Teaching Old Dogs New Tricks ~ Tasting a Pair of Memorable Grenache Reds from Vriesenhof Vineyards…

A legend on and off the rugby pitch, Vriesenhof Vineyards’ owner has been crafting sturdy classical wines since the early 1980’s when Jan “Boland” Coetzee purchased his farm in the Paradyskloof Valley and planted Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Pinotage and Pinot Noir.

The south facing slopes of the vineyards allow Jan and head winemaker Nicky Classens to produce wines of exceptional character and quality. Situated at varying altitudes, the vineyards are exposed to the cool coastal breezes from False Bay, their soils consisting mostly of decomposed granite and Malmesbury shale. The hilltop is home to Pinotage bush vines where the rich shale soils enhance the fruit purity in the Pinotage grapes.

But it is the wines produced from Grenache grapes sourced in the Piekenierskloof that has been turning heads and raising eyebrows of late. So I was pleased to taste two vintages together including Jan’s new 2016 release.

Vriesenhof Vineyards Grenache 2014, Piekenierskloof, 14 Abv.

Lovely translucent and bright colour. There is a wonderful lifted perfume of dried rose petals, hedge row and cherry blossom mixing with smokey, earthy red berry and bramble berry spice. The palate is laser like with crisp acids and plenty of bright crunchy red fruits. Wonderful focus and intensity for this vintage. The finish is zesty, concentrated and long with a seductive tart cranberry finale. Really quite impressive. Drink now to 2028+

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

Vriesenhof Vineyards Grenache 2016, Piekenierskloof, 14 Abv.

Crystalline bright ruby, this wine shines in the glass. The nose is rich and warming with notes of cherry confit, cured meats, strawberry jam and raisined cranberries. There is also a complexing earthy, peppery savoury depth counter balancing the lifted jasmine blossom perfume. Fleshy and sweet fruited, there is similar palate concentration to the 2014 Grenache but is delivered in a more opulent style with softer, rounder acids and suave creamy powdery tannins. A warmer, riper, dryer vintage executed with class and flair. Drink now to 2026+

(Wine Safari Score: 92/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Oldenburg Vineyards ~ Big Plans, Big Ambition and Unbelievable Potential at this Stellenbosch Winery…

Oldenburg is one of those wineries that has big plans and equally big ambitions for its wines. Today I met up with owner Adrian Vanderspuy to taste through a small selection of their unreleased 2015 reds over lunch at private members club 67 Pall Mall.

With winemaker Phillip Constandius finally hitting his stride at this Banghoek property, the future looks very bright for this dynamic winery. Quality and focus can only be improved further when Oldenburg finally gets its own winery, hopefully in the next 18 to 24 months.

After a delicious glass of 2013 Chenin Blanc, it was time for the first red, the Syrah 2015 with its impressive purity, spicy black berry fruits and wonderful harmonious texture. The 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon was a bit more of a gawky teenager, but showed plenty of intensity of dark berry fruit, herbal spice, cassis leaf and spicy cedar and graphite. This needs a few years of slumber before approaching again but should turn into a real cracker.

Finally, a real treat…The Oldenburg Rhodium 2015 Merlot – Cabernet Franc Bordeaux blend. Youthfully confident, this red is still showing a lick of creamy vanilla pod spice, cedar and bruleed coffee beans, with sweet tobacco nuances. There is also some really delicious, compact black and blueberry fruit complexity embroidered with a fresh, piercing, crystalline acidity. Massive intensity, focus and power, this is a really beautiful wine with real poise, balance and concentration. When it is finally released, possibly in 2019, it should be even more integrated and harmonious. A thoroughly distinguished blend.

(Wine Safari Score: 94-95/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

A Super Premium Expression of Cabernet Franc from South Africa… Tasting the ‘The’ Cabernet Franc 2014 from Walker Bay…

Dark and alluring, this wine is packed with expression and intrigue. It’s not everyday you get to taste the newest and most expensive super premium wine produced in South Africa! But D-day has arrived and it’s time to put the ‘The Cabernet Franc ‘ 2014 through its paces! This delicious, tantalising effort produced by Brian and Marian Smith of Elgin Ridge, in partnership with Niels Verburg of Luddite Wines, is the smartest new Bordeaux’esque premium wine to emerge from the Cape since the creation of MR de Compostella in 2004.

The nose is lush and seductive and oozes the aromatics of a super polished, finely tuned red wine. The oaking is rich, perfumed and ultra sophisticated. Tasted over a few hours, the nose remains tight and broody, compact and focused. You need to coax the genie out the bottle, but once it awakens, wow, you are inundated with a complex bouquet of liquorice stick, oregano, graphite, blueberry, cassis leaf and pronounced crushed gravel and limestone minerality. I poured this wine in both a Riedel Bordeaux glass and a Zalto Universal to make sure I could examine every element of its burning ambition.

The palate weight is creamy, textural and dense but remains fresh, vital and powerful with excellent varietal typicity. This effort is certainly more Napa Valley than Loire in style, but having said that, it wears its DNA proudly on its sleeve and represents pretty much every thing that’s great about South African wine at the moment. What’s perhaps most impressive about this wine is the way it holds its shape, vigour and presence in the glass over several hours… and then almost seems to tire of examination and starts to close up again.

I know Brian and Niels intimately and understand their passion and drive to not only get this wine ‘right’, but also make sure that it represents a wine genre that changes perceptions, opens eyes, shatters glass ceilings and helps premium South African wines climb another couple of steps up the competitive global fine wine ladder.

I have no doubt this wine will impress as many people with its quality, as it will upset with its price. But pause, take a deep breath, look around the market and you will see that there are so many wines from California, Bordeaux and coastal Tuscany that command similar or higher prices, but that are actually not as good as this very fine effort. Quality comes at a price. Be brave and tuck a 3 pack of this superb wine in your cellar!

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

The Silent Operator… Master Winemaker Adam Mason Really Knows His Stuff…

I was so pleased to catch up with Adam Mason recently to taste the ex-Klein Constantia winemaker’s delicious range of wines produced outside of his day job at Mulderbosch. The Raised By Wolves selection is really quite awesome and definitely worth tracking down, being made from different old vine vineyards across the Cape. Adam has crafted some very serious wines and while the La Colline Semillon is a benchmark classic, the Chenin Blanc represents a real classical expression that has massive punter-appeal.

Adam Mason Raised By Wolves 2016 Chenin Blanc Driehoek, Stellenbosch, 13 Abv.

Another fine expression of South African Chenin Blanc made from the rare Montpellier clone, resurrected and made famous (again) by Bruwer Raats with his high density Eden Chenin Blanc. This 2016 is elegant, rich and opulent showing creamy yellow fleshy fruit, lemon biscuits, salty sea breeze notes, brine, and pithy white peach and pear fruit. Lovely concentration, excellent core tension, and impressive complexity and focus. A wine that conveys confidence and precision. The finish is long, vibrant and intense with attractive dried herb notes and mint leaf spice which combine well with the most seductive orange blossom and tangerine peel depth. This is one to buy now and drink, or even cellar for 5 to 8 years for more complexity.

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

The Age of Serious Cru Beaujolais Has Arrived – Tasting Chateau de Poncie Fleurie 2015…

It’s certainly Beaujolais’ moment in the spotlight with more and more Côte d’Or growers buying vineyards in the top Cru villages. As they invest in vineyards and production, the wines are getting more and more serious.

Chateau de Poncie is the latest reincarnation of Villa Ponciago, the estate in Fleurie bought by Champagne Henriot, who coincidently also own brands like Bouchard Pere et Fils. With Joseph Bouchard now actively involved in the Fleurie operations, quality seems to get better and better every vintage that passes.

The la Salomine vineyard is situated on a sloping hillside with a southeast exposure with very well draining soils composed of a pink granitic crystalline rock and quartz as well as a small proportion of clay. Cultivation of the vines is exclusively manual, due to the steep slope. Heavy natural soil erosion is checked by grassing over and mulching. Yields are naturally limited by the terroir to less than 35hl/ha.

After harvest, cold maceration takes place with one part whole bunches and one part with destalked bunches, followed by a fermentation of 10 to 15 days. Maturation is vintage dependant with 40% to 60% of wine aged in oak barrels, 100% of which are mature oak barrels of 1 to 4 years old. The remainder is matured for 12 to 13 months in small tanks to preserve freshness.

Chateau de Poncie Cru Fleurie 2015 La Salomine, 14 Abv.

Another blockbuster year, this is a bold Beaujolais with Pinot Noir depth and complexity. Gamay stepping up to the plate. Deep, dark dense nose of wood smoke, black berry, bramble fruits and dusty granitic mineral graphite lift. Palate is full, broad, expansive, features big bold concentrated flavours of fraises des bois, black cherry, blue berry crumble and opulent sweet supple tannins. Acids melt into the rich black fruit and just tickle your palate, keeping the finish vibrant, fresh and quite mouth watering. Very polished, accomplished wine making raising Beaujolais quality up a few notches (which will appeal to Pinot Noir lovers struggling with Burgundy’s eye watering red wine prices). Buy now, drink now… or cellar for 3 to 8 years for extra complexity.

(Wine Safari Score: 92+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Julien Schaal’s Confluence Chardonnay 2016 Recognized at the Platter 5 Star Awards… 

I have been a long time follower of Julien Schaal’s amazing wines from both Alsace as well as South Africa. Always over delivering in quality terms and offering great value for money, Julien upped the ante in 2014 with the launch of three single vineyard Chardonnay whites: Evidence (Elgin), Confluence (Hemel-en-Aarde), and Renaissance (Elandskloof).


While they are all absolutely delicious terroir specific wines, the Evidence Elgin Chardonnay has always been my perennial favourite. This year however, it was Julien’s Hemel-en-Aarde Confluence Chardonnay 2016 that deservedly cracked him his first 5 Star Platter Wine Guide award. A massive achievement for this young, talented French winemaker, it can only be the beginning of new heights that will surely be reached in coming vintages. 


Julien Schaal Confluence Chardonnay 2016, Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, 13 Abv.

From another drought vintage, this beautiful 2016 shows an opulent lifted nose with real concentration and intense aromatics of sweet honeysuckle, orange blossom, mango peel, lemon and orange rind, and a complex, mineral undertone of wet slate and crushed granite, expertly embellished with brûléed vanilla oak spice, toffee apple and waxy green apple nuances. However impressive the nose is, the palate offers up threefold more. Sculptured acids frame the lush, intense, concentrated citrus fruit flavours, showing layers of lemon marmalade, caramelised oranges, barley sugar, lemongrass spice and pithy apple puree. Rich and fresh, piercing and taught, this wine seems to have it all. Intensity, balance and such mouthwatering length. Well done Julien, this is a truly accomplished Hemel-en-Aarde Chardonnay. Drink now to 2028+

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

Tasting the Incredible Gallica Cabernet Sauvignon Vintages from 2009 to 2014 with Rosemary Cakebread…

One of my most fun days on my Napa Valley Masters Program trip back in 2007 was the viticulture day out in the vineyards with Bruce Cakebread. In March 2017, a most enjoyable afternoon of wine tasting, pizza making and eating was spent with Bruce in Napa Valley. Tonight, I completed the triangle with a most incredible tasting with Bruce’s wife, Rosemary Cakebread, winemaker of Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon based blends, Gallica, in Napa Valley.


Rosemary, previously the winemaker at Spottswoode Vineyard & Winery (1997 to 2006), established Gallica as recently as 2007 where her wines are already making their mark in the industry. Rosemary has earned a reputation for crafting consistent, elegant and restrained wine styles throughout her winemaking career and she describes her Gallica wines as “wonderfully expressive, balanced artisanal wines made from organic vineyards.”


Gallica Vintage Vertical ~ 2009 to 2014


Gallica Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, 14.4 Abv. 

Oakville, Coombsville, St. Helena. 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Cabernet Franc, 4% Petit Verdot, 81% new French Oak. Taught broody nose, mineral laden, brambly with plenty of herbal spice. Ripe earthy red currant fruit, sweet tannins and a creamy luscious mouthfeel. Fine, precise acids and an impressively mineral graphite finish.

(Wine Safari Score: 92+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Gallica Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, 14.4 Abv. 

Oakville Organic Vineyard. 83% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 7% Petit Verdot, 19 months in 78% new French Oak. Lifted piercing perfume, purple blossoms, violets and a higher toned polished mahogany, black berry and pithy black cherry spice. Palate also reveals cool dark black berry fruits, creamy vanilla pod spice, liquorice stick and delicious Cabernet Sauvignon purity. Classy, picante style.

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


Gallica Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, 14.1 Abv

Oakville Organic Vineyard. 96% Cabernet Sauvignon, 1% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot, 19 months in 70% new French Oak. Very pronounced dusty gravelly mineral nose with herbal spice, graphite and leafy characters from a fairly cool vintage. Texture is sleek, precise, and quite suave, elegantly textured but with more angular presence in the mouth. Pronounced acids shape a cool, taught palate that displays beautiful black cherry and bramble berry fruits, herbal spice and silky, dry tannins on the finish. Classy and classically elegant wine. Very nice.

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


Gallica Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, 14.5 Abv.

Oakville Organic Vineyard. 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 20 months in French Oak. Taught deep dark rich broody wine with tension, dark spicy Cabernet cedar and herbal notes, dusty graphite, hedge row spice and pithy black current fruits. Fine sweet front palate, supple entry, lovely fleshy black pastille weight of fruit that is more opulent than the nose suggests. Such precision, pin point mineral tannins and delicious pithy graphite tension and power. Very impressive wine.

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


Gallica Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, 14.5 Abv.

Oakville Organic Vineyard. 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Cabernet Franc, 20 months in French Oak. Sweet sour red plum, wet tobacco, forest leaves and pronounced exotic red fruit notes. Quite dusty, granitic and mineral, with dark black picante fruit nuances developing. Palate texture is lush, plush, creamy, dreamy, with expansive sweet tannins, fleshy blueberry and cassis pastille fruit weight. A real turbo charged vintage in the best sense. Harmonious balance, this wine does not put a foot out of place. Hedonistic, opulent, but retains classical shape. A really impressive all round great wine from a fantastic benchmark vintage.

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


Gallica Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, 14.5 Abv.

Oakville Organic Vineyard. 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Cabernet Franc, 19 months in French Oak. Youthful, opulent exotic nose brimming with blue berry crumble, mulberries, cassis pastille fruits, vanilla bean spice, graphite and such delicious opulent aromatic lift. The palate is ultra opulent but also hugely concentrated and generous. Tannins are textural, grippy but sweet, acids ultra vibrant but then quietly melt away into the mouth watering blueberry fruit concentration. Young and precocious, the brûlée coffee bean espresso complexity really underlines the showy attractiveness of this wine. A definite crowd pleaser. Give it another year in bottle to assimilate the oak more seamlessly.

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