Meerlust Stellenbosch Rubicon 2016  £28.95

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The Rubicon Story

"Alea iacta est. The die is cast," Julius Caesar is supposed to have said as he led his troops towards Rome in 49BC. The crucial border of the ancient capital was the Rubicon River, and the decision to cross it marked an irrevocable point in history. It would profoundly shift the course of Roman politics - there could be no turning back.  Some 2000 years later, a watershed event occurred in the life of Nico Myburgh, father of the current custodian of Meerlust, Hannes Myburgh. Holidaying in Bordeaux, he discovered that the terroir in this area of France was similar to that of the Eerste River Valley. Both have a distinctive climate, characterised by a cooling sea breeze. And both have a soil structure made up of decomposed granite and clay.  The red wines produced by the two regions, however, were very different. Unlike the Western Cape's specified cultivars, Bordeaux thrived on producing blends. 

Nico returned to Meerlust, filled with inspiration and the desire to create a blend of his own that would match those of the French. In 1980, after several years of experimentation together with winemaker Giorgio Dalla Cia, he announced the birth of the new blend. With proportions of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc, a new style of wine had been created in South Africa. Like Caesar, there could be no turning back.

Nico and Giorgio had already considered a number of names for the new blend when Professor Dirk Opperman from the University of Stellenbosch, a friend of Nico's suggested that "Rubicon" might be appropriate. The pair had, after all, crossed a new frontier - and changed the way South Africans thought about red wine.

2016 Blend Information

49% Cabernet Sauvignon, 28% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot

In The Vineyard

The Cabernet Sauvignon is grown on low yielding, predominantly biotite partially decomposed granite gravel topsoil rich in quartz and feldspar to a depth of approximately 600mm with a loamy clay subsoil. The Merlot vineyards are planted on more clay-rich, yet well-drained soils to ensure moisture retention and availability to the vines roots right through the summer. There are considerable deposits of iron-rich Laterite in the Merlot vineyards which accentuates the fruit definition and mineral profile of the wine. The Cabernet Franc Vineyard is situated on very well-drained, stony Vilafontes soil with approximately 20% clay which is ideal for this variety.  The Petit Verdot is on Oakleaf 3 soils on a northerly aspect to ensure full phenolic ripeness

About The Harvest

The 2016 growing season was unusually cool but quite dry, presenting unique problems of fruit set and ripening. Irrigation was used strategically even on the mature vineyards to ensure slow ripening and proper flavour and tannin development. The Merlot and the Cabernets were extensively suckered from early in the season, and during veraison vendage vert was applied extensively to ensure an evenly ripe crop.

In The Cellar

The vintage was generally later with some uneven ripeness showing in the later Cabernets. A decision was made to practice very gentle extraction to ensure the wines were not overly tannic or astringent. The Merlots were the star of the vintage and so extended maceration on our best Merlot tanks yielding succulent, opulent wines. The varieties were fermented separately with a combination of remontage and delistage. The wines were transferred to barrel early for malo-lactic fermentation in 55% new Nevers oak, 25% second fill barrels and the remaining 20% in older French oak barrels. The final blend is indicative of the vintage: 49% Cabernet Sauvignon, the lowest in Rubicon history, with 28% Merlot, exhibiting these varieties great expression in the unusual 2016 vintage, 20% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petit Verdot. The wine was barrel-aged for 16 months before bottling

The 2016 Rubicon shows great charm and drinkability even at this early stage, no doubt a result of the high Merlot and Cabernet Franc composition. We were very cautious with regards to the tannic structure as some of the later Cabs exhibited astringency which we wanted to minimise in the final blend. Wonderful exotic aromas of plum, sandalwood and perfume, still with a touch of creamy vanilla. The palate is medium bodied with a forward dark fruit flavour of cassis and mulberry followed by a lithe tannic structure fleshed out with juicy fruit. The impression is one of litheness and grace rather than over-arching power.


93 Points Platters Wine Guide

Fine cab-based flagship - 49% in 2016 (a bit less cab each year it seems) - with merlot, cab franc & petit verdot. Elegant, fresh & refined, yet with a touch of velvet opulence. Just under 14% alcohol, firm structure, all in balance, though 55% cedary new oak needs time to harmonise.

Wine tasted by Tim James.

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