2019 represents the first post-drought Series M vintage to be released by the team at the Vilafonte winery in Paarl and the vintage clearly illustrates what is possible when nature decides to co-operate to yield some exceptional raw materials. According to winemaker Chris de Vries, the vintage was really a tale of two seasons. While rains initially remained elusive, there was an upswing in rainfall towards the end of the 2018 winter and continuing into spring and early summer.
Weather fluctuations in the spring did however result in uneven bud-break and berry set. Conditions improved somewhat at the onset of summer with a warmer November being very conducive to healthy vineyard growth. Some uneven ripening was remedied with in-bunch sorting after veraison and by the time harvest arrived at the beginning of February, the fruit quality was looking exceptional.
The Series M 2019 is a blend of 48% Malbec, 34% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon and 3% Cabernet Franc which was aged for 22 months in 22 percent new French oak barriques with the balance in a mixture of older French oak barrels. 51 barrels were produced.
Vilafonte Series M 2019, WO Paarl, 14% Abv.
This excellent vintage has yielded a truly impressive wine for the Vilafonte team displaying a brilliant and intense ruby and red plum hue. The aromatics are expansive and hedonistic sending notes of violets and crushed red cherries, raspberries and pressed rose petals soaring out the glass with confidence and vigour. Fabulously complex and intricate, attractive notes of wild berries and red currant follow to the dense, full bodied palate that boasts a broad seductive array of black liquorice and black plum, cocoa powder and brown toast crust nuances. The Malbec and Merlot are like a marriage made in heaven, offering svelte supple tannins and a texture that wraps its arms around you in the most comforting embrace. With time in the glass, the full fleshy palate shows further layers of baked plums, blue berries and red cherries all underpinned by fresh vital acids. This is most definitely one of the most powerful, potent and heady wines produced in the Series M range to date displaying an impressively ample fine wine self-confident personality. Drink this wine in its youth or cellar for 20+ years.
The Tesselaarsdal wine brand was founded in 2015 by long-standing Hamilton Russell Vineyards employee Berene Sauls and was named after the historic Overberg farming hamlet of Tesselaarsdal, which lies inland from the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge wine appellation where Berene sources all her grapes.
The maiden release of the Tesselaarsdal Chardonnay was only the 2019 and already within three vintages, Berene has managed to fine tune the style of this wine to show the best of a very fine, cool vintage in 2021. Extreme care is taken to ensure that this small-production classically Old World-styled Chardonnay expresses the terroir of the cool maritime Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge fruit sourced from un-irrigated vines grown at elevation on stony clay and iron-rich soils.
Tesselaarsdal Chardonnay 2021, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, 13% Abv.
This is a supremely elegant, taut mineral expression of cool climate Chardonnay with classically restrained aromatics of green pear, Granny Smith apple, crushed gravel, dried green herbs and hints of white citrus and tangerine peel. Like the subtle aromatics, the palate shows incredible tension and vibrancy but again without overt obvious opulence. This wine is a masterclass in elegance and restraint showing a cool, lean, crystalline palate built around minerality, electric acids, and a lean old world elegance. This is undoubtedly next level quality and intensity for the Tesselaarsdal Chardonnay. Drink this taut focused effort now and over the next 8+ years. Really impressive.
Cousins Danie and Hugo are 5th generation growers with prime vineyards in the Swartland, Devon Valley and the very exciting Polkadraai ward in Stellenbosch. Great wine is made in the vineyards and they supply a roll-call of exceptional producers – names like Alheit Vineyards, Crystallum, Raats Family Wines, Thorne & Daughters, Mulderbosch and LeRiche to name but a few. Embodying the drive of the new generation Hugo and Danie decided not only to sell grapes but to make some wine too. So started Carinus Family Wines using a selection of grapes from their extensive vineyard plantings to focus on producing some high quality reds and whites that offer excellent value for money.
The 2020 Polkadraai Hills Chenin Blanc is already their third release. After whole bunch pressing the juice was moved to concrete eggs for fermentation and ageing which took ten months. The granitic soils and total absence of oak has created a pure but punchy wine with an attractive “nakedness” on display with a perfect balance of pH (3.14) and acidity (6.6g/l) that should allow this wine to develop further beneficial complexity with additional ageing in bottle.
Carinus Family Wines Polkadraai Heuwels Chenin Blanc 2020, WO Polkadraai Hills
An attractive Stellenbosch Chenin Blanc that displays a wonderfully cool, sleek, mineral laden aromatics flushed with stony gravel notes, fynbos, crunchy green pear, white peach and subtle salty citrus zest nuances. On the palate, a lovely full texture marries restrained elegance with a glycerol liquid minerality, lime zest and quince nuances and a long, stony wet river pebble finish. Concrete egg Chenin Blanc has never been more sexy! Drink on release and over 6 to 8+ years.
When it comes to adversity, there is little that has not been thrown at the people of Lebanon in the past few years. But as expected, resilience has once again become the byword for the tenacious locals in their struggle to resume normal lives after political turmoil, the Syrian refugee crisis, economic difficulties, the Covid pandemic and of course the disastrous Beirut port explosion on the 4th of August 2020. While all this chaos has been going on, the determined winemakers of the Bekaa Valley have soldiered on with their treasured alchemic art of turning grapes into incredibly fine wines.
After an almost 16 month wait, stocks of the highly anticipated 2015 Chateau Musar finally landed in the UK market at the end of 2021 defying ongoing shipping problems and global container shortages. True to the theme of adversity, the 2015 harvest proved to be one of the most challenging in a generation according to Chateau Musar. The start of the year was promising with January and February 2015 offering up plentiful amounts of rain and snow, followed in March by more snow before the weather gave way to warmer conditions in late March. But the optimism was short lived when in mid-April, exceptionally cold nigh time conditions returned with temperatures dropping to as low as -12 degrees C in one instance, damaging the already opening buds. By early May, the vineyards were filled with hectares of blackened vines suggesting a potentially catastrophic vintage ahead.
But miraculously, secondary green shoots emerged from the vines helped by higher temperatures in June and July. Clearly, yields were going to be greatly reduced for this harvest. The Syrah grapes were the first reds to be harvested on the 1st September with reduced yields of between 75% and 80% from the average while fortunately, the Cabernet Sauvignon seemed to be less affected when harvesting started on the 3rd of September. However during September, a heatwave struck the vineyards and while the Cabernet fruit avoided the worst of the frosts, the subsequent heatwave reduced yields by up to 65%. The Cinsault harvest started on the 8th of September with reduction in yields of between 40% and 70% depending on the vineyard location. The Carignan and Grenache were harvested on the 11th September with both varieties experiencing a reduction of 50% in yields before the final bunches of Mourvedre were harvested in early October. 2015 is certainly a year that will be remembered for its climatic difficulties but also hopefully for the final wine quality that reached the bottle.
Chateau Musar 2015, Bekaa Valley, 14% Abv.
Another seductive vintage of Musar with expressive aromatics of sweet red cherries, plum liquor, cinnamon spice, sweet cedar, cherry tobacco and balsamic reduction. The palate shows wonderful textural precision with polished sleek tannins, stewed cherries, hints of cola, pithy black currant and sweet sappy spice and a suave, super elegant finish that possesses an impressively pure, weightless intensity. This is a seriously classy Musar that has more in common with harmoniously elegant vintages like the 2010 than higher horsepower years like 1995 or 1999. Simply beautiful to drink now but exhibits a vibrant freshness that will keep this wine singing for many years to come. Drink now and over the next 20+ years.
The rugby community around the world is one of the most tight-knit sporting bodies in existence, with clubs, provinces and nations eternally bound together in the camaraderie of battle on the rugby pitch. So it is no surprise that ex-Springbok rugby legend Schalk Burger Senior stepped up once again to offer to produce a premium wine for the Richmond Heavies of West London Rugby club, Richmond RFC.
The Richmond Heavies were formed in the 1971-72 season and have remained an integral part of the Richmond Rugby Club in West London ever since with a well-earned reputation as a very strong playing side and an even better touring side. As a celebration of their 50th anniversary, a specially crafted red wine was conceived and created that would represent an appropriate tribute. Drawing on the decades of wine experience of Schalk Burger’s Welbedacht Estate in Wellington, Western Cape, this classical Bordeaux blend is the inaugural choice for the Richmond Heavies eponymous label.
With sadly several unexpected fatalities across playing age groups in recent years, the sales of The 1861 Cabernet Sauvignon / Merlot will look to raise extra funds to provide much needed medical services at the club. But the crowning glory of this charitable project is that it is based around the sales of a genuinely premium fine wine that will appeal to collectors and connoisseurs alike. Another superb wine for another worthy rugby cause.
Welbedacht Estate The 1861 Cabernet Sauvignon / Merlot 2018, WO Wellington, 14% Abv.
This classic 50/50 Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot Cape Bordeaux blend displays a gorgeously spicy aromatics of black currant leaf, black cherry, freshly cut cedar, burnt matchstick and graphite spice with undertones of fresh tobacco leaf and black plum compote. The palate is intense but sumptuous, beautifully seamless, boasting a cool and creamy black berry, cassis fruited demeanour with plenty of textural precision, a tight knit focus, layers of pithy black cherry and a delicate but detailed, voluminous mocha-tinged mouthful on the finish. Pure, long and suitably fresh, this delicious red blend is another class act from the Welbedacht Estate of ex-Springbok rugby player Schalk Burger Snr. Enjoy this wine now and over the next 5 to 8+ years.
What a whirlwind couple of years it has been for young talent Sakkie Mouton. With his maiden single barrel of Revenge of the Crayfish 2018 sold out practically before it was even released, all eyes turned to his follow up 2019 Chenin Blanc that just about managed to hit several export markets before the pandemic lockdowns descended. However, 2020 saw not only Sakkie’s third release of his Revenge of the Crayfish Chenin Blanc but also the new Full On Misfit Blanc, which, in 2020 was based mostly around a solid chunk of 56% Chenel (the Chenin Blanc x Ugni Blanc cross) and a 24% component of Colombard.
I would say that the two lost years of the pandemic have resulted in Sakkie’s wines becoming even more sought after as he has taken this opportunity to focus on fine tuning his winemaking style while experimenting with new varieties such as Colombard and Vermentino. In reality, Sakkie’s wines are almost impossible to get your hands on at the best of times, pandemic or no pandemic! So on my first trip back to South Africa’s winelands since February 2020, I caught up with Sakkie up the West Coast over lunch at Wolfgat Restaurant, recently voted the best restaurant in the world, to try some of his exciting new releases.
The Full On Misfit Blanc 2021 is a white blend of four different areas around the North Western Coast of the Western Cape. Each of these areas are located in close proximity to the cold Atlantic Ocean and the vineyards are a mix of old vines around the West Coast starting in Vredendal, Lutzville and Koekenaap. This year the Full On Misfit is made up of 55% Colombard, 21% Chenin Blanc, 19% Palomino and 5 % Chenel. All of the grapes were picked early in the morning to preserve freshness and then foot stomped in an old basket press without the addition of any additives except for a small amount of sulphur. The grapes were naturally fermented and left to age on their gross lees for eight months prior to being bottled unfiltered and unfined. The maturation took place in a blend of 228 litre and 500 litre 4th fill and older casks.
Sakkie Mouton Family Wines Full On Misfit Blanc 2021, WO Western Cape, 12% Abv.
1.9 RS | 7.6 TA | 3.24 pH
The 2021 Full On Misfit is an incredibly well assembled wine baring all the hallmarks that have made Sakkie Mouton’s previous releases so collectable. The aromatics scream West Coast terroir with layers of salinity, sea breeze and dried kelp over more linear expressions of white peach, freshly squeezed guava, pear puree and honeydew melon nuances. The ever-present crushed granite minerality adds extra complexity and character but also ensures that the wine never becomes too overtly fruity but rather errs on the side of a leaner classical textural restraint. The palate on this young wine shows fabulous crystalline purity and freshness with yet more waves of crunchy peach fruits, maritime salinity and delicate savoury notes of Japanese nori. The finish is taut, pithy and electric with a fine glycerol mid-palate balance and attractive hints of dried orange peel, lime cordial and brine. Another delicious addition to Sakkie’s line up, but more importantly, this is a wine that signals his growing confidence and expertise expressed with a certain ‘West Coast swagger’. Drink now and over the next 5 to 8+ years.
High quality volume brands made with attention to detail are required by all wine industries around the world. Often we just expect that one or another large wine corporation will step into the breach with its branded offerings and simply supply the goods. Well, in South Africa that has not always been the case. Fortunately, times are changing and the fabric of the South African wine industry is changing, allowing new and old players to step up once again and present the world’s consumers with some quality wine brands that do the country proud.
The Roodeberg label is just one such iconic brand that rose to fame in the 1950’s and 1960’s and then icon status in the 1970s and early 1980s before mysteriously losing its way with the changing of the guard post 1994. But the Roodeberg brand is back and with each of the last few vintages, quality has been paramount. With a 90/100 point score awarded for the excellent 2019 red blend by Winemag.co.za, all eyes were always going to be on the new release 2020 to see if the consistency of quality could be maintained. I tasted the 2020 recently and was pleasantly impressed.
KWV Roodeberg Red Blend 2020, WO Western Cape
An unspecified blend of red varieties, this delicious wine looks to tick as many boxes as possible for the consumer and the expressive 2020 certainly does the trick. On the nose the fruits are rich, opulent and pure, loaded with red currant, blue berry and black currant nuances, a real triumphant berry melange that is dusted with subtle brûléed oak notes, roasted coffee beans and vanilla pod spice. The acids are sleek, integrated but fresh and vibrant in the mouth, the fruit concentration textured and expressive showing a real generosity, notable complexity but also plenty of mainstream commercial appeal. Hats off to the Roodeberg winemaking team with this effort. Drink now and over the next 6-8+ years. (Tasted from magnum)
Whether you have tasted this wine with Chris and Andrea Mullineux at their Swartland estate Roundstone or somewhere else around the world, you always get the impression that the Old Vine white holds a very special place close to their hearts perhaps because it’s a wine that encapsulates their 15 year Mullineux fine wine journey to date.
Tasted with Chris and Andrea pre-release, this is a wine that quite obviously fills them both with incredible confidence and pride, as they reflect on the long journey to reach this special point in time. While Chris still waxes lyrical about the exceptional 2010 Old Vine White, which coincidentally “won” the tasters’ top vote at the 10 year white blend vertical a few years back in London, both agree the 2021 possesses characteristics and quality traits not seen before on this specific cuvée, making it a ‘must buy’ later in 2022 on release!
Mullineux and Leeu Family Wines Old Vine White Blend 2021, WO Swartland, 13.5% Abv.
Bottled after 12 months, this is a very, very pretty vintage with lower yields but also beautiful fruit purity, precision and a wonderful fruit – acid balance. The aromatics are ripe, succulent and opulent showing honeysuckle, white blossom, lemon cordial, dried herbs and lovely white peach and pineapple pastille notes. Nevertheless, the stand out feature on the palate is undoubtedly the textural sophistication, harmony and chalky minerality combined with super tangy acids bursting with lemon rock candy, white peach and crystalline citrus flavours. Simply an incredible intensity with a harmoniously weightless balance combined with a long, piercing finish. This is definitely a noticeable step up on previous vintages and an incredible achievement for the Mullineuxs! Drink now to 2034+.
The Swartland is very well-known for producing high quality Chenin Blanc grapes and Leeuwenkuil Family Vineyards are positively spoiled by the abundance of family-owned vineyards from which to source fruit from. Leeuwenkuil, or “Lion’s Lair”, was originally part of a farm founded in 1693 in the Voor-Paardeberg but in 1800, following its subdivision, the farm’s name was changed to Leeuwenkuil and in 1851, the Dreyer family became the new owners. Today, Willie and Emma Dreyer are the proud owners of Leeuwenkuil Family Vineyards and over the past 30 years, Willie and his team have together built Leeuwenkuil into what it is today – 1,250 hectares – the biggest vineyard owner in the Cape Coastal area.
Their entry level “value” Chenin Blanc is a wine I have tasted many times but as I discovered recently, the style of the 2021 Chenin Blanc is far more serious than previous vintages because a bigger portion of older bush vine vineyards were used. The Leeuwenkuil range of wines are always excellent value for money, made using natural fermentations, low sulphur levels and a general all round attention to detail.
Leeuwenkuil Chenin Blanc 2021, WO Swartland, 12.5 Abv.
Classically honied and peachy, this wine displays real depth and breadth with aromatics of honey on warm white toast, lemon pastille, wet straw and toasted apple strudel. Creamy and plush, the palate boasts luxurious notes of tangerine, pineapple and white peach together with a real textural depth and a wonderfully polished, balanced glycerol length on the finish. For the money, this is really very impressive indeed and displays everything that’s exciting about affordable ‘value’ Chenin Blanc from the Swartland. Drink now to 2028+
Now recognised as one of the Swartland’s leading quality producers, tasting the new releases of the Mullineux single terroir wines is always a special occasion. With an incredibly strong and loyal following in the USA, Andrea’s mother country, as well as in the UK, the Mullineux’s have seen their hard work both in the winery and out on the marketing road start to pay off in reputation as well as collectability over the past few years.
I caught up with Chris Mullineux recently in London and tasted the delicious new red single terroir releases face to face while quizzing him on vintage and vineyard conditions. I’m sure this is exactly the grilling he would have wanted after a long five week family holiday in the USA! As usual, the wines are exceptional, even benchmark for the vintage and will command a lot of attention when they hit the market fully.
Mullineux Granite Syrah 2019, WO Swartland, 13.6% Abv.
RS 2.0 g/l | TA 5.2 g/l | pH 3.8
Now sourced from a single parcel of 25-year-old dry land grown Syrah planted on decomposed granite on the Jakalsfontein farm now owned by Adi Badenhorst in the Paardeberg, the grapes picked at 24 Hl/Ha, were foot trodden in 500 litre French oak barrels to break the berries. After 4 days of macerating, the fermentation began naturally with indigenous yeasts and lasted for around 10 to 14 days. After fermentation, the wine saw a further 4 weeks of skin maceration before being pressed into barrel to complete malolactic fermentation. Pigeage was performed once a day before, during and after fermentation. In the Spring, the wine was racked after 21 months in barrel and was bottled unfiltered and unfined. The wine saw 12 months in French oak 500 litre barrels, 50% new, followed by 10 months in 2,000 litre foudre. A final 9 months of ageing in bottle was carried out before release.
True to form, the Mullineux Granite Syrah is once again exquisitely perfumed and fragrant with a wonderfully lifted aromatic complexity of violets, lilac, peach blossom and subtle hints of white pepper, crushed red cherries and a delicately dusty, herby, fynbos garrigue character. The palate is texturally pinpoint and fabulously composed and precise with incredible harmony and balance but also the true taut granitic acid frame that makes this wine so distinct from its Schist and Iron siblings. Wonderfully cool, concentrated and savoury, there are delicious notes of cured meats, pink musk, red berries, mulberries and classic Swartland chalky talcum powder tannins. While this wine may not always be the most fruity and obvious style of Syrah, its aromatics and perfume are intoxicating and the acid frame steely and forceful. Hard not to love this wine! (4,560 bottles produced.)
(Wine Safari Score: 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Mullineux Schist Roundstone Syrah 2019, WO Swartland, 13% Abv.
RS 1.9g/l | TA 4.9 g/l | pH 3.72
The grapes for the 2019 Schist Syrah were sourced from 22-year-old vines planted on stony shale and schist soils on the Roundstone farm where the Mullineux winery is based next door to the Kasteelberg. As with the Granite and Iron cuvees, the grapes were foot trodden in 500 litre French oak barrels to break the berries and release the juices. After 4 days of macerating, the fermentation begun naturally with indigenous yeasts and lasted around 10 days. After fermentation, the wine saw a further 4 weeks of skin maceration before being pressed into barrel to complete malolactic fermentation. The wine saw 12 months in French oak 500 litre barrels, 50% new, followed by 10 months in 2000 litre foudre. A final 9 months of ageing in bottle was carried out before release.
The vines for the 2019 Schist Syrah were planted in 1999 on the Roundstone farm and originally used for the Mullineux estate Syrah, with the top 10 rows of the same block historically going into Eben Sadie’s famed Columella red blend. While there is irrigation available, the vineyard is now fully dry farmed. I always talk about this wine as being the consumers’ ‘darling wine’ in the single terroir range with seductive, alluring aromatics of pomegranate, blood orange, red currant, Earl Grey tea and crushed slate minerality nuances. Always supremely elegant and approachable, the 2019 shows a truly magical balance of concentrated, textural red and black fruit intensity together with sleek fresh acids and incredibly tight knit, polished, fine-grained tannins. This is an unbelievably complete wine that slowly but surely seduces you sip by sip. Tasted over two days, my impressions of this wine simply grew ever larger the longer the bottle was open. The novice fine wine drinker will love the Schist 2019 (as usual) while the discerning collector will perhaps acquire a new appreciation for this icon Swartland Syrah. (2,700 bottles produced. The only wine bottled every year since 2010.)
(Wine Safari Score: 97/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Mullineux Iron Syrah 2019, WO Swartland, 13.5% Abv.
RS 1.9 g/l | TA 5.2 g/l | pH 3.9
Grapes for the 2019 Iron Syrah were sourced from a single parcel of 20-year-old organically farmed dry land bush vines on the rolling iron-rich soils west of Malmesbury. This parcel of Syrah gives one of the best expressions of the “koffieklip” terroir – notably broadness and mid-palate concentration. As with the Granite and Schist cuvees, the grapes were foot trodden in 500 litre French oak barrels to break the berries and release the juices. After 4 days of macerating, the fermentation begun naturally with indigenous yeasts and lasted around 10 days. After fermentation, the wine saw a further 4 weeks of skin maceration before being pressed into barrel to complete malolactic fermentation. The wine saw 12 months in French oak 500 litre barrels, 50% new, followed by 10 months in 2,000 litre foudre. A final 9 months of ageing in bottle was carried out before release.
With always incredibly strict fruit selection, there was no 2016 Iron Syrah produced but it has been one of the most classically old world Syrah’s in the Mullineux’s single terroir range with the 2017 and 2018 ‘drought vintages’ being altogether more muscular, dense and powerful. In 2019, Chris Mullineux claims the wine returns to its roots with more elegance, polished harmony and a textured savoury Cotie Rotie northern Rhone finesse. The aromatics are packed with savoury black and blueberry fruits, crushed tomato leaf and herby hints of dried oregano and sage. On the palate, the wine is altogether more regal, light footed and elegant in a notable departure from the muscular recent vintages. The palate is deliciously classical and Rhone-like showing a broad savoury spectrum of red berry fruits, hints of Cornas style blood and iron, impressively sleek polished mineral stony tannins and a calmer, more velvety, sumptuous textured density on the finish. A wine that sometimes splits opinions stylistically, but never when it comes to agreeing on its exceptional quality. (3,300 bottles produced.)