In South African Wine
on 20 Mar 2014

My friends Kate and Wes, like many Madisonians, are big DIY types, so it should be no surprise that a recent dinner with them involved Kate’s homemade camembert cream cheese (that’s as earthy and delicious as it sounds), some sort of artisanal charcuterie, homemade bread, Kate’s marmalade, and aperitifs in the form of Wes’s home-brewed stout. (He’s an excellent brewer and this was my favorite of his beers to date.)

Thelema Mountain Red

My contribution to this lovely Saturday afternoon was Thelema’s 2011 Mountain Red, a sample from Cape Classics that caught my attention right away due to my ongoing love affair with Thelema. Having tasted the 2010 Mountain Red not long ago, I was excited at the chance to try this edition of the shiraz-based excellent value ($14) red blend. The grapes are 41 percent shiraz, 22 percent petit verdot, 20 percent cabernet sauvignon, eight percent merlot, six percent grenache, and three percent cabernet franc.

The 2011 vintage was a hot one––I remember booking my dates thinking early to mid-March would be a great time to experience my second South African harvest, then arriving and learning that almost everyone in Stellenbosch (except De Toren, my host winery, thank goodness) had already picked their vineyards clean after a recent heat wave.

It’s evident in this bottle’s differences from the more even-keeled 2010 vintage. Looking at my notes from the previous vintage, I caught some white pepper and elderberry/plum flavors; this time, the tannins are firmer (of course, the wine is younger, too, but the grippy chewiness is undeniable) and that flash of pepper is still there but decidedly black peppercorn. The fruit, more plum and some huckleberry this time, is radiant, and while this is clearly a slightly more intense wine than the 2010, it’s still a delightful appetizer wine. Our sausage, bread, marmalade, and cheese snacks were just the right match. We thus said our goodbyes to winter (today’s the first day of spring, but the last few days have been in the ’30s here in Madison) with a rustic and hearty bunch of flavors.

I highly recommend this bottle for any occasion that warrants a firm-yet-fruity red.

Julia Burke is a wine educator and writer.