This small boutique winery was established in 2007 by brothers Peter-Allan and Andrew Finlayson. Their father, Peter, was of course one of the pioneers in the production of cool climate Chardonnay and Pinot Noir at Bouchard Finlayson, laying the perfect foundations for Peter-Allan and Andrew to follow in his footsteps but with their own new label, Crystallum.
Crystallum is now regarded as one of the top wineries in South Africa with fruit sourced from some new vineyards. All of the wines are fermented using indigenous yeasts and new oak has gradually been reduced to focus on the wines’ brightness and fruit purity.
The 2019 Cuvée Cinema Pinot Noir was produced from fruit grown in a single vineyard – one of the highest in the Hemel-en-Aarde region. This region is characterised by a moderate climate which results in delayed ripening and a late harvest. The soils are clay and shale in composition, which allows optimum fruit development while naturally restricting vigour and keeping crop levels low.
Once a location for a film based on the life of Napoleon, the ‘Cuvée Cinema’ vineyard produces some of the most intense, age worthy Pinot Noir in South Africa from Dijon clones.
This wine is always one of the most opulent and expressive wines in the Crystallum line up and this 2019 is another exceptional offering produced from 100% Ridge fruit with 70% whole-bunch fermentation. The bouquet is super fragrant and exotic with notes of Indian spices, violets and rose petals, dried leaves and subtle hints of forest floor and the most attractive melange of red currants, sour cherry and black bramble berries. The signature plushness and elegance of the palate is well measured and beautifully pure with marked notes of pink musk, red cherries, hints of cranberry brightness and a kiss of cinnamon spice on the finish. The tannins are suave and velvety lending enough structure and frame to give this wine a wonderful shape in the mouth. A really fabulous expression of Pinot Noir that could comfortably rub shoulders with some of Burgundy’s finest wines. Drink now and over the next 8 to 10+ years. (6,744 bottles produced)
For many, 2020 will undoubtedly be a year to forget, an annus horribilis of pandemics, economic crises and lockdown blues. But while it might be marked for being a challenging year all-round, it will also hopefully be remembered in fine wine circles for the highly anticipated second release of the famed Mullineux sweet wine, the Olerasay Straw Wine made from air dried Chenin Blanc grapes.
The Olerasay No.1 or “Primiero” as Chris and Andrea call it, was an inspired creation that fractionally blended multiple vintages of their prestigious Chenin Blanc Straw Wine into a mellow, ultra complex multi-vintage blend covering components parts from 2008 to 2014. With the reputation for the Mullineux Straw Wine already well established, the Olerasay Primiero took the wine world by storm and garnered sky high scores such as 99/100 from Neal Martin at Vinous but also a rare 99/100 from the Fine Wine Safari.
A truly incredible wine, the Primiero Olerasay sadly came and went all too quickly in the retail market and by the time many consumers woke up to the greatness of this wine, it was completely unobtainable except at auction. Five years later we are finally being treated to the release of Olerasay No.2 or “Segundo” which is made up of component vintages from 2008 to 2019.
Grapes are sourced from the Mullineux’s own vineyards (owned or leased), primarily from the Schist based soils of the Kasteelberg and the decomposed Granite based soils of the Paardeberg. Vineyards are picked at the normal time with around 22-23 Brix sweetness but are then dried outdoors in the shade under nets for three to four weeks allowing the moisture in the grapes to evaporate naturally, concentrating sugars, acids and the natural Chenin Blanc flavours.
However, the vineyards selected every year are always the blocks showing higher acids at full ripeness, very healthy clean bunches of just the right size with grapes not too tightly packed together to avoid any problems with Rot.
Always 100% Chenin Blanc, the Segundo was bottled on the 17th of January 2020, producing 6,180 375cl bottles or 515 cases of 6. The total RS at bottling was 331 g/l balanced by a TA of 11.3 g/l and a pH of 3.36. The final blend is bottled unfiltered and unfortified from 225 litre French oak barrels in the solera. Beautiful old gold yellow, the aromatics on this wine are spectacular! Every time you take a sniff, the wine offers up yet another layer of complexity. Always vibrant and fresh, the nose shows truly delicious notes of lemon cordial, passion fruit, sweet white peaches, honey on warm white toast, grapefruit preserve and zesty piquant notes of tangerines and Seville Orange marmalade. Utterly mesmerising, you could easily sit and nose a glassful for an age before even contemplating taking a sip. The rich fruit aromatics are followed by yet more dried fruit characteristics with pronounced nuances of dried apricots and pineapple slices, grilled nuts, dusty granite and blood oranges. The palate too is enthralling and delivers on all the expectations. Dense, creamy and textured, the wine remains fresh to the very end with the help of a razor sharp balancing acidity. This may have 331 g/l residual sugar but at no point does the palate feel clawing or over the top. It really is the luxurious complexity combined with the vibrant freshness and purity of fruit that make this wine a real knockout. No oxidative sherry or toffee notes to speak off, just a beautiful intensity of candied fruit. As this is a solera style sweet wine, you can certainly drink it on release without any guilt but it will of course age practically forever! Drink from 2020 to 2060+. (6,180 bottles produced.)
In the words of winemaker Christo le Riche… “2017 was a great vintage!” The stand out factor that links it to 2015, and the possible reason these two vintages are putting up their hands as some of the greatest ever in modern South African winemaking history, is the moderate yet consistent weather the winelands experienced during ripening. Chatting to Christo, he feels confident that “…pre-veraison, the drought worked its magic, but it seems that having few to no heat waves and a long autumn was certainly the key to greatness even though evenings were slightly warmer on average.”
While many wineries are super proud of the final in-bottle quality of their wines, it was by no means an easy vintage. Christo explains… “In the winery it was a complete nightmare. All the Cabs, except one block, ripened within eight days. In 2020 we picked over 29 days in comparison. In 2017 we ran out of tank space, forcing me to become creative with fermentation vessels. But luckily, everything worked out in the end and the quality is exceptional. The IPT (total tannin levels) on the wines were the highest I have seen. It was also the year I met my wife!” In many ways, Christo reminded me of the comments from Bordeaux winemakers during both the 2009 and 2010 harvests, two of the greatest vintages in the region since the epic 1989-1990 duo. All that the winemakers could talk about was the highest IPT readings they had ever recorded, yet the wines were still silky, smooth and soft with delicious balancing ripeness and fabulous finesse.
So when it came to tasting and reviewing the exciting new Le Riche Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, I thought I would do my tasting a little bit differently. Christo kindly sent me a bottle of the 2016, which I had not tasted yet either, along with the new 2017 which is only due for release towards the end of the year, and then I added one of my last 2015s to the line up. Finally, inspired by Christo’s comments about the wines IPTs, I decided to add a top bottle of Bordeaux red from a similar vintage into the line up to help calibrate all the scores. I chose the classic Leoville Barton 2016 because not only is it unquestionably a benchmark winery, but the wine has been scored 95+/100 from The Wine Advocate and 97/100 from the Wine Spectator magazine and was also crowned their Number 1 Wine of the Year in 2019! Big kudos indeed.
The Mini Le Riche Vertical Tasting
Le Riche Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, Stellenbosch, 14.5% Abv.
The generosity of the epic 2015 vintage has without question of doubt produced a really beautiful expression of pure Cabernet Sauvignon… as well as possibly one of the greatest red wine vintages ever in South Africa. What is most striking about this wine is its incredible purity and perfume that rises out of the glass imperiously in multiple waves of fragrant cherry blossom, violets, potpourri and crushed rose petals. It possesses copious amounts of mocha, sweet tobacco leaf, dried herbs, cedar spice, black currant coulis and a delicious earthy, brambly, wild forest berry complexity. The palate continues to show such sophistication and textural seduction with classical Cabernet flavours filling every corner of the mouth. Still beautifully charming, but a little less open-knit and expressive than it was even last year as it starts to perhaps enter its slumber and shut down a little. Undoubtedly, this wine reveals the class of a truly great vintage with a full bodied fleshy weight, a finely delineated purity and the most charming harmonious balance and intensity. Start drinking this wine in 3-5 years time and over the next 25+ years. It’s a true thing of beauty.
(Wine Safari Score: 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Le Riche Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, Stellenbosch, 14% Abv.
The 2016 Le Riche Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon was always going to be a highly scrutinised creation following the incredible 2015. But hats off to Christo Le Riche, he has conjured up another exceptional effort. When you are talking about one of the leading proponents of Cabernet Sauvignon in the country, I guess there aren’t really “off vintages” in any real sense. Where the 2016 departs from the 2015 is in its plumper, rounder, fleshier texture and palate weight. Still fabulously pure fruited and approachable, the nose boasts wonderful overt aromatics of cedar spice, plumy richness, violets and vanilla pod, exotic blackberry preserve, sweet tobacco leaf and complexing mineral graphite notes. Full bodied, plump and showy, the palate has very attractive curves and stands out as an exceptional effort in a hot, dry vintage. The tannins are svelte, soft and silky and the mouthfeel fleshy, creamy but intense, with an admirable salinity and freshness on the long, pure black fruited finish. The wine is not as strict or linear as the 2015 but more generous already at this young age. It’s an exceptionally attractive pure Cabernet nevertheless. Drink now and over the next 10 to 15+ years. (Le Riche has created only 4,500 bottles of this particular reserve, marking their second smallest vintage to date.)
(Wine Safari Score: 94+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Chateau Leoville Barton 2016, Deuxieme Cru Classe Saint Julien, 13% Abv.
The Château Léoville Barton comprises 48 hectares of vines on the north side of Saint Julien, with south-facing hillsides with elevation. The 2016 is a classic blend of 86% Cabernet Sauvignon with the rest of the blend made up by Merlot. The result is a wine that displays all the classic Left Bank Bordeaux notes with a strong graphite core but also vivid notes of dried violets, rose petals and potpourri spice. Regarded as one of the top wines in a vintage that is now considered benchmark on the Left Bank, the palate is a little tight and subdued to start but once you warm up the engine, this wine reveals a lot of horse power of blue and blackberry fruit flavours, dusty graphite and liquid minerality, salty oyster shell nuances and an intense, saline, crème de cassis finish with just the finest hint of liquorice candy. The tannins are still bold and powerful as you would expect on a young Bordeaux of this quality, but the whole package is tight, compact and super impressive. Opened for the purpose of benchmarking the quality of the Le Riche Reserve Cabernets, but otherwise, its certainly not a wine I would anticipate drinking for another 10+ years at least. (Technically speaking, at 86% Cabernet Sauvignon, this could be labelled a varietal Cabernet.)
(Wine Safari Score: 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Le Riche Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, Stellenbosch, 14% Abv.
Tasted alongside the 2015 and 2016 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon for added perspective reveals a wine that is quite simply drop dead gorgeous. While 2017 is of course another excellent vintage for reds in the Cape and the quality of this icon was always expected to be high, I was not anticipating it being this good! The aromatics are super fragrant and exuberant, showing intricate perfumed notes of violets and lilacs, cinnamon stick, cedar and sandalwood, cigar box and wonderfully complex herbal hints of thyme, dried fennel seeds and Chinese five spice. There is an impressive elegance and gravitas to the silky, finely textured palate which boasts all the classical Cabernet notes of black currants and black plum, crème de cassis, graphite and savoury, earthy nuances of freshly tilled earth. A beautifully proportioned, multi-dimensional wine that shows such a harmonious balance and sophisticated composure reserved for only the finest red wines around the world. Medium bodied, super elegant and weightlessly intense, the fruit flavours are perfectly ripe and precise, growing in the mouth and energised by an exhilarating freshness that holds everything in place so effortlessly. Certainly one of the most ‘complete’ wines I have tasted from the 2017 vintage so far. Drink this beauty on release but be sure to hold back a couple of cases for long term cellaring of 10, 15 or 20+ years.
Sicilian wines are now super trendy undoubtedly helped in no small part by the fabulous tourism industry on the island and the incredible gastronomic feasts tourists enjoy on their visits. Sicilian food is some of the very best! Wine too is part of the life blood of Sicily, just as it is on the mainland, but the wines of Etna are cut from a totally different cloth. They are not the usual ripe, plush sunshine offerings of Nero d’Avola but far more intricate, earthy, ethereal mineral expressions that have more in common with Burgundy than the Mediterranean.
So IDDA is an exciting new joint venture winery project between Angelo Gaja of Piedmontese fame and Alberto Graci. Together they own 20 hectares of vineyards in the villages of Belpasso and Biancavilla which are currently planted with Nerello Mascalese and Carricante. 2017 is the first vintage of the IDDA Etna Rosso red and a pretty smart effort it is as well.
Gaja Idda 2017 Etna Rosso, 14.5% Abv.
A lot of expectations are built around tasting this maiden release of Gaja’s Etna Rosso, the first from Angelo and Gaia Gaja’s new project on the island of Sicily. This is an archetypal Nerello Mascalese expression with fabulous savoury earthy berry aromatics, overt sous bois, hedge row spice, volcanic minerality and a high toned basaltic, stony dustiness that attempts to court the subtle fragrant herbal notes and dried potpourri sapidity lurking beneath. Unmistakably Sicilian … until one starts to imagine sleek Nebbiolo notes lurking in the glass. The texture is certainly classic Nerello Mascalese and teases the palate with the lighter, sleeker more supple notes similar to glass of Pinot Noir cut with a slug of Langhe Nebbiolo and its accompanying tannin rusticity. All in all, this is a very precise wine, expertly crafted and moulded with vibrantly fresh acids and a seamlessly polished accessibility. Never easy launching a maiden vintage of any wine, but this expression certainly shows the incredible potential for future, more finely honed releases. Drink and enjoy this wine now and over the next 5 to 8+ years.
While we are enduring this mad Covid-19 straightjacket, I have decided to release a few more of my new release tasting scores as individual snap shot wine posts. I get to taste so many incredible wines every day that I felt I need to share some of these experiences with readers within a more limited contextual setting.
In this vein, I caught up with Cornelius Donnhoff earlier this week for an incredible zoom tasting of a fantastic range of his wines but one white which really caught my eye, and generally tends to every year, was the Donnhoff Riesling QbA 2019 from the Nahe. Incredible quality and value for money, this is the ULTIMATE aperitif Riesling. One bottle will not even touch sides! But actually, watch out for all the new 2019 Donnhoff Rieslings that will start hitting the shelves of all good indie retailers from June-July onwards.
Donnhoff Estate Riesling 2019 QbA, Nahe, 10% Abv.
Fabulously pure fruited and crystalline, the 2019 vintage produced some deliciously fresh and energetic Rieslings combining excellent phenolic ripeness with vibrant balancing acids in an almost ‘Feinherb’ off-dry style. The nose reveals stony volcanic mineral notes from Donnhoff’s vineyards in Oberhausen’s southeast-facing sites of Kieselberg and Felsenberg which brim with backing aromatics of green apple bon bons, white peaches and fleshy yellow grapefruit citrus. Always bright, crystalline and slightly salty, this is one of the most phenomenal value for money quality Rieslings in the entire Donnhoff range and in 2019, it is once again a totally thrilling wine with concentration, balance and intensity. Fill your boots!!
The 2017 release of the Meerlust Rubicon represents another classical expression of this fabulous Cape Icon wine. The high critical praise heaped upon the 2015 vintage helped it to become the fastest selling Rubicon release on record. Indeed, one cannot even begin to imagine a South African fine wine landscape that does not feature this wine prominently. Great expectations are placed on every new release and year after year, this Cape heritage estate delivers.
The 2017 vintage was surprising in that from the very beginning, the estate felt that the wines were very similar to the excellent 2015 reds. A cold winter in 2016 followed by a warm spring ensured early and even bud break. Although comparatively dry, as the Cape was still experiencing a drought, the 2017 crop was greatly enhanced by the estate’s ability to irrigate strategically, ensuring steady ripening and eventual phenolic ripeness across all varieties.
The 2017 is again a Cabernet Sauvignon dominated four grape blend with each of the varieties fermented separately before being aged in 300 litre French Nevers oak barrels, 60% new and 40% second fill. After 8 months in barrel, the components were blended and given another 10 months in barrel for harmonization before bottling. I first tasted this wine in its component parts back in March 2018 with the then winemaker, Chris Williams. I knew instantly that we were in for another exceptional release of Rubicon. Then in January 2020, I met up with owner Hannes Myburgh in London and got my first taste of the Meerlust Red 2017, the second wine made up of components not used in the Rubicon blend. I was bowled over by the beauty of this wine and while it is only really sold in export markets, it served to raise my quality expectations for the Rubicon 2017 even higher.
In November 2019, winemaker Wim Truter joined Meerlust, taking over from Chris Williams to become only the third winemaker to take the reins at this historic estate. Chris finally followed his calling and agonisingly decided to move on to the next chapter of his winemaking career, to pursue his own Foundry wine project full time.
Meerlust Estate Rubicon 2017, WO Stellenbosch, 13.6% Abv.
The 2017 Rubicon is a classical blend of 68% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc and 4% Petit Verdot, each vinified separately before undergoing malolactic fermentation in 300 litre French Nevers oak barrels, 60% new and 40% second fill. Deep purple-black in colour, the intensity and gravitas of this vintage is highlighted by the tight, dense, dark broody aromatics that require more than a little coaxing out the glass before revealing a very focused, slightly introverted bouquet of complex, tightly interwoven notes of violets, black currant preserve, black plum, Black Forest gateaux and hoisin sauce with backing notes of dried fennel, salty black liquorice, spicy cedar and an exotic Asian 5 spice nuance. While 2017 certainly stands out as another classical year of exceptional quality, the vintage will surely be remembered for its stand-out elegance, seamless palate textures and its signature weightless intensity and concentration. This Rubicon does of course possess plenty of stuffing and dazzles with gentle waves of blackberry crumble, crème de cassis, macerated black cherries, freshly tilled earth, unsmoked smoked cigars and a finely textured, powdery tannin frame that dries the palate on the finish and reminds the drinker that this wine, however enjoyable in its youth, is also built for extended ageing. This really is another exquisite vintage with charm and poise, Grand Vin potency and an overt, unbridled determination to deliver long-term drinking pleasure. Drink from 2022 to 2040+
It seems an age ago now, visiting with Phil Freese and Zelma Long at the Vilafonte Winery on the 13th February in Stellenbosch. Who could possibly have known what lay just around the corner! Nevertheless, my brief visit to South Africa was very productive with one of the highlights being able to visit the Vilafonte Winery again together with the iconic duo of Phil and Zelma, the US partners in crime with Mike Ratcliffe at one of the most exciting premium quality wineries in South Africa.
Right from the very beginning with the 2012 Seriously Old Dirt vintage, I championed the vision of a truly special super premium second wine that over delivers in bucket loads. When I tasted the Seriously Old Dirt way back then, I knew that this ‘Members Only’ blend was a wine I needed to push on behalf of consumers and indirectly encourage owner Mike Ratcliffe to do the right thing and unleash this fabulous blend onto the wider wine world.
Seven vintages in to the project and Seriously Old Dirt is surely the number one premium selling second wine in South Africa. The consumer uptake and affinity has been exceptional both in South Africa and internationally. The new 2018 release was marked by the worst drought on record and the challenges that accompany such a vintage. After a drought spell from 2015 to 2018, water resources were at an all time low and rationing was put in place in the Western Cape.
Low moisture in spring and limited water availability led to a reduced vigour and canopy size. Some unseasonable rains and low temperatures in October and November disrupted fruit set and reduced the number and size of berries on each cluster. Harvest time proceeded on schedule, commencing February 2nd and continuing uninterrupted through to February 27th. In 2018, yields were down -24% following a generous 2017 crop. (However, production was increased as parcels of premium fruit were bought in to up the production and meet demand. This in all likelihood will be the practice going forward.)
The Seriously Old Dirt was matured for 21 months in older French oak barriques and 135 barrels were produced or approximately 40,000 bottles which is indeed a big jump up in quantity from the previous vintages of 8 to 10,000 bottles. But as always, quality is at the forefront of the Vilafonte operation and this is another exceptional release of Seriously Old Dirt. Due for earlier than planned release on the 25th June 2020.
Vilafonte Seriously Old Dirt 2018, 13.5 Abv. (Bottled Dec 2019)
89% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Malbec, 4% Merlot and 2% Cabernet Franc. A Cabernet Sauvignon driven blend this vintage, the 2018 sees a pronounced spicy aromatic lift of sweet black berry fruits, leafy cassis, sweet sandalwood and spicy damson black plums. Cool, focused and fairly linear at this youthful stage, the tannins are satin smooth and the texture generous yet structured. Finely layered and fresh, attractive black cherry, blue berry and black currant notes melt into mineral nuances of graphite and wet granite. Wonderfully polished and sophisticated as you’d expect from Vilafonte, this wine will be ready to drink on release but will undoubtedly benefit from a few years extra cellaring to allow the large Cabernet Sauvignon component to mellow and reveal further tertiary treats for the drinker. Seriously Old Dirt is on a seriously good run of form!
I recently caught up with Chris and Andrea Mullineux over Zoom for an intimate tasting of their new Leeu Passant releases. Instead of running through all the wines in one foul swoop, I thought I would afford each wine the time and respect they deserve by profiling each new release in three separate reviews. So following on from Part 1 profiling the delicious Franschhoek Old Vine Lotter Cinsault and Part 2 reviewing the grand old Wellington Old Vine Basson Cinsault, the final instalment features probably one of my favourite new Leeu Passant wines… their Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon.
Chris and Andrea Mullineux have spent years trying to fine tune a style of Cabernet Sauvignon with ripe fruit flavours, intensity and structure. After working with over 20 vineyards around Stellenbosch, they have focused on five vineyards including two in the Helderberg, two in the Polkadraai Hills and one 39 year old parcel in Firgrove close to False Bay. Three of these five vineyards already contribute fruit that goes into their flagship Leeu Passant Dry Red Blend together with components of the Lotter Cinsault, the Wellington Basson Cinsault and a splash of Cabernet Franc.
With vines grown on a mix of alluvial soils and decomposed granite soils, the grapes produce a sleek, crystalline, elegant style of Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon that the Mullineuxs admit has a certain Swartland tilt to the approach and style. Using French oak 500 litres barrels of which only around 30% are new, the wines are aged for 12 months before being moved to larger 2000 and 5000 litre upright oak vats for another year of aging. The wine spends a final six months in bottle prior to release.
Leeu Passant Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon 2018, WO Stellenbosch, 14% Abv.
These cooler sites for Cabernet Sauvignon definitely perform well in this new release for the Leeu Passant red repertoire. The nose is magnificently perfumed, complex and utterly compelling, teasing the senses with violets and cherry blossom, lavender, pithy red cherry, sour black plums, black currant and a deep dark vein of spicy graphite minerality with just the slightest veneer of dried cedar and tarragon herbal spice. The palate texture is harmonious, tender, lightly saline and utterly seductive, displaying a fleshy medium bodied weight with bright fresh tart black berry acids, creamy milk chocolate tannins and a spicy crystalline blueberry fruited finish that is positively loaded with invigorating energy. Like the other two new releases, I obediently drank this bottle over three nights and while the majority of my score was cemented within the first few sips on day one, the expressive and energetic nature of this wine really did start to show with further air, confirming my complete adoration for this wine. This surely has got to be one of the most exciting ‘new’ pure expressions of Cabernet Sauvignon to come out of Stellenbosch in recent years? Drink now and over the next 20+ years.
Similar to 2017, 2018 was also a brutal year of very low yields, but for different reasons. The 2017 vintage was a year of extreme drought, while 2018 was marked in the first part of the year by an unusually heavy rainfall. This meant that potential yields were naturally much reduced by the difficulties of the flowering period. Subsequently however, a long hot dry summer ensued. Water levels in the soil had been replenished, and the result of this excellent ripening period on a low yield is evident in the 2018 Vintage Noval Port, which is magnificently ripe, profoundly fleshy and expressively complex.
The Quinta do Noval Vintage Port is made exclusively from grapes from the Quinta in the heart of the Douro Valley, and the quantity bottled (1600 cases) of the 2018 Vintage Port represents just 7% of the Quinta’s production. So as usual, a very strict selection of the very best lots was made to produce the Quinta do Noval blend. Both Touriga Nacional and Touriga Francesa flourished in 2018, in particular the Francesa which benefited for the ideal ripening conditions, and this Vintage Port blend is, needless to say, dominated by these two premium varietals.
Quinta do Noval Single Quinta Vintage Port 2018, Douro
This 2018 wine is a wonderfully ripe expression, impressively full and exuberant with a fabulously perfumed nose of ripe blueberries and black berries, salted liquorice, crushed violets, graphite and sappy hedge row spice. With a bit of air in the glass, the wine increases its allure further to reveal notes of Christmas pudding, macerated black cherries and freshly baked blueberry crumble with seductive Asian spice nuances ever present in the background chorus. Super plump and fleshy, the palate just bursts with a rich voluminous density and opulence. The harmonious layers of creamy black and blue berry fruits roll around the palate reaching out from side to side before finally reluctantly retreating leaving a long, intense, concentrated sweet spicy finish. Another block buster from this tiny but awesome vintage. If Vintage Port is your weakness, this ones going to blow you away! Noval’s ongoing high quality vintage run continues.
I recently caught up with Chris and Andrea Mullineux over Zoom for an intimate tasting of their new Leeu Passant releases. Instead of running through all the wines in one foul swoop, I thought I would afford each wine the time and respect they deserve by profiling each new release in three separate reviews. So following on from Part 1 profiling the delicious Franschhoek Old Vine Lotter Cinsault, it’s time for the Basson Old Vine Cinsault to get its moment in the spotlight.
This lauded dry farmed Cinsault vineyard is the oldest certified red wine vineyard in South Africa, planted in 1900 and farmed by the Mullineuxs since 2014. One of the original Old Vine Project “Certified Heritage Vineyards” that has been held up as a shining beacon of education and preservation, these gnarled deep rooted old Cinsault bush vines are planted on deep, weathered sandy Table Mountain sandstone alluvial soils which yield wines deceptively light in colour but also impressively structured, taut and rich boasting almost Cabernet-like minerally spicy tannin structures.
Regardless of the natural structure from the terroir, Andrea Mullineux also makes very precise wines that will age a long time and as such, she always recommends giving the wines plenty of air or decanting before drinking, especially for new releases like this.
Indeed, the Basson vineyard is another very important component of their flagship Leeu Passant Dry Red Blend which the Mullineuxs have started to age longer in bottle before release. The Basson Old Vine Cinsault will also be released a year later than their Lotter Cinsault.
Leeu Passant Wellington Old Vines Basson Cinsault 2017, WO Wellington, 13.5 Abv.
The grapes for the Basson Cinsault were crushed and destemmed into tanks with fermentation starting spontaneously with indigenous yeasts with pigeage twice a day. After 11 days of fermentation, the wine was given a further three weeks of skin maceration before being drained and pressed to barrel where it matured for 20 months in 500 litre French oak barrels. The aromatics are distinctively spicy and complex showing top notes of potpourri, dried rose petals, freshly trimmed hedge row spice and wild herb notes of fynbos and thyme. Imposing yet silky textured with beautifully polished dry tannins, there is plenty of broody depth and power lurking behind the bright red fruits of pithy cherry, raisined cranberries, blood oranges and sweet lingering peppercorn spice. The fabulously dense, focused, tight knit texture finishes with an impressively pure, dry, mineral tannic restraint reinforcing the stature of these grand old 120 year old Cinsault vines.
Andrea encouraged me to have a secondary taste of the Basson on day two (and day three if possible!) and I am glad she did. While the structure and sappy spice remained resolute, multiple extra layers of juicy red fruits enlivened with bright cherry acids had surfaced to make the wine a little less broody and stern. Certainly one of the most serious and breathtaking renditions of premium Cinsault produced in South Africa without a doubt.