Neil Ellis Elgin Chardonnay 2007

Disturbingly bright in the glass, there’s something unappetizing about the color of this wine; this isn’t a color I usually see in a glass – only in a plastic cup. There’s also something too-clean, stripped about it; it has that harsh, fluorescent-lit indifference of well-filtered wines.Thankfully, the nose is spot on and entirely correct. It smells like gloriously manipulated New World chardonnay at its finest; there are funky autolyzed yeast characteristics along with just a whiff of just-struck matches. The only thing I don’t really smell is fruit: if there is any, it’s Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit along with a sort of coriander-lemongrass note that’s very much off hiding somewhere behind the lees.Wonderfully tart in the mouth, the fruit is at first ironically the only thing I notice here, a brief citrus burst of sun that quickly mutates into something slightly more tropical – pineapple, almost? – and then it’s all quickly restrained by a sly two-pronged attack of creamy vanilla oak and rich, lees-y texture. It all ends on an oddly muted, somewhat soft, almost mineral note with the crisp acidity hanging around slightly like a faded halo.Do I like this wine? To be honest, not particularly: it seems to me to be not worked enough to really inspire me – and yet it’s also not straightforward enough to be enjoyed as a simple, refreshing wine. Instead, it seems to me to be trying to have it both ways – bright, simple fruit framed by heavily manipulated winemakery (winemachinations?) – and it just doesn’t work, at least not for me. If you’re trying to wean someone off of unoaked chardonnay, though, there might be enough awakened intrigue here to lead them down the path to richer, more messed-with styles, however.Neil Ellis
Price: $18
Closure: Stelvin

Meerlust Rubicon 1984

As I worked to open the bottle – unsurprisingly, the cork was a little bit soft and broke in two – my partner mentioned that not only was I a high school freshman when this wine was made, but that Nelson Mandela was still in prison as well. Yeah, that’s pretty old. 🙂

The nose is fairly delicate, definitely old, and not one hundred percent attractive; it smells a bit too musty, and there’s a hint of horehound, or medicinal camphor, or something along those lines; I can’t say for sure. To be honest, it smells like a Tandy leather crafts shop from the 1970s; it reminds me of making leather wallets at summer camp ages ago. In terms of color it’s rather faded, but still fairly dark.

In the mouth, it seemed corked for just a moment, but it’s more along the lines of unaired hatboxes than true TCA taint. Still, the fruit is still good, there’s some sweetness left hanging in there, and a lovely savor to the finish. There are very, very fine tannins here as well, giving it a lovely polish. In terms of what it tastes like I’m at a loss: I suppose that this is what a fine aged claret tastes like, and I’m afraid I may not be quite British enough to know how to describe this. There’s a lovely acidity supporting gentle red fruits awash in mellow tannin, and the experience is almost more of a sensual one than a tast-centered one. It’s plush, surprisingly so.

At nearly a quarter century old, this wine is in remarkably good shape. It’s also fantastic value.

Price: about $30 (purchased as part of a Rubicon vertical from the Southern Hemisphere Wine Center)
Closure: Cork
Date tasted: November 2008v>

Boekenhoutskloof Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

Once you get past the ridiculously overwrought bottle – it’s so big and heavy that no foil cutter I know of could possibly work – what you get is a wine that smells, well, expensive: generic New World Napa-esque fruit + some very expensive Bordeaux toast oak. Hm.The surprise is entirely in the mouth: the weight is much more French than Napa, and it tastes mostly of very high quality oak. It seems just a little bit watery and then it’s gone. There’s a very small amount of tannin – frankly, it feels wimpy – and then it’s gone. Again: Hm.I’ll come back to this later on and see if it improves, but as of right now, the bottle is the only thing that’s impressive here, which is odd considering their $8 wines are pretty good (the Porcupine Ridge line).Later: After an hour’s aeration, this started to taste like mesquite or cedar incense, the kind you’d be in an American national park on summer vacation. Cedar, cedar, cedar, and more cedar. Yawn. Kind of tasty, but utterly lacking in personality. Avoid.Boekenhoutskloof

Price: US $47
Closure: Cork
Date tasted: July 2008

Meerlust Rubicon 2001

Beautifully, richly purple, my first thought here was simply “wow, so this is what a really good, ripe, New World fake Bordeaux smells like after it’s aged for a few years.”  There’s a bit of good old fashioned lead pencil, some cedar box, rich, dark damson fruit, and just a hint of dust (strangely, it reminds me of the classroom I once taught in in Germany; it was a cold, concrete room with not much to smell save for the cigarettes students had smoked before class). It also smells just a bit burnt-sugar sweet; it’s something like raspberry crème brĂ»lĂ©e, but not overtly so.Surprisingly medium-bodied, the taste begins all red fruits, and then suddenly shifts gears to a sort of shoe-leather, tobacco-leaf earthiness with a high, violet-leaf note as well; then, it fades out slowly, with subtle supporting acidity, ending on a somewhat sweet (not sugary, just sweet) note with gentle spiciness and good length. There aren’t any aged characteristics that I can discern really; this still tastes just great seven years after harvest.This wine’s a keeper – probably the best I’ve had in a month. Great stuff! I imagine it’ll still be in great shape a decade from now – shame I only bought the one bottle!MeerlustPrice: US $25Closure: CorkDate tasted: May 2008

Solms-Delta Lekkerwijn Rosé 2006

At first sniff, I thought I’d happened across an egregiously overpriced South African version of white zin: this wine smelled simple and fruity, that’s it. Turns out I was wrong: it was just too cold to smell like anything. After a few minutes’ reprieve from the fridge, the smell turned to something like flowers that smell like meat in order to attract insects: florid, yeah, but also very, very meaty. Overall, it’s something like bacon that’s sitting in front of an open window in the countryside; very odd. It almost smells like Malbec, but there’s a definite uplift to the nose.Anyhow: the wine is rich and full in the mouth, starting on a generic red berry note and then quickly resolving to an almost oily, honyed sort of feel combined with black pepper and cherry. There’s good freshness here, a bit of residual sugar, and a lovely aftertaste of strawberries and cream that persists well.All in all, this is an odd one: I don’t know of anything like this from the States, Europe, or Australia. It’s not cheap, but it’s distinctive enough to be good value. Solms-DeltaPrice: US $17.99Closure: CorkDate tasted: April 2007