Tasting Duncan Savage’s New 2020 Releases – A Cornucopia of Quality Wines…

Cornucopia: “An abundant supply of good things of a specified kind.” ~ noun /ˌkɔːnjʊˈkəʊpɪə/

If you look up the definition of the word cornucopia you may very well find Duncan Savage’s name mention in the official meaning. Indeed the current array of new releases are a celebration of subtlety, style and substance.

With more than the odd pandemic lockdown to contend with and no international travel obligations, Duncan seems to have taken the extra time on his hands to not only spend more time with his family and surfing but also in his compact Salt River urban winery fine tuning his latest vinous creations. Bold, confident, subtle, refined and precise are all words I’d use to describe the new Savage releases.

I tasted these wines in July 2020 but waited to release my scores until after the official press tastings were held in South Africa. With an end of August consumer release date, once again, followers of Savage Wines are going to have to act fast to secure some of these highly sought after wines.

Savage White Blend 2020, WO Western Cape, 14% Abv.

It’s been in the pipeline for a long time and now with the 2020 Savage white blend, Duncan Savage has returned to his roots to create a traditional blend of Sauvignon Blanc (76%) and Semillon (24%) with all minority portions of either Chenin Blanc or Clairette Blanche now removed. Sourced from trellised and bush vine vineyards across the Western Cape, the grapes were whole bunch pressed before undergoing spontaneous wild fermentation. With the high Sauvignon Blanc component, the aromatics show a pronounced spicy, herby, savoury tinged array of waxy green apples, white citrus, clementine, honied chamomile and root fennel with subtle hints of dried fynbos and lanolin. The palate is masterfully rich and broad, coating all corners of the palate with intense, crystalline notes of spicy yellow grapefruit, freshly squeezed tangerines and white peach cordial notes. The acids are intense but wonderfully tangy adding to a real sense of textural harmony and mineral complexity. A very complete wine that races out the blocks and will undoubtedly give plenty of drinking pleasure immediately on release. Drink now and over the next 4 to 6+ years.

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

Visiting Duncan’s Old Vine Chenin Blanc vineyard in Paarl

Savage Never Been Asked to Dance 2020, WO Paarl, 13.5% Abv.

The 2020 vintage releases see a very welcomed return of Duncan’s fabulous old vine Chenin Blanc sourced from a 67 year old organic dry farmed bush vine vineyard grown on decomposed granite soils. Whole bunch pressed and spontaneously fermented in neutral Stockinger 600 litre barrels, this third release screams its granitic terroir with complex aromatics dominated by notes of crushed gravel, wet grey slate, struck flint and an understated petrichor character that combines with subtle notes of peach stone, toasted almonds and lemon grass herbal nuances. Like most old vine Chenin Blanc grown on granitic soils, this terroir lends quite a severe, austere and minerally taut styling to the palate in the wine’s youth with plenty of wet river pebble stony undertones, crunchy yellow orchard fruits and refined pineapple pastille notes. The finish is dry and slightly rasping but shows great persistence and intensity, finishing with last ripples of dried herbs, yellow apple skins and a mouth-watering saline bite. If the 2017 and 2018 are anything to go by, this wine simply needs a few years in bottle to truly blossom, but when it does, it’s a true thing of vinous beauty. Drink from 2023 to 2034+.

(Wine Safari Score: 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Savage Follow the Line – Much more than just another Old Vine Cinsault.

Savage Follow the Line 2020, WO Darling, 13% Abv.

Now in its seventh vintage, the Follow the Line red from Duncan Savage has almost certainly become one of the most highly respected old vine Cinsault reds in South Africa. As always, the fruit comes from a 40-year-old dry farmed bush vine vineyard in Darling grown on decomposed granite soils. The 2020 also includes a small 9% portion of Syrah sourced from the same Darling property with 50% of the fruit fermented as whole clusters. Every vintage that passes sees Duncan fine tuning and refining this wine that always boasts an incredibly perfumed floral bouquet of violets, pressed rose petals and hints of cherry blossom that melt into pronounced notes of earthy lavender, coriander and Turkish delight. The palate is incredibly cool and suave with bright tingling cherry acids, a silky weightless concentration, crystalline wild strawberry and red cherry fruits and the most delicate lacey tannins on the finish. This is a very polished, ethereal, classy effort with so many of the Cinsault characteristics drawing an undeniable resemblance to young, premium Cotes de Beaune Pinot Noir. Approachable on release, but cellar-worthy for at least 10+ years, don’t miss this new release.

(Wine Safari Score: 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Savage Thief in the Night 2020, WO Piekenierskloof, 13.5% Abv.

This fabulous Grenache based blend is one of Duncan’s ongoing passion projects and now in its fourth vintage is starting to show a committed consumer following. A blend of 63% Grenache, 26% Cinsault and 11% Syrah from dry farmed bush vines grown on sandstone soils, the fruit was spontaneously co-fermented using wild yeasts employing 20% of whole clusters. This 2020 shows a delightful autumnal aromatic profile of forest undergrowth, savoury frais de bois, tilled earth, grilled Provencal herbs and subtle shades of summer garrigue. On the palate, the wine shows plenty of textural detail, fine silky caressing tannins and harmonious fresh acids. The red and black berry fruits are earthy but impressively pure and precise, finishing with notes of bramble berries, pomegranates and sappy spice. There is a real confidence to the wine and a strong sense of terroir accentuated by Duncan’s deft winemaking acumen. Rhone lovers are going to love this release. Drink now and over 6 to 8+ years.

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

Savage Are We There Yet 2020, WO Malgas, 13.5% Abv.

Always an exciting wine to taste as each new vintage release seems to get better and better from maturing 15-year-old bush vines of 50% Touriga Nacional and 50% Syrah grown on a unique river pebble on shale terroir in Malgas. While the 2019 saw 100% of the grapes destemmed, the 2020 has a 10% whole bunch portion added. The aromatics are seductively dark and alluring with exotic notes of salty black currant, blueberry, black cherry and black liquorice. Wonderfully opulent and expressive, the 2020 reveals a deliciously fleshy, creamy palate with a truly seamless texture, sweet plump velvety tannins and a long saline, maritime tinged crème de cassis finish. The 2019 was more influenced by the Syrah in the blend, lending a certain savoury Cote Rotie feel to the wine, but this 2020 is decidedly more Douro’esque in stature with deliciously opulent Touriga Nacional black and blue berry fruit characteristics dominating. The evolution of this novel Savage Malgas blend is almost complete and well worth experiencing. Drink now and over 10 to 12+ years.

(Wine Safari Score: 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Savage Girl Next Door 2020, WO Cape Town, 13.5% Abv.

This famous, collectable micro-vinification from one of the saltiest, wind swept 0.38 hectares of organic Syrah vines near Fishhoek in Cape Town is made from 15-year-old 5-wire trellised vines on sandy gravel soils originally planted for ornamental purposes. The 2020 vintage once again sees a 50% whole cluster portion included in the natural fermentation followed by malolactic fermentation in 600 litre neutral French oak barrels before being aged for a further year in oak barrels. Initially delicately savoury and perfumed, the aromatics are fairly restrained showing notes of lavender soap, cured bresaola, hints of blood and iron, graphite and piquant plummy black berry spice. The palate texture is incredibly elegant and fine boned showing light touch winemaking, silky soft dry powdery tannins and a smooth, cool, classical finish revealing black berry fruits, black peppercorns and a gentle maritime salinity. A very fine, supple, complete expression of Syrah that is perhaps a little more understated than previous vintages but nonetheless thoroughly delicious and enchanting. Drink now and over the next 8 to 10+ years.

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

Savage Red Blend 2019, WO Stellenbosch, 13.5% Abv.

In 2017 the Savage Proprietary Red became a pure 100% Syrah wine and from 2018, the fruit was exclusively sourced in Stellenbosch from vineyards grown on decomposed granite soils in the Polkadraai Hills from organically farmed grapes. Always released a year behind the rest of the Savage range, this 2019 is a dense, dark, potent red from a powerful, concentrated, minerally focused vintage. On the nose the aromatics are marked by intense notes of earthy red and black berry fruits, inky saline notes of black cherries, pink musk, savoury cured meat nuances, black olives and a sappy cedary wood spice complexity. With 70% of whole clusters used in the fermentation, the palate shows pronounced chalky mineral tannins but also vibrantly fresh crunchy acids from the granitic soils. Raspberries and blueberries surge to the fore on this dense, powerfully structured wine, gaining in richness and intensity as the wine slowly unfurls in the glass. Like some of the greatest expression of Syrah in Cote Rotie, this wine shows a focused prowess and concentration together with an opulent richness framed by an underlying stony minerality. A wine with undeniable focus and structure but also a surfeit of seductive charm. Drink from 2022 to 2035+.

(Wine Safari Score: 95+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Savage Not Tonight Josephine 2020, WO Piekenierskloof, 8% Abv.

First produced in 2018, needless to say, the wine was a massive commercial success and sold out incredibly quickly. To make things more complicated, no 2019 straw wine was produced. Returning in 2020, the 100% Chenin Blanc fruit was grown on rocky sandstone soils on the Piekenierskloof farm of Tierhoek. The grapes were dried for three weeks and then left for five days on its skins as whole bunches followed by foot treading. Only bottled in July 2021, the wine already shows a wonderfully pure fresh precision, a vibrant tangy acidity and fabulous drinkability. The aromatics are pure and bright with delicious layers of dried apricots drizzled in honey, mango chutney, melktart and custard filled pastries. The palate is creamy and plush, superbly balanced and elegant, neither overly sweet nor clawing with a fine creamy dried peach finesse, a mouth coating glycerol breadth and a long, pure finish with a kiss of granadilla liquor. Sweet wines of this calibre are not easy to produce making them true labours of love. If you get the opportunity to claim an allocation, grab it with both hands! Drink now to 2040+.

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

(Wines are available to UK trade clients on allocation through importer Swig Wines)

4 thoughts on “Tasting Duncan Savage’s New 2020 Releases – A Cornucopia of Quality Wines…

  1. Hi Greg,

    For the girl next door, can you expand on it being more understated that previous years? Keen to understand how it differs.

    Also, on a side note, did you lend your tasting notes to winemag … their commentary is eerily close.


    1. The wine is finer, more delicate, subtle and less powerful than previous full-throttle vintages. So perhaps merely a vintage to drink before some of the bigger years? But a lovely wine.

      I tasted and wrote my notes months before SA release tastings. Duncan definitely did not reveal my scores this year (so as not to influence in any way) but I think my notes were printed. The power of auto-suggestion?? 😉


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