A few months back a friend of my mine pulled out a bottle of Thelema Cabernet Sauvignon 1995. It was earthy and sensuous with fine tannins and an even intensity and concentration on the palate. This after a dud bottle of the famed Chateaux Montrose! It brought my mind back to the fabled Thelema and all they still have to offer. Their Cabernet Sauvignon 1994 was a show stopper and still continues to impress. Proving that their wines last.
This wine inspired me to make another trip to Thelema. It was a nostalgic one as I drove to Stellenbosch thinking of how with their first bottling in 1988 Thelema set the tone for SA modernity. Fresh, clean wines with plenty of fruit and some elegance was and remains their trade mark. Gyles Webb was and remains the driving force behind Thelema. He was an innovator and with his more recent wines in Elgin under the Sutherland remains one. His Cabernet had intensity and class. But don’t forget the floral Rieslings that age beautifully and the fresh, beguiling Sauvignon Blanc’s that were also impressive. Many new wineries have emerged and grabbed the lime light but Thelema remains a driving force in the SA wine scene. It was a beautiful day as I drove through Stellenbosch and over the high, cooler pass where Thelema is situated adjacent the more recent Tokara. The fields were covered with beautiful flora and mustard grass and my heart felt at peace.
Onto the tasting. We started with a flight of whites.
The Thelema Sauvignon Blanc 2013- medium straw with green tinges. An harmonious nose with guava, passion fruit. “Cool climate.” Very aromatic. The palate more lean and herbaceous. Still the attractive Thelema Sauvignon Blanc of old.
The Thelema Riesling 2011- one of my favourites. Deep straw with green tinges. An r.s of 11.9. “Nice thing about a little r.s is that it gives fruity flavours.”
A lovely petrol nose with delicious green apples and pears on the palate.
The Sutherland Riesling 2011 from Elgin. Off gold with green tinges. Green apples on the nose. The same on the palate which is clean and fresh.
The Sutherland Elgin Chardonnay 2011- Medium straw with green tinges. Lovely creamy, chalky nose. “Balancing malolactic acid. The creaminess and malo acid evident.”
The Sutherland Viognier-Rousanne 2010- “ 2 thirds Viognier.” Medium straw with green tinges. Nose musky with hints of marzipan. A bit of oxidative character. The palate full and creamy.
Onto the flight of reds. The Sutherland Pinot Noir 2011- Pale garnet with Earthy, forest floor on the nose and black cherries and a spicy palate.
The Sutherland Cabernet Sauvignon- Petit Verdot 2009- Dark ruby. Purple tinges. Nose brooding but aromatic. The palate brooding but aromatic and dense with plenty of violets and blackcurrants.
Back to Stellenbosch and Thelema. The Thelema Cabernet Sauvignon 2009- Dark ruby. The nose full of typical Cabernet pencil shavings and cassis. A dry palate with blackcurrents. “Classical herbal flavours.” “If you pick early you get high acids and supple tannins.”
The Thelema Cabernet Sauvignon 2010– “The Mint.” Made since 2004. Deep ruby with a herbal, minty nose. The palate has a good follow on with intense mint. The tannins are soft but direct. The mouth puckering.
I asked Thelema to provide one of their older wines for the tasting as I am deeply interested in bottle maturation. Guess what? They had chosen the Thelema Cabernet Sauvignon 1995! What a coincidence!
Pale ruby with brown tinges showing some age. A balanced 13% alcohol. A minty nose that was strong but elegant. The palate very powerful, intense but elegant. At its peak and a real treasure to savor. Thelema wines might have been some of SA’s first truly modern wines but they can age!
Finally, a sweet wine. The Thelema Vin de Hel 2010- from Muscat grapes. A late harvest. Delicious, “sweet but refreshing.” And not cloying.
What the tasting revealed is that Thelema still produce refined, distinctive but modern wines that still possess elegance. They also excel across a broad range. All their varietals are of high quality. They might have helped to start the modern SA wine revolution but they are still going strong and remain innovative. Their venture into the more recent Elgin Valley with their Sutherland wines is an example. My motto is embrace the new wineries but don’t forget the original trend setters. Their wines still have a story to tell and can match the best that the new boys on the block are producing. If possible, seek out older Thelema wines. Particularly the Cabernet Sauvignons and Rieslings. They drink beautifully now and have a story to tell that only age can bring.