The Fabulous New Releases From Duncan Savage – Some of His Best Ever?

With the new Savage Wines hitting the market, I’m pleased to release my Wine Safari notes on these superb bottlings. Produced in his new Salt River urban winery in Cape Town, these could possibly be the highest quality and most self assured releases from Duncan to date.

The product range has grown but quantities are still small, so you are going to have to be brisk to secure his top wines.

Savage 2017 White Blend, 14 Abv.

The 2017 Savage white is a masterful blend of 49% Sauvignon Blanc, 33% Semillon and carrying on the theme started in 2015, includes 18% of Chenin Blanc with a 14% Abv. Handled oxidatively in the cellar, the wine was barrel fermented and aged for 10 months in oak. With more malolactic fermentation seen in 2017 due to very slow ferments, the wine marries weight and intensity with purity, minerality and textural elegance. The nose is already very expressive with complex aromatics of freshly baked apple crumble drizzled in honey, orange blossom, tangerine peel, yellow orchard fruits and a delicious passion fruit twist. But like many 2017 whites, there is a real clarity and focus to the wine along with a defined core of dusty granitic minerality. The entry on the palate reveals the tart, vibrantly fresh characteristics of the Sauvignon Blanc and the Semillon, that awaken the palate with zesty yellow grapefruit, lanolin, honied white peaches and Granny Smith apple puree notes. Classic higher altitude vineyard nuances ensure this wine retains incredible intensity together with a fleshy, creamy lemon pie concentration underpinned by a cool, dusty, stony minerality. Powerful without being brutish, linear and focused without being lean. This is another wonderful flagship white blend from the Savage winery that continues the great run of form for this cuvee. Drink from 2018 to 2030+

(94/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Never Been Asked to Dance 2017 Chenin Blanc, 13.5 Abv.

The Savage portfolio has always mostly been about red and white blends. But when you chat to Duncan Savage and taste with him, you can see how eager he is to produce more single varietal wines especially after the cult success of the pure Syrah Girl Next Door. Previous Savage white blends have often included small percentages of Clairette Blanche, so when this vineyard was grubbed up, the search for an old vine vineyard replacement led Duncan to this slightly dishevelled 64 year old Chenin Blanc vineyard in Paarl. The 2017 bottling coming in at 13.5 Abv. sees a small addition of some Chenin Blanc from W.O. Malgas to augment the quantity but looks set to be W.O. Paarl only in future. Foot trodden and whole bunch fermented over 5 days with no malolactic fermentation, this wine has an alluring phenolic nose of dried basil and oregano, fynbos garrigue, apple cider, yellow orchard fruits, hairy yellow peaches and a crushed gravel minerality. This wine is less about obvious overt fruit but is a much more complex and complicated creature. There is richness, salinity and textured palate weight but also plenty of spicy, pithy, exotic phenolic grip. Still fairly tightly coiled and restrained in its youth, this old vine Chenin Blanc slowly reveals notes of crunchy peaches, orange blossom, pineapple pastille candy, old honey, apple puree and a very subtle kiss of vanilla pod spice. Finishing quite linear and precise with a rocky core of minerality, this wine challenges the senses, titillates the taste buds and promises much for those sensible enough to age it for a few more years after release. Drink from 2019 to 2030+

(93/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Follow the Line 2017 Red Blend, 13 Abv.

Every new release of Follow the Line is a cause for celebration. Indeed one could argue that this wine has such a unique cult following that you could hold a launch party every year just for this individual wine! A blend of 93% Cinsault and 7% Syrah, this 13 Abv. wine will be labelled as Cinsault this year. From the same beautiful 38 year old South-east facing Cinsault vineyard in Darling, the fruit was early picked and fermented using 50% whole bunch clusters. Malolactic fermentation was carried out in 500 litre French oak barrels with a further 9 months of ageing in large 1500 and 2000 litre foudre. Possessing a youthful red plum translucent colour, this wine has all the perfume lift and exuberance you would expect from old vine Cinsault. The nose is aromatically charged, brimming with fresh violets, cherry blossom, rose water, lychee skins, sun dried cranberries, potpourri and an exotic touch of Turkish delight. Wonderful purity and clarity are always hallmarks of this wine as are the radiant fresh acids and bright, crunchy, sappy red berry fruits. Once again, this wine is the epitome of elegance, walking quite lightly, shimmering all the way to the finish with illuminated brilliance. This really is an exceptional, mouth-watering delight. Drink from release but do cellar a few bottles for 5 to 8+ years.

(95+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Thief in the Night 2017 Red Blend, 13 Abv.

Probably one of my favourite names used in the Savage wine range, but I will let Duncan tell the story of how and why he was once called a ‘thief in the night’. Displaying little in direct relation to the wine other than being a great name… surprise surprise, this is also a delicious wine. Another new addition to the Savage range, this red is a blend of 48% Grenache, 46% Cinsault and 6% Syrah all sourced from vineyards in very close proximity to each other on the same property in the Piekenierskloof. At this youthful stage of evolution, the wine is more marked by the 42 year old vine Grenache fruit than the 17 year old Cinsault. Using 70% whole cluster, fermentation was carried out in a closed tank with aerated pump overs. Malolactic fermentation occurred in old 500 litre French oak barrels before the wine was aged for 9 months in large French oak foudre before being bottled. The wine shows a real individuality and personality with bright fragrant violet perfume, sappy spicy peppery raspberry and redcurrant confit complexity, hints of sun raisined cranberries, cured bresaola, boiled raspberry sweets and wild strawberry. The palate weight is soft and sensual, combining the best of both Grenache and Cinsault to form an impressively harmonious, silky soft sappy red blend. The wine seems to grow exponentially in the glass, unfurling and unravelling to reveal layers of strawberry jam, raspberry compote and Turkish delight all framed with bright crystalline acids that really amplify the wines purity, minerality and sense of place. Such a pretty wine with the sleekest and most polished tannins and a mellow fruit intensity. Despite its eminent drinkability in youth, this is no frivolous ‘vin de soif’ and could just maybe, over time, acquire a similar cult following to that of Duncan’s excellent Cinsault-dominated Follow The Line red blend from Darling. A very confident debut! Drink from 2018 to 2028+.

(93+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Girl Next Door Syrah 2017, 13.5 Abv.

A wine very close to Duncan’s heart, it is produced from pure Syrah grapes grown on a 0.34 hectare vineyard overlooking the Atlantic Ocean that was originally planted for ornamental purposes. These 12 year old vines, lovingly tended and rejuvenated by Duncan, survive in extreme conditions, perpetually being battered by the South Easterly winds of the Cape Peninsula. But very often, some of the most profound grapes comes from some of the most marginal vineyards. Fermented in open top fermenters using 50% whole bunch clusters, the wine was then aged in an old demi-muid (600 litre) barrel with bottling after 11 months of aging. With little more than 700 bottles produced, this Syrah shows a beautifully rich, broody nose packed full of savoury black berry fruits, earthy black currant, pithy black cherry, iron filings, black olive tapenade and a chalky, dusty mineral lift. Cool and restrained, this wine displays an overt Old World character and would not look out of place in a Cote Rotie tasting. Densely fruited, deep and richly textured, the tannins eventually rein in the wine and throw a veil of sappy, peppery, spicy graphite restraint over the bruleed black berry opulence. I have often said that this wine must surely be one of a small select group of pure Syrah reds produced in the Cape that show this variety at its classical, Francophile best. Cellar for a few years after release before drinking or age this distinguished beauty for 15 to 20+ years.

(95+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Are We There Yet 2017, 13 Abv.

Only the second release of this exciting 13 Abv. Wine of Origin Malgas red, the 2017 expression is a blend of 50% Touriga Nacional and 50% Syrah from young rocky vineyards along the Breede River near Swellendam. Both red varieties were picked on the same day and co-fermented in open top fermenters with the Syrah kept as whole bunch clusters while the Touriga Nacional was destemmed. Aged in 500 litre French oak barrels for 11 months before bottling, you can already see in the space of only two vintages how Duncan as tweaked both picking times and the winemaking to create a seriously exciting expression. Dark black purple in colour, the Syrah and the Touriga make very comfortable bed fellows and the superb synergy of these varieties is laid bare for all to see and taste. Deeper, darker and more powerful than Cinsault or Grenache, Duncan has succeeded in harnessing the power, concentration and intensity of these two noble red varieties and using his own brand of vinous alchemy, crafted a wine so full of energy, minerality and fruit concentration. Compared to the 2016, this vintage seems to unfurl a few extra layers of concentration and fruit brightness, turning up the volume but with much tighter orchestration. The nose is deliciously rocky and mineral revealing dusty river gravel, graphite and grey slate nuances that intermingle with perfumed Parma violet lift, blueberry opulence, sweet red cherry confit, boiled strawberry bon bons and purple rock candy confectionary notes. Mouth-filling and fleshy with impressive black berry and fraises des bois fruit weight and chalky graphite tannins, the palate remains impressively lithe and elegant, harmoniously focused and confident with the most alluring savoury, sappy bramble berry finish. Drink this beauty on release but do allow the age worthy credentials of the Syrah and Touriga to show their full potential with 6 to 8+ years of aging.

(94/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Savage Red Blend 2015, 13.5 Abv.

This wine has perhaps been more of an enigma than any of Duncan Savage’s wines produced to date. The last Savage Red to be released as a blend, the 2017 and 2018 will revert to being pure Syrah from initially Stellenbosch and the Swartland, and then solely Stellenbosch, as new vineyard contracts come onstream. A blend of 67% Syrah, 9% Touriga Nacional, 9% Cinsault and 6% Grenache, this 13.5 Abv. red has certainly built up a very strong, more traditional, slightly less eclectic following than the other red blends like Follow the Line. Fermented in open top fermenters using 50% whole bunches, the wine was aged for an extended 30 months in old oak and foudre prior to bottling. This dark horse has always been backward and restrained, broody and slightly sulky, but bearing in mind it comes from one of the best red vintages in the Cape in a generation, it can be forgiven for being initially shy and ungiving. With some coaxing, the nose slowly starts to reveal its secrets, showing notes of salty red liquorice spice, aniseed root, cassis leaf, grenadine, blood oranges and vermouth botanicals. The palate is taut and very precise, linear and crisply textured with vivacious notes of tangerine, naartjie peel, ruby grapefruit, sour red cranberry and earthy red plums, all dusted with a liberal dose of crushed black peppercorns and mineral graphite spice. Tantalisingly complex, it is almost impossible to unravel the intricacies of this classy red and identify traits of individual varieties. With the extra aging, the tannins are starting to become a little more supple and pliable, yet continue to lend great textural gravitas, power and focus to this blend. I’d say it has been worth the wait… but just don’t wait to put in your order for this impressive red blend as it signals the end of one era and the dawning of a new and exciting chapter in the history of the Savage winery. Drink on release and age this beauty for 10 to 15+ years comfortably.

(96/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Wines are available direct to the wine trade in the UK on allocation from importer Swig Wines

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