Tim James: A visit to Glenelly

By , 18 April 2017

Luke O’Cuinneagain

Luke O’Cuinneagain of Glenelly.

It struck me only after I’d left Glenelly last week – my visit began in broken sunshine and ended in a light drizzle – that winemaker Luke O’Cuinneagain has just completed his tenth harvest there. A decade deserving of congratulation: as the vineyards have matured, he’s done well at this substantial Stellenbosch estate of that grande dame of Bordeaux, May-Eliane de Lenquesaing. Incidentally, it was good to learn that Mme de Lenquesaing’s children (she is now into her 90s) show an interest in Glenelly – Luke tells me that it was they, above all, who pushed for the recent substantial refurbishment of the “front of house” side of things, including chef Christophe de Hosse’s successful The Vine Bistro.

Most of the labels also evidence a radical makeover with the current releases – the Glass Collection of varietal wines looks more assertively modern, and shows more obviously the connection with Mme de L’s magnificent amassing of glassware both antique and modern (some of it on show in the Glass Museum at Glenelly). At just under R100 per bottle off the estate, that range offers extremely good value for ripe yet fairly understated, modern-fruity wines informed by classic requirements of firm structure and ageability.

Of the Glass Collection reds I particularly enjoyed the Cabernet Franc 2015 – the second release, with the charm, freshness and delicacy – and cherry notes – of the 2014 (which has harmonised since I tasted it for Platter last July), but darker-fruited, with herbal trimmings and some brooding depth to it. The other reds are 2014s. Unusually, I slightly preferred the Merlot with its rare (in the Cape) element of austere elegance on the expressive fruit, to the Cabernet Sauvignon, which has a rather looser plushness and richness.

I tasted four vintages of the Syrah: the notably ripe, slightly soft but still good-drinking 2009 (called Shiraz); a brighter, more savoury 2011 (and I found some interesting iodine notes – “dried kelp” for Luke); the more elegantly structured 2013; and the current 2014. This last about 70% whole-bunch-pressed, and (unlike some previous) having no new oak. It combines charm and freshness with decent structure. It was interesting to suspect increasing fruit intensity on the wines as the vineyards attained maturity.

All the estate’s reds, let it be emphatically declared, are properly dry: they are unquestionably ripe (getting close to my limit, perhaps, beyond which I’d find them too ripe) and with alcoholic power, but always firmly constructed, and never sweet-finishing.

There are two Glenelly chardonnays. The one in the Glass Collection is unoaked, the 2016 sharing (less grandly) with the Estate Reserve Chardonnay 2015 a fresh elegance and restraint, carried by a fine (natural) succulent acidity. Later, over lunch, Luke opened a 2102 Unwooded Chardonnay, conclusively demonstrating the wine’s potential for beneficial ageing in bottle. Of course, the Estate Reserve will generally develop better. It’s a very good, restrained and balance wine – which draws you into its subtle mysteries from the first sniff and sip and leaves you gratified, but wanting more.

There’s also an Estate Reserve Red, the 2015 repackaged under the new livery and no longer called Grand Vin, a name that had had the potential of confusing people, given the existence of the Lady May at the head of the range. The Red is, Luke says, an “old-style claret” – reflecting the presence of syrah in Bordeaux (and frequently imported from the Rhône too) a few centuries back. But the syrah component is now down to about 30%, along with cab, merlot and petit verdot. The 2011 had 40%; it is still quite tight, but acquiring savouriness, with cab notes and syrah spiciness asserting themselves. The current 2012 still shows more syrah fruitiness. It’s a more expansive, generous vintage, I think, more intense, and should develop really well.

I tasted  the Lady May – cabernet with just a little of other Bordeaux varieties – back to the 2009 which was not the best of them, comparatively lacking the freshness and tautness of, say, the 2012, which is due for release in a few months. It’s a great bonus to consumers having a late release date like this, but there’s still has a long way to go. Plenty of charm now, however, complementing and meshing with the serious structure – even some floral, slightly honeyed elements to its alluring perfume. But I would choose to drink the Merlot now and put this away for a good few years. Certainly one of the most recommendable of Stellenbosch cab-based wines.

The developmental potential of Lady May was also revealed over lunch (with excellent Karoo lamb), when I was treated to the 2008 – a very good vintage here. It comes across as very classic – could easily be a very good modern Bordeaux in terms of structure and even bouquet and flavour. One can’t but believe that Mme de Lencquesaing has been successful in her adventure at the southern tip of Africa.

  • Tim James is founder of Grape.co.za and contributes to various local and international wine publications. He is a taster (and associate editor) for Platter’s. His book Wines of South Africa – Tradition and Revolution appeared in 2013.



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