Damascene Wines – New Kid on the Block Rocking the Cape Wine Scene…

I first heard about Damascene Wines last year when a few big scores in the local South African home market hit the headlines including a mammoth 97/100 from Winemag.co.za editor Christian Eedes. The young blood behind the venture focusing on producing high quality vinous expressions from unique Cape vineyards is Jean Smit, also known for his work at Boekenhoutskloof as well as a brief spell at Iona some years back.

Damascene Wines is now in the process of securing distribution in several key global markets including the UK for their limited volumes of fine wine, but as Jean was very quick to point out to me, “it is really important that global distribution partners share our attitude and philosophy that is the driving force behind the whole Damascene project.”

With a sell-out Semillon 2018 already in the bag, this white is joined in the range by a fine Pinot Noir, an accomplished Cabernet Franc and an exceptional benchmark Stellenbosch Syrah. Damascene is undoubtedly one of the most exciting new producers to come onto the South African wine seen for some time.

Damascene Semillon 2018, WO Franschhoek, 14 Abv.

The fruit for this vintage was picked from a venerable old vineyard in the Franschhoek valley. Planted in 1942 on alluvial soils of decomposed Table Mountain sandstone, a portion – roughly 15 percent – of the bush vines have naturally mutated into Semillon Gris. Both variants were harvested and co-fermented to add further complexity to the wine. Approximately one-third of the way through fermentation the grape must was transferred to second- and third-fill French oak barriques, for 11 months of sur lie barrel maturation. No lees stirring took place, and the prevention of malolactic fermentation ensured the wine retains its excellent natural acidity. Total production: 707 x 750ml | Bottling date: 8 February 2019 Alc: 14.06%Vol | pH: 3.32 | TA: 5.5 g/L | RS: 3.2 g/L | VA: 0.51 g/L.

Such beautiful subtle aromatics of white citrus, wet chalk and dusty grey slate lead to a fabulously sleek, creamy textured Semillon palate full of glycerol lanolin mouthfeel layered with pithy orange peel zest and tangerine oil complexity. The acids are supple and well integrated with spicy, piquant, mellow yellow fruits. Full, broad, super stony and mineral, this wine is beautifully harmonious, textural and focused! Keep it for 2-3 years before opening and then drink over 5 to 10.

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

Damascene Pinot Noir 2018, WO Elgin, 14.1 Abv.

When David and Genevieve Curl purchased an apple farm in the Elgin valley in 2010, they immediately planted a 3.12-hectare parcel of Pinot Noir on a ridge with ancient of clay-rich Bokkeveld shale. Clones 667 and 777 on rootstock 101-14 were chosen to capitalise on Elgin’s cool climate terroir. Focused on the ultimate goal of crafting small quantities of premium Pinot Noir, the vineyard’s planting density of 6250 vines per hectare encourages stiff competition between the vines, resulting in better flavour and concentration in the fruit. Low disease pressure in the vineyards assisted the desired spontaneous fermentation in the cellar, with only two batches inoculated with a locally isolated yeast strain to fully express the character of the two Pinot Noir clones. To capture the elegance of the fruit, and avoid excessive extraction, the wine spent just 10 days on the skins, with a combination of short pump-overs and punch-downs twice per day. Malolactic fermentation occurred spontaneously in 300- litre French oak barrels, 30% of which were new. The oak barrels were carefully selected from five leading Burgundian coopers, with a range of toasting levels – mostly Light and Blonde. Total production: 3600 x 750ml | Bottling date: 8 February 2019 Alc: 14.1 %Vol| pH: 3.39 | TA: 5.4 g/L | RS: 1.5 g/L | VA: 0.53 g/L.

Rich, character filled nose with plenty of promise. Opening in the glass, the wine reveals hints of mocha and chocolate, cherry liquor, black berries, savoury cured meats, forest floor, freshly tilled earth, black bramble berries with positive green aromatic complexing notes. Warming luxurious inviting style, the palate is obvious and generous with a fine plush glycerol texture, spicy pin point tannins, seductive wild strawberry, kirsch liquor and baking spices, before darker berry fruit nuances take over to carry this wine over the finishing line. 

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

Damascene Cabernet Franc 2018, WO Stellenbosch, 12.87 Abv.

Situated on the cooler east-facing slopes of the Bottelary Hills, this trellised vineyard was planted in 2004 with the CF1 clone of Cabernet Franc. On soils of decomposed granite, and at an altitude of 260-metres above sea level, this lowyielding vineyard produces smaller bunches that offer incredible concentration, structure and ripeness at lower sugar levels. Bunches were de-stemmed directly into stainless steel tanks where whole berries were coldsoaked for three days before being inoculated with a carefully selected yeast strain. For optimum extraction pump-overs took place up to three times per day, with fermentation temperatures peaking at 28˚C. Spontaneous malolactic fermentation took place during the 11 months of maturation in a single 1000-litre oak foudre. The wine was racked just once, two weeks prior to bottling. Total production: 1175 x 750ml | Bottling date: 8 February 2019 Alc: 12.87 %Vol| pH: 3.32 | TA: 4.9 g/L | RS: 1.5 g/L | VA: 0.46 g/L.

An inviting aromatic offering shows classic varietal Cabernet Franc perfume, spice and lift. The nose suggests delicious notes of black currant pastille, crushed black cherry, graphite and lead pencil complexity. The palate has a very focused black currant wine gums intensity with subtle vegetal, stemmy cedar spice notes. Despite the impressively low alcohol level, this wine has a beautiful texture and mouthfeel with a lithe elegance, bright acids and a superbly harmonious finish. Incredibly well designed, this wine shows a lot of appeal and will seduce a lot of Cabernet Franc lovers. 

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

Damascene Syrah 2018, WO Stellenbosch, 13.4 Abv. 

100% Syrah from Polkadraai and Bottelary Hills, Stellenbosch. While both vineyards are situated higher than 300-metres above sea level, planted with SH9 and SH22B Syrah clones, and with soils dominated by decomposed granite, they each bring their own nuance and complexity to the wine. The vineyard on the Polkadraai Hills was planted on a south-east slope in 1996, and contributes most of the perfume and spice. Structure and fruit intensity comes from a vineyard of low-yielding granitic soils in the Bottelary Hills, a ‘mother unit’ planted on a north-west aspect in 2001. To showcase the impact of site in Stellenbosch Syrah, the harvested fruit was separated into numerous smaller fermentation batches, with whole-cluster fraction of each batch ranging from nil to 100 percent per vessel. Open top fermenters and two 1000-litre oak foudres received a combination of pump-overs and pigéage (punch-downs) two or three times per day. The remaining two 1000-litre oak foudres were treated with the ‘submerged cap’ technique to enhance the body and fruit concentration of the wine.

A unique element in the final blend came from a portion kept as 100% intact whole clusters, that underwent carefully-controlled carbonic fermentation. These were sealed in a stainless steel tank and stored under pressure for 30 days before pressing. Without pump-overs or pigéage during fermentation, this carbonic macerated component contributes enormous purity of fruit and silky tannins to the final blend. All fermentations took place spontaneously with naturally occurring yeast. Malolactic fermentation also occurred spontaneously, with maturation in 1000-litre oak foudres for 11 months. The wine was bottled without fining, to ensure a more complex and authentic expression of Syrah. Total production: 2728 x 750ml | Bottling date: 8 February 2019 Alc: 13.4 %Vol| pH: 3.8 | TA: 5.4 g/L | RS: 1.5 g/L | VA: 0.65 g/L.

Beautiful intensity and perfume, the nose screams classism and aromatic complexity with an open inviting modern allure. This wine turns the volume up but there is no distortion, only purity and then more purity. Herbal and Rhoney, there are wonderful savoury earthy meaty notes loaded with black berry and blue berry fruits, olive tapenade and hints of German-deli smokey, meaty brilliance. The texture is incredibly fine and focused and personifies the ‘Jean Smit’ wine making style that shines right through his entire range of wines. This Syrah hits a special zenith of quality and brilliance that only a select few South Africa wineries manage to achieve. 

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

8 thoughts on “Damascene Wines – New Kid on the Block Rocking the Cape Wine Scene…

  1. Sounds great. In 10 or 20years if this was to be poured for you blind would you be able to pick this out as a SA Syrah or will it be indistinguishable from a Cote-Rôtie?

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    1. I wouldn’t want to get any top SA Syrah blind! They will be impossible to pick as South African… Boschkloof, Porseleinberg, Damascene, Mullineux… proper Kudos coming in 10 years time! But by then they’ll be expensive and the old stuff unobtainable.

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      1. Interesting you say 10 years as with most great Cote-Rôtie I’d say they take 20. I’ll bring some Gilles Barge 99 to lunch.

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      2. Coming back to SA Syrah I presume it’s the same issue 10 years to soften but decades to mature or is it a slightly quicker process?

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