Thelema Merlot 2007 | Stellenbosch, South Africa
South African wines have always had a special place in my heart, as they seem to me to be the forgotten stepchild in the family of fine wines of the world. Go into any wine shop — even a very good wine shop — and you will have a hard time locating the “South Africa” section; in many cases, it may not exist.
If you do find it, it will probably consist of one shelf at most. More likely, it will be a half-dozen bottles shoved to the very corner of a bottom shelf that also includes random labels from New Zealand and Australia. It’s a shame, really, because most of the wine coming from South Africa to the USA is very good, but it has no marketing behind it, and few people talking about it. But then, perhaps that’s your advantage; if more people were excited about South African wine, the prices would be much higher.
Many consider the wines of South Africa to be “New World,” but that’s kind of a misnomer, considering that vineyards and winemaking has existed there since the 1650s. The history is long and complicated, and we’ll discuss it further another day. To be unfairly brief, today’s South African wines are an intriguing mixture of both Old World and New World styles — a reflection of that history.
One example of those two worlds colliding — in a good way, is Thelema Merlot. Thelema is a winery situated in mountains of the same name, surrounded by towering oak trees, cackling peacocks, and lush vineyards resting between 370 to 640 meters (1200 – 2000 feet) above sea level. If you can ever visit, the view is breathtaking. In the meantime, you can experience the wine.
Tasting Notes: Thelema Merlot
Open, ripe, mature, almost jammy aromas of earth, black fruits, blue fruits, leather, tobacco. Also a hint of smokiness, almost like Liquid Smoke. I am loving this nose, which exhibits typical Merlot earthy and slightly bell-peppery character and is generously expressive. In the mouth it has juicy, jammy ripe black and red berry fruit flavors. Again, generous, and also complex. I keep wanting to say jam, because that’s what’s filling my mouth — what resembles a thick flavor of boysenberry and currant preserves. There is also some spice here, but it’s not overly oaky by any means. Finishes with puckering acidity and ripe, medium tannins. A bigger wine than I expected for its sub-$30 price tag. New World style.
The 2007 vintage is likely unavailable at this point, which does you no good unless you have a few bottles of this waiting in your cellar. If that’s the case, I suggest you uncork it and enjoy with a beef or lamb stew or a really robust burger — i.e., one made with a mix of short ribs and/or ribeye, which seems to be all the rage with gourmet burgers these days. With that hint of smoke, it would also go well with a smoked cheese and smoked meats.
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Disclosure: I received this wine as a gift from friends.
See Ken Hoggins’ review of this wine at Ken’s Wine Guide.