Malbec in Wellington

Cathy Marston heads to Doolhof and takes a closer look at the Malbec grape.

by: Cathy Marston | 21 May 2012
malbec grapes

“When we first discovered this piece of land, there was just under 400 hectares in total for sale” explains Dennis Kerrison. “My original plan was just to buy a very small part from the owner – about 5 hectares - just to grow a few grapes, but somehow or other, during negotiations, things changed and I ended up buying most of it and he now has the 5 hectares!” Doolhof is at the very foot of the Bain’s Kloof Pass, right at the end of the road. Hence the name ‘Doolhof’ meaning Labyrinth because once you got in there, the only way out was back the same way you came.

Dennis and his family bought the farm in 2001 and built their winery three years later. Their first vintage of Pinotage (produced in 2005) surprised everyone by winning a whole fistful of awards, and what had been intended as a relaxing sideline for retirement suddenly turned into a thriving business. They planted a wide variety of grape varieties – too many for winemaker Friedrich Kühne to turn into individual wines, so blends are going to be the way of the future. In the meantime, they are making their name with Malbec – a grape variety originally from France and now better-known as Argentina’s signature grape.

Malbec is one of the five major black grapes allowed in the making of Bordeaux red wines but it has been decreasing in importance, particularly since severe frosts in 1956 devastated the crops, leading many growers to replant with more popular varieties. It is best known in France now in the Cahors region where it makes dense, dark, inky-black wines with distinctive aromas of violets and plums. But at some point during the 19th Century, Malbec made its way to Argentina and such has been its success there, that it has been adopted as their national variety.

Malbec is grown in the highest vineyard sites in the world at Lujan de Cuyo, Mendoza in Argentina where it produces intense, velvety wines with plenty of power and structure. When Dennis and his team first planted the variety at Doolhof, they intended it to be part of a Bordeaux blend, but such was the power of the first vintage in 2007, they decided to bottle it on its own. Since then the variety has gone from strength to strength, mirroring the Argentinian example and becoming known as their signature grape.

We tasted three vintages of Malbec along with some other wines from their range including the first release of Cabernet Franc. The best white of the day was the rich and hefty 2008 Signature Chardonnay BF – the BF meaning ‘barrel-fermented’ and not ‘best friend’ although I wouldn’t argue with the latter description too much! Full of oatmeal and honey with plenty of nutty intensity and a pineapple and cream finish, it’s available from the farm for R90. The Cabernet Franc 2009 (R115) has lots of potential – distinctive aromas on the nose of black fruit, green leaves and some licorice. Soft tannins, black fruit flavours and a clean finish – a good wine, but not yet the best one they’re going to make from this variety in my opinion.

And the Malbec? Just getting better and better. The 2009 (R115) is showing beautiful perfumed violets and spice with a meaty savoury edge, balanced acidity and fruit, integrated tannins and a lengthy plummy finish. The 2010 (not yet released) shows a lot of similarities, but ‘more’ of everything and I would keep it for a year or four yet. If you feel like enjoying it in decadent surroundings, Doolhof has recently refurbished Grand Dedale to be the only 5 star property in the Wellington region and even through the drizzly, grey rain on the day we visited, it all looked spectacular.

For more information on Doolhof and Grand Dedale, check out their website



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