Raats shines with honed chenin and caber­net franc skills

Business Day - - LIFE - MICHAEL FRIDJHON

The oft-ex­pressed ideal of many win­ery start-ups is to limit the range to no more than one red and one white wine from the cel­lar. Few make this a re­al­ity. The need to feed their cash-hun­gry busi­nesses compels even the most se­ri­ous red wine pro­duc­ers to of­fer an ear­lyre­lease white wine to lu­bri­cate bank ac­counts.

Still, there has been a grat­i­fy­ing trend among some of the more boutique Cape pro­duc­ers to nar­row their fo­cus, ei­ther elim­i­nat­ing non­core prod­ucts or phas­ing them into sec­ond-la­bel ranges.

Some­one who has been quite sin­gle-minded about his of­fer­ing is Bruwer Raats of Raats Fam­ily Wines. Over the years he has honed his chenin and caber­net franc skills so that, ex­cept for the Red Jasper blend, in which there is still 48% cab franc, the Raats range is made up of dif­fer­ent in­ter­pre­ta­tions of these two va­ri­eties.

There’s no doubt that he does them well: Raats Fam­ily Wines was the Win­ery of the Year for the 2018 Plat­ter Guide, with two of the three caber­net francs and all three it­er­a­tions of the chenin gar­ner­ing a five-star rat­ing.

In Raats’s early days in the in­dus­try he made big, mus­cu­lar wines, a style that no doubt ap­pealed to his em­ploy­ers and, in fair­ness, was very much in vogue. At the time you would have been brave to have sug­gested that he would one day make his rep­u­ta­tion from wines from the op­po­site side of the spec­trum.

The one arte­fact from that era, the joint ven­ture wine he launched in 2004 with Mzokhona Mvemve un­der the name MR de Com­postella, is still a block­buster. It may be fine and with­out chunk­i­ness, but it’s still 14.5% al­co­hol, packed with dense tan­nins and en­tirely with­out the savouri­ness that char­ac­terises the reds in the Raats range. (It also sells out at more than R1,000 a bot­tle.)

The Raats chenins all fol­low a pro­gres­sion in style, com­plex­ity and price: the 2017 Orig­i­nal is fine, in­tense, lin­ear and pure. At R125 it’s a real buy.

At roughly three times the price, the 2017 Old Vine Chenin is beau­ti­fully con­cen­trated, un­showy, with the wood well in­te­grated.

The ul­tra-pre­mium 2016 Eden (only 100 cases pro­duced from Raats’s own farm) is richer and not quite as dry: mul­ti­ple lay­ers of fruit, flesh and pend­ing evo­lu­tion make it the kind of wine you could talk your­self into at R750.

His caber­net francs fall in the same three cat­e­gories. The Dolomite (R140) has fine, soft savoury fruit. One step up (R475) gets you a bot­tle with plenty of re­strained cherry perfume, bram­bly but not chewy. If you’ve just won the lottery, you can al­ways go for the Eden, but even at R1,700 a bot­tle you’ll have to queue.

While you’re wait­ing, get your­self the Red Jasper: it may be the most in­ter­est­ing of all the Raats reds — maybe not for the caber­net franc purist, but pretty much for ev­ery­one else, and it’s a bargain at R200.

Cu­ri­ously the same guide­lines ap­ply to the Mullineux wines, es­pe­cially the reds (though you ig­nore the white blend, chenin/ clairette/semil­lon, at your peril).

The reg­u­lar syrah is some­thing of a clas­sic, aus­tere and fine-boned, with pure pep­pery fruit per­fectly knit­ted to­gether. The sin­gle-site gran­ite is fresher and more lin­ear (and a step up in price). The (schist) Round­stone is a lit­tle fuller, sweeter but still quite ethe­real, in pres­ence as well as price.

The top cu­vées are care­fully crafted ex­pres­sions of the Swart­land sites from which they were har­vested.

Since all these vine­yards strug­gled with drought in 2018, it makes sense to get on the mail­ing list now, while the 2015s are avail­able.

You may won­der at the idea of sub­scrib­ing pa­tiently for some of the prici­est wines on the South African wine mar­ket, but don’t waste too much time re­flect­ing or you may miss out.

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