What is it that raises a wine from good to great?


What makes a five-star wine?

Despite some critics arguing that Platter’s hands out its five-star ratings a little too liberally these days, opening a 5* wine is still, for most of us, neither a daily nor an ordinary experience.

Just after the 2021 Platter’s awards were announced late last year, a package of the newly released and newly rebranded Journey’s End Precision Series wines arrived on the Vine Time doorstep, including the 2015 Cape Doctor Bordeaux-style red blend with a hot-off-the-presses five-star rating.

Along with its quintet of stars and “superlative, South African classic” status received just days before, the 2015 Cape Doctor also achieved 97 points and a platinum medal in the 2020 Decanter World Wine Awards, making it the highest-scoring South African red wine in the competition convened by the globally influential Decanter magazine.

All this made opening up the wine that little bit more exciting, an opportunity to contemplate just what it is that raises a wine from good to great.

For starters, the Cape Doctor gives real meaning to the commonly used “seamless” and “integrated” descriptions — soft and smooth on the palate, aromas that echo in the richly lingering flavours, a definite but unintrusive presence of the tannins and structure to support ageing (they are there, but don’t cause any worry that you’ve opened the wine before its prime).

The components of the blend (cabernet sauvignon and merlot about a third each, plus Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec in smaller doses, each matured in specific choices of oak for 20 months before blending) work together to offer a dark spectrum of intensely succulent blackberry/cassis fruit, the richness of fruitcake, the warmth of cinnamon and the sweet bitterness of dark chocolate.

It’s a sensory symphony, not a note out of place.

While ageable for sure (the makers reckon up to another 10 years), the wine seems perfect as it is in the glass right now, not needing aeration or resting or anything else to simply deliver superbly pleasurable drinking, and maybe that’s what makes it a five-star wine — it’s just great right here, right now.

The Cape Doctor together with The Griffin Syrah and the Destination chardonnay (all priced at R280 from the cellar, https://shop.journeysend.co.za/) make up the Journey’s End Precision Series, sitting at the top of three ranges of wines from the vineyards and winery just outside Somerset West on the slopes of the Helderberg above Sir Lowry’s Pass Village.

The Griffin Syrah 2016 is made by the carbonic maceration method which, to cut a long technical story short, produces super-juicy-fruity red wines bouncing with freshness, with tannins soft and some zippy acidity to keep it all in check.

The result here is youthfulness with complexity, deeply fruity with subtle pepper and spice, quite luscious, definitely elegant, really rather delicious (I loved it, winemag.co.za gave it 90 points and Decanter magazine 91 points).

Destination chardonnay 2018 (Michelangelo Gold, 91 points and silver medal in Decanter awards, winemag.co.za 90 points) is a chardonnay-lover’s dream — natural-fermentation and oak maturation giving it rich creaminess and full body; the fruit dried apricot, ripe peach and zesty citrus, complemented by the oak influence of almonds and vanilla, underlined with a fresh mineral streak.

Buy online for delivery after lockdown or at Preston’s Main Rd Walmer or Bluewater Bay Spar when stores reopen — these are worth putting on your list and waiting for.

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