Pepite is a delicious new natural wine produced by Anna Maria Cruciata and Hugh Maxwell, owners of the dynamic, quality focused Val di Toro estate in the Maremma that lies between Grosseto and Scansano. This is their first foray into the natural wine category with Pepite being produced with absolutely nothing added to the fermenting must or the finished wine which is made from 100% skin contact Vermentino.
The harvest for the Pepite Vermentino was done in two stages with the first phase occurring at the beginning of September 2019 when a small quantity of grapes were collected by hand and transported to the winery. These were used to prepare the ‘pied de cuvee’, utilizing the whole bunches and pressing them manually into a small vat. After about three days, once the juice had started fermenting naturally with its own yeasts, it was used to inoculate the other grapes which had been collected in the meantime, destemmed, pressed and placed into a steel vat.
After five days the grapes were pressed and during the first few days of fermentation several pump downs were performed. Five days into fermentation and the cap raised, settling occurred, followed by racking and the pressing of the must. The fermentation was concluded in stainless steel vats. Several more racking operations were carried out in the following weeks while the Pepite was ageing for five months in steel vats. Bottling occurred at the end of January 2020 without any filtration or additions of sulphur.
Val di Toro Pepite Vermentino Biologico 2019, IGT Costa Toscana, 12.5 Abv.
A truly wonderful skin contact white expression that combines pin point precision, wound spring tension and purity. Super linear and focused with a fine taut freshness laced with a lemon iced tea complexity, ginger biscuits, wild herbs, apple purée and crunchy white peach nuances. The intensity on the palate is pithy and slightly grippy with subtle hints of skin contact phenolics, green tea, walnuts, a stony liquid minerality and a long, cool, peachy, delicately saline fresh finish. Effortlessly drinkable, totally moreish, this is the type of wine you’ll need to buy multiple bottles of because they will disappear so quickly! A great characterful new wine from the Val di Toro team of Anna Maria and Hugh. Drink now and over the next 2 to 3 years.
With Covid-19 making a traditional tasting of the new Single Quintas Vintage Ports from the Symington Family Estates impossible in London, we fell back on the services of Zoom to listen to the facinating story of the 2018 vintage from Johnny Symington, group Chairman and Joint Managing Director and Harry Symington, the Symington group Communications Manager and also a 5th generation family member working with the Symington Family Estates. Cask samples were generously couriered from Portugal to allow a group of notable journalists to taste together including Port specialist Richard Mayson, Jancis Robinson and Neal Martin from Vinous.
So 2018 is another superb Single Quinta Vintage Port declaration for the Symington Family after doing the double with a classic Vintage Port declaration in 2016 and 2017. Like in 2015, another Single Quinta Vintage Port declaration year, the 2018s did not show quite enough consistency in quality across all the Douro Valley and across all their estates to merit another Vintage Port declaration. But as we alluded to over our Zoom tasting, the excellent quality of the 2015 Single Quinta Ports was often remarked upon by many consumers and journalists at the time and still today. But of course, this is the essence of the system that ensures which ever wines are released, Single Quintas or classic Vintage Port estate blends, the quality will be exceptional. The Single Quinta vintage wines do however represent excellent value for money with bottle quality that is certainly capable of outshining many other producers classic Vintage Ports.
With finished wines bottled in May, the Symingtons were pleased to launch their 2018 Single Quinta Vintage Ports. Only small quantities of these Ports were produced from six of their principal Quintas in 2018 and they selected two to release En-primeur this year – Quinta do Vesuvio and Dow’s Quinta da Senhora da Ribeira. Both are situated in the Douro Superior on opposite sides of the river, one north-facing and the other south-facing. These estates delivered unique expressions of the vintage with lifted aromas that characterise the year. The other Single Quinta Vintage Ports produced in 2018 – Graham’s Quinta dos Malvedos, Dow’s Quinta do Bomfim, Warre’s Quinta da Cavadinha and Cockburn’s Quinta dos Canais – will age in their cellars in Vila Nova de Gaia for future release.
The 2018 Single Quinta Vintage Ports are the result of a rollercoaster growing season – with a prolonged winter drought, a deluge in spring, and heat waves through the final ripening period. Despite the challenges, the 2018 wines are characterised by a well-defined acidity and marked freshness, reflecting the characteristics of specific parcels of vineyard within each estate. The star of the year was the late-maturing Touriga Franca, which excelled in this warm harvest. Yields were extremely low with just 950g per vine – 11% below the 10-year average from their vineyards – resulting in wines with stunning concentration and piercing intensity.
Quinta do Vesuvio 2018 Vintage Port
Considered to be one of the most magnificent estates in the Douro Valley, Quinta do Vesuvio is the last major property in the region to produce its Ports exclusively using the traditional method of treading in granite lagares – an unbroken tradition since the winery was built in 1827. 2018 delivered a notably more elegant Quinta do Vesuvio Vintage Port with incredible concentration on the palate, beautifully balanced by the freshness from the high-lying Touriga Nacional and Sousão. I found the wine to possess a super elegant expression while showing massive concentration. Very impressive indeed. Always a dense, powerful wine, the 2018 has a hint of extra tenderness and generosity on the palate.
Quinta da Senhora da Ribeira is one of the classic riverside Douro Quintas and has belonged to Dow’s Port since 1890. Famous for being one of the two principal estates that make up the legendary Dow’s Vintage Ports, the Quinta is also renowned for producing magnificent Single Quinta Vintage Ports. The late-ripening Touriga Franca from the south-facing ‘Pedreira’ vineyards thrived in the warm harvest in 2018. The warmer conditions in 2018 are reflected in a much riper style of Quinta da Senhora da Ribeira Vintage Port with more muscular and generous black fruit flavours. This 2018 is true to form showing the extra palate tannin grip, endless layers of broody black and blueberry fruit concentration and a spicy liquid minerality on the long, distinguished finish. Lovely.
Other wines tasted but not being released for 2020 En-primeur:
Cockburn’s Quinta dos Canais 2018 Vintage Port
Quinta dos Canais is laid out on a natural amphitheatre overlooking a pronounced bend in the Douro River. The estate has a large proportion of mature Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca which provide an essential component of Cockburn’s Vintage Ports. This 2018 Vintage Port is characterised by the estate’s signature aromas of esteva and cinnamon spice, delivered by the mature Touriga Nacional vines. With the warm final ripening period and low yields in 2018, the wine expresses a wonderful ripeness and concentration and plenty of dense meaty rich power and fragrant Touriga Nacional exoticism.
Quinta dos Malvedos has been the cornerstone of Graham’s Vintage Ports ever since it was acquired in 1890. The Quinta still contains large areas of traditional vineyard laid out on terraces supported by dry-stone walls, which face north-east, east and west, giving the estate wines a unique identity. This fabulous expression is driven by the superb Touriga Franca (50%) in the blend supported by the floral and aromatic blueberry fruited Touriga Nacional from the stone terraced vineyards which thrived in 2018, delivering the estate’s signature notes of eucalyptus and mint, a fine freshness and a lovely long and generous velvety finish with a sweet, minty, chocolately length.
(Wine Safari Score: 94-96+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Dow’s Quinta do Bomfim 2018 Vintage Port
One of the finest Douro estates, Quinta do Bomfim is at the heart of Dow’s, providing the main structure for its legendary Vintage Ports since 1896. The estate is situated in the Upper Douro Valley with schist slopes arranged in vineyard terraces, which have yielded Dow’s most memorable wines for over a century. The sister estate of Senorha, the south-facing vineyards give fine even ripening with excellent ripeness. This wine shows plenty of muscle and power, spicy tannins and freshly cut hedgerow sapidity supported by notable freshness, sweet cassis and blackberry fruit and prominent palate texture and definition. Focused, powerful and very long. Plenty of the Dow ‘dark horse’ broody character.
Quinta da Cavadinha is the foundation of Warre’s Vintage Ports. A considerable proportion of the estate is made up of old, mixed vineyards, some of which are over half a century old. Yields are rarely above 1kg/vine and these grapes provide superb complexity and structure to the wines. The estate’s east-facing and high-lying vineyards played an important role in balancing the wines from 2018, with a well-defined acidity. The 440 metre altitude vineyards are always some of the last to be harvested with its wonderful mixed plantings of old vines. Notable elegance and freshness, purity and finesse with the most wonderful perfumed and complex ethereal aromatics of violets and lavendar. Extraordinary balance and harmony but also reveals an atypical exoticism and late season long hang time ripeness and complexity from the east facing vineyards.
Much contemplation and thought goes into not only reviewing such iconic new releases such as the Kanonkop Paul Sauer but also in deciding what the best tone of the opening overture should be. This year, my job has been done for me by the Drinks International Magazine and Wine Intelligence after they recently revealed that the Kanonkop Estate was listed among The World’s 50 Most Admired Wine Brands chosen by Drinks International’s academy of global drinks buyers and wine experts, including professionals from 48 different countries.
Here, Drinks International editor Martin Green explained the relevance and the prestige: “There are thousands of wineries vying for attention on a global basis, but just 50 elite brands have made the cut. To win a place on this prestigious list is a tremendous achievement, as there are a number of fantastic producers that missed out.” So I think we can all agree that this is a massive achievement. To have one’s hard work recognized locally is a fantastic honour. But to get this recognition bestowed by ones global peers must surely rank as the ultimate badge of success.
Reviewing the 2017 Paul Sauer was made so much harder after the 2015 was lauded with such high praise across the international wine media and also cracked the first 100/100 point rating for any new release South African wine from one critic. (The Fine Wine Safari rated the 2015 Paul Sauer 98+/100 pre-release on 8th June 2018).
However, in my mind, even more significant than this top honour was the way in which both winemaker Abrie Beeslaar and the overall Kanonkop Estate team went about their business in creating another iconic Paul Sauer release in 2016, a super hot, dry, difficult vintage in the Cape. I tasted this wine in May 2019 at the London Wine Trade Fair 2019 with owner Johann Krige and rated it a notable 95+/100. This excellent score was subsequently echoed by other international critics later in the year with a 96/100 point rating from both Neal Martin of Vinous and Tim Atkin MW.
But the 2017 vintage comes from another dry year that yielded yet again a fantastic world class expression of the Paul Sauer red blend. This legendary wine is of course named after Kanonkop’s patriarch and is a Bordeaux-style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. The depth of flavour, structure and complexity offered by these three grape varieties is accentuated by 24 months’ ageing in new French oak to create a regal wine recognised as one of the best South Africa has to offer. The first official vintage was 1981, one year after Meerlust Estate’s maiden Rubicon blend and today, approximately 7,000 cases of 6 are produced subject to the overall vintage conditions.
Kanonkop Paul Sauer 2017, WO Simonsberg-Stellenbosch, 14% Abv.
The 2017 Paul Sauer is a classic blend of 76% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Cabernet Franc and 7% Merlot from vines grown on prime Stellenbosch decomposed granite, Hutton and Clovelly soils with an average age of 30 years old. The vintage yielded a moderately low 4.5 tons per hectare or 2,750 litres per hectare, and was aged 24 months in new 225 litre French oak Nevers barrels. In my 2015 preamble, I stated that the perfect Paul Sauer blend seeks the comfort of the perfect balance between power and concentration, structure and freshness. This 2017 is undoubtedly elegance and seamless finesse personified. Possessing a deep garnet-purple colour, the aromatics are initially slightly restrained, unfurling cautiously to reveal a fabulous cornucopia of red and black summer berry fruits, black cherries, tart blue berries supported by complexing notes of crushed gravel and a vampish graphite vein. Like any truly great wine, every time you revisit your glass, yet more intricate notes assault the senses. Violets and lilac perfume, cherries immersed in black chocolate, blood and iron, freshly tilled earth and the most seductive kiss of promise from the premium French oak vanillins. The palate is exquisitely framed by fine talcum-like tannins and an invigorating acid freshness that resonates across the tongue. Once again the joyful poise and elegance of the weightless 2017 concentration and intensity confounds the senses, unfurling layer upon layer of black cherry kirsch liquor, crème de cassis and a tart, saline sea breeze freshness on the long exhilarating finish. For a wine like this, Grand Cru Classe Bordeaux is and always will be the road map region by which winemakers navigate their path to greatness. This 2017 Paul Sauer has all the subtlety and finesse, elegance and seamless balance to rival the greatest Bordeaux blends of France, while retaining its own unique South African signature imprint. Drink this wine on release to banish your curiosity but then cellar some of the rest for up to 30+ years. Undoubtedly another must have icon for collectors and drinkers alike.
David and Nadia Sadie’s assistant winemaker André Bruyns is really starting to make his own mark in the wider world of fine wine. Yes, I’m sure being referred to as ‘the assistant winemaker’ is a moniker that will eventually start to get annoying for André, but hey, there are certainly worse places to cut your winemaking teeth than working with the gentle giant David Sadie!
André wants his wines to be specific to their site and soil type with his white grapes coming from 35 year old dryland vineyards in the Paardeberg Mountain, planted mainly with Chenin Blanc. Farmed sustainably with some organic and biodynamic practices used, the granitic soils enhance the ‘liquid minerality ’ of the grapes leading to a more focused, taut, linear style of wines.
André kicked off the City on a Hill project with his fabulous 2015 white blend made from 85% Chenin Blanc, but he now also makes a 100% Chenin Blanc white using a selection of his best barrels that reflect the restraint and linearity of the unique Paardeberg style of Chenin Blanc. I recently got my hands on a bottle of the 2017 and true to form, André has produced another cracking wine! This is a great little project to watch closely!
City On A Hill Chenin Blanc 2017, WO Swartland, 12.5 Abv.
This is a fascinating expression of Chenin Blanc created by André Bruyns. It’s the liquid equivalent of an enigma wrapped in a mystery that’s wrapped in a conundrum. The aromatics show crystalline white peach and yellow citrus, early season crunchy yellow orchard fruits but also pronounced salty, briney oxidative saline sea breeze notes. Underneath it all is this profound sense of liquid granitic minerality that pervades the wine. On the palate the tug of war continues, being taut but rich, salty but peachy, stony and thoroughly citric. Delicious oxidative notes of brine and dry roasted nuts rub shoulders with crisp bright acids, yet more overt minerality and an ample fleshy Chenin palate that retains a tight, crisp tension-laden finish. Intellectually, this wine is exhausting; hedonistically, it possesses the palate excitement of an eight year old child’s birthday and Christmas rolled into one! Still super youthful so drink a few bottles now but be sure to cellar at least a few for revisiting over 8-15+ years. A deliciously intriguing white!
One of my life long mantras has always been that nice people make nice wines. After 11 years hard graft at Adoro Wines, in 2018 Ian finally followed his dreams and branched out with his own venture, launching Naude Family Wines. Focusing primarily on his old vine parcels of Chenin Blanc, Semillon, Cinsault and Grenache, Ian has also been teaching old dogs new tricks experimenting with some younger vine parcels of Swartland Chenin Blanc, Koekenaap Colombard and Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon.
The world’s most respected wine critic, Neal Martin, recently featured the Naude Family Wines Old Vine Series Chenin Blanc 2013, describing Ian as one of South Africa’s great unsung heroes of the Cape wine industry. For those that have been following Ian’s exceptional wines, they will know all too well of his incredible talent for bottling a vineyard’s unique terroir signature like capturing a liquid photograph.
Naude Family Wines A Naude Egg Chenin Blanc 2018, WO Western Cape, 13 Abv.
Sourced from a prime vineyard in the Swartland, this more accessibly priced baby Chenin Blanc from younger vines was naturally fermented with wild yeasts in a concrete egg without any additions whatsoever. The resulting wine is wonderfully balanced and bristles with energy and vivacity by way of a fine line of acidity. True to its Swartland origins, this impressive Chenin Blanc is understated and classical with a fine linear textural focus that builds in the mouth to reveal layers of pineapple pastille fruits, yellow orchard fruits, morning dew on fresh bales of hay, crunchy green apples and a complex stony granitic minerality on the finish. A truly versatile wine for all cuisines and all occasions, you can drink this baby Chenin on release or cellar for another 3 to 5+ years for added complexity.
By now we all know the tragedy that befell Samantha O’Keefe at her Greyton winery in 2019 when wild bushfires destroyed her winery and homestead together with her entire 2019 vintage. Fortunately, her 2018s were stored at another location and survived.
Samantha is thankfully back up and running in temporary cellar space and with the help of many in the SA wine industry, has produced wines from the superb 2020 vintage. With the 2018 vintages arriving in the UK in March, escaping the shackles of the South African export lockdown, I thought it was the perfect time to post this stellar review.
I tasted the 2018 Reserve Syrah for the first time in October 2019 and kept a second bottle until May 2020 to watch it settle further. This wine is a towering achievement and in one glassful, summarises the greatness being achieved with all the wines at Lismore, especially the Reserve ranges made from Greyton estate fruit, but also makes the pain of losing the entire 2019 production that much more heartfelt and tragic.
If you can get your hands of some of this wine, you absolutely must!
Lismore Reserve Syrah 2018, WO Greyton, 12.5 Abv.
This suave, sophisticated Syrah offering made from 100% Greyton estate fruit used 50% of whole bunches in the fermentation before being aged in both 500 and 700 litre French oak barrels with roughly a third of new oak. After following this wine from its maiden release, the 2018 towers above anything that has come before. The bouquet is mesmerising, lifted, intricate, showing perfumed violets and fragrant dried lavender with striking notes of pink musk, dusty limestone minerality, grilled winter chestnuts, bonfire cinders and an attractive savoury, earthy black berry, black cherry complexity. The palate is so incredibly lithe and elegant, pure, fresh and linear with fabulous luminosity and brightness of fruit. Wonderfully intense and focused yet simultaneously light on its feet, this stellar release is a dead ringer for the finest, most elegant Cote Roties from the Northern Rhône. A truly epic, spellbinding creation from Samantha O’Keefe. Drink on release or cellar for 10+ years.
The new annual releases of Lukas Van Loggerenberg have certainly evolved into a highly anticipated occasion watched very closely by merchants and consumers alike. Undoubtedly, Lukas is one of the most talented winemakers to come out of South Africa in the last few years, producing wines with incredible focus and tension, purity and liquid minerality that lays bare the terroir characteristics of his various selected vineyards.
I caught up with Lukas recently and tasted through all his 2019 new releases, from a vintage that shows many passing resemblances to the taut, mineral 2017s. Indeed, the minerality and subtle austere restraint that is evident throughout the entire range, made for an interesting topic of conversation. Together with the fresh acidities and low alcohol levels, Lukas’s latest releases are yet again an exercise in precision and restraint. Bag your allocations asap as production levels are small but highly sought after.
Lukas Van Loggerenberg Break A Leg Rose 2019, 12.3 Abv.
Fourth vintage of this sophisticated Rose but the first use of this 27 year old Helderberg located vineyard planted on soft sandy decomposed granite just above the Craven Cinsault vineyard owned by Pieter Bredell. Three pickings make up the final wine which is fermented in old oak which removes the New World tooty fruity Rose character to expose the more grown up serious side of the wine a la Provençal Rose wines. The nose if loaded with wet slate, rain on granite, sun dried strawberries and pithy red cherry with a dusting of dried herbs. Cool, textured and quite glycerol in the mouth, this wine has lovely poise, precision and purity and a full mouthfeel more associated with higher alcohol wines…but all delivered at just over 12 Abv. A fabulous gastronomic Rose wine.
(Wine Safari Score: 92/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Lukas Van Loggerenberg Trust Your Gut Chenin Blanc 2019, 12.75 Abv.
This wine is 73% Paardeberg from 40 year old Chenin Blanc vines with 27% from a 34 year old Polkadraai vineyard. The bouquet shows lovely caramelised yellow orchard fruits with white peach, honey on buttered white toast and a lemon herb crushed granite liquid minerality. Palate shows impressive concentration and intensity, peach pastille and pineapple cordial mixed with granitic herbal notes. Beautiful harmonious balance, texturally very polished and pure. Super impressive.
(Wine Safari Score: 94/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Lukas Van Loggerenberg Kameraderie Chenin Blanc 2019, 13.03 Abv.
From an old vine Chenin Blanc vineyard planted in 1960 that yielded a meagre 1200 bottles in 2019 thanks to the drought, baboons and the age of the vines. The vineyard delivers incredible concentration with an almost Champagne-like pH of 3.2. This shows similar characters to the Trust Your Gut but with an even more pronounced crush granite minerality, slate dust and sweet grilled herbs intermixed with pithy yellow orchard fruits, green pistachio and piquant crunchy pineapple pastille with great salinity. A super serious Chenin expression that is maybe showing more of its austere Loire’ish DNA at the moment. Drop dead gorgeous and also age worthy.
(Wine Safari Score: 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Lukas Van Loggerenberg Geronimo Cinsault 2019, WO Stellenbosch, 12.3 Abv.
From a blend of two Helderberg vineyards, one a 27 year old plot and the other a 42 year old plot. Similar to 2017, the 2019 fruit was exposed to warm days but cooler nights allowing the wine to retain a delicate perfume and intricate aromatics. There are fabulous crystalline red berry fruits, red cherry, cranberry and rose water nuances. The palate is taut and vibrant, crunchy and tart with a seductive sweet sour acidity, bright red cherry zest, savoury depth, pithy salinity and a long, spicy, Turkish delight finish. This is a very serious expression and a real flag bearer for the variety.
(Wine Safari Score: 93+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Lukas Van Loggerenberg Breton Cabernet Franc 2019, WO Stellenbosch, 13.1 Abv.
A blend of 3 vineyards all planted on granitic soils in the Polkadraai. Two out of three of the vineyards are whole bunch fermented adding to the aromatic spice and herbaceousness before being aged 10-11 months in old oak. The vintage has the classical wet gravel nose with all the archetypal notes of true Cabernet Franc. Plenty of plushness and weightless density with the lower yields but also shows lovely cedar and lead pencil sappy spice, graphite and a herby hedgerow perfume. Herbaceousness is in the DNA of Cabernet Franc and when cultivated correctly, can offer plushness of black fruit intensity together with the herby graphite lead pencil notes that set this variety apart. Lukas manages capture the classism without feeling forced or prickly. The texture and purity is super impressive and the plush creamy concentration mouth filling and expansive. This is benchmark classical Cabernet Franc and sits among the finest expressions produced in SA.
(Wine Safari Score: 94/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Lukas Van Loggerenberg Graft 2019, WO Polkadraai Hills, 13.1 Abv.
The second vintage that Lukas has gone pure Syrah dropping the Cinsault component used last in the 2017. From grapes are grown on classic granite soils, the fruit was whole bunch fermented in inert plastic tanks and then foot trodden with one of the fermenting must tanks foot trodden again once a day. Aged in French oak barrels, 30% new, for 11 months. This wine shows a deep, alluring savoury brûléed black berry depth with notes of olive tapenade, blueberry crumble, black currant, granitic herby spice and liquid mineral notes of dusty gravel, incense and a certain meaty Spanish tapas bar exoticism. Lavish and distinguished, this is a really beautiful wine that finishes with pinpoint chalky powdery fine mineral tannins.
(Wine Safari Score: 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
(Wines are available to the trade on allocation in the UK from Richard Kelley at Dreyfus Ashby)