Thelema Cabernet Sauvignon 1991

Gyles Webb, founder of Thelema, gave me this bottle after a visit to his vineyard in the Simonsberg Mountain, Stellenbosch, South Africa, more than 20 years ago. Webb was an accountant when one day – in the 1970s – he popped into a local wine shop on his way home and bought a bottle of Puligny-Montrachet. The taste of the white Burgundy changed his life. So taken was the English-speaking Webb by the French elixir, he packed his bags and together with wife Barbara and an infant son, left Kimberley for Stellenbosch where he enrolled for a degree in viticulture and oenology. The course was taught in Afrikaans which, at the time, Gyles Webb did not speak. Talk about motivation. In 1979, Webb graduated. Later, the newly minted winemaker worked for Stellenbosch Farmers Winery and also did a vintage at Heitz Cellar in Napa. Gyles Webb came into his own in 1983 when, with help from Barbara’s family, the McLeans, he acquired what was to become Thelema Vineyards. Thelema is on the slopes of the Simonsberg. The vineyards are planted between 370 and 640 metres above sea level, some of the highest and coolest vines in Stellenbosch. The first vintage was 1988. I don’t remember if 1991 is their first Cabernet Sauvignon but Thelema Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc 1988 were featured in South Africa’s highly regarded (John) Platter’s  Wine Guide of the same year. (South Africa’s best-selling wine reference was sold in 2013 to Diners Club). Capsicum/cassis-ish/minty fruit. Smooth tannins and bright freshness. Balanced. Medium-plus bodied. Almost 30 years young, this South African cabernet sauvignon is pure joy. Decant 30 to 45 minutes.

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