the spate of other South African wines in the ultra-premium price category on the basis that it will allow critics to appreciate better the quality of his wine. “This is not 1 000 bottles of Pinotage sold exclusively to local Pinotage fans,” he says with reference to Kanonkop Black Label launched recently at R1 000 a bottle. “”V” goes all over the world and is starting to achieve an international profile for us. We’re getting real interest from China.”