Wine Review: 2007 KWV Cathedral Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon

29 04 2011

Welcome to a special all-request edition of PnP!  For a few weeks now, loyal subscriber S has been asking me to find and review a South African wine, particularly one made by producers KWV or Robertson.  I am nothing if not (eventually) responsive, and I cling to blog subscribers like grim death, so last weekend when I was at Highlander North Hill I sauntered over to the South Africa section and jumped on the only KWV I could see, the 2007 Cathedral Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon.  The wine was bargain priced at $15 (including tax!), and since I don’t drink much SA wine, I was curious to see what it would deliver compared to Californian, Australian, Spanish or Italian wines in the same price range.

Your wish is my command. Thanks for the request, S!

This wine comes from the large Coastal Region of South Africa, and I didn’t have to look at a wine atlas to know that this area was located on the very southern tip of the country, because that’s where EVERY South African wine region is located.  I’ve mentioned in a previous post that wine grapes only tend to grow in two horizontal climate bands around the globe, one between 30 and 50 degrees latitude North and the other between 30 and 50 degrees South.  Canada is right on the edge of wine-growing capacity because its southern border is right around 50 degrees North; similarly, South Africa is right on the edge on wine-growing capacity because its southern tip is right around 30 degrees South.  The northern half of South Africa near Johannesburg is much less known for wine production because it is located too close to the equator and outside of that 30-50 degree Latitude band.  As a result, the South African wine industry is concentrated along the southern coast near Cape Town; almost due north of the city, on the western side of the coast, is where you’ll find the Coastal Region wine zone.

OK, wine geography lesson complete.  It is probably appropriate that my first South African wine in awhile is made by KWV, as they are a massive producer who used to completely dominate the local wine industry.  KWV stands for (wait for it) Koöperatieve Wijnbouwers Vereniging van Zuid-Afrika Bpkt, roughly translated as “Cooperative Winemakers Society of South Africa Ltd.”.  For decades, KWV was a cooperative, a winery jointly owned and run by a group of smaller producers, but it was converted into single company status around 10 years ago.  It continues to make wine on a large industrial scale and under a number of different labels and brands, of which Cathedral Cellar is one.

The 2007 Cabernet started off promisingly, with a deep garnet colour and a nose of lush sweet fruit (mainly black currant) supported by notes of brown sugar, vanilla, tobacco, coffee and something almost like chlorine or brine, which I will attribute without substantiation to the fact that the grape growing area is very near the ocean.  Based on the nose alone, I expected a bright, full, easy-drinking, cheap and cheerful red, which is exactly what I would look for in a $15 New World Cabernet Sauvignon.  That didn’t quite come to pass.  The sweetness on the nose didn’t carry over much at all to the palate, and the resulting overall taste sensation was quite green and underripe:  green pepper, grass and other vegetal characteristics.  There was still black cherry fruit and some nice minty undertones, but since the fruit notes weren’t ripe enough the wine came across as dry and tight, the tannins were somewhat bitter and the whole thing culminated in a dusty, slightly metallic finish.  While I’m sure the sugar levels in the grapes at the time of harvest were at the proper desired level (since this is measured precisely by the producer), a specific attained sugar level doesn’t necessarily dictate that the other components within each grape will be fully ripe, and to me this wine tasted like this complete physiological ripeness (also called phenolic ripeness if you’re all about the vocabulary) wasn’t quite achieved.  I have no idea if this conclusion is accurate, but fully ripened warm weather New World Cabernet Sauvignon shouldn’t normally have these kinds of green, bitter flavours.

Cork Rating: 3.5/10 (The cork equivalent of vanilla ice cream.)

This is by no means a horrible wine, but at the end of the day I think the nose delivers but the palate doesn’t.  I think there are other sub-$20 Cabs (Liberty School from California and Mercer’s Dead Canyon Ranch from Washington come to mind) that present a more complete package than the KWV did, but I was glad for the chance to dive into a wine from this area and delighted to get the feedback and tasting request in the comments section of this site.  I sincerely hope that S doesn’t hate me for the medicore review and that I don’t get an immediate unsubscribe notice in my inbox — I really did enjoy tracking down this wine and getting some interaction with a real live PnP reader.

So, PnPers, if you have a wine that you want to see reviewed on the site, or if you want to take a stab at rehabilitating South Africa’s wine blog reputation, let me know…if I can track your suggested bottle down, it might just happen.  Stay tuned, because the next version of the Pop & Pour All Request Hotline will probably involve a wine from…Uruguay?  Believe it!

83 points

$10 to $20 CDN

[Wine Jargon Notes:
 New World Old World wines are those that come from Europe; New World wines are those from non-European locations like the US, Australia, South America…and in this case, South Africa.]



One response

3 05 2011

LOL, thanks for the (my Monday, your Tuesday) morning amusement. And no, I won’t unsubscribe instantly. In fact, based on the label alone, it looks like you got one of the last bottles before they changed the label to something fancier and they moved all their 2010 bottles to screwtop. I did enjoy this!

To each their own opinion; and in fact, I’m more a Pinotage/Merlot drinker 😉 I’m still glad that you definetly gave it a try! And it’s cheap, as I promised… definetly a good choice for a thin wallet after a bad week.

The only regret I do have is that Raka Wineries does not export whatsoever; at first drink when it is unseasoned is too harsh, but after about 4-5 years it really mellows out quite nicely. One of my absolute favorites, but I can’t seem to get it outside of Africa. At least not here anyway.


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