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Vergelegen unveils SA’s answer to Saint Emilion

Vergelegen launched a new label in the UK last week designed to be the South African estate’s answer to top Saint Emilion.

Vergelegen’s new “DNA” blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot

The wine, called DNA, is a blend of 60% Cabernet Franc, 25% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, and winemaker André van Rensburg said, “My love of Cheval Blanc is the inspiration for this.”

Indeed, André pointed out that Cheval Blanc chief winemaker Pierre Lurton is a consultant to Vergelegen’s neighbour, Morgenster Estate, and that he had followed Lurton’s advice when producing the new blend.

“Lurton said you should pick Cabernet Franc as ripe as possible – always over 14% – and the Merlot less ripe, but he said that in the New World, people tend to do it the other way round.”

The latest edition to the Vergelegen range features a fingerprint of André on its label, due to the fact fingerprinting is used to help identify individuals by their DNA profiles.

However, André commented that the fingerprint also looks like a contour map of a vineyard, and hence the image also represents the unique Vergelegen terroir.

The grapes for DNA’s first release are from the 2006 vintage and the wine will be priced at around £22 in UK retail, and has an abv of 14%.

Before producing DNA, André said the Cabernet Franc was blended into other wines in the Vergelegen range and, he added, “I always thought it was such a waste.”

André unveiled the new wine after a tasting of the Vergelegen Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve wines from 1998 to 2010, which represented his first vintage at the estate to the latest in bottle (if not on the market).

He explained how the winemaking had changed post the 2005 vintage after he had spent an eight-week period at Harlan Estate in California.

Changes included berry selection on conveyors in the winery and a longer maceration, both pre- and post-fermentation, as well as a switch from malo-lactic fermentation in oak barrels to stainless steel tanks.

As a result, he said that after 2005 Vergelegen started producing wines from Cabernet Sauvignon with tannins that are “really polished”.

He summed up, “We’ve always made Cabernet to age but the only thing that’s changed is that the wines are more accessible at an early stage.”

Finally, turning his attention to Vergelegen’s flagship red blend, called V, he revealed that between 40% and 60% of each year’s production goes to one Chinese customer.

Apparently he visited the winery as a guest of Vergelegen’s owner, Anglo-American, and has bought a large allocation of the top wine ever since.

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