The unexpected outcome of my trip to the Cape Winelands earlier this year was that I fell back in love with cabernet sauvignon.

That was against the odds, because I’m more of a pinot gal than a cabernet fan, but I was eating quite a bit more red meat than usual (as you do in South Africa). I also had the opportunity to taste some spectacular older vintages, thanks to the generosity of an enthusiastic wine-lover I met on Twitter (@bigbigjoe1).

Cabernet is not the grape most winemakers talk about these days – all the buzz is about southern French varieties such as grenache and cinsault – but it is the most widely planted red variety.

The best comes from the Stellenbosch region, which has some of the oldest vines and what is generally considered the best terroir for the grape. Winemaking and viticulture in the region has also improved over the years. There’s less leafiness as the wines age, resulting in vintages that are ripe without being jammy, classically European though more generous in their fruit, and beautifully poised and polished.

Names to bear in mind are some of the oldest on the South African wine scene – such as Kanonkop, Meerlust, Rustenberg and Vergelegen. Unlike most of the cheap and cheerful South African reds you’ll come across in the supermarket, good cabernet sauvignon doesn’t come cheap. You won’t find much under £10 (Chile’s a better hunting ground at this price point to be honest) but they compare favourably with Bordeaux and California as the price creeps up.

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Among Joe’s selection, Rustenberg’s top of the range 2009 Peter Barlow is still available for the comparatively reasonable sum of £26.99 from York Wines, though their more widely available John X Merriman, which is on offer in Waitrose (see today’s picks), is the one most of us would be happy to settle for.

The most exciting cab I came across, though, was from a newcomer, Erica Obermeyer, who used to make the still wines at Graham Beck but has now gone out on her own. Her seductively velvety 2015 O Cabernet Sauvignon (14.7%) – and 2015 was a great vintage – is now available in minute quantities from a new online retailer called VinoSA for £52. No, that’s not what I routinely spend on wine, either, but for those of you who have a bigbigjoe-style cellar, I pass the information on.

Four classic South African cabernets


La Petit Ferme Cabernet Sauvignon 2014


La Petite Ferme Cabernet Sauvignon 2017

£12.60 Tanners, 14.5%.

From neighbouring Franschhoek rather than Stellenbosch, but as smooth and polished as a Stellenbosch.


Rustenberg John X Merriman 2016


Rustenberg John X Merriman 2016

Reduced from £15.99 to £11.99 at Waitrose, £13.99 on a mix 6 deal at Majestic, 14.5%.

The baby brother of Rustenberg’s Peter Barlow (above). One of the most delicious, consistently reliable cabernet blends.


Meerlust Cabernet Sauvignon 2015


Meerlust Cabernet Sauvignon 2015

On offer at £19.99 Roberts & Speight, or £22 at de-burgh.com, 14%

From one of the oldest family-owned estates dating back to 1756, a beautiful balance of rich cassis fruit and subtle spicy oak.


Kanonkop Cabernet Sauvignon 2014.


Kanonkop Cabernet Sauvignon 2014

£27.95, Fintry Wines Colchester; winebuyers.com, 14.2%.

A wine that can age 20 years, so still a comparative toddler, but already elegant and sophisticated. Villeneuve Wines has the 2012 for £30.



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