Retasting and Rerating the Incredible Old Vine Dark Side of the Vine Semillon 2017 from Black Elephant Vintners…

Semillon is a complicated grape variety that needs to be allowed time in the cellar to show at its very best. After reviewing this wine back in February 2021, I noted that it was indeed a noteworthy expression but would undoubtedly benefit from further ageing in the cellar. To my surprise, I was recently served the wine blind from a friends collection and I’m pleased to say this old vine Semillon has blossomed into an exceptional fine wine.

These 118-year-old vines come from the famous Landau du Val vineyard in the Bo-Hoek area of the Franschhoek Valley, once owned by the late Basil Landau, and really do yield some very special fruit capable of making some truly profound white wines. Harvested February 2017, the fruit was picked and chilled overnight before being destemmed without crushing and left to macerate on the skins for 24 hours before pressing. The juice was settled in tank and then transferred to old 500 litre French oak barrels for natural fermentation which lasted 6 weeks. After fermentation, bâtonnage was performed once a week to add richness and texture to the wine. The wine was bottled unfiltered and unfined after 12 months ageing in barrel.

As with many other complex wines, cuisines and works of art, it seems unreasonable to expect that every critic will taste classic old vine Semillon in the same manner and see eye to eye with their critical ratings. In this instance, I simply cannot see eye to eye with my original rating and was so moved by the wine that I felt a new review would be the only respectful thing to do! This is undoubtedly an impressive wine fashioned by subtlety and whispered nuances, liquid minerality and a slowly evolving textural passion play that eventually seduces the drinker.

Black Elephant Vintners The Dark Side of the Vine Semillon 2017, W.O. Franschhoek, 12.25% Abv.

RS 2.30 g/l | TA 5.6 g/l | pH 3.41

This is one of the most impressive old vine Semillons produced in South Africa. What started life as a super taut, tightly wound nervy vintage white is now finally starting to reveal some of its true inner secrets after almost 6 years ageing in barrel and bottle. This vintage still requires beneficial air time in glass or decanter to breathe, but it has definitely evolved and started opening up previously hidden doors of complexity and texture. The aromatics are rich and alluring, packed full of honey and white citrus, nectarine peel, crushed gravel minerality and notes of dried nuts with a subtle lick of lanolin and tinned petit pois. On the palate, a wonderful structural depth and breadth is revealed, impressively dense and glycerol with a real sensation of dry extract concentration from the exceptional old vine fruit. There is plenty of crunchy white peach stone fruit, dried herbs, tart green pear, yellow grapefruit confit and a long leesy finish framed by tangy fresh acids. I said in my original review back in February 2021 that this was “another complex, restrained offering that will take a little time in the cellar to show at its very best.” That has indeed been the case and now, this 2017 vintage is truly on fire. Time to enjoy the classism and quality of this very fine Semillon expression. Drink from 2023 to 2033+.

(Wine Safari Score: 97/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

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