Having just tasted Duncan Savage’s new 2016 Are We There Yet? Touriga Nacional based blend, reinforced again what great potential these “alternative” warm climate varieties have in a future South African wine landscape. While this was Duncan’s first release, Eben Sadie on the other hand is already half a decade into the Treinspoor releases.
Made from 42 year old Tinta Barocca sourced from a vineyard in the Swartland, the 2016 new release appears to have reached a nouveau of quality not seen before for this variety in South Africa. This latest bottling rides on a wave of lifted perfumed perfection, with intense red cherry pastille, parma violets, rose water and sweet jasmine all mingling with seductive, piecing red and black bramble berry fruits. The palate shows a vibrant focus and purity of fruit I don’t recall ever seeing to this degree on this wine before. There are lashings of sweet cherry sherbet bon bons, pink musk sweets, red currant confit , purple nastergal (African nightshade berry), and tart Victoria plums. Wonderful concentration, palate tingling acidity freshness and superb harmonious depth. The ‘poor cousin’ in the Old Vine Series has just hit the jackpot and is riding high. Drink now to 2030+
(Wine Safari Score: 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
I guess it makes complete sense then when Eben says he feels that this red grape Tinta Barocca “might well transport the Swartland Terroir best into liquid form, purely because it captures the soils and the earthiness of the place.”
Eben regarded his 2015 as the most refined version ever, but for me, the 2016 I tasted surpasses even this monumental achievement.
I first met the wonderful Kelley Fox around 3 years ago at the Real Wine Fair in London. After several years of buying and selling a plethora of great Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley, a spell of tasting disappointing Pinot Noirs from Oregon followed despite being such a committed convert after attending the Oregon Pinot Camp in 2009.
But my good friend Doug Wregg from wine importer Les Caves de Pyrenees showed me the way to the superb Kelley Fox Wines and once again, my faith in the finest potential of Oregon Pinot Noir was restored.
The Momtazi Vineyard is a fully Demeter-certified biodynamic vineyard in the McMinnville Foothills A.V.A. (American Viticultural Area), in Northern Oregon, planted in 1998 with 114 and 115 Pinot Noir clones.
The 2013 vintage in the Willamette Valley was a year of consistent warm, dry weather until late September, that is. After a relatively dry winter and early spring, bud break in the Willamette Valley overall was the earliest since 1992. Summer was consistently warm, but with none of the heat spikes over 37 deg C like in 2009, for example. Veraison in relevant blocks occurred around the end of August/early September. Then the rains came. Not just any rains but typhoon-like rains at the end of September. But picking still only occurred on the 7th of October in the Momtazi vineyard with fruit considered some of the best quality in years.
This is one Pinot Noir worth investing some time in. With a nose this expressive and pretty, there is no point rushing. Contemplation is required. The bouquet is seriously seductive and beguiling, revealing subtle perfumed cherry blossom, cherry confit, blood oranges, polished rosewood and ruby grapefruit complexity. But this wine possesses an extra dimension, an inner core of Pinot beauty that marries red and black forest berry fruits, dusty chalky minerality, subtle sappy notes and dreamy resinous oak spice. The palate is no less impressive, with such a fine knit texture, creamy finessed talcum powder tannins and an inseparable, integrated acidity balance. Layers of black spicy cherry fruits roll into pomegranate, juniper, red liquorice stick, bramble berry and sweet creamy musk. There is such a feminine, harmonious gentleness to this wine that surely has to be one of the finest Pinot Noirs produced in the Willamette Valley. A real treat. Drink now to 2025+.
Yet again we are approaching one of the most exciting moments of the year… the launch of the new releases of Duncan Savage’s sought after wines. It was only after I started compiling an archive list of all the past Savage wine scores, featured below, that I realised how quickly time passes and why so many winemakers feel under so much pressure to learn, grow and utilise their incremental knowledge in each consecutive vintage release. After all, we don’t measure winemakers in age, we measure them in how many vintages they’ve made and how many more they realistically have left, all going well.
But as I write this post, our fleeting, finite time on this planet is made all the more stark as I learnt today of the sad passing of Boetie van Reenen, one of the young vineyard owners and growers responsible for much of the fruit that goes into many of Duncan Savage’s wines. Let’s hope his memory lives on in the age worthy wines of Duncan and his fellow winemakers.
On a more cheerful note, 2017 was the year that Savage Wines found a permanent home in a wonderful winery space in Salt River, just outside the city bowl suburbs of central Cape Town. Securing these premises was a massive coup for Duncan and his future growth plans. Quality can only get better with the extra focus his own winery will afford him.
Savage Wines’ 2017 Releases:
Savage White Blend 2016
After producing one of the most memorable Savage white blends in the 2015 vintage, the 2016 offering was always going to come under ever closer scrutiny. From the second of the drought vintages, this white from Duncan Savage is a blend of 54% Sauvignon Blanc, 29% Semillon and 17% Chenin Blanc with a 14% Abv. A brilliant lime straw yellow, this wine has a bold and expressive aromatic profile of pithy grated lemon peel, pineapple pastille fruits, crushed limestone minerality, pear drops and sugar dusted marshmallows. Pause for too long to appreciate the complexity in the glass and before you know it the wine has evolved further, offering up yet more intricate notes of white citrus blossom, crunchy green pears and dried baking spices of basil and thyme. With the sizeable chunk of 17% Chenin Blanc asserting itself in the blend, the 2016 has a much more distinctive Cape feel rather than the white Bordeaux Graves expression of previous vintages. There is an intense, piercing concentration to the palate, with powerful glycerol notes of white citrus, yellow grapefruit, crunchy white peaches, and tangerine peel, underpinned by a herby, dusty, wet chalk minerality. Rich, unctuous and roundly textured, this wine coats every corner of the drinker’s palate and asserts its exceptional quality, complexity and winemaking pedigree. Drink now to 2027.
(Wine Safari Score: 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Savage Follow the Line Red Blend 2016
For the previous two vintages of this wine, one could wonder whether perhaps it’s exceptional quality and intensity was perhaps the result of a lucky synergistic blend or the product of a very complex, generous vintage. But this 2016 is probably the vintage that looks set to impress the critics yet again and seduce the consumer even more so than the crunchy 2015 vintage. A blend of 44% Cinsaut, 37% Grenache and 19% Syrah at 13% Abv, this wine sings a lofty melodic chorus the moment the cork is pulled. The riper, dryer vintage evidently plays to the strengths of these red varieties with the most seductive perfumed nose of parma violets, sweet cherry blossom, bathroom soaps, rose petals and potpourri sweet spice. The brilliance of this wine lies in the synergy created marrying the vibrant marzipan laden Cinsaut with the sappy, mineral, red fruited Grenache, leaving the Syrah to lend a tantalising depth of structure and peppery savouriness. The palate is so seamless, harmonious and elegant with sweet boiled raspberry bon bons, red current herbal tea infusions, ripe cranberries, and a crunchy, vibrant, strawberry fruited finale. Such sweet, silky, fleshy tannins linger on a creamy, opulent, energetic finish. Perhaps less of the exotic, crunchy hubris of the 2015, but the 2016 is certainly a far more self assured, confident red wine that looks set to once and for all, cement its global icon status as one of the truly great fine wines to follow, year in, year out. Drink now to 2030+.
(Wine Safari Score: 95+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Savage Are We There Yet? Red Blend 2016
A new wine in the Savage range, anyone who knows Duncan well will know that Touriga Nacional is a grape that has impressed him more and more over the years. Starting with small amounts blended into his Savage red, this new expression is a bold blend of 85% Touriga Nacional, 8% Cinsaut and 7% Grenache at 14.5 Abv. The dominant variety of the Douro Valley in Portugal, this big bold red shows a heady, lifted nose of violets, earthy mulberry, red currants, liquorice, and macerated damson plums, with complexing notes of tannery leather, sappy hedgerow, and sweet cedar and clove spice. Despite the opulent, seductive, confit fruit notes, there is a dusty, crushed grey slate mineral vein that starts on the nose and continues right through the palate. Full and fleshy, the Touriga Nacional from Malgas is supple, opulent and sweetly fruited. The Cinsaut lends both an exotic, marzipan and violet fragrant lift, but more importantly adds freshness and extra acidity cut. An intriguing wine from a very warm, dry vintage, this wine could become the natural counter-foil to the Savage Follow the Line and its crunchy, nervy energy. This bold red will find a large, welcoming audience in both the local and international markets when released. Drink now to 2026+.
(Wine Safari Score: 92+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Savage Red Blend 2016
If there is one wine in the Savage range that would have embraced the warm, dry growing conditions of 2016, then it must surely be the Savage red. In 2016, it is comprised of 81% Syrah, 11% Grenache and 8% Cinsaut at 13.5 Abv. Perhaps the most classically proportioned of all the Savage reds, this Syrah dominated blend has a beautifully complex nose of perfumed dried roses, black berry fruits, grilled herbs, cured meats, garrigue, fynbos and dusty granitic minerality. Very forward and opulent, the 2016’s are showing wonderful overt confidence and composure already at this early stage. Indeed the Savage red is often the one specific wine that demands a few extra years in bottle before showing you its full potential. The palate is so fleshy and forward with accessibly soft, harmonious tannins and sleek vibrant acids that elevate the red cranberry and strawberry fruit flavours and highlight the wines impressive palate concentration and depth. This seductive Savage red is going to be a hard one to keep away from your corkscrew! Drink now to 2030+.
(Wine Safari Score: 94/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
The South African launch of these wines is scheduled for 1st August 2017. You can email email@example.com or ring +27 21 785 4019 to request an allocation.
The Savage Wines Score Archive Since Maiden Release:
Savage White Blend 2016 – 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW
Savage Follow the Line Red Blend 2016 – 95+/100 Greg Sherwood MW
Savage Are We There Yet Red Blend 2016 – 92+/100 Greg Sherwood MW
Savage Red Blend 2016 – 94/100 Greg Sherwood MW
Savage White Blend 2015 – 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW
Savage Red Blend 2014 – 95+/100 Greg Sherwood MW
Savage Follow the Line Red Blend 2015 – 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW
Savage Girl Next Door Syrah 2015 – 94/100 Greg Sherwood MW
Savage White Blend 2014 – 93+/100 Greg Sherwood MW
Savage Red Blend 2013 – 94+/100 Greg Sherwood MW
Savage Follow the Line Red Blend 2014 – 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW
Savage Girl Next Door Syrah 2014 – 93/100 Greg Sherwood MW
Savage Red Blend 2012 – 94+/100 Greg Sherwood MW
Savage White Blend 2013 – 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW
Savage Red Blend 2011 – 94/100 Greg Sherwood MW
Savage White Blend 2012 – 94-95/100 Greg Sherwood MW
It was a real priviledge for me recently to travel down to Ancre Hill Estates in Wales with renowned wine critic Neal Martin, to visit the vineyards and winery and taste an extensive selection of their wines. Indeed, Neal Martin only just recently released the Wine Advocate’s first ever English Sparkling Wine Report, scoring a broad cross section of sparkling wines for the publication.
Since the release of their first vintage in 2008, Ancre Hill Estates has been recognised with medals in some of the top international wine competitions in the world, including Decanter, IWSC, IWC and winning the Bollicine del Mondo in 2012.
In order to continue their ongoing development, plans for the construction of a new winery on the Estate were approved in 2012, with the winery building works finished in 2015.
The Ancre Hill Estates Winery represents an extension of their philosophy in the vineyard, namely, external inputs are minimal, with the implementation of sustainable technologies. Natural materials were used over synthetic ones wherever possible with the walls of the winery being constructed from straw bales and a living, green roof, which provides temperature and humidity regulation. Waste water is treated by a series of ecological pools and plantings which also provide many of the plants and wild flowers used in their biodynamic tea treatments for the vineyard.
The style of their wines continues to evolve, with small batch fermentations occurring almost entirely in oak barrels and concrete cuves. Fermentations are solely carried out by wild yeasts and bacteria with the avoidance of filtration and fining for the finished wines wherever possible. Their wines, as with their grapes, are fully DEMETER certified since 2014, adhering to the strictest biodynamic production criteria.
Ancre Hill Tasting:
Blanc de Blancs 2009
5.5 years on lees, Zero dosage, 12% Abv. The first vintage from the Chardonnay Vineyard (planted in 2007). Rich buttery leesy nose with plenty of waxy yellow citrus, yellow orchard fruits, cooked fruits and a dusty minerality. Palate is crystalline and pure, with zesty acids balanced with sherbity mousse and a very long, lingering finish. Harmonious, crisp and characterful.
(Wine Safari Score: 88+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Blanc de Blancs 2010
5.5 years on lees, 11% Abv. Slightly dusty, white citrus nose with white blossom and summer orchard fruits. Just a subtle savoury dimension combined with very fine freshness and leesy aromatic complexity. Mousse is zesty, lively and more grippy, with a cream soda spritz and a very long creamy, lemon sherbet finish. Very fine indeed.
(Wine Safari Score: 91+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Blanc de Blancs 2011
5.5 years on lees, 11.5 % Abv. Exotic nose of black current pastille, flinty, leafy fruit notes. Quite exotic and nuanced with touches of red orchard fruits and savoury ripe citrus notes. More multi-dimensional with saline black berry fruits, creme de cassis and spearmint leaf. Full, dense and round, beautifully creamy and textural.
(Wine Safari Score: 92/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Blanc de Blancs 2013 (not released yet)
24m on lees in bottle so far, 11-11.5% Abv. Back to white citrus and yellow orchard fruit complexity. Dusty, limey leesy notes with hints of stem ginger, bruised apple savoury nuances. Already beautifully broad, deep and harmonious with ginger spice, alka seltzer and peppery white citrus focus. Lovely creamy mouse and a salty, tart, briney finish.
(Wine Safari Score: 90-91/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Rose 2011 Sparkling Wine
66% Pinot Noir – 33% Chardonnay, 11% Abv. 7g/l RS, 3.5-4 years on lees. Exotic nose of salty cassis, red orchard fruits, aniseed root, cherry skins and savoury Red Pinot Noir fruit nuances. Honeyed red fruits, savoury, red berries, cranberry, logan berries and yellow plum and licorice. Full and very complex, so textural and creamy. Impressive, stand alone fruit and weight, savoury depth and overall intensity. Beautiful wine with great potential.
(Wine Safari Score: 92/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Other Selected Still Wines:
Pinot Noir Rose 2014
Total SO2 40ppm, 10.5% Abv. Dusty savoury minerality. Super crisp, with tart red fruits, cranberry, strawberry complexity. Racy acids and a long mineral, wet chalk finish.
(Wine Safari Score: 87/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Natural MLF, 43ppm SO2, 10% Abv. Dusty, white flowers, crisp and crystalline, crunchy yellow peach, wet chalk, waxy yellow summer orchard fruits. Plenty of stuffing, very chablis’esque and mineral laden with a pithy green apple spice finish.
(Wine Safari Score: 88/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Pinot Noir 2014
100% whole bunch in oak for 14 months. 11% Abv. 60ppm SO2. Beautifully savoury, spicy, red fruit spice complexity. Cured meats and musky pink fruits. Palate is packed with heritage plums, fleshy, lush red strawberry confit, sappy, wet chalk and dusty, foresty red fruit intensity. Beautiful complex wine.
(Wine Safari Score: 90+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
9.5% Abv. 8.2 TA. Spicy, rich plummy, bramble fruits. Rich, full mouthfeel, fruit forward with sour cherry. A tart vibrant wine. Plenty of saline sappy spice and an earthy, gun powdery red berry finish.
Thelema Mountain Vineyards is an absolute Cape classic, located high on the slopes of the picturesque Simonsberg Mountain in the heart of Stellenbosch, the true Kingdom of Cabernet. With vineyards grown at elevations of between 370m and 530m above sea level, Thelema is one of the highest and coolest estates in the area with 100 percent of the fruit used coming from their own vineyards.
For the last few years, Thomas Webb has taken over the reigns from his father Gyles Webb, who established Thelema in 1983 by purchasing a run down fruit farm. The first wines were released in 1988 and they soon became some of the most sought after wines in the Cape winelands and pretty soon came to typify the new quality and modern style parameters that were being pursued in the post 1990 South Africa, ahead of the first democratic elections in 1994.
Chatting to Thomas at our recent 2013 red vintage horizontal tasting, I recalled how in the mid 1990’s I used to battle to secure even just a few bottles of their Chardonnay, Merlot Reserve and their famous Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon. The wines, despite their fame, we’re not produced in huge quantities and were actually quite a defined, limited boutique offering. Today, Thelema still sells a healthy 70 percent of their wines in the local home market, a revealing sign of their continued fame and fashion among local South African fine wine consumers.
Thelema Merlot 2013, Stellenbosch, 14.5 Abv.
Cool dark spicy nose showing black fruits, dried herbs, baking spices and macerated black plums. Also a noticeable dried bush veld and cherry skin pithiness. The palate is sleek, tight knit and cool, packed with fleshy black berry fruits, black plum, and black current. There is tension here and classical fine grained mineral tannins lurking underneath the elegant creamy texture. A Merlot definitely on the more serious end of the spectrum.
This wine shows evidence of a step up in quality and intensity with 100% new French oak being used for maturation. The nose is sweet and savoury revealing an alluring earthy vein along with blueberries, tannery leather, dried herbs, and a Cabernet-like cedary oak spice lift. The palate is rich and intense, showing very polished, textured and suave luxurious sweet tannins. There is extra power here and harmonious fleshy depth with cassis leaf, subtle herbal notes and sweet tobacco on the long vibrant finish. Impressive wine with only approximately 3000 bottles produced from vines planted in the mid-1980’s.
(Wine Safari Score: 93+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Thelema Cabernet Sauvignon The Mint 2013, Stellenbosch, 14 Abv.
A really individual style with a dusty lift of pronounced peppermint and sweet cassis spice together with cedary, mineral spice and boiled black currant sweets, pastille, and herbal mint tea notes. The palate is full and fleshy, rich and round, with fine purity and creamy, caressed tannins. The finish is modern and opulent, with black currant leaf, reductive saline cassis notes and that characteristic eucalyptus lick. Very enjoyable to drink. A real crowd pleaser.
There is officially no reserve Cabernet Sauvignon in the Thelema range, but this classic black label Cabernet Sauvignon is a serious piece of kit. Aged 20 months in 40% new French oak, there is lovely varietal typicity here (despite the sneaky splash of Petit Verdot in the blend), with a dusty mineral nose of dried basil and thyme, hints of fynbos, graphite, and perfumed potpourri dried herb spice. Beautifully textured, the palate shows great purity and precision and intelligent winemaking. Like all the Thelema wines, there are fine polished tannins, real elegance, focus and finesse. Classy and classical, this is an impressive expression of Stellenbosch Cabernet with complexity, age-ability, and confidence of style. Benchmark in everyday.
Alternatively called the Thelema Cape Winemakers Guild blend, this wine changed to the Rabelais label with the 2007 vintage, being produced originally from only Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. From 2009, Petit Verdot started to replace the Merlot portion and now the blend appears fairly settled on a 90% Cab / 10% PV mix. Dark, cool, broody black fruits reveal hints of cassis leaf, saline oyster shell, graphite, iodine and blueberry crumble. Palate is taught and fresh, with real precision and incredibly fine, pin point velvety tannins. A very elegant package, the acids give this wine extra tension and real steely cut. Classy and restrained, the Rabelais will improve immeasurably with at least another 10 years in the cellar.
A really super tasting tonight with proprietor Mike Ratcliffe, looking at the pre-release Vilafonte Series C 2015 as well as other back vintages. A classical Bordeaux blend of 57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Merlot, 9% Malbec, and 15% Cabernet Franc, this wine was aged 22 months in 67% new French Oak barrels, with the balance being older 2nd fill barrels.
Vilafonte has risen through the fine wine ranks with Phil Freese and Zelma Long keeping a steadying hand on the rudder. Mike Radcliffe has always been a driving force of quality and market direction and seems intent on elevating this fine wine winery to yet loftier levels of success. With the quality seen today, there seems little doubt that this will be a mere formality.
Vilafonte Series C Blend 2015, Paarl, 14.5 Abv.
Dark mulberry plum colour, this wine has a most seductive nose of blueberry, cassis, and mulberry fruits interwoven with violets, graphite, mocha and cedary oak spice. A very measured, classical style of wine that fawns its Cabernet Sauvignon dominated credentials. Rich, seductive and opulent in its youth as you’d expect, but the extra broody layers of white pepper, dusty minerality and black cherry pith suggest a more serious, complex side to the wine. The palate is dense and creamy, but also so beautifully proportioned like a chiselled, well honed athlete. Great depth, Cab power and harmonious balance, finely polished tannins and sleek integrated fresh acids, this is a very impressive blend from a fantastic vintage. Power and pedigree, a wine that demands your attention and engages your senses.
Broglia’s unique Gavi di Gavi Vecchia Annata 2009 comes from the best, hand-picked Cortese grapes from the oldest vineyards of the Tenuta La Meirana, planted between 1953 and 1955.
The 2009 vintage was characterized by regular flowering in the first ten days of June and a hot summer with significant diurnal temperature variation. Those conditions, combined with “sur lie” ageing in steel tanks and regular batonnage for 85 months have given this ‘Super Gavi’ great structure and a profound intensity of flavours and aromas. The wine bears comparison to a fine White Burgundy, in terms of elegance, texture and depth of flavour.
This is a truly unique wine, made in extremely limited quantities and it will not be out of place on the finest wine lists. This collector’s item is a real first for Gavi and demonstrates the region’s quality. If you are partial to some of the Cantina Terlaner Rarita aged white releases, then this is the wine for you. At £89 per bottle, it’s fractionally cheaper than the Rarita £100+ releases, but equally as rare and desirable.
Tenuta La Meirana Broglia Vecchia Annata 2009, Gavi di Gavi DOCG, 13.5 Abv.
Beautiful lemon lime straw colour. Wow. A very complex nose of pear purée, tarte tatin, baked apples, cinnamon and marzipan spices. Intriguing notes of dried figs, wet straw and cut grass aromatics. Unfurls in the glass as you’d expect from a wine with this type of lengthy ageing and pedigree. Lovely saline notes on the nose carry to the palate in a pithy, zippy, aromatic melange of pear skins, grated apples, yellow orchard fruits and a spicy, dusty, alluring minerality. The finish long, mesmerisingly austere, stony and intense with hints of dried herbs, nuts, brine, ripe pears and dusty crushed chalk. Intriguing notes of red cherry fruit develop together with complex almond skin spice and pithy bitter walnut on a fresh Chablis-like finish. A wine that is very much a ‘gourmet’ food wine that offers up a whole lot of intrigue and impressive winemaking ambition.