RECOMMENDED: 2008 Excelsior Cabernet Sauvignon, Robertson/Ashton, South Africa. Usually $7.99-9.99, available for as little as $5.99.

Having had an outstanding Radford Dale Shiraz/Viognier (90/10) from the Stellenbosch region of South Africa recently, I was interested in trying a wine from a different region of South Africa. The whole world has opened up wide, the competition is cheerful but fierce, and prices are ever so often within reach for lovely wines. What a great time to be a Frugal Wine Snob!

Recently, we tried the Excelsior 2009 Shiraz, and really enjoyed it. ($7/glass, generous pour, Liquid Ginger, Gainesville, FL. Recommended restaurant.) Full-bodied and luscious especially at the back of the palate. Long finish, very satisfying. The Shiraz, labeled as a varietal, turns out to be a blend—89% Shiraz, 11% Petit Verdot.

Deciding to follow on the heels of our dining-out wine experience, we cracked a bottle of 2008 Excelsior Cabernet Sauvignon at home. Initial impression: soft, extremely well balanced, centered in the middle of the palate more than the Shiraz, and legs that don’t quit—kind of like its lovely, lingering finish. This is a kinder, softer Cab—it has plenty of strength, but this weight-lifter doesn’t have the harsh edges so often found in the Cab varietal. Perhaps it’s because this, too, is a blend—86% Cab, 14% Petit Verdot. The PV is often used in Bordeaux Medoc wines, and it’s an old-fashioned inclusion (fussy to grow) that is obviously making its way back into vogue. Hints of spice and pepper, pleasant and balanced.

Personally I would have liked more oak, but the “unoaked” style of wine-making is becoming the wine-making style du jour. [Sigh, rolls eyes, wishes to beam back to the 1980 Napa Valley Cabs and Chardonnays]

One drawback: Our aerator-pourer was a little too small for the bottle, resulting in a few stray drops, so we had to pour directly from the bottle. As a wine fan, I hope two things happen: (a) things such as width-of-bottle-mouth become standardized, and (b) wine-bottle recycling becomes easy, convenient, and widespread.

BOTTLE NOTES: The De West of Excelsior have a proud winemaking tradition dating back to 1697. The calcareous soils of the Robertson area were once used to raise champion thoroughbred horses, but now these soils are used to produce fine wines. [The cabernet is] crammed with abundant blackcurrant aromas, this full-bodied wine is a mouthful of plum flavours. Delightfully versatile, it makes a delicious partner to a variety of foods, including red meats and rich pasta dishes. Produced and bottled in Ashton, South Africa; wine of origin Robertson.

DISTRIBUTOR NOTES ( Excelsior Estate is an intriguing blend of vineyards and horses. The fourth and fifth generations of the De Wet family currently farm the land of their ancestors and continue an equine tradition …. The estate turns out several full-bodied, fruity whites and lush, supple reds, and gives tribute to its horse-breeding origins with an equine-themed label.

VINTNER’S NOTES: Excelsior’s vineyards are characterized by calcareous clay soils. These limestone-rich soils are well drained, which allows the vines to stress, resulting in small, concentrated berries. The 2008 vintage was cool and wet, leading to vigorous growth in the vineyards and larger berries than usual. Careful vineyard management was critical to success, and crop thinning and leaf plucking were employed to encourage ripeness and concentration. The wine was fermented in stainless steel tanks for 7 days, with pumpovers of 1 hour performed twice daily. 35% of the wine was aged in a combination of French and American oak for 18 months before bottling.

Alcohol Content 14.5%
TA 5.8 g/l
pH 3.66
RS 3 g/l


WINE ENTHUSIAST: Best Buy. Blackberries, leather and cigar box spice unfold on the nose, while flavors of lush black plum, cherry, prosciutto and mocha fill the creamy mouthfeel and lead through to the long finish. A terrific value Cab that’s a great choice for company to pair with a roast or steaks.

WINE SPECTATOR: Soft and forward, with slightly jammy grape and baked plum notes, followed by a dash of toasted vanilla.

Stephen Tanzer’s INTERNATIONAL WINE CELLAR: Includes a bit of petit verdot. Aromas of spiced plum and licorice. Juicy, bright and fruit-driven, with brisk acidity giving it a light touch. Noteworthy intensity for the price range. Finishes with sweet tannins and plenty of verve.

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