Lismore’s Samantha O’Keefe Comes to London to Launch Her Phenomenal New Releases – Part 2: Reviewing her Lismore Age of Grace Viognier 2020…

In a second instalment to my new release tasting with Samantha O’Keefe, the owner of Lismore Winery in Greyton, who was recently in London for the first time in over two years, I tasted the highly acclaimed 2020 edition of her ‘Age of Grace’ Viognier.

The grapes for this release were sourced in the Bot River, Elgin and Stellenbosch. The wine was matured in a combination of concrete eggs and used oak barrels of which 10% were new for the 2020 cuvee. The Age of Grace is a wine that actually helped establish the Lismore brand globally in the mid to late 2000s. With so little top quality Viognier being grown and produced in the Western Cape, what Sam has achieved with both this wine and previous vintages of her Viognier Reserve is truly remarkable.

Viognier Age of Grace Viognier 2020, WO South Coast, 14.5% Abv.

Rich, soft and fleshy, this unique, aromatically expressive Viognier is packed full of struck flint, white peaches, tart yellow plums, yellow apple purée and delicate musky, lychee nuances with a hint of buttered white toast. Beautifully textured, fleshy and glycerol, this wine is so expressive, individual and complex with sufficient pithy phenolics, bright peach stone fruits and a luxuriously long, persistent finish in a most mouth watering way. Whether produced from the Northern Rhone or the Cape, it is not easy to make Viognier this attractive and refreshing. Bravo Sam! Drink now to 2028+.

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

Samantha Suddons Hits the Big Time with Her New VineVenom Cap Classique Thriller…

The world of wine, like life itself, can be a topsy turvy world of highs and lows. Perhaps it’s simply the yin and yang of life? So, after a few tumultuous years of change, Samantha Suddons, the once partner and shareholder in the now temporarily mothballed Terracura Wines project, has finally released her very own labour of love – a Method Cap Classique sparkling wine aged for over 5 years on its lees before disgorgement.

I met up with Samantha in London recently to unpick the mystery behind her new VineVenom label that was launched recently in South Africa. Her first wine under the brand is a killer Cap Classique sparkler from the 2015 vintage that she has labelled Serenade. 2015 you may ask? Well, if you know anything about Sam, you will know she is a Champagne and sparkling wine obsessive and while some have questioned how she managed to suddenly release a six year old MCC, the answer is simply that this was a passion project that was never really meant for commercial day of light, producing a wine made from the 2015 vintage which was originally intended for home consumption and sharing with friends.

But having recently disinvested from the Terracura Wines business, and looking for a new project, the VineVenom brand seemed the obvious next step. The maiden wine, a MCC blend of 68% Chardonnay, 18% Pinot Noir and 14% Pinot Meunier from grapes bought in cool climate Elgin, the wine spent five years on its lees and received zero dosage. The wine was disgorged in November 2020, saw no malolactic fermentation and no oak treatment and was bottled with a 2.5 g/l RS.

VineVenom Serenade 2015 Cap Classique, WO Elgin, 12.3% Abv.

The wine shows a lovely creamy explosive mousse with a fine bubble, lovely bright tangy acids and a complex bouquet of green apple skins, grilled almonds, cardamom and spicy white citrus. The palate is full and expansive, tangy and fresh with sweet and sour acids, layers of citrus, yellow grapefruit, lemon cream biscuits, crunchy green apples and a long, dry, saline picante finish. Very impressive depth of fruit but also beautiful complexity, electric vibrancy and a stony cool climate minerality on the finish. A thoroughly accomplished wine that will titillate fellow Champagne and sparking wine devotees. (1,600 bottles produced.)

(Wine Safari Score: 93+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Sadly, as yet, there is no follow up Cap Classique to the 2015 maiden vintage. But fear not! Samantha has been busy at work producing an impressive dry Carignan / Touriga Nacional 2020 Rose, a rather premium tasting Swartland Flor Contact Chenin Blanc 2020 as well as a delicious, Vin de Soif styled Swartland 60% Syrah / 40% Touriga Nacional Rosado 2021. I tasted newly bottled samples of all of the above and they were seriously impressive. I look forward to reviewing them properly in due course closer to release. The empire building has begun in earnest.

Another Sutherland Vineyards Stunner – Tasting their 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon Release…

It’s when you taste wines like this that you realise that Elgin can do no wrong. Whether Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah or Petit Verdot, this little cool climate pocket is just simply a viticultural garden of Eden. Unfortunately for the grape vines, this cool microclimate oasis also produces some of the most incredibly high-quality apples that I have tasted from anywhere in the world, making vineyards compete for space and economics.

If vitis vinifera is going to fight back, it is going to be with wines like this Sutherland Cabernet Sauvignon that hearts and minds will be converted. Grown on classic Tukulu-Glenrosa soils, these 12-year-old vines seem to be in a very happy stage of development yielding 9.7 tons per hectare. The fruit was destemmed, hand sorted and fermented in stainless steel tanks with a pump over one a day. After fermentation, the wine was racked into 30% new French oak barrels and aged for 18 months before bottling.

Sutherland Cab Sauvignon 2017, WO Elgin, 13.98% Abv.

2.1 g/l RS | 3.56 pH | 5.3 g/l TA

Elgin always seems capable of producing some of the most beguiling expressions of wine whether made from Pinot Noir, Syrah, Petit Verdot or Cabernet Sauvignon. The aromatics of this beauty show a nuanced complexity of pressed violets, sweet black tea, saline black currant, sweet herbs, wet tobacco and subtle hints of black cherry preserve. True to the vintage, the palate is fabulously elegant with silky tannins, a fine-grained crushed stone minerality, a weightless intensity and a long, cool, fresh finish that is simply mouth-watering, all delivered in such an effortless style. This is surely one of the most enjoyable Cabernet Sauvignon reds you will experience from the 2017 vintage. Drink now and over the next 10 to 12+ years.

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

Tasting a Stunning Pair of Whites from Sutherland Vineyards…

I have always known about the exciting Sutherland Vineyards winery in Elgin owned by the Webb family of Thelema fame but it was really only when their 2015 Chardonnay was rated 95+ points in a blind Decanter Magazine panel tasting for South African Chardonnay a few years ago that I started to pay a lot more attention to both the brand and the wines.

I was of course on that Decanter panel that rated this wine so highly along with other South African greats like Ataraxia 2015, Neil Ellis Whitehall Chardonnay 2015 and Rustenburg 5 Soldiers 2015. So it was a real pleasure to taste not only their new release Chardonnay 2019 recently but also their delicious 2017 Viognier Roussanne Rhone-style white blend.

Also, another one of my guilty pleasures has always been the copious amounts of their Sutherland Grenache Rose that I drink when I visit South Africa. Great value, dry, vibrant and expressive, it too has become one of my perennial summertime favourites. Elgin is definitely not just about cool climate Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Riesling. This fiddle plays an array of fabulous tunes.

Sutherland Chardonnay 2019, WO Elgin, 13% Abv.

This is another wonderfully expressive Chardonnay from Elgin that always seems to show a really individual character. The aromatics balance enticing nervy yellow citrus nuances with seductive vanilla pod spices all underpinned by a bold stony minerality and delicate struck match reductive complexity. The palate is joyfully concentrated with sweet tangy pineapple and lemon pastille candied notes, a sweet and sour mouth-watering acidity and the pronounced hallmark Sutherland wet river pebble liquid minerality. Subtly savoury and herby but always vibrant and electrically fresh in the mouth, this is a wine that is enviably super individual but always stylistically classically orientated. Drink now or cellar 3 to 5+ years. Certainly a wine for white Burgundy lovers to try!

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

Sutherland Viognier Roussanne 2017, WO Elgin, 14.5% Abv.

3.7g/l RS | 3.29 pH | 6.10g/l TA

This is also a very attractive little white Rhone blend from a region more known for Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. A blend of 70% Viognier and 30% Roussanne, the wine was fermented and matured in 2nd and 3rd fill barrels which lends the aromatics a delicious rich savoury nuance punctuated by leesy notes of white toast, waxy lemons, bruised yellow orchard fruits and quince preserve. The palate has a full, fleshy textural feel not dissimilar to a ripe cool climate Chardonnay but also displays delicious notes of ripe peaches, lanolin, vanilla pod spice and a lovely stony, slatey minerality. This is certainly a wine that is reminiscent to some of the serious northern Rhone white expressions that cost 3 to 4 times the price. The perfect counterfoil to Chardonnay or oaked Chenin Blanc, this will put a very big smile on a lot of people’s faces. Drink now and over the next 3 to 6 years.

(Wine Safari Score: 92+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Catherine Marshall Releases Another Benchmark 2020 Fermented in Clay Chenin Blanc…

I’ve been following the new releases of this wine for several years now and it has certainly proven beyond doubt to be one of the most accomplished Chenin Blancs on the South African fine wine scene.

Grapes for the 2020 were again selected from a single vineyard in Elgin grown on red Laterite soils also known as “koffieklip” or coffee stone as it resembles the same structure as ground coffee, and also from from grapes grown in the Bottelary Hills in Stellenbosch on old bush vines in lighter soils, which were harvested in early March. Once fermentation was completed in the clay amphorae, 800 litres of wine was decanted to oak casks for a further 9 months maturation.

The wine portion aged in the clay amphorae had no malolactic fermentation so that the fresher flinty characters would be maintained. After 9 months, the two components were blended together and lightly filtered before bottling.

Catherine Marshall Fermented in Clay Chenin Blanc 2020, WO Western Cape, 14% Abv.

TA 5.6g/l | pH: 3.4 | RS: 2.1g/l | Total Extract: 23.2g/l

After the phenomenal 2017 and eye-watering 2019 Fermented in Clay Chenin Blanc, expectations for follow up vintages become almost impossibly high. But this 2020 is another real head turner with aromatics brimming with crunchy white peaches, tangerine, orange peel, green pears and a beguiling melange of grilled herbs and stony granitic minerality. On the palate this youthful 2020 is cool, crisp, focused and texturally quite linear and taut with tangy acids, a steely concentration of peach pastille, yellow tropical fruit bon bons, clementines and yet more unfurling layers of wet river pebbles and stony liquid minerality. Cathy has now established a rock solid track record for this wine which must surely rank in the top 10 Chenin Blancs produced in South Africa.

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

Wines available to the trade in the UK from Seckford Wine Agencies.

Another Cooler Climate Wonderland – Tasting the Sophisticated Sutherland Reserve Chardonnay 2016…

The Sutherland Reserve Range consists of three premium wines, a Reserve Grenache and a Reserve Petit Verdot, both cultivars not normally associated with Elgin, as well as the Reserve Chardonnay, a variety for which this region has become known as one of South Africa’s leading areas.

“Selecting the Chardonnay for the Reserve Range was a bit of a no-brainer. The cool climate, Tukulu soils and the proximity to the ocean that lies nine kilometres away makes for about as ideal a South African Chardonnay site as one could wish for,” says Gyles Webb.

The grapes for the Sutherland Reserve Range are hand-picked in Elgin and transported to the Thelema winery in Banhoek, Stellenbosch for vinification.

Sutherland Elgin Reserve Chardonnay 2016, 13 Abv.

Aged for 10 months in French oak, there is a mouth wateringly complex bouquet of spicy macerated lemons, boxwood, sweet bergamot zest, brioche and crushed gravel with high toned notes of lime peel and citrus blossom. The palate is super linear and taut with a pronounced steely acidity and serious verve and vigour. A supremely Old World proportioned wine that has masses of classical cool climate restraint and complex nuances of flinty struck match reduction that intermingle with lemon grass, dried thyme and sour green apple bon bons on a racy mineral finish. This is a wonderfully impressive Reserve Chardonnay from Elgin that will appeal to drinkers looking for a more sophisticated, restrained expression of Chardonnay. Drink now or cellar for 3 to 5+ years.

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