I recently caught up with South African rock star producer Eben Sadie in London and enjoyed a fantastic masterclass with him. After the tasting we had a good chat where I asked him who he thought was currently one of the most exciting winemaking talents on the South African wine scene making some of the very best wines? His answer, unequivocally, was Duncan Savage. It came as no surprise to me as Duncan has consistently been among the leading pack of fine wine producers in the Cape for several years now. But what I think elevated his standing further in the eyes of Eben Sadie was Duncan’s unerring commitment and single-minded labours in his vineyards, very much like Eben himself.
There is a small but growing number of top winemakers in South Africa who are slowly but surely recognizing that the quickest route to increasing quality and making even better wines now lies in the vineyards, not in the winery. Quality for many of these producers has now reached a level where additional incremental increases in bottled quality can only be achieved by harvesting higher quality grapes. There will of course always be vintage variation, which is a good thing, and better or lesser vintages, but the ultimate endeavour for many winemakers now lies in improved viticulture.
No where can this commitment of Duncan Savage to viticulture be witnessed more clearly than with his new extreme vineyard plantings in the Karibib vineyard in southern Stellenbosch. At great expense, Duncan has planted what he hopes and believes will be one of the highest quality, extreme vineyard Syrahs in South Africa, that will hopefully yield a quality of grapes not seen before in Stellenbosch. We will watch this project with great interest. In the meantime, its time to top your cellars up with some of his latest releases.
Savage New Releases 2022:
Savage White 2021, WO Western Cape, 13.8% Abv.
1.7 g/l RS | 6.3 g/l TA | 3.24 pH
This is the second vintage of the Savage White after returning to a pure orthodox white Bordeaux style blend with 69% Sauvignon Blanc and 31% Semillon from trellised and bush vine vineyards around the Western Cape. The whole bunch pressing and oxidative handling of the must followed by a natural fermentation, with the Semillon portion going through malolactic fermentation, are undoubtedly part of the secret to Duncan’s rich, opulent style. 2021 was another cracking white wine vintage and this release sees the Savage White reach new levels of textural lavishness and palate breadth. The aromatics are rich and expressive with multiple layers of grapefruit preserve, peach tea, green apple pastille and delicate hints of chamomile, honey and pineapple. In the mouth the wine rolls across the palate with an impressively dense glycerol weight of fruit together with the most delicious tangy mouth-watering acids. The wine spent 10 months in oak, 20% new, which adds a very attractive but subtle lick of crystallised tangerines, vanilla pod spice and a waxy liquid minerality on the finish. Piercing and impressively intense, this wine has arguably never been better and serves as a liquid tribute to the quality of the vintage drinking well from release and over 8 to 10+ years. (8,300 bottles produced.)
(Wine Safari Score: 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Savage Never Been Asked to Dance Chenin Blanc 2021, WO Paarl, 13.3% Abv.
2.1 g/l RS | 5.4 g/l TA | 3.35 pH
If the Girl Next Door Syrah vineyard is hard to farm, this 68-year-old organically dry farmed Chenin Blanc bush vine vineyard grown on decomposed granite soils in Paarl has to be the white equivalent with both birds and baboons taking a liking the to the fruit almost as much as obsessive wine collectors have around the world. The wine was whole bunch pressed with oxidative juice handling before a natural fermentation and 100% malolactic fermentation followed by 10 months ageing in old 600 litre Stockinger barrels. The emphasis on this wine is always purity of terroir, varietal typicity and that glorious liquid minerality you get from the decomposed granite soils. In this exceptional vintage, all the classical aromatics are on show with layers of complex crushed granite, struck flint, wet stones together with pithy white peach, dried baking herbs, fynbos and dry summer bushveld. On the palate there is an incredibly fresh, energising acidity that adds a wonderful frame to the rich textural concentration of yellow summer orchard fruits, pineapple pastille, toasted almonds, white peach and apple puree nuances. Only in its fourth vintage, this pure Chenin Blanc wine seems to grow in cult status year after year, with this 2021 release rising to yet new incredible heights of quality making this wine just about as serious as any premium old vine white coming out of South Africa! Drink on release and over 15+ years.
(Wine Safari Score: 97/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Savage Red 2020, WO Stellenbosch, 13.7% Abv.
2.4 g/l RS | 5.2 g/l TA | 3.69 pH
The Savage Red 2020 is a pure Syrah sourced exclusively from prime organically grown Stellenbosch vineyards planted on decomposed granite soils. Rich, textured and powerful, this flagship red undergoes an extra year of bottle ageing before release allowing the full complexity of the wine to shine. The grapes were spontaneously fermented from wild yeasts using 50% whole clusters with two workings per day while the must spent 3 to 4 weeks on skins before being basket pressed into old 500 litre barrels for 12 months ageing followed by a further 10 months in foudre. Despite all the dark youthful broody density, the wine displays a gloriously perfumed aromatic profile that rises out the glass effortlessly to reveal expressive notes of lavender, sweet lilies, ripe red plum, stewed mulberries and strawberry compote before singed sandalwood, dried rosemary and thyme herbal nuances. The palate is broad and elegantly textured with plenty of sweet, sumptuous upfront red and black berry fruits, a savoury steak tartar meaty complexity, black peppercorns and a granitic infused mineral finish. Wonderfully polished sweet plush tannins make this a seriously generous wine that will offer rewarding drinking on release but that will undoubtedly be cellar worthy for another 10 to 12+ years of development. (13,469 bottles produced.)
(Wine Safari Score: 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Savage Follow the Line 2021, WO Darling, 13.1% Abv.
1.7 g/l RS | 5.0 g/l TA | 3.74 pH
One more vintage after the 2021 release and Duncan Savage will be able to present a decade on vertical of this extraordinary wine that will no doubt tantalise its ardent fans while converting any final sceptics of the true premium gravitas of well sited old vine Cinsault. Sourced from 40+ year old dry farmed bush vines in the ward of Darling grown on decomposed granite soils, the wine underwent spontaneous fermentation using 50% whole clusters before spending two weeks on its skins before being basket pressed into neutral foudre for 10 months of ageing. The 2021 reaches 93% Cinsault with a modest 7% of Syrah blended in to yield a wine that is deep, dark and very serious on the nose, boasting layers of raisined cranberries, dried strawberries, red currants and subtle perfumed hints of rose petals and violets. While the aromatics might be slightly shyer than usual, the palate displays a wonderfully toasty, savoury depth of red and black berry fruits, cherry cordial, wild strawberry and a sappy, spicy finish. There is plenty of depth with supporting structure but also an accessibility with a delicious dark fruited opulence. This looks like a Follow the Line that will be ready to rock n roll on release but will of course prove cellar-worthy for at least another 10 to 12+ years. (10,617 bottles produced.)
(Wine Safari Score: 94/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Savage Thief in the Night 2021, WO Piekenierskloof, 13.6% Abv.
2.2 g/l RS | 4.8 g/l TA | 3.74 pH
The Thief in the Night cuvee is a wine that increasingly pushes the solo message of premium Grenache despite still having minor blend components of 7.5% Syrah and 6.5% Cinsault, the ‘salt and pepper’ of the wine. This beautifully pristine Piekenierskloof Grenache from dry farmed bush vines grown on sandstone soils underwent spontaneous fermentation with 10 to 20% whole clusters before being basket pressed after two weeks on the skins into neutral foudre for 10 months ageing. Always striving for freshness and purity, Duncan Savage has created another beautiful expression with pristine aromatics of pressed rose petals, earthy bramble berries, freshly cut hedgerow, strawberry compote and dried thyme. On the palate, the acids are taut and fresh creating a glassy, linear tension with notes of red liquorice, blood and iron and salty kelp over savoury, sappy red currant and pomegranate fruit nuances. This is a wine with impressive focus and intensity, suave tannins and a crunchy freshness that invigorates the palate and invites one sip after the next. 2021 signals a return to more Rhone-like characters on a wine that will drink well on release and over the next 8 to 10+ years. (4,624 bottles produced.)
(Wine Safari Score: 93/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Savage Girl Next Door Syrah 2021, WO Cape Town, 13.4% Abv.
2.2 g/l RS | 4.9 g/L TA | 3.72 pH
Very few red wine vineyards in the Cape are more famous than this salty, windswept 0.38 hectares near Fishhoek in Cape Town that is home to the meagre amounts of organically grown Syrah grapes from this site. Made from 16-year-old trellised vines grown on sandy gravelly soils that were originally planted for ornamental purposes, this 100% Syrah underwent spontaneous natural fermentation using 50% whole clusters with two workings per day followed by two weeks on the skins before being basket pressed into neutral foudre for 10 months of ageing. This 2021 expression shows plenty of attention to detail with lofty perfumed aromatics of pressed violets and cherry blossom followed by pure pristine notes of black cherries, black plum, pink musk, graphite and subtle cherry cola nuances. Already beautifully intense and generously fruit forward, there is also incredible clarity and focus on the palate with an overwhelmingly salty maritime twang that combines with a juicy mouth-watering acidity to give the wine striking drive and power, all executed in the most elegant and harmonious manner. Not too savoury or meaty, this fine boned wine excels on its purity of fruit and textural finesse in the same way the world’s greatest Cote Rotie Syrahs do. A truly incredible cool climate coastal Syrah that simply shoots the lights out! Drink from release and over the next 10 to 15+ years. (2,845 bottles produced.)
(Wine Safari Score: 97/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Savage Are We There yet 2021, WO Malgas, 13% Abv.
1.4 g/l RS | 5.8 g/l TA | 3.64 pH
This delightful Malgas red blend has really found its own personality over the past 2 or 3 vintages becoming one of the fastest selling wines in the Savage range. Settling into a 50% Touriga Nacional and 50% Syrah blend from 16-year-old bush vines grown on a unique river pebble on shale soil terroir. The 2021 saw a spontaneous natural fermentation using 10% of whole clusters and spent two weeks on its skins before being basket pressed into old 500 litre barrels where it was aged for 10 months. On the nose the aromatics are delightfully dark and brooding, slowly revealing notes of black cherry, blue berry and black currant intertwined with hints of nori seaweed, salty liquorice, cured meats and graphite minerality. As with many of the 2021 reds, there is at once fabulous fruit depth, intensity and freshness together with a seamlessly harmonious textural palate with the most creamy of tannins enlivened by a tangy, juicy acidity that simply melts away slowly into the dark fruit opulence. Some vintages of this wine can tend towards more Douro’esque characteristics while others lean towards more Northern Rhone Cote Rotie stature. This 2021 does neither, preferring instead to find a harmonious equilibrium between these two dominant premium red varieties. A very grown up, sophisticated expression of this cuvee that possess great confidence and stature. Drink this on release and over the next 8 to 10+ years. (2,310 bottles produced.)
(Wine Safari Score: 94/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Savage Not Tonight Josephine 2021, WO Piekenierskloof, 7.5% Abv.
352 g/l RS | 9.8 g/l TA | 3.35 pH
First produced in 2018, the 2021 is only the third release of this sweet straw wine elixir made from 100% Chenin Blanc grapes from vines grown on rocky sandstone soils on the Piekenierskloof farm of Tierhoek. The grapes were dried for circa three weeks and then foot stomped for 5 days before being basket pressed into 225 litre barrels for fermentation. The wine was aged for 14 months in old 225 litre French oak barrels with a small portion aged in large demijohns. Made in incredibly small quantities, this specialty dessert wine offers up a profusion of fruit and floral aromatics ranging from dried apricots, honey, caramelized mango, tarte tatin and a hint of salted caramel. On the palate the wine is sumptuous and weightlessly silky soft, rolling over the tongue like melted honey infused with notes of dried peaches, crystallised mango and caramelized pineapples in liquor. Fabulously luxurious and decadent, this wine is also beautifully balanced with the perfect acid – sugar symmetry. The perfect wine to spoilt yourself with! Drink now and over the next 20+ years. (959 x 37.5cl bottles produced.)
(Wine Safari Score: 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Wines are available to the UK trade on allocation from Swig Wines.
Recommended retail prices are circa £32.99 for the Savage whites and £34.99 for the Savage reds.