Semillon has always been a grape that has struggled to resonate with the consumer. Yes, fabulous dry versions from Tyrrells and other Hunter Valley producers in Australia have made the headlines globally, but in South Africa, I think it is fair to say that this variety has historically not been very popular.
However, things are changing. A new generation of winemakers has cracked the Semillon code and worked out how to produce styles that show great appeal. What all the top producers’ expressions have in common, from Chris Alheit to John Seccombe, Marc Kent to Eben Sadie, is exceptional fruit from historic old vine vineyards.
Jacques Wentzel from Black Elephant Vintners is another producer accessing fruit from one such vineyard for his Dark Side of the Vine cuvee. Basil Landau’s old vine Semillon block in the Bo-Hoek area of the Franschhoek Ward was planted in 1905 and is one of the oldest white wine vineyards in South Africa. The grapes see around 24 hours of skin contact before being fermented with natural indigenous yeasts followed by 12 months ageing in 500 litre French oak barrels. The results are exceptional and this wine now joins the ranks as one of South Africa’s very finest expressions of dry Semillon.
Black Elephant Vintners The Dark Side of the Vine 2016 Semillon, WO Franschhoek, 13 Abv.
The 2016 Semillon leans more towards fruit and flesh and less towards spice and herbal complexity like the 2015 vintage. The wine displays a wonderfully intense aromatic nose with sensational lemon and lime zest and perfume. It unfurls wave upon wave of lemon confit, fresh peach juice, dried herbs, crushed walnut, nutmeg, tangerine peel, wet stones and dry thatch nuances. The palate is beautifully full and fleshy, almost unctuous but framed with the most delicious piercing, mouth-watering acidity. Super concentrated and broad but profoundly sensual and textural, the wine finishes with pure white citrus, black currant leaf and yellow tropical fruit candy notes. A joy to taste a wine that really does full justice to these centenary old vines from this famous vineyard in Franschhoek. Drink now or age for 8 to 10+ years.
(Wine Safari Score: 97/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Wines are distributed in the UK by Red Squirrel Wines. Approximate retail price £55.99 per bottle.