Majesty and Power with Sublime Beauty – Tasting the Monumental New Thelema Rabelais 2015 Red Blend…

Starting life out as the prestigious Thelema Cape Winemakers Guild blend, this famous South African red wine changed to the Rabelais label with the 2007 vintage, being produced originally from only Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. From 2009, Petit Verdot started to replace the Merlot portion and now the blend appears fairly settled at approximately a 90% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Petit Verdot mix.

 

With most 2015s already long since released, there can’t be more than a handful of epic Cape icon reds from the 2015 vintage that have not yet been proposed to the market. The iconic Kanonkop Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 is one such wine but undoubtedly, others will emerge. But what they don’t all have is a rock solid track record and of course a historical producer prestige worthy of the finest global collector. They just don’t come much more famous than Thelema, and without doubt, I can see this wine reigniting the engines of passion and collectability for this winery yet again on a global scale.

 

Thelema Rabelais 2015, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5 Abv.

What must surely be among the last of the great renowned 2015 Cape reds to be released, the Rabelais 2015 Bordeaux blend is an epic rendition of this classic Cape wine. Supremely dark, dense and almost overwhelming, this wine speaks loudly, boldly but also incredibly intelligently and at no point courts excess or any extremes of style. The nose is fantastically deep, dark and intense with hints of campfire ember smoke, black currant pastille allure, maritime salinity and a subtle note of freshly cut hedgerow. There is an oak imprint, but finer and more integrated at this “youthful” age it couldn’t be with the vanilla pod spice melting into seductive notes of cedar, cassis, graphite, granitic minerality and stony quarry dust tannins. I loved the 2013 expression of this wine and in preparation for this rating retasted the majestic Rabelais 2014 for added perspective. In the end, it is as clear as day that the Thelema Rabelais 2015 not only represents a benchmark of quality within their range but also a high point of hedonistic, compact opulence that may not be repeated at this level for a decade or more. A reassuringly bold, restrained, classical 2015 that will undoubtedly serve to move the market for this great vintage ever upward in desire and demand. Drink from 2021 to 2042+

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

 

Jean-Luc Jamet Raising the White Flag -Tasting His Couzou Cotes du Rhone Blanc 2016…

I have been following the resurgence of Jean-Luc Jamet with great interest over the past 2 or 3 vintages. Afterall, the Côte-Rôties of the greater Jamet family have long been regarded as the benchmark wines of the region within the Northern Rhone. In 2013, brothers Jean-Luc and Jean-Paul announced that they would be splitting up the family’s domaine.

For many years, Jean-Paul was the face of the domaine and Jean-Luc was the steady hand in the vineyards. Jean-Luc has now stepped out of the proverbial shadows and returned to the fine wine arena with a resounding winemaking bang. His Les Terrasses Cote Rotie 2015 is a sensational expression and his basic Vin de Pays La Valine Syrah 2014 also an absolute beauty and better than most producers top Cotes du Rhone reds.

Jean-Luc also makes some fabulous mineral whites and among my first introductions was drinking a bottle of his Cotes du Rhone Blanc 2013 with Jamie Goode, the renowned wine journalist. I remember him commenting on not only it’s seriously stony, austere minerality but also it’s almost Chablis-like freshness and restraint. Having just tasted my first ever Jean-Paul & Corinne Jamet Cotes du Rhone Blanc recently, I was keen to put this Jean-Luc Jamet 2016 white through its paces to compare and contrast.

Jean-Luc Jamet Couzou Cotes du Rhone Blanc 2016, 14 Abv.

A blend of Marsanne, Roussanne and Viognier grapes from vines grown on Granitic Argileux soils. The wine has a beautifully rich straw yellow colour while the aromatics of this cuvee are more restrained and tantalisingly austere with intense notes of cut lemon, stony gravel, wet stones, chalk tuffa and subtle petrichor notes. The well integrated struck match reduction notes connect the nose intricately to the palate which is build around intense mineral laden complexity, white peach stone fruits, ginger spice and a sappy tangerine peel pith. An intense, complex, sophisticated white Rhone expression with well judged acidity freshness, salinity and incredibly well managed reductive complexity. You can enjoy this now but it will undoubtedly get better with another year or two of ageing. A cracking white for Jamet junkies.

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

One Of The Most Exciting Talents Since Eben Sadie Hit The Wine Scene – Tasting Sakkie Mouton’s Revenge Of The Crayfish Chenin Blanc 2018…

I am very fortunate to have the opportunity to taste some of the world’s greatest wines on a daily basis. Occasionally I even get to sit down with some of these talented winemakers of said wines and drink a few bottle in a relaxed convivial environment. Which is why I often try and visit the premier winemaking college Elsenburg to share my experiences with the highly talented resident students. You just never know where and when these young stars are going to surface in the future landscape of the global wine industry.

Well, one of these ex-students has indeed just risen from the frothy surf of the commercial winemaking world of Stellenbosch. Hailing from Vredendal originally, Sakkie Mouton was born and bred up the west coast and went to school locally there before moving to Elsenburg college to study winemaking. Now aged 27, Sakkie graduated from Elsenburg in 2014. 

Sakkie Mouton, an exceptional raw young talent! The label gets its name from Sakkie’s passion for west coast crayfish diving.

While working at the Muratie winery for the past few years, Sakkie has become obsessed with making his own wines sourced from vineyards near his homelands of Vredendal. Finally his vision and dreams have met reality after making his maiden release white wine… which for me is one of the most profound Chenin Blancs produced in South Africa since Eben Sadie conjured up Skurfberg and Skerpioen in his old vine series.

Sourced from a single block from a grower based in Koekenaap, a small hamlet 20 to 25 kilometres north west of Vredendal up the west coast, the vines are already around 12 years old and just starting to come into their prime.

This single block was picked at 22 balling in order to show a clean, fresh, natural acidity with the grapes being destalked and destemmed before fermentation in barrel with natural yeasts for approximately three weeks. There was no skin contact. Post ferment, there was no racking and the wines were left on their gross lees for eight months with some batonage for the first two weeks. If there was any chance of reduction during fermentation, they performed a delistage into a fibreglass vats before returning the wine to barrel with its lees.

The wine was bottled directly from gross lees in barrel with only a 30 micron rough filtration. There was no cold or protein stabilisation. Bottled on the 10th November 2018. Only 370 bottles were produced.

Sakkie Mouton Family Wines, Revenge of the Crayfish 2018, WO Western Cape, 13.5 Abv.

Tasted initially from both a Burgundy bowl glass and a white Chablis style Riedel, the aromatics are markedly different as I expected but are fascinating nevertheless. The Burgundy Montrachet-style bowl emphasises the lifted primary fruit notes of green melon, waxy green apples and crunchy green quince. But it is only in the Chablis-style small bowl glass where the true depth and mineral focus is revealed. Wow, the tart yellow bruised orchard fruits notes are firmly grounded by the most incredible granitic minerality, wet river pebble umami nuances and a sublime crystalline purity that really starts to speak boldly on the palate. With impressive energy and tart vibrant acids, one is so captivated by the intensity of saline green apple, tart yellow plum, fynbos spice and again, more and more wet slate and river pebble minerality. A fascinating wine that is incredibly precise, you would be wrong to think this expression is just all about freshness and minerality because the textural glycerol weight of fruit speaks volumes about the precise wine making, the superb fruit quality and the intelligent and passionate winemaking behind this cuvée. If quality like this can be repeated, future greatness and fame seems very close within reach for young Sakkie. Drink from 2020 to 2040+

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

“Probably the most exciting new comer to the South African wine scene that I have tasted since Eben Sadie, Donovan Rall and Duncan Savage!” ~ Ian Naude, winemaker and owner at Naude Family Wines.

The Dawn of a New Vintage – Tasting the Component Parts of the 2017 Vintage Port With Dirk Niepoort…

After selective Port house vintage declarations in 2015 including Niepoort and Quinta do Noval, Niepoort then decided not to declare a 2016 Vintage Port when most others did, as the quality of the provisional 2017 vintage component parts were considered some of the highest quality wines Dirk had ever seen, showing similarities in style to his excellent 2015 and possibly even surpassing 2015’s exceptional final quality. 

It seems to me, after tasting almost all the 2015 single Quinta Vintage Ports as well as all the 2016 Vintage Ports, that some houses got themselves into a bit of a muddle. In the end, the 2015s appear to have turned out better than most expected and then of course the pressure was automatically on to declare the ripe 2016s. The problem remained that most producers had by then already realised that 2017 was going to be a small but exceptional vintage, creating the unusual dilemma of whether or not to break the unspoken Oporto rule of never declaring two consecutive vintages in a row.

Today, in early April, the declarations for 2017 Vintage Port started and later this week, I will taste the final completed bottled expression of the Niepoort Vintage 2017 Port with Dirk Niepoort. According to Dirk, 2017 was a great year in all aspects, with the harvest promising perfection and the weather during the harvest helping to achieve this. Up until this point, 2015 was considered the best Vintage Port he’d made. 2017 follows in the same vein as the 2015, but with a touch more perfection according to Dirk … 

“It is possibly our finest Vintage Port since 1945. This is a Port that is concentrated and intense with beauty and perfection shining through. Perfect tannins with a fruit component that is austere, precise and alive. The spirit is perfectly integrated, and the resulting finish is long, seductive and persistent. All its components are wonderfully balanced, a veritable orchestra in harmony. A fatal attraction with an insane potential for ageing, yet unbelievably perfect in its youth. This 2017 Vintage Port is unquestionably a King of Ports.”

The 2017 Vintage

2017 will be remembered for the intense heat and record low levels of rainfall. In-spite of the dry weather, flowering and bud burst developed under good conditions and in August and September the high temperatures during the day and cold nights allowed an even and gradual ripening. The decision to start harvesting early, at the perfect moment of ripeness, allowed grapes to be received in ideal conditions with fantastic natural acidity. Harvest at the Vale de Mendiz winery, began on 24th of August under perfect weather conditions, with musts displaying an intense colour and a powerful character. The last grapes were harvested on 26th of September. The yields were approximately 30% down on a normal year essentially due to dehydration.

I look forward to seeing Dirk Niepoort again soon when he launches his newest creation. But as the perfect entrée, I have typed up my tasting notes from the fascinating masterclass he presented in London in May 2018, where he presented eight individual 2017 Vintage Port blend components taken from barrel, alongside a his final “indicative blend”. 

A Snapshot of the 2017 Niepoort Vintage Port In Component Parts: 1 to 8

Component parts 1 all came from very old vines, the majority over 100 years old, with component parts 2 also coming from very old vines from between 80 and 100 years old. Both wines deliver incredible intensity and concentration adding real gravitas and length to the blend. Blend component 3 showed fine harmony and balance while component 4 came from the Pisca vineyard and was fortified with organic spirit. As is often the case with the Pisca wines, there was a youthful aroma of bananas before melting away into sweet black berry fruits. Ripe and very concentrated, “it tastes like where it comes from so you need to use it in moderation” according to Dirk. This cuvee also showed a very fine tannin structure indeed. Component 5 was a little more vinous in weight, lighter and shorter as a wine acting to help lift the concentration of all the other component parts coming from 100% Souzao fruit. A superb blending component at 2-3% normally. Component 6 was cooler and earlier picked from the Charmes vineyard, with some of the juice going into the Niepoort Charmes unfortified red wine with the remainder being worked harder and going into the Port blend. Component 7 was rich, opulent, grippy and gravelly with savoury tannins that added a whole extra dimension to the wine. Component 8 was from a small parcel made by a small grower producing fruit and wines in a very individual style, allowing 10% to make the final preliminary blend. 

Preliminary Niepoort Vintage Port 2017 Indicative Blend – (Barrel sample taken in May 2018)

Dense, long and profound with great precision, tannins and fruit power that you can savour and chew with an incredibly long finish. So many aromatic layers of graphite, sweet black berry, mulberry and nuances of blueberry preserve. Suave and elegant yet utterly imposing, powerful and masculine, very well honed and chiselled. Creamy, powerful, with powdery mineral grippy tannins, showing such fresh vibrant acid perfection, textural seamlessness and sublime harmony. Pronounced classical bramble berry fruit profile loaded with hedgerow spice, incredible intensity and precision and a very long, block-buster finish that goes on and on and on! Classy benchmark Port, this really is an inspired creation. 

(Wine Safari Score: 97-99+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Reverie Chenin Blanc 2016 – A Masterful Skin Contact White Creation From Jacques de Klerk…

I think I first met Jacques de Klerk of The Winery of Good Hope a few years ago at a ‘very liquid’ casual fine wine dinner in Stellenbosch organised by Ryan Mostert and Samantha Suddons of Silvervis / Terracura fame. While I’m quite familiar with the Radford Dale wines, Jacques’s own pet side project, the Reverie skin contact Chenin Blanc, was a new one for me.

I recently enjoyed another bottle of the 2016 in London. Sourced from an old vine Chenin Blanc vineyard in the Swartland, this wine is made in a savoury oxidative style with several days skin contact before being aged for over a year in older oak. With the 2017 vintage already released and en route to Europe, grab the last few bottles of this exceptional 2016 if you can find it. This really was a superb vintage in South Africa specifically for older vine Chenin Blanc.

Jacques de Klerk Reverie Chenin Blanc 2016, WO Swartland, 11 Abv.

Rich and spicy, pithy and candied with an incredible lemon sherbet zing, enchanting white citrus, lime cordial and grapefruit length. The aromatics show the spicy lift of skin contact but it melts harmoniously into a grassy, fynbos and granitic complexity. Taut, concentrated and fresh but certainly does not lack any weight or archetypal Chenin Blanc punch despite the impressively low alcohol level. A very intelligently made wine that is very true to its Chenin Blanc roots in the Swartland but also displays its characterful eccentricities proudly.

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

It’s Evolution Versus Revolution at Tesselaarsdal – Tasting the Third Release of their Elegant Pinot Noir…

The brand that is Tesselaarsdal was established in 2015 by long time employee Berene Sauls who started at Hamilton Russell as an au pair originally. With higher vinous aspirations and then valiant  support financially and emotionally from Anthony and Olive Hamilton Russell, Berene was cast adrift to fend for herself in the wide world of fine wine after her first release in 2015. Proudly, one of my claims to fame is that I was the first to taste the maiden release 2015 in January 2016 at breakfast, as you do in the trade, at Hamilton Russell when I was invited over to be the panel chair and guest speaker for the Hemel-en-Aarde Pinot Noir Celebration 2016.

As delicious as it was, the 2015 now starts to pale into insignificance along side newer releases like the 2017 and 2018 vintages. With the 2018 about to land in the UK, I took an opportunity to reacquaint myself with the 2017 that has had a nice amount of time to settle in storage.

Tesselaarsdal Pinot Noir 2017, Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, 13.5 Abv.

A winemaking collaboration hand in hand with Emul Ross, the winemaker at Hamilton Russell, Tesselaarsdal 2017 is made from fruit 100% sourced from a vineyard leased from La Vierge in the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge from totally unirrigated vineyards. A style of wine that always shows a little bit of sulky reduction early in its evolution, the 2017 seems to have blow most of this off and now starts to up the ante with notes of wild fraises de bois, red bramble berry fruits, freshly cut hedgerow and an interesting melange of sappy red berry fruits, limestone minerality and dried herb spice. On the palate there is a real luminescent brightness, crisp freshness, salinity, and purity of crunchy red berry fruits. Tannins are soft and supple, very elegant as you would expect from the sultry 2017 vintage in Hemel-en-Aarde making the wine very friendly, accessible and opulent already. Ultimately, what I love about this wine is its completeness, its textural harmony, its fruit intensity and of course its saline bite. Only the third vintage, this remains one of my favourite Pinot Noirs produced in South Africa.

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

Great Wines Are Born Through Innovation and Experimentation and Few New World Wines Illustrate This Better Than The Jem From Waterford Estate…

Named after Waterford Estate’s owner, Jeremy Ord, or Jem as he is known, this is a red blend that has often seduced but also confounded critics over the years in equal measure since its first release in 2004. Indeed visitors to Waterford Estate often wonder if the different varietals that go into The Jem are aged separately. “They aren’t,” says winemaker Mark Le Roux.

A slightly exotic blend in the South African context, shortly after undergoing malolactic fermentation, about 20 different batches of the eight various varietals are meticulously blended to make up The Jem. “This is done to give the wine the maximum amount of time to integrate and bond” says Mark.

It is certainly a wine I have grappled with over the years and is perhaps one I have often failed to fully understand. So when in doubt, crack another bottle and explore further is what they say! With noticeable style changes occurring under Mark Le Roux’s watch towards greater elegance and freshness with real changes really being effected over the past 3 to 5 years, it certainly was time to open and reflect on the contents of a bottle of the newest release – The Jem 2014.

 

Waterford The Jem Red Blend 2014, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5 Abv.

Made from a warm, moderate growing season, 2014 as a vintage is best remembered as the last normal year before four drought seasons. The 2014 Jem blend is made up of 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Shiraz, 14% Cabernet Franc, 6% Petit Verdot, 6% Merlot, 4% Mourvedre, 3% Sangiovese and 2% Barbera. According to winemaker Mark Le Roux, the Jem is based on both red and black berry fruits with spicy aromatic tones and a polished, textured mouthfeel. The nose does indeed reveal opulent layers of fruit and spice with pronounced notes of oregano, thyme and dusty stony minerality. It certainly invokes notes of high octane wine making that thrives on the exotic. This wine could so easily be another Bordeaux blend based around Cabernet Sauvignon and it would no doubt excel under the watchful eye of Mark Le Roux. But there is a higher striving involved with this wine and since its inception, it has never embraced the establishment but rather courted the esoteric. It is on the palate that the idiosyncratic blend components reveal themselves, showing spicy black olive, red cherry spice, red peppercorns and red currant bramble berry fruits that buffer a darker, denser core of earthy black currant and saline cassis depth. In the past, this wine was perhaps a little too big and bold for me but now with the more recent vintages I can see the evolving tannin elegance, the textured nuances, interwoven acidity and exotic herbal Italianesque spices that set this icon wine apart from its competitors. If you like bold, modern, adventurous red wines, I suggest you crack a couple of these with your Sunday roast beef. Satisfaction is guaranteed. Drink now to 2034+

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