I have been very fortunate to have tasted and reviewed every single vintage of red and white Savage Wines since the maiden 2011 red and 2012 white. Duncan Savage is certainly now well bedded into his new urban winery in Salt River and the 2018 range of new releases represents probably Duncan’s finest, most self assured range of wines produced to date. While certain individual back vintages may have recorded higher critical scores for wines in his range, this year’s releases are not only his most consistent quality wise but also the most confident and well honed wines produced.
With many of the Savage cuvees selling out on release, followers of Duncan’s exceptional wines are encouraged to get in quickly to avoid disappointment. As for Duncan himself, he is of the firm opinion that the Savage Red 2017 and Savage White 2018 are probably two of the best wines he has ever produced and more specifically, were made in a style that he is striving to perfect.
Tasting with Duncan Savage at his winery in Salt River, Cape Town in April 2019.
Savage Follow the Line Cinsault 2018, 13% Abv.
While only in its 5th vintage, if there was a race to create a cult wine in South Africa in the shortest time possible, this wine would stand a very good chance of winning. But with instant fame comes increased pressure and expectation and the 2018 vintage was not one of the easiest in South Africa due to drought conditions. But these 38 year old south-east facing Darling origin bush vines once again showed their true pedigree. Labelled as Cinsault, the 2018 includes 85.4% Cinsault and a slightly elevated 14.6% of Syrah, which were aged five weeks on their skins with the use of 50% of whole-bunches. The wine was aged 10 months in oval foudre (1500-2000 litre capacity). Always sublimely perfumed and fragrant, the nose boasts lifted layers of dried lavender, violets, rose petals, red crystallised cherries and hints of Turkish delight. But it is on the palate that the wine reveals a classy weightless streamlined concentration, fabulously sleek polished mineral tannins and an all round sense of finesse and harmony. A terrifically serious effort from Duncan. Pressure? What pressure! Drink from release but do cellar a few bottles for 5 to 8+ years.
(95/100 Greg Sherwood MW )
Savage Thief in the Night 2018, 13% Abv.
The maiden 2017 vintage of this wine was released to rave critical reviews last year despite this cuvee still being a work in progress. The 2018 blend retains a punchy slug of 54% Grenache, a slightly elevated 24% Syrah and a fine supporting 22% Cinsault from the Piekenierskloof. Components were fermented separately unlike 2017, with the grapes spending 10 days on their skins using 20% whole-bunches. After 10 months of ageing in 3,200 litre conical foudre and one new 225 litre barrel, the wine was bottled unfiltered off its fine lees. When I tasted this wine from barrel, I instantly remarked what a step up I thought it was even on the excellent 2017. In bottle, the aromatics display a wonderfully crisp, pure delineated red cherry scented top note with plenty of granitic minerality and graphite in support. Subtle notes of sweet sappy red currant and red plum confit allow the nose to retain an element of broodiness but there is no holding back the palate however, which bristles with delicious vibrancy, wild strawberry, a bright pin point acidity and again an opulent, glycerol weightless intensity and concentration. This really is a genuinely thrilling wine!
(94+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Savage Are We There Yet 2018, Malgas, 13% Abv.
Where the 2016 was perhaps a little later picked, the 2017 certainly turned heads and found and extra gear. In 2018, the blend is a 50/50 split between Touriga Nacional and Syrah, with the Syrah using 50% whole-bunches with two weeks skin contact. The wine was aged 15 months in old 500 litre barrels before bottling. This wine certainly has its own bold vinous personality and reveals a dark, deep damson plum colour and an equally deep, dark broody aromatic profile. Loaded with blue and black berry fruits, you can almost smell the sea as layers of saline black currant, kelp and piquant salty black liquorice are underpinned by a pronounced dusty, granitic, rocky minerality. With a mindful focus on freshness, Duncan manages to retain plenty of pithy mineral spice framed by dusty graphite tannins that flex a bit more muscle than either the Follow the Line or Thief in the Night blends. This is a really stellar vintage for this cuvee and perhaps the 13 year old bush vines show why Touriga and Syrah are so well suited to drought conditions. Very pure and super classy with a fine saline cassis density, this wine shows the same impressive gravitas and complexity seen on the previous 2017 vintage. A wine that looks set to impress the critics.
(94/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Savage Girl Next Door 2018 Syrah, 13.5 Abv.
If Follow the Line has grown into a Savage cult wine, this tiny production Syrah single vineyard of 0.38 hectares grown on sandy gravel soils overlooking the Atlantic Ocean near Fishhoek, is most certainly the more serious icon wine of the range. The knarled wind battered and salt affected 13 year old trellised vines are made to struggle and normally yield little more fruit than a meagre 200 cases in a good year. 100% Syrah using 70% whole-bunches spends two weeks on its skins followed by malolatic and 10 months ageing in old neutral 600 litre barrels. South Africa has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to great Syrah wines, yet for me this wine, along with perhaps only one or two others, consistently represents the pinnacle of classical, restrained, old world character that I often envisage could have come from a grand old appellation vineyard of the northern Rhone. Always beautifully deep, rich and textured, the nose has a beguiling complexity of earthy black currants, sweet black peppercorns, black olive tapenade and cured meats. The mind and senses start wondering to foreign shores long before you even put the first sip in your mouth. Fabulously tight knit, creamy, mineral and restrained, blueberry nuances slowly give way to tart black cherry and sour raspberry coulis on the long, lingering finish. Peppery mineral tannins guide this wine confidently and elegantly like a firm hand on a boats rudder. A truly special creation, this is one wine worth hunting down and duelling for!
(95+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Savage Red Blend 2017, 13.5% Abv.
After a bit of vintage shuffling, last years 2015 blockbuster was the last Savage Red blend to be bottled, reverting in 2017 to a pure 100% Syrah wine made from vines grown exclusively on granitic soils in both Stellenbosch and the Swartland. Farmed biodynamically, the Stellenbosch vineyard fruit makes up the lion’s share of this wine and indeed will comprise 100% of the Savage Red in 2018.The grapes spend two weeks on their skins with 50% whole-bunches used before spending 13 months in 500 litre barrels and a further 9 months in 3,200 litre conical foudre, or just under two years elevage in the cellar. A super smart and super concentrated expression, this later release allows one to revisit the fabulously complex aromatics and balance of the exceptional 2017 vintage. Loaded with piquant blueberries, saline cassis and blackberry opulence, the nose shows strikingly complex notes of pink musk, sweet grilled herbs, black peppercorn spice and is embellished with an intoxicating exotic sweet white lily blossom fragrance. The palate intensity is also tremendously impressive with a harmonious crystalline purity and classical elegance in abundance. Showing a slightly more overt, opulent personality to the broody foursquare 2015, this wine represents an evolution and growing maturity in the red winemaking of Duncan Savage. One of his best efforts to date no doubt.
(96+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Savage White Blend 2018, 13.5% Abv.
As Duncan’s flagship white, the blend might sometimes evolve and alter depending on vintage conditions, but quality, freshness and balance is never compromised. From another warm, dry vintage, the vines have gotten seemingly more used to the drought conditions and winemakers have also tweaked their picking dates to focus on freshness and purity of fruit. The 2018 is an impressive blend of 54% Sauvignon Blanc, 28% Semillon and a slightly larger than usual 18% Chenin Blanc. Grapes were all whole bunch pressed and fermented with approximate 80% of the wine undergoing malolactic fermentation before being aged 10 months in old 500 litre oak barrels. A magnificently intelligent blend of Kaaimansgat, Villiersdorp and Piekenierskloof fruit, it displays a fresh, cool, crystalline vibrancy, fragrant pithy white citrus and green apple zest and a subtle waxy, fleshy, bruised pear savoury hint. On the palate, the message of clarity, purity and precision is clear to see with sherbety acids spritzing up the fringes and adding extra frame and linearity to the exotic tart tangerine, grapefruit, kumquat and pineapple pastille concentration. A very distinguished winemaking display yet again to produce a wine that is lithe and elegant, finely balanced yet intense and surely among the most sophisticated Savage white blend vintages produced to date. Drink on release and over the next 4 to 8+ years.
(95/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Savage Never Been Asked To Dance Chenin Blanc 2018, 13.5 Abv.
Duncan’s knowledge of old vine Paarl vineyards is well known and this 100% Chenin Blanc from 64 year old dry land grown bush vines on granite soils is a fabulous expression of what is possible in this region. Whole bunch pressed and fermented and aged in neutral Stockinger 600 litre barrels for 10 months, this second vintage rises to new heights after a very solid 2017 effort. The 2018 is altogether less pithy and herbal than the last vintage, instead conveying more classical notes of dusty granitic minerality, white citrus, creamy pineapple pastille fruits and sweet lemon biscuit notes. Top quality old vine Paarl Chenin Blanc has a pronounced signature and this wine has it written all over it thanks to Duncan’s minimal intervention and focus on terroir and site. Elegant and harmonious across the palate, this wine is deliciously fleshy and glycerol, ultra pure and cool but also sophisticated and seamlessly light on its feet. You could not ask for more purity or varietal typicity. Duncan has really nailed it in 2018 with this fabulous old vine Chenin fruit.
(94/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Not Tonight Josephine Straw Wine 2018, 11% Abv.
As a category, Chenin Blanc straw wine can probably be regarded as one of the most successful and critically acclaimed in South Africa if international journalists’ scores are to be followed. But having tasted a lot of straw wine globally, the purity, richness, balance and intensity that Duncan has achieved on this maiden 2018 is certainly quite impressive. 100% Chenin Blanc grown on rocky sandstone from the Pienenierskloof farm of Tierhoek was dried for three weeks and then left for five days on its skins as whole-bunches followed by foot treading. Resulting grapes were basket pressed into small barrels for the remainder of fermentation and for a further 10 months of ageing. At 294 g/l residual sugar, a 9.5g/l TA and with only 850 x 37.5cl bottles produced, you can expect the scramble to begin swiftly for this little rarity. Dark yellow golden in colour, the nose exhibits fabulously exotic notes of granadilla, sun dried yellow peaches, dried straw spice, orange marmalade, creamy yellow fruit pastries with custard and classic dried apricot roll. Super supple, elegant and fleshy in the mouth, at no point does it become clawing or over bearing. Fabulously balanced with finesse and well honed winemaking, this wine will appeal to a whole new cross section of Savage consumers. Eminently ageworthy of course, you can drink this sweet gem over the next 20+ years.
(95/100 Greg Sherwood MW)