Neethlingshof Malbec 2009

Every cloud has a silver lining. If my local Waitrose had not burned down a
Posted 14th March 2011        

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Every cloud has a silver lining.

If my local Waitrose had not burned down a few years back I probably would never have got to try this wine and for that I’m grateful.

Of course, I am not about to go out and torch every Waitrose so they get rebuilt with better wine sections but in the case of my local one the quality and width of selection in their wines definitely improved post-combustion.

I wasn’t even in it to buy wine to be honest – the wife packed me off to get a few “things” last Saturday and while I was trying to decipher her handwriting my son decided he was going to play dodgems with the shopping trolley in the fine wine section. Fearing the imminent smashing of numerous Gevrey-Chambertin at £25.99 per bottle and with one or two scowling looks from other shoppers, I managed to get between the trolley and the shelf just where the Neethlingshof Malbec happened to be displayed. On special offer no less.

I have to say that I have never come across a South African Malbec before. The grape variety has become synonymous with Argentina, even though its origins lie in South West France where it is the principal component in the wines of Cahors. I was thus intrigued and decided that at £5.99 per bottle it was worth a try. I mean – how bad could it be? Neethlingshof are also one of South Africa’s most established and famous wine estates and although they have suffered from a period of hiatus recently, their wines are normally very good quality and good value for money.

Originating in Northern Burgundy, the Malbec grape (or Cot, Auxerrois and Pressac as it is otherwise known) makes wines that are relatively more tannic, fuller and deeper in colour than the other noble grape varieties.

In Cahors where it is still the main grape grown, it must constitute at least 70% of the wine made while elsewhere it is used to add backbone and depth in blending. It was first introduced to Argentina in the mid nineteenth century from France and popular theory is that it is a unique clone that now only exists in Argentina as the original vines from which it was first cut perished in the phylloxera epidemic. Credited with the resurrection of the Argentinian wine industry more than any other variety, it has been planted in many countries across the world with varying degrees of success, South Africa being one of them.

The vines for this wine were only planted as recently as 2003. First harvested in 2008 the yield is relatively low at 12 tonnes per hectare. The grapes are crushed and remain on skin for 24 hours before being fermented in rotation tanks at 27-29 degrees celsius. Aged in a combination of French and American oak barrels for 13 months, the wine is a deep, dark inky purple-ruby colour in the glass. The bouquet is if jammy fruit interspersed with vanilla, spice and dark chocolate and on the palate the wine is full bodied, supple and round with plum and overripe black berry flavours with a hint of coffee and tobacco. The tannins are remarkably soft but if I’m brutally honest the wine will benefit from another 2-3 years of laying down to allow for the flavours to harmonise and soften even further.

Fantastic with chargrilled steak it goes equally well with spicy sausage, game, venison and magret de canard. It will also complement certain hard, flavourful and ripe cheeses as well as sweetbreads.

Available from Waitrose for £5.99 a bottle I give it 80 out of 100.

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Meet the Author:
Donald Griffiths
Donald lives in Tadworth, Surrey and is originally from Durban in South Africa. He developed an appreciation for wine at a relatively young age mainly in thanks to his francophile mother who served it (just one glass mind!) with food around the dining table and taught him to appreciate, enjoy and acknowledge its ability to complement and even enhance good food. This appreciation grew stronger in his early twenties when he met like-minded buyers and drinkers of wine while working behind a bar as a student and also realised that a good bottle of cabernet sauvignon was a better pairing with barbecued red meat than any beer could ever be. Now all he pretty much drinks is wine – of all colours and styles – and enjoys collecting wines he likes to drink. Favourites include (but are not restricted to!) New World Pinot Noirs, most red Rhone varietals, the deeply dark and tannic wines from South-West France, big, creamy, oaked and over-the-top Chardonnays and the sweet white wines of Monbazillac and Sauternes. Donald prides himself on a relatively in-depth knowledge of the South African wine industry. He has visited many of the top wine estates in the Cape and will gladly try and convert the most sceptic, ignorant and staunchest critics of SA wine. If he won the lottery Donald freely admits he would buy a wine estate somewhere in the world and grow old in no great rush while getting his feet wet with grape juice.