I first met Donovan Rall at the Cape White Blend Conference in 2009 at Forest 44 in Stellenbosch where Ian Naude had assemble 80+ of South Africa’s greatest winemakers to listen to Eben Sadie, Peter Fischer and myself talk about the farming, production and marketing of world class white blends. During one of the intermissions, this giant Viking came up to me and introduced himself. Little did I know that Donovan had worked for several months with a Handford colleague of mine at the Harvey Nichols fine wine department in Knightsbridge, London. Offering me two bottles of his by then long sold out maiden release Rall White Blend, he asked me to drink one and let him know what I thought, and also if I could please take the other bottle back to London for his old colleague Gavin to enjoy. I of course obliged.
I am not sure why he wanted to hear what I thought about his wine as this maiden vintage was already the first of three consecutive 5 Star Platter Guide wines that he eventually went on to produce. Now I am willing to wager a serious bet that no other wine maker in South Africa has achieved the fabled 5 Stars from Platter for their first three vintages ever produced! Surely a record that won’t be broken any time soon.
Rall White Blend 2019, WO Coastal Region, 13% Abv.
Some of the most serious white wines in the world are more often than not wines that can be quite illusive, restrained and slightly introverted. That’s because the greatest white wines don’t have to advertise their true potential on release with vulgar “low hanging fruit” to draw attention. It’s the complete opposite – mystery, reserve and restraint. That is exactly where this epic white blend from Donovan fits in. An exotic blend of 68% Chenin Blanc, 28% Verdelho and 4% Viognier, the fruit for this wine was sourced from a number of soil types before being fermented with indigenous yeasts and then aged for 10 months in old French oak. The nose on this blend suggests a lot but simultaneously gives little away boasting a complex but understated melange of green pears, yellow grapefruit, green apple and tangerine pith. The palate is fabulously steely and linear, taut and precise with real structure and focused purity but also an impressively harmonious balance and textural finesse that you only normally experience on the greatest white vintages of Grand Cru Burgundy. South Africa is indeed blessed to possess the raw materials (and winemaking talent) to create incredible wines like this for an absolute steal. Drink a bottle or two on release after an hours decant and cellar the rest for a good 5 to 8+ years.
(Wine Safari Score: 97+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)