Raats shines with honed chenin and cabernet franc skills
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.