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Rust en Vrede Estate, one of the world’s best wines?

Rust en Vrede is not only South Africa’s first specialist in red wines only, but also one of the very best. A vertical tasting of ten vintages of the Estate wine 1995-2013 provides a great opportunity to take a close look. It is also an illustration of the differences between the work of all of the farm’s no more than three winemakers over course of the past 28 years.

Kevin Arnold, now a winemaker at his own Waterford Estate, was winemaker at Rust en Vrede 1987-1997 and is represented in the vertical tasting by vintage 1995. Louis Strydom, now winemaker and president of the Engelbrecht Els Vineyards, was winemaker from 1998 to 2004. His work may be represented by the team that did the vintages of 2005 and 2006. Coenie Snyman is the winemaker who took over in 2004 and his first own vintage was 2007, and of course all since then. Coenie became “Winemaker of the Year” in South Africa in 2009 with a Rust en Vrede Cabernet Sauvignon 2007.

Kevin Arnold

Kevin Arnold, copyright BKWine Photography

The owner Jean Engelbrecht took over from his father Jannie in 1998. He has made great efforts to increase the already high quality by replanting all the vineyards and reorganize responsibilities and the work with the wines with new people. Jean feels strongly about continuing to be an “Estate”, which means that they own all the vineyards and is not permitted to purchase grapes.

Rust en Vrede Estate has always consisted of about 60% cabernet sauvignon, 30% shiraz and 10% merlot with some variations depending on the vintage. The microclimate in the vineyards of Helderberg is warmer than the surrounding area and are particularly suitable for powerful wines of shiraz and cabernet sauvignon. Production of Estate wines varies between 30 000 to 60 000 bottles per year.

Jean Engelbrecht, Rust en Vrede

Jean Engelbrecht, Rust en Vrede, copyright Rust en Vrede Wine Estate

A long-term change is that they have reduced the proportion of new oak, and have stopped using American oak. From the vintage 2013 the wine is matured in 100% French oak, some larger barrels and a smaller proportion of new barrels.

The question then becomes, can these changes be felt in the wines? And if so, how?

Rust en Vrede Estate 1995

65% cabernet sauvignon, 25% shiraz, 10% merlot

One of the 90’s better vintages, fine, powerful aroma of red fruit and vanilla, elegant and fresh with tannins from 100% new barriques, will not benefit from further ageing so should be drunk now.

Rust en Vrede Estate 2005

58% cabernet sauvignon, 31% shiraz, 11% merlot

A good vintage, dark fruit, spices, coffee and caramel tones, a little harsh tannins from 100% new barriques, the least elegant of all tested wines.

Vineyards and mountains in Franschhoek

Vineyards and mountains in South Africa, copyright BKWine Photography

Rust en Vrede Estate 2006

59% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Shiraz, 8% Merlot

A difficult vintage due to the heat, more obvious fruit than in 2005, vanilla and caramel from the barrel ageing and an intense and long finish.

Rust en Vrede Estate 2007

61% cabernet sauvignon, 30% shiraz, 9% Merlot

Coenie’s first vintage from eight (!) year old vines, a style that is a little different with more fruit than before, notes of black currants, lead pencils and barrels dominate, the nose finishes on plums and herbal tones from the shiraz. A really good wine.

Coenie Snyman, Rust en Vrede

Coenie Snyman, Rust en Vrede, copyright Rust en Vrede Wine Estate

Rust en Vrede Estate 2008

65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Shiraz, 8% Merlot

The biggest harvest until 2014, blackcurrants, cedar-wood, white pepper and herbs with dark chocolate, powerful, balanced and generous with integrated tannins, very approachable now.

Rust en Vrede Estate 2009

61% Cabernet Sauvignon, 31% Shiraz, 8% Merlot

A smaller harvest (like 2010 and 2011) and a style change as a result of Coenie better understanding the different vineyards. The best vintage in Stellenbosch in modern history, comparable to 1966 and 1973. The wine has everything in balance, complex fruit and barrel tones makes for a great wine.

Rust en Vrede Estate 2010

59% cabernet sauvignon, 34% shiraz, 7% Merlot

40% of the harvest was blown away by strong winds, resulting in concentrated tannins in the grapes that were left, black currants, blueberries and spices in an elegant wine with a certain bite of astringency.

Rust en Vrede Estate 2011

63% cabernet sauvignon, 28% shiraz, 9% Merlot (available in Sweden for ~35 euro)

A warm vintage like 2006, dark fruit and roasted spices, dark chocolate and vanilla tones, not as harsh as in the 2006, full-bodied and well-structured with long finish.

Rust en Vrede Estate 2012

56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 36% Shiraz, 8% Merlot

A cold winter produced less fruit according Coenie, but still more than what was usual before his time. The Shiraz is more obvious and forthcoming than the previous wines with blackberry, plum, black currant, cedar and tobacco, young with great complexity.

Rust en Vrede Estate 2013

58% cabernet sauvignon, 31% shiraz, 11% merlot

Not released yet on the market but will be a good vintage, is still very rough with fine aromas of blueberry, tobacco, cedar, spices and a little creaminess, the first vintage with 100% French oak. The Shiraz wine is aged in bigger barrels than the cabernet sauvignon to give a similar maturity at the time of blending.

Coenie and Jean have together followed a strategy of small changes, fully in line with the mission Coenie received by Jean when he began: “Be consistent and true to the history of Rust en Vrede”

The trends toward more fruit, less oak and more balance and elegance are evident in this vertical tasting. Rust en Vrede Estate both defends and develops its position as one of the world’s best wines.

The tasting was organized by the Swedish importer The Wineagency.

Mikael Karlin writes för BKWine Magazine on wine tastings and wine events in Sweden.

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This post is also available in: Swedish

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