Catherine Marshall Releases Another Benchmark 2020 Fermented in Clay Chenin Blanc…

I’ve been following the new releases of this wine for several years now and it has certainly proven beyond doubt to be one of the most accomplished Chenin Blancs on the South African fine wine scene.

Grapes for the 2020 were again selected from a single vineyard in Elgin grown on red Laterite soils also known as “koffieklip” or coffee stone as it resembles the same structure as ground coffee, and also from from grapes grown in the Bottelary Hills in Stellenbosch on old bush vines in lighter soils, which were harvested in early March. Once fermentation was completed in the clay amphorae, 800 litres of wine was decanted to oak casks for a further 9 months maturation.

The wine portion aged in the clay amphorae had no malolactic fermentation so that the fresher flinty characters would be maintained. After 9 months, the two components were blended together and lightly filtered before bottling.

Catherine Marshall Fermented in Clay Chenin Blanc 2020, WO Western Cape, 14% Abv.

TA 5.6g/l | pH: 3.4 | RS: 2.1g/l | Total Extract: 23.2g/l

After the phenomenal 2017 and eye-watering 2019 Fermented in Clay Chenin Blanc, expectations for follow up vintages become almost impossibly high. But this 2020 is another real head turner with aromatics brimming with crunchy white peaches, tangerine, orange peel, green pears and a beguiling melange of grilled herbs and stony granitic minerality. On the palate this youthful 2020 is cool, crisp, focused and texturally quite linear and taut with tangy acids, a steely concentration of peach pastille, yellow tropical fruit bon bons, clementines and yet more unfurling layers of wet river pebbles and stony liquid minerality. Cathy has now established a rock solid track record for this wine which must surely rank in the top 10 Chenin Blancs produced in South Africa.

(Wine Safari Score: 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Wines available to the trade in the UK from Seckford Wine Agencies.

New Release Review – Tasting the Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines 2018 Syrah…

I recently tasted the phenomenal 2017 Mullineux Syrah again with Andrea Mullineux and was just blown away by the balance, intensity and poise of the wine. While chatting about the 2017, Andrea expressed her real excitement surrounding the release of the new 2018 Syrah which she thought might just be their winery’s best effort yet. High praise indeed.

While 2018 was the last of four drought vintages in the Cape and severely affected the Swartland region, there seems to be some consensus that the vines had slowly started to become more accustomed to the severely dry conditions. This new release was made from grapes grown in seven different vineyards all with differing terroirs – four vineyards on shale and schist, two on granite and one on iron soils. Up to 80%-90% of the fruit was whole-bunch fermented and was then matured for a further 14 months in 15% new French oak barrels, old oak barrels and also foudre.

Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines Syrah 2018, WO Swartland, 13.5% Abv.

This is a very expressive wine with complex aromatics loaded with grilled herbs, lavender, fresh bresaola, red berries, cherry cola and savoury black berry notes with a tantalising dusting of white pepper. The palate is full, fleshy, layered and impressively textured with a weightless harmonious clarity of savoury red and blue berry fruits, soft mellow acids and light airy tannins that show a fine liquid mineral schisty grip on the finish. A wonderfully supple Syrah expression that throws a spotlight on the impressive winemaking talents of the Mullineuxs. Drink now and over 10 to 15+ years.

(Wine Safari Score: 93+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Hamilton Russell Vineyards Release an Impressively Sophisticated New 2020 Chardonnay…

Hamilton Russell Vineyards run under the watchful eye of Anthony and Olive Hamilton Russell are well established as one of the most respected Chardonnay and Pinot Noir producers in South Africa. With their winery retaining an obsessive and loyal legion of drinkers and collectors only matched by the likes of fellow icon brands like Meerlust Rubicon or Kanonkop Paul Sauer, quality and consistency has always been the Hamilton Russell calling card.

With Emul Ross firmly in control of winemaking since the 2015 vintage, it is incredible to think that after 30+ years, this estate’s finest wines may lie in future vintages still to be born.

Winemaker Emul Ross and Anthony Hamilton Russell at the barrel cellar.

The 2020 vintage was a touch earlier than usual beginning in the first week of February and was also wetter than the previous few vintages. A standout feature of 2020 was however the exceptional phenolic ripeness at lower-than-normal alcohol levels which helped produce a wine that is taut, tight, minerally expressive and texturally very classical showing the usual Hemel-en-Aarde Valley cool climate length and complexity.

95% of the wine underwent malolactic fermentation in 228 litre Francois Freres French oak barrels before being aged for a total of 9 months in 24% new French oak with 5% aged in foudre.

Hamilton Russell Vineyards Chardonnay 2020, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, 12.9% Abv.

3.45pH | 6.90 TA | 2.20 RS

If 2018 produced a super taut, reductive serious expression and 2019 showed a lusher, more forward, accessible opulence, then 2020 is perhaps a marriage of these two styles. This is a wine full of confidence and composure, brimming with taut white citrus pith, green pear and lime peel, bruised green apples, white blossom and a complexing saline oyster shell minerality. On the palate there is a feel of density, dry extract, concentration and a really precise harmonious balance with layers of green melon, sweet lime jelly, melted butter and a full glycerol finish with just the faintest hint of butterscotch, lime cordial and vanilla pod spice. Seemless and sleek, the layers just melt into each other leaving a sensation of utter completeness. What a truly fabulous wine, resplendent in its mellow classical restraint, intense concentration and harmonious length. A big high five for Emul Ross!! Drink on release and over the next 10-12+ years. (51,516 bottles produced)

(Wine Safari Score: 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Chateau Tour Baladoz Produces Another Stand-Out Saint Emilion Grand Cru in 2018…

Château “Valados” first appeared in “Le Producteur” in 1841, and was included in the first edition of “Cocks and Feret” (Bordeaux and its Wines) in 1850 under the name of “Baladoz”. From 1874 to 1922, the estate was known as Château Baladoz until a tower was erected and adopted into the name.

In certain parts, vines are grown at an altitude of up to ninety metres, almost the highest in the appellation, with more vines planted on the clay and limestone plateau that dominates the estate. Originally categorised as between the first and second crus of St Emilion, the estate later settled in the Grand Cru category.

Anthony Crameri from Chateau Tour Baladoz alongside the Chateau’s ancient limestone cliffs.

The property, located in Saint-Laurent-des-Combes, was purchased by Belgian wine trader Emile De Schepper in May 1950 and included 5.56 hectares of vines. The new owner spent his first year renovating the cellars and making improvements to the vineyard. In the early years, the wine was exclusively exported to Belgium, in barrel, where it was bottled in the owner’s cellars in Ghent. The current cellar master and manager is the ultra talented Jean-Michel Garcion, who was appointed in 1992 and now also overseas production at sister estates Chateau La Croizille next door and Chateau Haut Breton Larigaudiere in Margaux.

The 2018 is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon.

70% of the Tour Baladoz vineyard is planted on the plateau, with the remaining 30 % situated on the slopes of the valley over deeply submerged rocks. Here, the challenge lies in making a wine that is as mineral as the geological environment in which the vines grow. The soil base varies from pure chalk and marl, which reminiscent of certain terroirs in the Champagne region, to freestone that appears occasionally and is noticed because of the colour variation in the clay. Here, the Merlot grape thrives and comprises 70% of the vineyard planting with Cabernet Franc (20%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (10%) making up the remainder.

Chateau Tour Baladoz 2018 Saint Emilion Grand Cru, 14.5% Abv.

A beautiful vineyard with a few pre-phylloxera vines, a collection of ancient Bordeaux varieties and spectacular limestone caves with vine roots growing through the ceilings. This 2018 is garnet purple and already quite explosive in the glass revealing waves of violets and lilac, black plum, mulberry, salty black currant and buttered brown toast nuances. On the palate it shows an accessible opulence of red and black berry fruits, fine chalky mineral tannins and a steely vein of acidity that guides you to a long, fresh, nervy finish with further notes of vanilla spice, graphite and crème de cassis. A really wonderful, high quality expression of Saint Emilion that will seduce a legion of Bordeaux lovers. Drink now and over the next 10 to 15+ years.

(Wine Safari Score: 93+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Tasting Imvini Wethu – Another Incredible Old Vine Project Wine Hits the EU Market…

This is a super exciting new wine from South Africa made in association with the Protégé Programme run under the supervision of Andrea Mullineux (Mullineux Wines), the current Cape Winemakers Guild Chair.

Imvini Wethu means “our vines” in Zulu, and the 2019 vintage is the maiden release of a wine conceived by the German trade with the intention of empowering future winemakers and protecting South African wine heritage, with the Cape Winemakers Guild’s Protégé Programme and the Old Vine Project run by Rosa Kruger and Andre Morgenthal being the specific beneficiaries.

Imvini Wethu Old Vine Cinsault Pinotage 2019, WO Western Cape, 13.5% Abv.

All this wine needed was 15 minutes in a decanter before it really started to perform! A blend of 70% Cinsault and 30% Pinotage, this wine shows the very best of both varieties in a wonderful synergy. The Cinsault grapes come from a Franschhoek vineyard planted in 1932 and the Pinotage from a vineyard in Stellenbosch planted in 1973. There is plenty of perfume and lift with seductive notes of Turkish delight, rose petals and violets. The nose is packed full of red and black berry fruits, black cherry, dark sweet plum, vanilla spice and a dusting of mocha choc powder. The palate is fleshy and fresh, juicy and accessible with a sleek seamless texture, soft creamy tannins and a long harmonious finish. A wine that delivers a whole lot of frolicsome pleasure in a very more’ish manner. Drink now and over 6-8+ years.

(Wine Safari Score: 91+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Revisiting the Exceptional Gramina Single Vineyard Assyrtiko 2018 from the Vassaltis Winery…

Greek wines, but more specifically the white Assyrtiko wines of the volcanic Cyclade island of Santorini, are continuing to see an ongoing collector renaissance not witnessed in classical Western wine markets since the mid-2000’s when now iconic producers such as the late Haridimos Hatzidakis burst onto the United Kingdom wine scene with profound unoaked old vine Assyrtiko whites from this small volcanic oasis in the Southern Aegean Archipelago.

This rising global fame has indeed led to rising demand but has also seen the island’s key growers, who supply a large quantity of the premium old vine fruit, raise their prices year on year for the last 6 or 7 years, leading to a situation where affordability has become a big issue for many producers buying in grapes. One way to counteract this supply pressure has been for producers to make more focused, niche, premium Assyrtiko wines and there are none more niche and quality focused than the impressive Vassaltis Gramina single vineyard Assyrtiko made from grapes harvested from very old kouloura trained vines.

The Vassaltis winery on Santorini

On the eve of the release of the new 2019 Gramina, I took another look at the current release 2018 to see just how it’s performing three years from vintage.

The maiden 2017 release of Gramina scored 96+/100 from The Fine Wine Safari.

Vassaltis Gramina Cuvee des Vignerons Assyrtiko 2018 Single Vineyard, PDO Santorini, 14% Abv.

Like the maiden 2017 vintage of the Gramina, the 2018 is made from 100% Assyrtiko grapes that are harvested from an old vine single vineyard in Vourvoulos. The meagre crop of the 80 to 100+ year old vines is picked in the early hours of the morning in the autumnal dark and whole bunch pressed with around only 2 to 3 hours passing between the commencement of picking and the completion of pressing into stainless steel tanks, which miraculously has an enormous influence on the structure, style, clarity and purity of the resulting juice.

Compared to most upfront Santorini Assyrtiko whites, this sensational creation captures a profound granitic, basaltic, volcanic minerality in the bouquet, which is interwoven with intricate notes of dried oregano and thymus polytrichus or wild thyme herbs. Neither overtly fruity or showy, the nose and palate is nonetheless underpinned by the most mouth watering acidity that duals with sweet sour notes of green apple pastille, crunchy white peaches and intense saline notes of brine and sea breeze with complexing nuances of dried kelp, sushi nori, dry roasted hazelnuts and bitter lemon peel pith. While never straying far from its crystalline purity and intensity, the palate texture remains bold, fleshy and long with characteristic layers of Santorini liquid minerality and oyster shell distinctiveness. A true terroir driven beauty of a wine! Released in the UK in June 2020 with almost 9 months ageing in bottle, the Gramina has to rank among the most impressive whites produced anywhere in Greece, let alone on the Cycladic islands and is undoubtedly a worthy successor to the epic maiden 2017 release.

(Wine Safari Score: 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Warwick Winery Joins the Cape Heritage Blend Club With a Very Classy Effort…

The Warwick winery has dabbled with new creations over the years with some of the Black Lady Syrahs standing out as memorable. But what could be more inspirational than a fine Simonsberg Cape Heritage Blend featuring a slug of Cabernet Sauvignon with 13% of Cinsault. A match made in heaven the old boys will tell you.

With the Simonsberg ward making some of the finest Cabernet Sauvignon in Stellenbosch, I was fascinated to see if the Cinsault would add that little Je ne sais quoi to the blend.

Warwick Professor Black Pitch Black 2017, WO Stellenbosch, 14% Abv.

This well crafted red was matured for 18 months in French oak barrels and is made up of a trendy blend of 39% Cabernet Sauvignon, 36% Cabernet Franc, 13% Cinsault, 10% Merlot , 1% Petit Verdot and 1% Malbec. Wonderful to have another Cape Heritage Blend enter the fray. This exciting expression shows a rich earthy aromatics initially dominated by alluring notes of capsicum, red currants, iodine, fresh cedar and vanilla pod spice. The palate texture is spicy and a little prickly but boasts ample depth and extract. There are layers of black current, tart black plum, dried herbs and hoisin plum sauce. There is plenty of elegance and harmony but to be honest, little sign of the Cinsault component at this youthful stage. With the natural 2017 vintage weightless elegance an succulent freshness, this is another mouth-watering red blend that will appeal to Cabernet Franc converts. Prep the slow roast leg of lamb to accompany! Drink on release and over 15+ years. (90 barrels produced, or approximately 27,000 bottles)

(Wine Safari Score: 93/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Exploring the Incredible 2016 Barolo Wines from Cantina Luigi Pira…

Admittedly, I love Barolo and drink a lot of all the top producer’s wines at any chance I get, but I have to be honest that while I’d heard a little bit about the Luigi Pira wines, I had never tasted any. So what a way to acquaint oneself with a new Barolo producer’s wines than to taste their blockbuster 2016s!

Founded by the Pira family in 1950, this Serralunga estate consists of 12 hectares of vineyards at 300 metres above sea level with winemaking duties overseen by Giampaolo Pira. Vigna Marenca and Vigna Margheria are reputed to be some of the best vineyards in the township of Serralunga and this estate produces single vineyard Baroli from plots owned in all of these crus (which can be seen from the azienda’s terrace). In the 1950s the grapes were initially sold off. In the subsequent years, small quantities of Barolo started to be bottled at the estate.

In 1993 the Baroli Margheria and Marenca were produced followed by Barolo Vigna Rionda in 1997. The wines from these three crus are typical of the great terroir of Serralunga displaying great minerality, intensity and power. Barolo Margheria, made from 50-year-old vines, is the most classical. Barolo Marenca and Barolo Vigna Rionda are structured and complex, with a lot of muscle and age ability. But tasting all these crus for the first time was certainly an exciting exercise.

Luigi Pira Serralunga Barolo 2016, 14.5% Abv.

The Luigi Pira 2016 Barolo Serralunga is another fabulously dense and sweetly fruited Nebbiolo that has just the most seductive aromatics of dried rose petals, violets, potpourri, orange peel, tea tree oil, tart red cherries and an exotic licorice and wild herb botanical top note. The palate is cool, plush and powerful with fleshy layers of red and black cherry, char grilled herbs, dried ginger and plenty of dried thyme and sage. True to the iconic 2016 vintage, this wine combines classical Serralunga structure and power with a beautiful fruit opulence and concentration. Deliciously accessible and fresh, this is another Barolo beauty from the vintage.

(Wine Safari Score: 95+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Luigi Pira Margheria Barolo 2016, 14.5% Abv.

The Luigi Pira 2016 Barolo Margheria is an exotic, complex expression of the vintage with the most intricate aromatics of pressed purple flowers, pink musk , cherry cola, licorice and tar, dried rose petals and the most personality filled botanical, herbal vermouth spice nuances. The tannins are powerful and grainy coating the mouth with a fabulously plush mineral grip. On the palate there are hints of saline cassis, black cherry and bramble berry spice with a long, liquid mineral stony finish. This possess all the power and structure to last a very long time in the cellar. Something very serious but also very magical from a fantastic Barolo vintage. (7,000 bottles produced.)

(Wine Safari Score: 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Luigi Pira Marenca Barolo 2016, 14.5% Abv.

With one of the only other Marenca Crus produced going into the Gaja Sperss Barolo cuvee, you know this is a very special site. So with Sperss 2016 garnering a perfect 100 points from the Wine Advocate, you would expect this wine to also show something extra special sharing the same terroir. This Marenca is almost like a subtle blend of the Pira Margheria and the Pira Serralunga Barolo wines with rich, plump, bold dark berry nuances, pink musk, charcoal embers, licorice and potpourri spice but also notes of freshly tilled earth, crushed gravel, iron and blood together with a fabulous dried herb and wood spice melange. The palate is deceptively generous and cool with seductively textured layers of blue and black berry fruits, cassis, black currant, purple rock candy, graphite and the most suave fleshy plump tannins I have tasted on a Nebbiolo in a long time. This really is classy and classical, yet supremely ripe, intense and just drop dead gorgeous. A very fine effort from Pira!

(Wine Safari Score: 97/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

A Great Initiative Combining Rugby, Charity and Fine Wine – Tasting the Number 5 Doddie’s Blend 2019 Red…

Doddie Weir OBE is one of the most recognisable faces of the game of rugby earning 61 caps playing for Scotland. But in June 2017, Doddie revealed he was suffering with the onset of Motor Neuron Disease, an illness that as yet has no known cure. In November 2017, Doddie Weir and his trustees launched a registered charity called My Name’5 Doddie Foundation to raise funds to aid the research into Motor Neuron Disease.

In the past, the foundation has already collaborated with a premium gin producer to create a limited release Doddie Weir Gin and more recently, ex-Scotland rugby international and foundation supporter, Kenny Logan, launched a new wine initiative with the Sporting Wine Club headed by ex-England rugby International and head of European rugby, Simon Halliday. The new wine, in collaboration with ex-Springbok great Schalk Burger Snr. and his Welbedacht Estate in South Africa, was suppose to tie into the upcoming Lions tour to South Africa as Doddie had himself also earned his Lions cap for the 1997 winning tour against the Springboks.

Tasting in London with Welbedacht Estate owner and ex-Springbok rugby great Schalk Burger Snr., producer of Doddie’s Blend.

The Lions tour might now be in disarray and currently undergoing a mid-pandemic rethink with a move back to the UK, but the Doddie’s Red blend from the beautiful Welbedacht Estate in Wellington is very much a reality with the soft launch being planned in the UK in the coming weeks. As an extra gesture of support to the wider rugby fraternity, the limited release bottling includes a very special label painted by accomplished artist, Henry Fraser.

Henry Fraser played rugby for the Saracens Academy before suffering a freak injury at the age of 17 that resulted in him being paralysed from the shoulders down. Teaching himself to paint, Henry is now a most talented ‘mouth painter’ and was specially commissioned to design the labels for Doddie’s Blend.

If ever there was an initiative close to every rugby players’ heart, this is it. A genuinely exciting new wine release in support of an important cause. I hope rugby clubs and players across the country will give this initiative their full backing.

Welbedacht Estate Number 5 Doddie’s Red Blend 2019, WO Wellington, 14% Abv.

A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot, this is a genuinely impressive red Cape Bordeaux blend assemblage made in a true style where the whole is definitely greater than the sum of its individual parts revealing very pretty, seductive aromatics of fine dried herbal spice, ripe black plums, earthy black currants, sappy cedar spice and a delicate brûléed kiss of oak. The palate is equally alluring showing a harmonious creamy opulence and a super silky texture together with a real accessibility, finessed tannins and a weightless brambly black berry fruit concentration on the finish. Youthfully exuberant and utterly delicious already, this is a fine wine with character and class… just like the man in who’s honour it was created to celebrate. Drink now and over 8+ years.

(Wine Safari Score: 94/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

The Iconic Swartland Porseleinberg Syrah 2018 Assessed and Reviewed…

Having seen the stick Christian Eedes (SA Winemag.co.za editor) received for posting a belated Porseleinberg Syrah 2018 review, long after it scored 100 points from Tim Atkin MW and also long after it had sold out, I approached the issue with a certain amount of circumspect. But sometimes great wines need to be reviewed and reassessed regardless of their first release status, so that secondary market consumers can add further perspective to their prospective purchases.

Like many regular consumers, I was ‘forced’ to make a decision on buying this wine without tasting, long before it arrived in the UK in 2020 due to the pandemic chaos. But like the Kanonkop Paul Sauer 2015, the Porseleinberg 100 point choice was fairly bullet proof from real criticism for Tim Atkin in the same manner scoring a modern Bordeaux first growth 100 points in a good vintage might be debatable yes, controversial, not at all.

I recently spent two evenings enjoying a bottle of this famed 2018 Syrah and became close bedfellows with this lastest release from Callie Louw and the Boekenhoutskloof stable.

Porseleinberg Syrah 2018, WO Swartland, 14% Abv.

The 2018 vintage yielded some very supple, pretty, lithe Syrahs with delicacy, elegance and seamless textures. Well known for its power and structure, this Porseleinberg shows a lighter, finer, more accessible expression with delicately savoury velvety tannins and fleshy red and black berry fruits. Initially quite reticent on opening, the nose slowly unfurls with aromatics laced with grilled herbs, cured meats, black liquorice, black olive tapenade and chargrilled meat nuances. The wine is more mineral than floral at this youthful stage yet still shows a lovely precision, intensity of black berry fruit and well judged oak handling. There’s a lovely tenderness and complexity to the wine that reminds you of just what a very special schistous terroir lies behind the production of this world class Syrah. Drink from 2023 to 2034+

(Wine Safari Score: 97/100 Greg Sherwood MW)