Meerlust
family-owned since the 16th century, and currently one of South Africa's most respected wine estates, Stellenbosch revisited part 6

This is a piece of winelands history. When I visited Meerlust, with winemaker Chris Williams and marketing manager Eddie Turner, I had dinner in the original cottage built in 1692. It was built by Henning Huysing, and after its death it changed hands a number of hands until it was bought by Johannes Myburgh in 1757. It has been in the same family's hands ever since.

In terms of the wine, the story is a little more recent. Meerlust was put on the map by Nico and Giorgio Dalla Cia's 1975 Cabernet Sauvignon, and their top Bordeaux blend, Rubicon, followed in 1980. It was winemaker Giorgio Dalla Cia who made most of the wines that gave this estate its reputation, and if anything that reputation has been boosted by current winemaker Chris Williams' efforts.

The estate consists of 400 hectares of land, of which 110 hectares are planted to vines. All are used, although some wine is subsequently declassified and sold off. Harvest would typically be 500-550 tons from yields of 35 hl/ha. In 2007 a neighbouring vineyard with some old vine Merlot was incorporated into the estate, and this has boosted the quality of Meerlust's Merlot.

Meerlust is 'family owned with no fancy capital,' says Williams. 'The money goes into production facilities: there is no nice to look at or nice to haves. What kills a wine business is capital expenses.'

Surprisingly for Stellenbosch, Meerlust produce a decent Pinot Noir, from three clones planted at the top of the hill. 'The rule book says we shouldn't be doing this,' says Williams. 

The great thing about Meerlust is that they operate more like a Bordeaux Chateau than a new world producer. A new world approach would be to make small quantities of the top 'reserve' wine, allowing for lots of selection. But Meerlust make a lot of their flagship Rubicon Ė their Grand Vin if you will. This means you can get hold of it fairly easily, and there are lots of older bottles around to line up verticals. It's a credit to the team here that they can do this.

THE WINES

Meerlust Chardonnay 2009 Stellenbosch, South Africa
Very fine and fresh with lovely taut citrus fruit and some mineral notes. Crisp, precise and intense with some grapefruit, a bit of pith and fine toastiness. Precise style. 93/100

Meerlust Pinot Noir 2010 Stellenbosch, South Africa
Nice fresh, pure cherry fruit and taut acidity. Some elegance but also some herby, spicy notes. Savoury and sweet at the same time. 90/100

Meerlust Merlot 2008 Stellenbosch, South Africa
Nice, smooth, elegant and pure with a chalky edge to the ripe berry fruits. Sweet textured and expressive with real elegance, lovely texture and some structure. 10% Cabernet Franc in the blend keeps it focused and adds structure. 'Merlot has come in for lots of stick, but we have a nice niche for this wine and it sells through,' says Chris Williams. 92/100

Meerlust Rubicon 2007 Stellenbosch, South Africa
74% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot and 11% Cabernet Franc. From 2008 there is some Petit Verdot in the blend. Dense, gravelly, mineral and chalky edge to the nose along with lovely dark fruits. The palate is dense, structured and very fresh with nice gravelly savoury character. Stern and youthful, showing freshness. 93/100

Meerlust Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 Stellenbosch, South Africa
Dense, ripe and smooth with pure liqueur-like fruit and also some savoury restraint, and quite taut. There's some sternness to the blackcurrant fruit, with spice and a bit of earth. Stylish and impressive with lovely definition. 94/100

Older notes

Meerlust Merlot 2004 Stellenbosch, South Africa
This is quite an elegant red, even though it has a bit of a traditional feel to it. The nose is distinctly spicy, with the sort of greenness that manifests as a rich, minerally, gravelly quality, and meshes well with the warm, ripe red fruits. The palate has some tannic structure and a bit of a drying finish, but there's enough flesh here to make the whole experience a pleasant, rather seamless one. I hope this all doesn't sound a bit off-putting, because this is actually a really well balanced, concentrated, complex red wine, albeit in quite a traditional style where fruit isn't the dominant feature. Because it's seen quite a bit of oxygen during its elevage, it should age well for a decade or more. 90/100 (£17.99, imported by MMD Ltd) (01/08)

Meerlust Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 Stellenbosch, South Africa
Lovely aromatic nose is old fashioned South African in style, but not rustic. It has smooth cedary, gravelly, spicy notes combining with warm red/black fruits. It's not too fruity, and there's a bit of smoke and tar. The palate is warm and spicy with some earthy notes. Well balanced, this works really well. Not a fruit-driven wine, but there is some blackcurranty richness. Structure for development here: this could happily be cellared for a decade. 91/100 (£18.99, imported by MMD Ltd) (01/08)

Meerlust Chardonnay 1998, Stellenbosch
This is one of South Africaís most celebrated Chardonnays. Itís a monster style: big, structured and slightly old fashioned with concentrated nutty fruit, good acidity and sturdy oaking. Thereís a bit of an acid lift, too, on the nose. Very good+ (02/03)

Meerlust Merlot 1997, Stellenbosch
Leafy spicy nose leads to a structured spicy, savoury palate. Itís quite serious but suffers a little from the drying tannins on the finish. Quite an old fashioned style. Very good+ (02/03)

Meerlust Pinot Noir Reserve 1998, Stellenbosch
Quite pale in colour. Savoury cherry fruit and herb nose which is warm and slightly old fashioned in style. Lovely savoury, intensely spicy palate with herb tinged fruit. Really delicious in an old fashioned spicy style. Very good/excellent (02/03)

Meerlust Rubicon 1998, Stellenbosch
This Bordeaux blend has a rich, intense spicy nose with a tarry edge. Concentrated, firmly tannic palate with spicy tannins and good acidity. Old fashioned, slightly dry finish, but structured and with promise for the future. Very good/excellent (02/03)

 

STELLENBOSCH REVISITED

Part 1, Waterkloof
Part 2, Waterford
part 3, Reyneke
Part 4, Kanonkop
Part 5, Rustenberg
Part 6, Meerlust
Part 7, Delheim
Part 8, Neil Ellis

Wines tasted 03/12 unless otherwise indicated 
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