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Winery Visits in Stellenbosch Part 2: Rust en Vrede and Neil Ellis

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Rust en Vrede, which doesn’t actually mean “Rest in Peace” as I first thought (silly me :P) but rather “calm and peace” as someone suggested, (Well, correct me if I’m wrong please, don’t want to google everything) was the next winery we visited.

They are exclusively focussing on red wines and received a truckload of awards for their achievements in that field so far. Knowing this, of course, sharpened our senses and our concentration as we were eager to find out about wines that are supposedly part of the spearhead of the South African wine industry. Here are the quick notes I wrote.

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2009 Merlot: big fruit with a nice cherry nose. Smooth on the palate with polished tannins and slightest grip. Also nice cherry fruit here and slightly floral and fresh on the finish. Nice one, not too complex but with good weight and balance.

2008 Cabernet Sauvignon: a nose with much less Paprika than previous Cabs we had. Chocolate is quite to the fore here. On the palate well pronounced dark fruit, some chocolate again. Nice structure here. Lenght is medium. Really happy that oak is not so prominent here.

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2008 Shiraz: This one is made with 50% American oak, as one can also tell from the vanilla nose. But there’s also bright red berries. In the mouth some liquorice and spice find their way into the berry-basket. Medium length. This one has some potential.

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Estate 2007: Composed of 61% Cab, 30% Shiraz and 9% Merlot. The Cab Paprika tone is quite prominent in the nose, mixed with fruit but also with an alcoholic edge. On the palate a nice structure with good grip and weight, then balanced out by a nice fresh acidity. Sweetness is more pronounced than in the other wines, a touch of vanilla in there as well and also something a tad green (paprika again?). But as a whole I’d say that it’s quite a mouthful of wine and very gulpable considering its weight and structure. A + on this one.

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Single Vineyard Syrah: Only 1200 bottles are made of this one each year and the wine matures in 75% American oak and the rest in French barrels. A wine that appears mellow with nice berry-like Syrah fruit, a little tannic grip but foremost supple and mellow. More Languedoc than Rhône when comparing to old-world Syrah. Not really my cup of tea here.

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On the next day we dropped by Neil Ellis‘ estate which is nearly equally as acclaimed. The estate’s look couldn’t be more different than Rust en Vrede’s with an ultra-modern, bunker-like building incorporated into the hill-landscape of Stellenbosch. With an incredible heat outside that day, it was very soothing to taste wines within that cool concrete winery.

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We opted for tasting the premium range of wines only which is named “vineyard selection range”. It comprises one Sauvignon Blanc and then 4 red wines to taste, including the cooperation project wine between Neil Ellis and German winemaker Werner Näkel from the Ahr region. Compared to Rust en Vrede, Neil Ellis isn’t an exclusive red wine maker, but nevertheless his reds compete among South Africa’s best and I had for the first time the impression to have some hint of Terroir within the bottle.

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2008 VSR Pinotage: bright colour. Nice fruit nose with a subtle smokiness. Nice balance on palate with some tannic grip. Little bitterness on the finish. Not one of my preferred ones, but not a bad wine either.

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2006 VSR Syrah: This one got me excited. Nice Syrah berry nose with lots of freshness but also something meat- or bacon-like going on. Big weight on the palate but not appearing out of balance. An elixir or concentrate of Syrah with fruit but also these bbq kind of aromatics. After a while it shows intense olive and thyme notes, like a creamy olive-tapenade on grilled baguette dropped on your palate. Nice tannic structure and great length in finish. This is the first red wine in SA I wanted to buy with full conviction and I actually did buy a bottle at the end of the tasting. I’d love to put this in a blind tasting of French Syrah.

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2006 VSR Cabernet: This got me much less excited after the Syrah, albeit it was a nice fleshy Cab with some menthol freshness in the finish. The nose showed a slight glue tone, something you’d often find in SA reds, especially when served a bit too warm (which wasn’t the case here).

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2009 Zwalu: This is the common project wine between Neil Ellis and Werner Näkel. Zwalu means new beginning by the way. It is composed of 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Syrah and the 30% Cabernet Franc all aged in 100% new French oak. A nice modern cuvée with good structure, bright fruit and freshness. Still, not my favorite.

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When comparing the 2 estates, it becomes very clear that REV stands for the more classic, balanced cuvées’ that might please the fans of elegant Bordeaux. That said, I was missing a bit of complexity and personality in the REV reds but in this short time it is also hard to fairly assess these wines. NE on the other hand stands for the more modern type of cuvées and in my opinion manages much better to tickle out a notion of terroir from their vines and soils. As you read I was most fond of their SVR Syrah and will look for 2 or 3 bottles here in Germany and see how they perform next to their European counterparts.

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  1. Vimpressionniste Said,

    I would’ve expected the Naekel project to involve pinot noir… has the Sideways effect not hit South Africa yet? Did you try any?

  2. Blindtaster Said,

    Yeah, weird. But Naekel kind of runs his own vinery in Stellenbosch now, located right next to Neil Ellis’, and even there he doesn’t seem to make Pinot. I guess he follows a strategy of global portfolio diversification.
    BTW, pretty crazy: Neil Ellis doesn’t own vines he only buys grapes, the magic happens exclusively in the cellar..

    I had a few Pinot’s, they’re no finely chiseled Gevrey Chambertins, rather coarse, but still some quite enjoyable!

  3. Syrah Blind Tasting Session – A clash of styles! — Blind Tasting Club Said,

    […] Valley, South Africa – During my South Africa trip in March I was quite impressed with this 2006 Neil Ellis Syrah, and I even wrote it would be interesting to put it in a blind tasting of French Syrah. So here we […]

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