The Savvy Swartlanders Putting Stellenbosch Chardonnay on the World Map – Tasting a Pre-Release Bottle of Leeu Passant Stellenbosch Chardonnay 2016…

As I near the end of my March trip to South Africa, one of my favourite visits and tastings lay ahead at the Roundstone farm of Chris and Andrea Mullineux in the Swartland. With the new Leeu Passant wines due for imminent release, it was great to get a sneak peak of one of my favourite new white wines on the South African wine scene, the Leeu Passant Stellenbosch Chardonnay.

As it becomes apparent that the Elandskloof Chardonnay Cuvee will no longer be made, the Mullineux’s have instead decided to focus on their Stellenbosch Chardonnay Cuvee from the Helderberg, which they believe offers the best future potential for premium quality and cellar ageability.

In the past few years, the debate has certainly hotted up in Europe and the USA around the collectability and quality of premium new world Chardonnay versus expensive top white Burgundy. New challengers to the holy Burgundy grail will certainly emerge, and I’m putting my money on this wine being in the mix for top honours.

Mullineux Leeu Passant Stellenbosch Chardonnay 2016, 14 Abv.

Another incredibly serious, focused, grown up release from the Mullineuxs. Regal, refined and linear, the fruit comes from the same 26 year old Helderberg vineyard as the 2015 release. Beautiful lime and white citrus pastille fruit notes are very pure and pithy with an alluring wet limestone and waxy lemon rind edge. Very tight grained, tightly wound and taut, far more so than even the very serious 2015 release. The intense lemon and lime cordial freshness is supremely balanced and harmonious performing a sophisticated, choreographed Burgundy styled routine with an expertly judged amount of struck match reduction complexity. The finish has a dusty, gravelly dry mineral length that will impress the most educated fine wine collector. Cellar this beauty for 2 to 3 years before opening, and drink over 20+ years.

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

Meeting Up With Three South African Icon Producers – Tasting the Wines of Rall, Raats and Naude…

So wonderful being in South Africa again where I am able to press the flesh, ask the sometimes awkward “off the record” questions and taste the unobtainable, the unreleased, and the almost non existent unicorns! It’s old news that South Africa is on trend, but it’s new news that the on-trend producers are becoming particularly hard to access now days.

So in true Fine Wine Safari style, I somehow managed to herd, corral, gather three of my absolute favourite producers into the same room for some incredible fine wines, unlimited “off the record” banter, and to share some of the greatest and most profound wines produced in South Africa.

The legend that is Bruwer Raats, fresh off a plane from Prowein, acted as host for white wine Viking Guru Donovan Rall and White Blend Old Vine King, Ian Naude. While the tantalising banter (chatter) was strictly off the record, a couple of the wines we tasted were very much on record!

I am so grateful for the friendships forged through fine wine. To Ian, Donovan and Bruwer… thank you! We will meet again very soon. 🍷

Naude Family Wines Chenin Blanc 2016, WO Western Cape

The 2016 Chenin Blanc at this embryonic phase in many ways reminds me more like the 2015 expression from Naude. The nose is very dusty, pithy and laden with liquid minerals. There are aromas of crushed granite, chalk dust, peach stone, green apples, with a sprinkling of dried green baking herbs and fynbos. The palate shows harmonious weight, flesh and sleek textural depth, but remains quite broody and tight in its youth. All very subtle and tightly packaged, there are nuances of white crunchy pears, dusty white citrus, wet river pebbles, tart white peaches, citrus oil and picante tangerine peel. Fine mid-palate tension, vibrant fresh acids and as expected from a warm, dry vintage, plenty of concentration and length, albeit a little closed up and tight right now. This looks like a worthy follow up to the impressive 2015. Drink now to 2030+

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

Rall Cinsault Blanc 2017, WO Wellington, 10.5 Abv.

Sourced from a vineyard owned by the gentle giant (Karl Lambour), and supplied to another gentle giant (Donovan Rall), this wine is packed with green pear, cream soda and green apple pastille lushness. Fermented and aged in amphora of 580 litres and a 1 x 225ltr old barrique with 5 days skin contact. The wine is beautifully textural, creamy, cool and fresh, deliciously vibrant and bright. Unpretentious, pure and super crystalline, it has the elegance, freshness and the lithe body of Pinot Grigio but with the drinkability of a young Chenin Blanc. A fascinating wine, very well made indeed! Bravo Donovan!

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

MR de Compostella 2015 Blend, WO Stellenbosch,14.5 Abv.

This is an absolutely gorgeous, coming of age wine. A blend of 40% Cabernet Franc, 32% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Merlot, 11% Petit Verdot and 4% Malbec, the 2015 is genuinely a compelling wine with a classic nose more reminiscent of a fine, opulent Cru Classe Pauillac than a Stellenbosch Bordeaux blend. There are beautiful perfumed notes of assorted purple flowers and fresh violets that melt away to reveal ripe, intense notes of crème de cassis, blueberry crumble, cherry kirsch liquor and damson plum. The wine has gravitas, intensity and a room-silencing presence that is neither heavy nor overpowering. Like all MR vintages, it has impressive laser-like precision, a fine grained focus and an amazing fruit purity and concentration that is a hedonistic pleasure to experience. What extract, what fine piercing acids, what power, but all delivered in a sublimely harmonious chorus of black cassis fruits, blueberry confit and graphite spice. It is impossible to tire of this wine, with its palate freshness reigniting your senses continuously. More structured and intense than its riper, plumper predecessor 2014, the 2015 delivers more intensity, with tannic restraint and brooding classical Pauillac’esque depth. Drink this young if you will, but this MR is the closest Bruwer and Mvemve have come to perfection since they started this project in 2004.

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

The Dawning of a New Era – Tasting the Tantalising Old Vine Treats of Naude Family Wines…

One of my life long mantras has always been that nice people make nice wines. Well, in Ian Naude’s case, you can add chocolate sprinkles and icing sugar to his delicious treats. A veteran of 11 years hard graft at Adoro Wines, in 2018 Ian has finally grasped the prickly chalice and branched out with his own venture, Naude Family Wines.

After much politics, multiple accounting headaches and a lot of strategic and logistic planning, the boat is back on the water and the sails are gathering a heathy turn of speed. Naude Family Wines has graduated and is now in the big ivy league.

A lot of work and many marketing challenges still lie ahead, but the true essence of decades of Ian’s hard work, sweet and tears have established a watertight quality reputation on par with rock star Eben Sadie when it comes to quality Old Vine Cinsault, Grenache, Chenin Blanc and Semillon. Watch this space… the godfather of South Africa’s white blends is back! With a bang!!

The new garagist operation is still bedding in but already shows great excitement.

Naude Family Wines White Blend 2006, WO Western Cape, 13 Abv.

54% Chenin Blanc – Durbanville, Stellenbosch, Agter Paarl, 37% Semillon – Durbanville and Stellenbosch, 9% Sauvignon Blanc – Stellenbosch, Darling, Paarl, Elgin, Elim. RS 1.6 g/l, pH 3.4, SO2 Free 30ppm / 70 total

A rich expressive nose packed full of exotic fragrance. Evolving beautifully, there are layers of green quince, apple pastille, pineapple and tarte tatin notes. The palate is ripe, concentrated and characterful, brimming with gooseberry confit, spiced pears and complex, textural lanolin notes. The finish is dry and powerful, punchy, disguising it’s 12 years of age masterfully. Drinking well now, this wine still has plenty of legs.

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

Naude Family Wines White Blend 2007, WO Western Cape, 11.5 Abv.

72% Chenin Blanc – Durbanville, Stellenbosch, Agter Paarl, 19% Semillon – Durbanville and Stellenbosch, 9% Sauvignon Blanc – Stellenbosch, Darling, Paarl, Elgin, Elim. RS 1.7, pH 3.16, SO2 Free 52ppm

What a difference one year can make. The 2007 Naude white blend comes from an altogether more complicated vintage for aromatic whites yet with 11 years in bottle this wine is still very impressive. Taut, fresh and lean, there is a wonderful linearity to the wine allied to cool green crunchy fruits and brazen liquid minerality. With an exotic boxwood spice kiss, the palate shows excellent purity of gooseberry, green apple and lime cordial, finishing with plenty of energy and spice. The lower alcohol is just the cherry on the cake. Drink this beauty now with seafood or allow it to age further in your cellar because it gets better every time I taste it.

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

Naude Family Wines Semillon 2016, WO Western Cape, 12 Abv.

Made from Durbanville and Stellenbosch fruit, Semillon gives a much smaller window to pick if you want to capture the seductive green apple, lemon & lime zest vigour. The nose is full of green apple, white peach pastille fruit and delicate orange blossom notes. In the mouth it is full, broad and glycerol with the most delicious texture, twinned with lime cordial, citrus blossom, green apple, white pepper and vanilla pod spice. A wonderfully harmonious, generous wine that retains the intensity and linearity of Semillon but with extra concentration and almost Chardonnay palate power. A real triumph. Drink from release and over 20+ years. One of the best current examples of this variety on the South African market. Snap this up on release in South Africa in June.

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

Naude Family Wines Cinsault 2015, WO Darling, 12 Abv.

100% Darling 37 year old vine Cinsault from the late Boetie van Reenen’s farm, a more classical and characterful varietal Cinsault you won’t find. The nose is all marzipan, Turkish delight, violets and dried rose petals. Wonderfully fragrant and perfumed, there is just the faintest hint of cracked black peppercorns and cedar wood spice notes. The palate is bright and vibrant with the most delicious salty blackberry, Victoria plum and black cherry pastille fruit notes that linger and coat the mouth. So expressive but also impressively classical and restrained. This wine has earned a massive, well deserved following with its superb quality and is known to be one of Old Vine Guru Rosa Kruger’s favourite Cinsault’s in the whole of South Africa.

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

Hamilton Russell Chardonnay, A Benchmark Wine In the South African Wine Industry – The 2017 Vintage Reviewed…

I recently caught up with Anthony and Olive Hamilton Russell to taste their new releases of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. So much has been written about 2017 as the third consecutive “drought savaged” vintage in South Africa. But in reality, Walker Bay and the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley got off relatively unscathed, producing wines with great concentration, vigour and freshness. No doubt this will Be yet another fast selling vintage for this dynamic estate.

90% of the 2017 Chardonnay was barrel fermented and aged in 228 litre barriques for 9 months, 31% first fill, 33% second fill, 33% third fill and 3% fourth fill… 47% blonde, 40% medium, 10% medium long toast, with 4% aged in foudre, 5% stainless steel, and 1% in ceramic eggs. 1.4 g/l RS.

Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2017, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, 13.16 Abv.

This wine was tasted from barrel in March 2017 and showed great potential with bright acidity accentuating the wine’s natural limestone minerality. After 9 months ageing in French oak barrels, the wine is still very primary on the nose, revealing notes of sweet lemon cordial, green honeydew melon, green pear, white blossom and waxy green apple skins. There is lovely nervy tension to the palate which is much tauter and leaner than the nose suggests. Framed by vibrant, steely acids, the white citrus and lemon butter flavours are concertina’d into a complex press of green apple pastilles, pithy green gauge fruits and a stony liquid minerality. Not revealing all its grandeur just yet, but undoubtedly serves as a grand road map to the full pleasures that await the drinker in 6 to 12 months time. A real triumph for the vintage and another benchmark Chardonnay from this winery. Drink now to 2030+

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

Franschhoek’s La Motte Private Cellar Breaking New Ground In the UK Market…

Can an estate be too popular for its own good? Well, some producers like La Motte are so revered in the local South African home market that there has never really been an impetus to push exports on international markets. So today was probably the first time I have tasted these iconic wines outside of South Africa.

As I embarrassingly always tell young Reenen Borman, usually over a glass of Patatsfontein Chenin… when I hear the name Borman, I normally think of his father, the legend, Jacques Borman, who created some wonderful wines at the La Motte winery. But times do change and after a surprise visit from owner Hein Koegelenberg to announce the appointment of The Wine Treasury as their new UK importer, we tasted through some of their delicious range of wines.

Owner and La Motte CEO Hein Koegelenberg (centre)

Look out for these superbly well priced, high quality whites and reds that are about to seduce the UK market. I have no doubt their high quality range is going to be a big hit (just as it has been in the local South African market).

La Motte Pierneef Collection Syrah – Viognier 2015, WO Western Cape, 13.5 Abv.

The Pierneef Collection is a premium range of wines crafted in tribute to the great South African artist Jacob Hendrick Pierneef. An impressive red from the block buster 2015 vintage is a blend of 94% Syrah sourced from Walker Bay and Elim together with 6% Viognier from Franschhoek, this wine wears its ripeness and opulence boldly on its sleeve, the nose unashamedly intense, rich and complex. Matured for 18 months in 300 litre oak barrels, 75% new, there are layers of sweet black berry confit, kirsch liquor, black olive, black plum and vanilla pod savoury depth. The palate too is ultra plush, sleek textured and fleshy, showing notable harmony, fine fruit with acid balance and a salty, liquorice kissed piquant finish. Plenty of power, intensity and concentration but delivered in a sensitive and sophisticated style. Drink now to 2028+

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

Mick and Jeanine Craven Blazing Their Own New Wave Trail In Old School Stellenbosch…

Mick and Jeanine Craven of Craven Wines have been creating some deliciously contemporary wines from single vineyards in one of South Africa’s oldest and grandest appellations, Stellenbosch. Wines are confidently modern and ‘new-wave’ in style, picking early and often using whole-bunch fruit in the natural fermentations. Their Pinot Noir is made from grapes grown in Faure, Stellenbosch and is consistently one of their most popular reds. Before she was a Craven, she was Jeanine Faure and the 650 hectare Faure farm was previously part of Jeanine’s family holdings where she grew up.

450 of the 650 hectares are planted to vines where Mick and Jeanine currently source their Syrah and Pinot Noir grapes. The Faure Pinot Noir block is one of the coolest sites in Stellenbosch on a south-westerly aspect only 4 kilometres away from the ocean and was planted exclusively with clone 115 in 1998 on decomposed granite and sand.

Stellenbosch is not an area synonymous with Pinot Noir, and outside of Meerlust’s excellent example, most people would probably struggle to name more than one or two more wineries successfully making notable wines from this variety. Mick and Jeanine have blazed their own trail and their own style of early picked, sappy, spicy, crunchy Stellenbosch Pinot Noir that should taste decidedly Burgundian once it is aged in bottle for 5 to 6 years.

Craven Wines Faure Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016, WO Stellenbosch, 12 Abv.

A Pinot Noir definitely made in a “less is more kind of style”. The distinctive nose shows sappy red raspberry fruits, raisined cranberries, pithy strawberry, wet chalk, crushed gravel, resinous wood and stalk spice and complex dried flower notes. Whole bunch pressed, the 2016 was also 70% foot trodden leaving some grapes intact. The palate walks lightly buts carries plenty of concentration and sappy, strawberry and raspberry fruit weight dusted with exotic Asian spice complexity. I’ve seen this wine described before as atypical or sometimes idiosyncratic, but I find the purity impressively focused, classically charming with a mouthfeel delicately textured revealing dusty chalky tannins. Made in an earlier picked style, this slightly sinewy bramble berry fruited wine is a really characterful cracker. Drink now and over the next 3 to 5+ years.

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

Vassaltis Vineyards Pushing The Boundries of Quality and Style – Revisiting the Maiden Santorini Assyrtiko Barrel Aged 2015 White…

Home to one of the most beautiful sunsets in the world, those lucky enough to have visited this jewel of the Cyclades will know that the same volcano that created Santorini’s dramatic caldera views, also created the volcanic soils that produce some of the world’s most exquisitely fresh and mineral white wines, from local grape Assyrtiko.

Representing the younger generation of winemaking at Vassaltis, Yannis Valambous has brought a passion and an energy to drive quality to the level of fine white Burgundies and Rhones that dominate the world stage. Working with his friend and now colleague Elias Roussakis, an extremely experienced oenologist, they work with their aegean eco system, using only indigenous grape varieties, utilising traditional viticultural practices.

Only last week I tasted the second release of the Vassaltis Barrel Aged Assyrtiko from 2016, a profound white wine that I scored 95 points, possibly my one of my highest ever scores for a Greek white wine. From those Assyrtiko lovers who have not tasted it, I did receive a subtle ridicule for “liking” an oak influenced Assyrtiko so much. To many, this is a grape truly expressive of its volcanic terroir and should not be adulterated or tampered with. But that’s semantics. Assyrtiko works harmoniously with oak if sensitively handled as well as Chardonnay or Pinot Blanc for example.

So, as a pre England v France 6 Nations 2018 rugby match warm up aperitif, I decided to revisit the maiden 2015 Barrel Aged Assyrtiko to put my 2016 note and score in proper context. 🌹🏉🍷

Vassaltis Vineyards Assyrtiko Barrel Aged 2015, Santorini, Greece, 13.5 Abv.

In the 2015 vintage, Vassaltis added a barrel aged Assyrtiko to their range, using low-toast and top-quality French oak to give beautifully well-integrated toasty spice notes and a creamy texture to Assyrtiko’s naturally intense minerality. With another year in bottle since I tasted this wine, the nose remains bold and unbridled, full of rich, pithy yellow orchard fruits, dusty volcanic minerality, sweet smokey tart pineapple pastille fruits and a very subtle, vanilla pod spice allure. On the palate, the Assyrtiko grape characters reign supreme, with vanillary creme brûlée oak notes very much a footnote. The wine retains its profound basalt mineral character, a dusty pithy yellow fruit intensity and a finely integrated, salty, briney finish underpinned by a precise fresh acidity. A vintage of a wine that’s still a stylistic work in progress, but nevertheless, delicious! Drink now to 2025+.

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