The Stellenbosch Wine Route
The wines of Thelema 

PO Box 2234, 7599 Stellenbosch, South Africa
Tel: +27 21 885 1924 Fax: +27 21 885 1800
Website: www.thelema.co.za  E-mail: thelema@adept.co.za
UK agent: Enotria (tel 020 8961 4411)

Thelema is one of the star names in Stellenbosch. When I first started exploring South African wines in the late 1990s, this was the top dog, at least in the circles I was frequenting. On my first visit to South Africa, in February 2003, I rocked up at the cellar door, to find everything was sold out, except for the Riesling. From the mid-1990s, pretty much everything sold within a month of release.

These days, there are lots of new stars, and Thelema can get forgotten about, which is a shame.


Thomas and Gyles Webb

Gyles Webb and his wife bought the original property in 1983: it was a run-down fruit farm on the slopes of the Simonsberg in Stellenbosch. It’s a 157 hectare property (45 hectares under vine) with an elevation of 370–640 metres, with most of the slopes south facing. This makes it a cooler climate farm, which in combination with decomposed granite soils, helps to make fresh, expressive wines.

In 2000 they purchased an apple orchard called Sutherland in the cool climate region of Elgin. The property is 100 hectares with 43 hectares under vine. ‘We’re quite excited about the Elgin site,’ says Thomas Webb. The fruit from this property is vinified at the Stellenbosch winery.

Below are my notes from my most recent visit in March 2012, with notes below this from 2010, 2006 and the first visit in 2003.

THE WINES

Sutherland Sauvignon Blanc 2011 Elgin, South Africa
Fresh and fruity with some tropical/pear fruit and a nice assertive character. The palate is precise and pure with lively grapefruit and citrus characters. 90/100

Thelema Sauvignon Blanc 2011 Stellenbosch, South Africa
Crisp and taut with some mineral and herb notes. Nice restraint and good acidity, with lovely purity of fruit. Precise style. 90/100

Sutherland Chardonnay 2010 Elgin, South Africa
Lovely toasty, bready nose shows nice freshness and fine, expressive fruit. The palate is fresh with some citrus notes and nice acidity, with lovely toasty richness. Very stylish and complex. 92/100

Thelema Chardonnay 2010 Stellenbosch, South Africa
Fresh and very fine with taut, mineral, lemony fruit. Lovely purity with lean acidity. Tight and almost Chablis like. Brilliant wine. 94/100

Thelema Ed's Reserve Chardonnay 2010 Stellenbosch, South Africa
This is Clone 166, and it was the first Chardonnay planted on this firm. Ed is Gyles' grandmother. Intense citrus and melon nose is very distinctive. The palate shows lovely herb and melon fruit with a bit of tangerine. Powerful fruit characters. 93/100

Sutherland Viognier Roussanne 2009 Elgin, South Africa
86% Viognier, 14% Roussanne, barrel-fermented in older wood. Taut, lively, herbal and fresh with precise flavours of grapefruit, pear and apple. Rich yet fresh. 92/100

Sutherland Pinot Noir 2010 Elgin, South Africa
The second crop off these vines. Fresh and cherryish with nice earth and spice savoury notes, and some mineral characters. Stylish and distinctive. 88/100

Thelema Mountain Red 2009 South Africa
This is mainly Elgin now, and it's the entry level red in the Thelema range. Ripe and berryish with nice purity of juicy red fruits, as well as some savoury gravel notes. 89/100

Sutherland Syrah 2008 Elgin, South Africa
Fresh, nicely elegant with pure, supple berry fruits. Good structure and acidity. 92/100

Thelema Shiraz 2008 Stellenbosch, South Africa
Ripe, meaty and bold with nice sweet, meaty black fruits. Elegant, sweet and pure. Rich with nice depth, and it still has definition. 92/100

Thelema Merlot 2009 Stellenbosch, South Africa
This flies out of the door: it's Thelema's best-known wine. Fresh and slightly minty with nice sweet berry fruits combined with a gravelly, chalky, spicy edge. 91/100

Thelema Merlot Reserve 2009 Stellenbosch, South Africa
Fresh, minty, berry and cherry fruits nose. Smooth, supple and structured on the palate with elegance and poise, and a chalky, gravelly edge to the fruit, finishing with grippy structure. 92/100

Thelema Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 Stellenbosch, South Africa
Nice, fresh blackcurrant fruit nose with some minty freshness. The palate is deep and intense with nice balance and ripe dark fruits, with some spicy structure. A hint of olive, too. 93/100

Thelema Cabernet Sauvignon 'The Mint' 2009 Stellenbosch, South Africa
Powerful, distinctive and minty on the nose with fresh blackberry and blackcurrant fruit. Savoury structure. Distinctive with a quite delicious minty eucalypt character that works in the context of this win. 93/100

Thelema Cabernet Sauvignon 2001 Stellenbosch, South Africa
Very fine gravelly nose is intense and elegant with smooth berry fruits. Sweet, still, and very fruity. The structured palate shows elegant black cherry and blackberry fruit,and it is smooth and refined, with hints of  earth, minerals and gravel. Drinking very well now. 94/100

Thelema Rabelais 2008 Stellenbosch, South Africa
Aflagship blend of Cabernet, Merlot and Petit Verdot. This is the second release, of 2000 bottles. Ripe, sweet, smooth, lush nose with liqueur-like black fruits. Lovely purity and some chalk notes. The palate is sweet and ripe with lovely fruit plus some grippy structure. Very smooth and lush, and quite long, and it still has freshness. 93/100

Thelema Vin de Hels 2006 Stellenbosch, South Africa
Named after the Helshooghe pass, this is a late-harvest Muscat. Very sweet, with amazing intensity. Fresh, complex and lively with citrus and apricot characters. Pure fruit on the palate with apricot and melon, kept fresh by keen acidity. 92/100 

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, Thelema
Part 9, Neil Ellis

See also: Pictures from Thelema

Older notes: 

Thelema Stellenbosch Sauvignon Blanc 2008
Bright and forward with fresh, pure, grassy fruit. Focused and linear, this is precise, bright and well balanced. 90/100

Thelema Stellenbosch Chardonnay 2007
Focused, nutty and intense with a taut palate that shows sophisticated oak, some power and a gentle nuttiness. Savoury and focused. 91/100

Thelema Sutherland Riesling 2008 Elgin
Very fresh, dry style with precise lemony fruit and a touch of greenness. Appley and crisp. 88/100

Thelema Sutherland Chardonnay Unoaked 2007 Elgin
Fresh, precise and lemony style with good acidity and lovely purity. Real focus here: a crisp Chablis-like style. 90/100

Thelema Sutherland Viognier 2008 Elgin
First crop. Very precise, taut and gently herbal with good acidity. Pure with a savoury edge, hints of toast and some pear fruit. Very focused. 89/100

Thelema Mountain Red 2006 Stellenbosch
This has a bit of everything in it. Fresh, slightly minty, berryish nose leads to a palate showing earth, spice and taut, spicy, brambly fruit, with a bit of that South African character evident. 87/100

Thelema Stellenbosch Shiraz 2005
Rich, spicy and quite dense with some earthy hints and nice pure sweet fruit. Focused, with attractive berry and cherry freshness but also some tarry richness. 91/100

Thelema Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon 2006
Assertive minty nose is spicy and bright with berryish fruit. The palate has lovely blackcurrant fruit with some gravelly depth. Really attractive, with a spicy, savoury, earthy finish. 93/100

Thelema ‘The Mint’ Cabernet 2007
This is a single vineyard with Eucalyptus trees nearby. Since 2004 it has been bottled separately. Very distinctive minty nose is savoury and peppery, and not unpleasant. The palate is beautifully focused with a fresh, minty, green edge. Very attractive: quite elegant, and really delicious. 94/100  

Wines tasted 02/10

Report from 2006: Thelema is one of South Africa's great wine estates, and I've been a fan since I visited in February 2003. The wines are of a consistently high quality. I recently had another chance to taste the range, and my notes are below. Immediately below this is a report of my visit in February 2003.

Thelema Sutherland Sauvignon Blanc 2005 Elgin
Thelema now make two Sauvignons, one from their Stellenbosch vineyards and this one, from cool-climate Elgin. Very bright, fresh, grassy fruit – quite rounded and perfumed. The palate is concentrated and bold with lots of grassiness. Intense stuff. Very good/excellent 91/100

Thelema Sauvignon Blanc 2005 Stellenbosch
Crisp and fresh (served quite cold) with rich grassy fruit. Fresh high-acid palate is quite lean and minerally. A lovely focused wine. Very good/excellent 92/100

Thelema Chardonnay 2004 Stellenbosch
Toasty and rich but with nice freshness. Refined, bready and complex. The palate is rich and full with a nice marriage of toasty oak and intense fruit. Good concentration. Very good/excellent 92/100

Thelema Merlot 2003 Stellenbosch
Rich nicely perfumed blackcurrant fruit on the nose. Creamy and quite sophisticated. The palate has a refined savoury structure under the sweet berry and blackcurrant fruit. Very good/excellent 91/100

Thelema Shiraz 2003 Stellenbosch
Fresh, bright, perfumed red berry fruit nose. Clean and nicely poised with a hint of mintiness. The palate is fresh with cool-climate red berry fruit and well integrated oak. Stylish and refined. Very good/excellent 91/100

Thelema Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 Stellenbosch
Classy tight, minty, minerally blackcurrant fruit nose. The palate shows bright black fruits with high acid and nice freshness. Minerally and tight. Very good/excellent 92/100

Thelema Merlot Reserve 2003 Stellenbosch
Menthol, spice and cedar complexity to the refined red berry and blackcurrant fruit nose. Quite sophsticated and perfumed. Concentrated smooth lush fruit dominates the palate, but almost immediately this is closed down by spicy oak, tannins and acidity. A delicious wine. Very good/excellent 93/100

Wines tasted 02/06
UK agent: Enotria (www.enotria.co.uk) 

Report from a visit in February 2003

Gyles Webb’s Thelema is simply one of the best, if not the best, South African wine estate. It is perfectly situated – both aesthetically and from a winegrowing perspective – at altitude on the slopes of the Simonsberg mountains above the town of Stellenbosch.

While the red wines here take a lot of the attention, I was most impressed by the whites, which were simply superb. A measure of the popularity of Thelema’s wines is shown by the fact that when I visited in February, just one wine remained for sale, the vastly underrated and ludicrously cheap Riesling. Credit to the estate, though, because they were still pouring a full range for visitors to taste. I enjoyed my visit here perhaps more than any other, for a combination of the beauty of the scenery and the warmth of the reception at cellar door.

The estate consists of 155 ha altogether, with 55 under vine. They normally get enough rain, but have drip irrigation installed in case they don’t. In 1984 when the property was purchased the vineyard was split 75% white/25% red; now it’s the other way. It was originally a fruit farm, and to plant more vineyards they had to pull out trees. 

Prices are given in Rands (approx 12 R = £1)

Thelema 2001 Sauvignon Blanc
Very appealing grassy nose which is quite fresh and full. Nice crisp, grassy palate with good concentration and character. Very good/excellent (R48)

Thelema Rhine Riesling 2001
Lovely, limey crisp nose with lots of persistence. Concentrated limey palate is bone dry with distinctive minerality. Brilliant stuff. Very good/excellent (R24)

Thelema Rhine Riesling 1992
A rare chance to try a bottle aged example. Slightly deeper colour with a lovely complex toasty, petrolly nose. Complex rich palate is bone dry and full with lots of character, Interesting stuff that has aged amazingly well. Very good/excellent

Thelema Chardonnay 2002
This is released in July 2003. Fermented and aged in one-third new, second fill and third fill barrels. Very elegant nose showing complex bready, toasty fruit with good acid structure on the palate. Quite delicate and minerally. Very good/excellent (R60)

Thelema Cabernet Sauvignon 2000
Quite an elegant nose with some minerality. Savoury and intense with firm tannins. Rich and full, but this well structured wine is quite cool-climate in style. Very good/excellent

Other reports from visiting Stellenbosch in 2003:

See also: 

Published 04/14  
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