Sakkie Mouton Family Wines Breaks New Ground Launching a South African Unicorn Vermentino from Koekenaap…

I am a massive fan of Vermentino whether grown in the Italian regions of Liguria, the Maremma, Corsica and Sardinia or down in Provence in the sun-baked South of France where it is generally known as Rolle. This maiden Vermentino release from the hugely talented young gun Sakkie Mouton is certainly an unusual grape to find produced in South Africa but is also an inspired choice for his electric (and eclectic) style of winemaking.

A picture from the Mouton family album… shows his grandfather riding a bull on the beach up the Wes Kus (West Coast) in what looks like circa 1950s to me!? This wine is a celebration of eccentricity in a world of mass conformity.

Like Sakkie’s highly sought-after Revenge of the Crayfish Chenin Blanc, this wine is sourced from a tiny patch of Vermentino vines grown on sandy soils in Koekenaap planted in 2017, located 15 kilometres from the cold Atlantic Ocean. For me, one of the most exciting aspects of Sakkie’s winemaking is that whatever grape variety he chooses to turn his hand to, you can be assured that the end result will reflect the regional terroir of Koekenaap almost more intensely than any individual expression of the grape variety. The unwaveringly maritime and saline characteristics of this barren coastal terroir up the West Coast has become almost synonymous as Sakkie Mouton’s signature style and these particular Vermentino grapes are located no more than 600 metres away from his Crayfish Chenin Blanc vineyard with its decomposed sandstone soils with pockets of limestone which lend great minerality and low pH’s to the finished wines.

The Vermentino grapes for this 2021 maiden release actually form part of a complex viticultural story with vines planted originally by Vinpro as part of a programme of small batch experimental vineyards developed around interesting viticultural areas to see if these experimental varieties might work on a more commercial scale. Similar projects today see Vinpro planting Assyrtiko vineyards to assess their future potential, but not to be confused with Gary Jordan who has pioneered this variety in South Africa and is already on his third tranche of vineyard plantings in Stellenbosch!

An animated story for sure but as Sakkie points out, Vermentino did not eventually crack the nod from Vinpro as growers immediately saw that the variety would not produce sufficient yields and the extraction process for Vermentino subsequently proved way too difficult for commercial purposes with lower than expected juice yields.

But with Sakkie ignoring adversity, the grapes from this micro vineyard were hand harvested early in the morning, then taken to a cold room facility for cooling. The grapes were foot trodden as whole bunches in an old basket press with the juice being transferred to cold settle for 12 hours in a stainless steel tank. The clear juice was then racked into 228 litre barrels to ferment naturally. The finished wine was aged on its gross lees for four months with regular stirring of the lees. After four months in the 228 litre barrels, the wine was racked into 500 litre barrels for a further two months of aging. Nothing was added to the wine except sulphur before bottling. The wine was bottled unfined and unfiltered.

Sakkie Mouton Family Wines Sand Erf Vermentino 2021, WO Koekenaap, 12.5% Abv.

8.2 TA | 1.0 RS | 3.12 pH

This delicious Vermentino expression, like many of the best premium old-world styles offers up an intense, complex aromatic array of crunchy white pears, green apples and white peaches all underpinned by a pronounced stony crushed rock minerality. Give the glass another swirl and yet more aromas of lime peel, honeydew melon and tangerine waft out the bowl. With Vermentino’s higher than usual phenols, the palate shows a delicious green almond bitterness that melts into a mouth-watering melange of glycerol pink grapefruit, pear pastille and freshly cut fennel which bears pronounced maritime notes of rock salt and tangy citric acids. Medium bodied but displaying an almost creamy texture, this wine is both generous and bracing all at the same time, confounding the palate with its profound salinity. If there is one thing that Sakkie Mouton is good at, it is making articulate white wines that challenge the senses before ultimately seducing them with effortless harmony, freshness and balance. Simply delightful to drink now, but with several more years of ageing, this wine will undoubtedly start to show more of its true Vermentino DNA with notes of floral-infused honey, chamomile and toasted almonds. The question is however … can you resist the temptation of the wine’s current youthful allure!? (Total production 620 bottles)

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

Postscript: I opened this bottle at fridge chilled temperature and tasted continuously over 4 hours without returning the bottle back to the fridge. The gradual release of additional flavours, sensations of concentration and an amplified salinity with a searing acidity were very impressive. In the same way a serious white Burgundy does not need to be returned to ice, this wine just unfurled continuously, and I encourage drinkers of this wine to serve it chilled but also to allow it to warm up a little so that it can fan its peacock tail!

Some Exciting New Sauvignon Blanc Releases from 2020 – Tasting the Painted Wolf Lightning…

After eight days of extensive tastings for the Decanter World Wine Awards in 2021 as the South African panel chair, it became very apparent that the 2020 vintage Sauvignon Blancs being released at the moment offer up a real treasure trove of styles and expressions, but all exceptional quality from entry level pricing all the way up to premium single vineyard releases.

This excellent Painted Wolf Sauvignon Blanc made by the talented Jeremy Borg, is named after Lightning, thought to be one of the most famous endangered wild dogs living in the Kruger National Park in South Africa. Made from pristine cool climate Walker Bay coastal fruit, this wine exemplifies the quality of many of the premium examples hitting the retail shelves now. Don’t miss out!

(Other cool climate Sauvignon Blanc expressions from nearby to watch out for include Wild Air from Hannes Storm, Southern Right and Creation.)

Painted Wolf Lightning Sauvignon Blanc 2020, WO Walker Bay, 12.5% Abv.

The grapes for this wine were hand picked, hand sorted and whole bunch pressed then fermented in large French oak barrels and a solitary concrete egg using only natural wild yeasts. The aromatics are beautifully pure and high toned with spicy notes of fresh lemon grass, pithy white citrus peel, capsicum and hints of crushed gooseberries. Any oak notes are incredibly delicate and seamlessly integrated highlighting the extreme precision with which this classy Sauvignon Blanc was assembled. The palate is fabulously cool, crystalline and pure laced with crunchy green fruits, subtle green herbs, yellow grapefruit, hints of bell pepper spice and finishes with a stony, flinty, wet river pebble length. Compact, vibrantly cool climate with crunchy acids and wonderfully balanced, this is another class act from Jeremy Borg. Drink now until 2025+.

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

Tasting a Fine & Rare Line up of Aged South African Icon Wines…

During the past 18 months of the pandemic there has been far too little sharing of great bottles among fine wine lovers. But with many determined to make up for lost time, South African fine lover and uber SA wine supporter, Thor Gudmundsson organised a fantastic old South African wine tasting lunch at one of his two excellent wine bar / restaurants in London, the Brackenbury Wine Rooms.

With most of the bottles generously supplied by Thor, it was a bit of a challenge for me to come up with some interesting bottles to add a little extra interest and excitement. Perhaps a bit predictably, I decided to bring the fabled Kanonkop pairing of Paul Sauer 1994 and Cabernet Sauvignon 1994 to compare and contrast blind. I have done this exercise twice before and both times it has been a challenging yet thoroughly enjoyable affair. Just to add an extra level of excitement, Thor had a bottle of the iconic Meerlust Rubicon 1994 to throw into the mix with the Kanonkop 1994 pairing.

Silvervis Chenin Blanc 2015, 12.5% Abv.

Rich, honied nose like a dry botrytis Sauternes wine. Peaches and dried apricot notes, subtle hints of salinity and a mellow, evolved honied finish.

(Wine Safari Score: 88/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Silvervis Chenin Blanc 2017, 13% Abv.

Zippy and zesty with layers of sweet & sour yellow plum, dried pear and peach, tangy tangerine acidity and a vibrant fresh saline finish. Ryan Mostert at his best. 😉

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

Rust en Vrede Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 1987, 12.5% Abv.

Showing complexing evolution, this has layers of dried leather, mechanic’s diesel rag, dried tobacco and smoked cigars. Tannins are fully resolved bolstered by a sweet core of brambly fruit, savoury prune and plum pudding and a cool lean finish.

(Wine Safari Score: 87/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Lanzerac Cabernet Sauvignon 1968

Dark, savoury broody nose with aromatics of sweet, stewed strawberries, raspberry compote and hints of Christmas pudding. Retains a fresh attractive tangy sweetness dominated by red fruits with sweet silky tannins and a long mellow finish with just the slightest hint of diesel rag.

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

Kanonkop Cabernet Sauvignon 1994, 13% Abv.

Wonderfully perfumed, sleek and elegant on the nose with pressed violets, cherry tobacco and sweet red currant fruits. This wine is pure, precise and quite ethereal. Plenty of shape and structure in the mouth still. Impressive linearity and focus. Beautiful.

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

Kanonkop Paul Sauer 1994, 12.5% Abv.

Slightly evolved earthy nose, black currant coulis, tobacco, stewed red berry fruits. Palate is superbly fresh, saline, and incredibly well balanced, complex, silky and profound. Nose and palate slightly detached suggesting some bottle variation. A superb wine nevertheless, but I have tasted fresher bottles.

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

Meerlust Rubicon 1994, 12.5 Abv.

Initially very pure and tight with focused aromatics of savoury leather, black currant and violets, the nose evolves to show smokey graphite, railway yard, wood smoke and savoury berry fruit. The palate is incredibly vibrant, explosive and intense with savoury black currant, tangy acids and a mellow stewed winter berry fruit compote note on the finish. Spectacular wine.

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

Cape Winemakers Guild Cordoba 2001 Auction Reserve, 14% Abv.

Very cedary and spicy with bell pepper, green leaf, dried herbs, coffee beans and black currant fruits. A classical style that is slightly hard work now but with further evolution, could blossom into something legendary. Leave in your cellar for now is my advice. In a slightly awkward stage of evolution.

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

Taaibosch Crescendo 2018, 13.5% Abv.

This is of course the first release of the rejuvenated and replanted Cordoba estate under the watchful eye of Schalk Willem Joubert. Shows a dark dense nose of brûléed black berry fruits, coffee bean, espresso and sweet cedar spice. The palate is elegant but robust and powerful with grippy tannins, graphite spice, concentrated black currant fruit and an impressive stony mineral length. Bury this in your cellar for 10 years minimum. It will reward patience!

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

Vergelegen Cabernet Sauvignon 2003, 14.5% Abv.

Quite a classically proportioned wine with a nose of black berry fruits, saline cassis, wet tobacco, cedar wood and espresso spice. Texturally sleek and full, creamy and well balanced with just a slight leafy peppery note on the finish. A fine expression for a warm vintage and drinking exceptionally well at the moment.

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

Niepoort & Sadie Cape Tawny 2008, 21% Abv.

Rich, nutty and expressive with layers of burnt caramel, orange rind, old malmsey Madeira and salty nutty notes. The palate is very intense, rich but not overly sweet, more nutty and pithy than unctuous. Tannins are spicy and slightly raw but sufficiently balanced with the acid freshness that is perfect for the expected level of complexity and intensity. A very attractive offering with massive drinkability and certainly plenty of unicorn wow factor!

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

Beyond Bordeaux – Reviewing the New Releases at the CVBG 2021 Portfolio Tasting in London…

It is no secret that for the past decade, Bordeaux negociants have been marking out new territory and colonising a whole new array of fine wine producers outside of their usual Bordeaux remit, from Bolgheri to Napa, Constantia to Aconcagua Valley. Slowly but surely, more and more international producers have been lured in and shifted all or most of their distribution into Europe via ‘the Place’… named after the de facto En-primeur institution that is the Place de Bordeaux.

I regularly get asked about the pros and cons of moving one’s distribution solely to the Place, but I will save that discussion for another day because today the authoritative Bordeaux negociant CVBG rolled into London town and presented a pretty spectacular array of collectable new releases. With Covid protocols in practice, tastings were restricted to timed slots so my notes are short and brief.

The New Italian Releases:

Caiarossa 2018, Toscana

A blend of 30% Syrah, 28% Cabernet Franc, 16% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot, 7% Petit Verdot, 5% Sangiovese and 2% Alicante. The initial impression is one of fine-tuned richness and opulence with expressive complexity. Palate is packed with black currant fruits, dusty mocha and lovely well integrated fine grained gravelly tannins. A well-conceived Tuscan blend that performs.

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

Bibi Graetz Testamatta 2019, Toscana

This 100% Sangiovese cuvee from the famed Bibi Graetz shows impressive perfume of white lily blossom combined with a lifted, piquant spice that melts into red currants, liquorice and pink musk. In the mouth it is bright, fresh and weightlessly concentrated, bristling with tart red cherry, hints of tar, red liquorice and finishes with a long, classical gravelly mineral persistence. A very smart wine indeed.

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

Bibi Graetz Colore 2019, Toscana

Produced from three 100% Sangiovese vineyard sites with 70, 80 and 90-year-old vines, this iconic cuvee from Bibi Graetz is a monumental effort resonating with a rich deep opulent nose of extroverted blue and black berry fruit nuances that are layered and cool on the palate with an impressively creamy textured mouthfeel packed with intensity, a sleek salty complexity and a generous caramelised kiss of blueberry fruit. Delicious in every sense.

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

Marchesi Antinori Solaia 2018, Toscana

From the famously cooler 2018 growing season in Tuscany, this Solaia retains an authoritatively deep, dark, rich and bold character while simultaneously showing impressive subtlety, complex notes of cedar, lead pencil, graphite and pithy herby black currant fruits. The palate is full and robust, spicy and intense with freshness and fabulous focus. A definitively herby cool vintage character evident in this complex imposing wine.

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

Tenuta del Ornellaia Massetino 2019, Toscana

This notoriously difficult to buy, small production second wine from the Masseto estate in Bolgheri is a blend of 94% Merlot with 6% Cabernet Franc. Exceptionally well proportioned and balanced, the nose is positively brimming with dark broody black berry fruits with interwoven notes of sweet cedar spice, black plum, vanilla pod, blueberry crumble and a sleek graphite complexity with fine grained tannins on the finish. Powerful but also seductive.

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

Tenuta del Ornellaia Masseto 2018, Toscana

This 100% Merlot is wonderfully dark and opaque in colour, the aromatics are vibrant and expressive bursting with notes of violets and pink flowers, dried rose petals and white flowers melting into notes of sour plum and ripe macerated cherries. The palate is cool and fresh with focused glassy acids, an impressive taut linearity and the most engrossing and precise textural balance imaginable. There is intensity and refreshing length of dark berry fruits that combine with strikingly mineral graphite tannins that finish with great power and authority. Another benchmark Masseto.

(Wine Safari Score: 98/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Franschhoek’s La Motte Winery Continues to Strive for Vinous Excellence…

I first met CEO of La Motte, Hein Koegelenberg, in London of all places in mid-March 2018. Tasting through their impressive range of wines with their newly appointed importer, The Wine Treasury, was most enjoyable and enlightening. These were after all some of the wines I had cut my teeth on in the early 1990s when I was working as a commodity trader in Johannesburg spending my hard-earned cash filling up my newly established wine cellar in Pretoria with some of South Africa’s finest red wines. Scratch on the shelves today and you might find some of my treasured bottles of La Motte Shiraz from 1993, 1994 and 1995 or maybe even one of my last bottles of La Motte Millennium 1990 red blend. These are historic wines that hold a special place in my wine development landscape as well as for many South Africans.

With lockdown looming hard and large, we have certainly missed all our regular South African winemaking tourists passing through London to taste the new vintage releases. But as they say, if Mohammed can’t go to the mountain, well then, the mountain must come to Mohammed… and I recently had a wonderful opportunity to taste through the current releases from the stunning La Motte Franschhoek Estate and was impressed with the all-round quality as ever.

La Motte Sauvignon Blanc 2021, WO Western Cape, 12.5% Abv.

3.0 g/l RS | 7.3 g/l TA | 3.39 pH

This 2021 Sauvignon Blanc was made from a blend of grapes sourced in Franschhoek (25%), Stellenbosch (50%) and the Cape South Coast (25%). With multiple vineyards grown in different microclimates and on different terroirs, the final wine in bottle has been expertly blended to ensure ample ripeness with juicy freshness, no overt leafy pyrazine characters but certainly plenty of attractive cool climate purity. A reductive fermentation process in stainless steel was carried out with the wine being left on its fine lees to enhance the tropical flavours. To further add to the complexity, 8% of Semillon was blended into the wine before bottling on the 10th April 2021.

A deliciously vibrant, expressive style of Cape Sauvignon Blanc, this wine displays an impressive purity and crystalline cool vintage clarity of green citrus fruits, green apple, lemon and lime zest and a subtle suggestion of Cape gooseberry. There is just enough fleshy tropical complexity to make this wine very appealing to lovers of fine New Zealand style Sauvignon Blanc with a cool 12.5% alcohol supporting an electric acidity and energetic depth of fruit. There is plenty of mouth coating richness, a fleshy glycerol opulence and a long, cool, spicy green herb-tinged finish with tangy acids that keep you coming back again and again for another sip. I’m not sure what more you could want from a young, fresh, unoaked Sauvignon Blanc? Delicious! Drink now and over the next 2 to 3 years.

(Wine Safari Score: 90+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

La Motte The Pierneef Collection Sauvignon Blanc 2020, WO Cape South Coast, 12.62% Abv.

1.8 g/l RS | 6.8 TA | 3.25 pH

The Pierneef Collection is a range of wines from La Motte forming a part of their more premium range as a tribute to the famous South African artist Jacob Hendrik Pierneef (1886-1957), one of South Africa’s most collectable artists, with each new bottling labelled with a different piece of his art. The 2020 Pierneef Collection Sauvignon Blanc is a blend of 94% Sauvignon Blanc from Elim, Napier and Elgin and 6% Semillon from Elim, all vineyards that now fall under the Cape South Coast region. After four drought vintages from 2015 to 2018, the 2019 season was much more moderate and saw the Cape’s vineyards build up their water reserves which boded well for the follow up 2020 crop. The grapes were afforded 16 hours of skin contact before fermentation and then another 5 months post-fermentation ageing on fine lees before blending. The wine was bottled in August 2020 and 30,000 bottles were produced.

On the nose, this wine is unmistakably cool climate Sauvignon Blanc with all the herby, pithy, spicy, saline notes you’d expect to find on cooler, Coastal Cape Sauvignon. Together with classic Thiol notes of white citrus, Cape Gooseberry and bell pepper, there is an attractive underlying dusty crushed limestone minerality, hints of green apple pastille, lime peel and lemon grass spices. Medium bodied with bright glassy acids but also a wonderfully harmonious textural balance, this is a serious offering for more serious Sauvignon Blanc connoisseurs that celebrates the diversity of premium cool climate coastal maritime styles. Drink on release or cellar for 6 to 8+ years.

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

La Motte Franschhoek Chardonnay 2019, WO Franschhoek, 13.4% Abv.

2.2 g/l RS | 6.0 g/l TA | 3.37 pH

While many of Franschhoek’s top wines are produced from grapes sourced from all over the Cape, this Chardonnay is made from fruit grown on the La Motte farm in Franschhoek from vineyards located at 200 metres above sea-level on south and southwestern facing slopes. The vineyard soils are mostly sandstone and granite in origin with the oldest blocks planted in 1997. For the 2019 Chardonnay, 100% the grapes were whole bunch pressed with 66% fermented in 300 litre French oak barrels with malo and 33% in stainless steel without malolactic fermentation. Post ferment, the wines saw regular lees stirring while ageing 12 months in 25% new French oak. After ageing, the wines were blended and bottled in May 2020.

The aromatics on this 2019 Chardonnay boast luxurious zesty notes of tangerine peel, pressed oranges and fragrant citrus blossom together with notes of vanilla pod spice, dried pistachio nuts and lemon butterscotch. The palate is round, creamy and harmonious with a fine textural balance of tangy orange and yellow citrus fruits, succulent white peach and green apple pastille. There is a lovely finesse and fine-tuned elegance to the wine that shows impressive persistence of flavour and a complex leesy, savoury lemon bon bon finish. Enjoy this ‘ready-to-go’ Chardonnay now and over the next 2 to 3+ years.

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

La Motte Cabernet Sauvignon 2018, WO Western Cape, 13% Abv.

3.2 g/l RS | 6 g/l TA | 3.39 pH

The grapes for this 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon are sourced from two regions including 67% from Stellenbosch and 33% from Franschhoek. 2018 was of course the fourth in a series of drought vintages and resulted in a small, concentrated crop of grapes -15% down on 2017 or the lowest crop in a decade and a half. The Stellenbosch portion of fruit was machine harvested before being transported to the La Motte cellar in Franschhoek while the Franschhoek grapes were hand harvested. All grape batches were fermented separately in stainless steel before being aged for 16 months in 300 litre French oak barrels, 33% new, 33% second fill and 34% older barrels. After blending, the wine was bottled in November 2019. 84,000 bottles were produced.

This Cabernet Sauvignon displays classical aromatics of saline cassis, sweet cedar spice, dried mint leaf, iodine, seashore kelp and subtle hints of graphite, iron and blood. Youthfully piquant but also lush on the palate, like a true 2018 Cabernet, this wine takes a little bit of time to open its shoulders before revealing its full potential. The palate shows an attractive opulence and a fleshy, creamy black cocoa powder complexity with notes of tart black currant, black cherry, crunchy sour plum and a long, mouth-watering finish marked by wonderfully subtle integrated oak spice characters and a delicate kiss of salty liquorice. Ample minerality and more than sufficient structure suggest you can drink this now with a short decant or else cellar for at least 5 to 8+ years.

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

La Motte Syrah 2017, WO Franschhoek, 13.69% abv.

2.3 g/l RS | 5.6 g/l TA | 3.44 pH

The Syrah grapes for this wine are all sourced from the La Motte Wine Estate in Franschhoek from vines that are between 10 and 30 years old, situated on varying sandstone and granitic soils at between 200 and 300 metres altitude. While 2017 was the third of the drought vintages in the Cape, it also managed to somehow deliver the raw materials to make some of the greatest red wines ever seen in the Cape. Following a lower than average rainfall in the preceding winter, flowering and fruit set conditions were favourable and followed by a long, dry ripening season with cool nights and a distinct lack of heat waves resulting in very healthy grapes with excellent concentration. For this Syrah, the grapes were 100% destemmed and the whole berries fermented in stainless steel tanks. The finished wine was matured in 300 litre French oak barrels for 14 months, 30% of which were new. Unusually, to add some extra colour to the wine, a 15% portion of Durif (Petit Syrah) was added to the blend. It seems the phenomenally successful 2017 vintage was equally as generous to the quality of premium Syrah wines as it was to top Cabernet Sauvignon and Cape Bordeaux Blends that have lit up critical wine ratings globally.

This is an attractive wine that reveals a wonderfully seductive, generous and elegant expression of Franschhoek Syrah. Dense, dark and opaque, though some of this might be due to a little extra Petit Syrah turbo charging, the aromatics show perfumed notes of earthy lily flowers, black plum, salty black liquorice, black olive tapenade and bruleed Christmas pudding nuances. Complex and layered, there is a sleek meaty, savoury stratum with sweet peppercorn nuances and hints of molasses spice. For all the ripeness, the palate lacks no freshness and is brimming with blue berry and black currant fruits buffered by a subtle chalky mineral tannin and a cool, long oregano and thyme-tinged dried herb finish. A serious effort for the money.

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

La Motte The Pierneef Collection Syrah 2017, WO Western Cape, 13.8% Abv.

2.8 g/l RS | 6.0 g/l TA | 3.46 pH

Though not part of the ultra-premium range from La Motte, this wine still has got to be one of the estate’s most impressive quality red offerings. The fruit for this blend originates from 90% Syrah from Elim, 5% Syrah from Walker Bay and 5% Viognier from Franschhoek. Small berries with thick skins and intense fruit flavours in 2017 made for a very serious vintage offering. Some of the Syrah batches were harvested at the same time as the Viognier, sourced in Franschhoek, in order for the grapes to be co-fermented together. After fermentation, the wine was matured for 14 months in 55% new French oak barrels after which time the components were all blended together and then returned to barrel for a further 4 months of ‘marriage’. The wine was bottled in November 2018.

Based on the classical Cote Rotie blend of red and white grapes, this really is a spectacularly well-made wine delivered with intensity, complexity and balance. The aromatics are instantaneously recognizable as being different with the extra tell-tale perfumed lift and peachy bon bon rock candy aromatics from the Viognier that melt into the dark, saline, salty liquorice and black currant fruit nuances of the intense, maritime Elim Syrah. Dark, seductive and decidedly cool and coastal in its profile, this wine sucks up the new oak portion to leave an almost imperceptible purity of tart black berry fruits with just the most subtle lick of creamy warm buttered brown toast smothered in black currant and watermelon preserve on the long finish. Cool, dense, weightlessly concentrated and texturally compact with a high degree of finesse and polish make for a real ‘wow’ wine. Drink this wine now after a good 2 hour decant or else cellar for a further 10 to 12+ years.

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

(Wines are distributed to trade in the UK by The Wine Treasury.)

Tasting Duncan Savage’s New 2020 Releases – A Cornucopia of Quality Wines…

Cornucopia: “An abundant supply of good things of a specified kind.” ~ noun /ˌkɔːnjʊˈkəʊpɪə/

If you look up the definition of the word cornucopia you may very well find Duncan Savage’s name mention in the official meaning. Indeed the current array of new releases are a celebration of subtlety, style and substance.

With more than the odd pandemic lockdown to contend with and no international travel obligations, Duncan seems to have taken the extra time on his hands to not only spend more time with his family and surfing but also in his compact Salt River urban winery fine tuning his latest vinous creations. Bold, confident, subtle, refined and precise are all words I’d use to describe the new Savage releases.

I tasted these wines in July 2020 but waited to release my scores until after the official press tastings were held in South Africa. With an end of August consumer release date, once again, followers of Savage Wines are going to have to act fast to secure some of these highly sought after wines.

Savage White Blend 2020, WO Western Cape, 14% Abv.

It’s been in the pipeline for a long time and now with the 2020 Savage white blend, Duncan Savage has returned to his roots to create a traditional blend of Sauvignon Blanc (76%) and Semillon (24%) with all minority portions of either Chenin Blanc or Clairette Blanche now removed. Sourced from trellised and bush vine vineyards across the Western Cape, the grapes were whole bunch pressed before undergoing spontaneous wild fermentation. With the high Sauvignon Blanc component, the aromatics show a pronounced spicy, herby, savoury tinged array of waxy green apples, white citrus, clementine, honied chamomile and root fennel with subtle hints of dried fynbos and lanolin. The palate is masterfully rich and broad, coating all corners of the palate with intense, crystalline notes of spicy yellow grapefruit, freshly squeezed tangerines and white peach cordial notes. The acids are intense but wonderfully tangy adding to a real sense of textural harmony and mineral complexity. A very complete wine that races out the blocks and will undoubtedly give plenty of drinking pleasure immediately on release. Drink now and over the next 4 to 6+ years.

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

Visiting Duncan’s Old Vine Chenin Blanc vineyard in Paarl

Savage Never Been Asked to Dance 2020, WO Paarl, 13.5% Abv.

The 2020 vintage releases see a very welcomed return of Duncan’s fabulous old vine Chenin Blanc sourced from a 67 year old organic dry farmed bush vine vineyard grown on decomposed granite soils. Whole bunch pressed and spontaneously fermented in neutral Stockinger 600 litre barrels, this third release screams its granitic terroir with complex aromatics dominated by notes of crushed gravel, wet grey slate, struck flint and an understated petrichor character that combines with subtle notes of peach stone, toasted almonds and lemon grass herbal nuances. Like most old vine Chenin Blanc grown on granitic soils, this terroir lends quite a severe, austere and minerally taut styling to the palate in the wine’s youth with plenty of wet river pebble stony undertones, crunchy yellow orchard fruits and refined pineapple pastille notes. The finish is dry and slightly rasping but shows great persistence and intensity, finishing with last ripples of dried herbs, yellow apple skins and a mouth-watering saline bite. If the 2017 and 2018 are anything to go by, this wine simply needs a few years in bottle to truly blossom, but when it does, it’s a true thing of vinous beauty. Drink from 2023 to 2034+.

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

Savage Follow the Line – Much more than just another Old Vine Cinsault.

Savage Follow the Line 2020, WO Darling, 13% Abv.

Now in its seventh vintage, the Follow the Line red from Duncan Savage has almost certainly become one of the most highly respected old vine Cinsault reds in South Africa. As always, the fruit comes from a 40-year-old dry farmed bush vine vineyard in Darling grown on decomposed granite soils. The 2020 also includes a small 9% portion of Syrah sourced from the same Darling property with 50% of the fruit fermented as whole clusters. Every vintage that passes sees Duncan fine tuning and refining this wine that always boasts an incredibly perfumed floral bouquet of violets, pressed rose petals and hints of cherry blossom that melt into pronounced notes of earthy lavender, coriander and Turkish delight. The palate is incredibly cool and suave with bright tingling cherry acids, a silky weightless concentration, crystalline wild strawberry and red cherry fruits and the most delicate lacey tannins on the finish. This is a very polished, ethereal, classy effort with so many of the Cinsault characteristics drawing an undeniable resemblance to young, premium Cotes de Beaune Pinot Noir. Approachable on release, but cellar-worthy for at least 10+ years, don’t miss this new release.

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

Savage Thief in the Night 2020, WO Piekenierskloof, 13.5% Abv.

This fabulous Grenache based blend is one of Duncan’s ongoing passion projects and now in its fourth vintage is starting to show a committed consumer following. A blend of 63% Grenache, 26% Cinsault and 11% Syrah from dry farmed bush vines grown on sandstone soils, the fruit was spontaneously co-fermented using wild yeasts employing 20% of whole clusters. This 2020 shows a delightful autumnal aromatic profile of forest undergrowth, savoury frais de bois, tilled earth, grilled Provencal herbs and subtle shades of summer garrigue. On the palate, the wine shows plenty of textural detail, fine silky caressing tannins and harmonious fresh acids. The red and black berry fruits are earthy but impressively pure and precise, finishing with notes of bramble berries, pomegranates and sappy spice. There is a real confidence to the wine and a strong sense of terroir accentuated by Duncan’s deft winemaking acumen. Rhone lovers are going to love this release. Drink now and over 6 to 8+ years.

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

Savage Are We There Yet 2020, WO Malgas, 13.5% Abv.

Always an exciting wine to taste as each new vintage release seems to get better and better from maturing 15-year-old bush vines of 50% Touriga Nacional and 50% Syrah grown on a unique river pebble on shale terroir in Malgas. While the 2019 saw 100% of the grapes destemmed, the 2020 has a 10% whole bunch portion added. The aromatics are seductively dark and alluring with exotic notes of salty black currant, blueberry, black cherry and black liquorice. Wonderfully opulent and expressive, the 2020 reveals a deliciously fleshy, creamy palate with a truly seamless texture, sweet plump velvety tannins and a long saline, maritime tinged crème de cassis finish. The 2019 was more influenced by the Syrah in the blend, lending a certain savoury Cote Rotie feel to the wine, but this 2020 is decidedly more Douro’esque in stature with deliciously opulent Touriga Nacional black and blue berry fruit characteristics dominating. The evolution of this novel Savage Malgas blend is almost complete and well worth experiencing. Drink now and over 10 to 12+ years.

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

Savage Girl Next Door 2020, WO Cape Town, 13.5% Abv.

This famous, collectable micro-vinification from one of the saltiest, wind swept 0.38 hectares of organic Syrah vines near Fishhoek in Cape Town is made from 15-year-old 5-wire trellised vines on sandy gravel soils originally planted for ornamental purposes. The 2020 vintage once again sees a 50% whole cluster portion included in the natural fermentation followed by malolactic fermentation in 600 litre neutral French oak barrels before being aged for a further year in oak barrels. Initially delicately savoury and perfumed, the aromatics are fairly restrained showing notes of lavender soap, cured bresaola, hints of blood and iron, graphite and piquant plummy black berry spice. The palate texture is incredibly elegant and fine boned showing light touch winemaking, silky soft dry powdery tannins and a smooth, cool, classical finish revealing black berry fruits, black peppercorns and a gentle maritime salinity. A very fine, supple, complete expression of Syrah that is perhaps a little more understated than previous vintages but nonetheless thoroughly delicious and enchanting. Drink now and over the next 8 to 10+ years.

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

Savage Red Blend 2019, WO Stellenbosch, 13.5% Abv.

In 2017 the Savage Proprietary Red became a pure 100% Syrah wine and from 2018, the fruit was exclusively sourced in Stellenbosch from vineyards grown on decomposed granite soils in the Polkadraai Hills from organically farmed grapes. Always released a year behind the rest of the Savage range, this 2019 is a dense, dark, potent red from a powerful, concentrated, minerally focused vintage. On the nose the aromatics are marked by intense notes of earthy red and black berry fruits, inky saline notes of black cherries, pink musk, savoury cured meat nuances, black olives and a sappy cedary wood spice complexity. With 70% of whole clusters used in the fermentation, the palate shows pronounced chalky mineral tannins but also vibrantly fresh crunchy acids from the granitic soils. Raspberries and blueberries surge to the fore on this dense, powerfully structured wine, gaining in richness and intensity as the wine slowly unfurls in the glass. Like some of the greatest expression of Syrah in Cote Rotie, this wine shows a focused prowess and concentration together with an opulent richness framed by an underlying stony minerality. A wine with undeniable focus and structure but also a surfeit of seductive charm. Drink from 2022 to 2035+.

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

Savage Not Tonight Josephine 2020, WO Piekenierskloof, 8% Abv.

First produced in 2018, needless to say, the wine was a massive commercial success and sold out incredibly quickly. To make things more complicated, no 2019 straw wine was produced. Returning in 2020, the 100% Chenin Blanc fruit was grown on rocky sandstone soils on the Piekenierskloof farm of Tierhoek. The grapes were dried for three weeks and then left for five days on its skins as whole bunches followed by foot treading. Only bottled in July 2021, the wine already shows a wonderfully pure fresh precision, a vibrant tangy acidity and fabulous drinkability. The aromatics are pure and bright with delicious layers of dried apricots drizzled in honey, mango chutney, melktart and custard filled pastries. The palate is creamy and plush, superbly balanced and elegant, neither overly sweet nor clawing with a fine creamy dried peach finesse, a mouth coating glycerol breadth and a long, pure finish with a kiss of granadilla liquor. Sweet wines of this calibre are not easy to produce making them true labours of love. If you get the opportunity to claim an allocation, grab it with both hands! Drink now to 2040+.

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

(Wines are available to UK trade clients on allocation through importer Swig Wines)

Tasting the Tantalising New Releases from Jessica Saurwein – Part 2: Om Pinot Noir 2020…

The third wine in Jessica Saurwein’s impressive range after her Elgin Chi Riesling and Nom Pinot Noir from WO Elandskloof is her Om Pinot Noir made from fruit grown in the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge in Walker Bay, Hermanus.

Sourced from a dryland grown vineyard situated just 12 kilometres from the sea which lies at 300 metres above sea-level, the soils are granitic in origin with a significant portion of clay. The Burgundian Pinot Noir clones planted in 2006 are 115 and 667.

The grapes were hand-picked and cold soaked prior to fermentation which began spontaneously with natural yeasts. Post fermentation, the wine spent 10 months in a combination of new and older 228 litre French oak barrels.

The new home of Saurwein Wines at Waterval farm in Stanford, Walker Bay.

As if two new stellar Pinot Noir releases wasn’t enough, Saurwein Wines has now found a exciting new home at Waterval farm in Stanford. Jessica and family recently moved to the farm and will embark on a regenerative agricultural farming venture including the establishment of a small vineyard over the next year or two.

Saurwein Om Pinot Noir 2020, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, 13.5% Abv.

While the Saurwein Nom and Om cuvees exhibit similar youthful foresty aromatics of savoury red and black berry fruits, bramble berry spice and a roasted cashew nut complexity, it’s on the palate that the real brilliance of the Om cuvee is revealed. Utterly vivacious and vibrant, refreshingly tart and fresh, boasting notes of cranberry, red cherries, pomegranates and blood oranges with a beguiling stony mineral tannin seam running through the wine. The wine finishes with hints of espresso, exotic sweet baking spices and a supremely sleek harmonious length. This is a class act, both sophisticated and seamlessly balanced. A new benchmark for Jessica. Bravo! Drink now and over 10-15 years.

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

Tasting a Sonoma Chardonnay Classic from Three Sticks Durell Vineyard 2018…

So lockdowns and travel bans have been an absolute bore but with the UK now learning to “live with Covid” with a vaccinated population… we are seeing the American wine producers starting to return to our shores for tastings and wine promotion. Today I had my first taste of the new (to the UK at least) Three Sticks Durell Vineyard Chardonnay 2018 that originally impressed me greatly when I tasted the 2016 vintage in September 2019.

Owned by proprietor William S. Price III, the Durell Vineyard forms part of this producers flagship vineyard holdings and has been the source of some iconic Sonoma Chardonnay for several decades. Grown on rocky ancient river bed and red volcanic clay soils, this vineyard site has been recognised for its ability to produce exceptional Chardonnay grapes that show wonderful fruit intensity along with impressive harmony while simultaneously expressing the minerality inherent in this site’s terroir.

Three Sticks Durell Vineyard Chardonnay 2018, Sonoma Coast, 14.1 Abv.

A pitch perfect vintage, the 2018 Chardonnay from this prestigious vineyard shows a lot of grace and cool climate subtlety with expressive aromatics of leesy lemon cream biscuits, yellow grapefruit preserve on warm white toast and delicate brioche and vanilla pod nuances. Creamy and full in the front of the palate, this slowly delivers a vibrant refreshing acidity that lifts the toasty yellow lemon peel citrus fruits and accentuates the creamy quince and honey characters before finishing with a final flourish of caramelized roasted cashew nuts and a dusting of vanilla pod spice. Simply lovely harmony and balance. Drink now and over the next 5 to 8 years.

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

Tasting the Tantalising New Releases from Jessica Saurwein – Part 1: Nom Pinot Noir 2020…

If you don’t know Jessica Saurwein and her delicious fine wines, let me introduce you to ex-model, super mum and more latterly a high-flying winemaker with an incredibly deft touch. Now in her 6th year of winemaking under her own brand Saurwein, the 2020 vintage sees some of her most accomplished and seductive releases yet. In December 2020 I reviewed her stunning new release 2020 Riesling (93+/100 GSMW) and now, just ahead of international “Drink Pinot Noir Day”, I get the chance to assess her latest red creations – the Nom Pinot Noir 2020 from WO Elandskloof (think Kaaimansgat / Villiersdorp etc) and also the Om Pinot Noir 2020 from the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge.

Made from vines grown on shale soils in the Elandskloof Valley near Villiersdorp, the vineyards lie at 700 metres above sea-level and are surrounded by towering mountains making this terroir ideal for cooler climate varieties like Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The Nom Pinot Noir features classic Burgundian clones 115, 667 and 777 from a vineyard planted in 2008. We all know about the dry 2018 vintage and the cooler, more classical 2019 vintage, but 2020 was a year with ideal ripening conditions. Wind during fruit set led to a reduced crop of smaller berries and thus wonderfully intense musts with medium tannins and vibrantly fresh acids.

Jessica at the new home of Saurwein Wines in Stanford

The grapes were hand-picked and cold soaked prior to fermentation which began spontaneously with natural yeasts. Post fermentation, the wine spent 10 months in a combination of new and older 228 litre French oak barrels.

As if two new stellar Pinot Noir releases wasn’t enough, Saurwein Wines has now found a exciting new home at Waterval farm in Stanford. Jessica and family recently moved to the farm and will embark on a regenerative agricultural farming venture including the establishment of a small vineyard over the next year or two. I can’t wait to visit Jessica and Roland at their new home in the near future.

Saurwein Nom Pinot Noir 2020, WO Elandskloof, 14.5% Abv.

The 2020 Pinot Noir shows an abundance of depth and intensity with aromatics brimming with notes of savoury red cherry, red currant, sappy freshly cut hedgerow and earthy, bramble berry spice nuances. The oak is incredibly well integrated and plays very much a minor backing track support role. On the palate, the wine is medium bodied but dense, wonderfully intense yet simultaneously weightless, fleshy and powerful with delicious savoury red and black berry fruits, ripe sun raisined sloe berries, roasted nuts, hints of wild strawberry and a full, opulent mouth coating finish with finely poised tannins and delightfully balanced acids. Another very detailed, opulent, savoury expression of Pinot Noir from the Cape. Drink this on release and over the next 8 to 10 years.

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

Reviewing The New Release Thelema Cabernet Sauvignon 2018…

Always one of the more notable single varietal Cabernet Sauvignon releases of the year, this 2018 vintage from Thelema Mountain Vineyards is certainly a wine that is going to appeal to collectors of premium Stellenbosch Cabernet. With some of the most exceptional terroir in the Western Cape, Thelema have rightly resurrected and restored their premier league standing as one of the most sought after and age worthy wine producers in the Cape, a position they held throughout the 1990s and early 2000s.

This 100% Cabernet Sauvignon is produced from three clones of Cabernet, namely 46c, 169A and 338c which were planted at 2,000 to 2,300 vines per hectare in 2002, 2003 and 2008 on decomposed granitic Hutton soils. 2018 was a warm dry vintage with a late start resulting in a smaller crop yield of well structured, intense grapes. All fruit was destemmed, crushed and pumped into stainless steel tanks and saw two aerated pump-overs per day during fermentation before being racked into barrels for malolactic fermentation and an additional 18 months of ageing in French oak barrels, 40% of which were new.

A lot of consumers have stocked up their cellars with a good proportion of wines from the 2015 and 2017 vintages and quite rightfully so. These were probably the two greatest vintages modern-era winemaking has ever seen in South Africa. But I would caution consumers on tucking into these two great vintages too early in the same way many European consumers did with the opulent and seductive 2009 and 2010 Bordeaux reds. Indeed, they were very hard to resist such was their immediate overt appeal. My advice would be to buy into the 2018s and 2019s that are being released in South Africa at the moment to allow the more coveted 2015s and 2017s to be savoured on more special occasions in the future.

Thelema Mountain Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2018, WO Stellenbosch, 13.83% Abv.

2.1g/l RS | 3.48pH | 5.7g/l TA

On opening the 2018 Thelema Cabernet Sauvignon, it is clear to see that this is a cooler, leaner vintage style. The aromatics are about as classic as you’ll find for premium Stellenbosch Cabernet with an initially high toned exuberance of pressed violets, tilled earth, iodine, kelp, black currant together with very well integrated notes of sweet sandal wood, cedar spice with the obligatory broody baritone graphite nuances never far away. On the palate the wine begins with a steely textural sternness with plenty of tightly wound spring tension, saline cassis, black berry and bright crunchy acids. Allowed to breath for 5 to 6 hours, this serious wine starts to shed some of its linearity to gain extra palate layers of sweet fleshy black berry fruits, complex spicy tannins and a long dark chocolate and black currant finish. Cellar this classic vintage for ideally 2-3+ years more before revisiting and drink comfortably over the next 10-15 years.

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