The latest release of Delheim Estate’s icon Grand Reserve underscores the fact that 2020 is set to be one of the best red wine vintages the Cape has experienced in recent memory. Delheim Grand Reserve, the red Bordeaux-style blend from this renowned estate in Stellenbosch’s Simonsberg appellation, has – since its maiden 1981 vintage – garnered a reputation as one of South Africa’s foremost red wines with the Grand Reserve 2020 one of the best renditions of this wine in its illustrious history.
A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (69%), Cabernet Franc (12.5%), Petit Verdot (12.5%) and Merlot (6%), Delheim Grand Reserve 2020 expresses the nuances of a classic year for Stellenbosch wine.
According to Roelof Lotriet, Delheim winemaker, the 2020 harvest was preceded by mild conditions during berry-set, flowering and veraison, with grapes ripening evenly during a moderate summer.
“There were plenty of cooling breezes in the Simonsberg foothills where the vineyards for our Grand Reserve are grown, with some welcoming rainfall just before harvest,” says Lotriet. “Yields were higher than the previous year, which was still showing the effects of the infamous Cape drought, with small, tight grape bunches and fruit displaying intense concentration. As the grapes arrived at the cellar and we saw the evenly ripened bunches, the team agreed that 2020 would be an excellent year for our Grand Reserve blend.”
Delheim’s Grand Reserve vineyards are set on the estate’s Vera Cruz property at between 220m and 280m above sea-level. Vineyards are south-west facing and rooted on decomposed granite, the benchmark of Simonsberg terroir.
In the cellar, the four different varieties used for the Grand Reserve are kept separate during the entire vinification and maturation process, only being blended before bottling.
“By keeping the Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and Merlot apart during vinification and barrel-aging we are able to compose a more accurate and focussed blend,” says Lotriet. “Once bottled, the wine’s four components have 18 months in the bottle to integrate into the classic red wine entity Grand Reserve is known for.”
The different varieties are each fermented with brief punch-downs and pump-overs, a process taking an average of ten days. The fermented wines are left on the skins for a further three weeks allowing for maximum extraction of colour and red wine tannins.
“Maturation is done in 300l French oak barrels, of which 30% are new,” says Lotriet. “The slightly larger barrels add further breadth and depth to the wine, and 30% is just the right amount of new wood to give ample structure and texture while allowing for supple, chalky tannins to develop during the 18 months the four various components spend in wood.”
Upon completing maturation, the wine is blended and then bottled without any fining agents.
Lotriet says the reputation of the Delheim Grand Reserve can be laid down to legacy and the terroir to which the vines are exposed.
“The Grand Reserve vineyards have lengthy exposure to sunlight, allowing for even-ripening and more fruit concentration than is found in red cultivars growing in the higher Simonsberg regions,” he says. “This, to my mind, gives Grand Reserve a specific flavour profile, one of subtle elegance, riveting chalky tannins and fruit-forward deliciousness.”
The legacy of Delheim Grand Reserve goes back to the late 1970s when previous Delheim-owner Spatz Sperling and his erstwhile winemaker Kevin Arnold decided Delheim should increase its red wine focus with an icon wine of the best possible quality.
“Sperling sent Kevin to California to learn more about the use of small oak barrels – which were rare in the Cape back then – and upon his return he and Sperling committed to producing Delheim’s first premium red wine,” says Lotriet. “This was from the 1981 vintage and with the aim of portraying the best of which the farm was capable. And they called it Grand Reserve.”
The first three vintages of Grand Reserve were made exclusively from Cabernet Sauvignon. Since 1984 the wine has positioned itself as a Bordeaux-style blend with Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot used to complement the leading Cabernet Sauvignon component as desired by the winemaking team.
“Cabernet Sauvignon will always drive Delheim Grand Reserve, with other Bordeaux varieties used as determined by the quality of a specific vintage,” says Lotriet. “And as far as quality goes, there are no compromises. In years when the standard of the fruit is not in-line with the reputation of quality for which Grand Reserve is known, then no Grand Reserve is made that year. An icon wine, such as Grand Reserve, can only have one reputation and that is being known for being the very best Delheim can offer.”