Putting South Africa’s Finest Wine Offerings Into Perspective – Tasting Australia’s Penfold’s Bin 620 Cabernet Shiraz 2008….

I had a wonderful time in Cape Town at Cape Wine 2018 and before that at the Nederburg Auction of older South African wines. Of course Cape Wine 2018 will be remembered for Tim Atkin MW’s first personal 100 point SA wine score, an active debate surrounding scoring and score inflation both in South Africa and globally and also the prickly pear issue of where to price South Africa’s premium wines, many made from old vine heritage vineyards around the Western Cape that are super expensive to farm. Serious questions indeed.

Some of these questions were brought into a new perspective when I returned to my office to find a bottle of Penfold’s Bin 620 Cabernet Shiraz from Coonawarra freshly opened on a colleagues desk courtesy of a private client. This is a Wine Advocate 98/100 point wine as scored by Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW and retails currently in the UK market for £850 per bottle inc taxes (R16,575 pb). So we are talking serious kit here… and amazingly a wine that makes even the Penfold’s Grange look positively cheap!

Tasting the wine, it is a blend that pays homage to the 1966 Bin 620, a legendary Penfold’s show wine from a great vintage. Crafted from the uniquely Australian Cabernet Sauvignon – Shiraz blend, this wine is considered to be the personification of the Penfold’s house style and worthy of a Special Bin status. The wine was bottled by Penfold’s Wines at Nuriootpa, South Australia in July 2009. The 2008 vintage was produced from the low yielding Coonawarra Blocks 5, 10 and 20 and is considered to be made in a very similar style to the famous 1966 vintage. The wine was barrel fermented in new French and America oak and is classically structured and considered worthy of extended cellar aging for several decades.

Penfold’s Bin 620 Cabernet Sauvignon – Shiraz 2008, Coonawarra, 14 Abv.

The wine has a wonderfully deep ruby garnet opaque core and is a blend of 51% Cabernet Sauvignon and 49% Shiraz. Rich, lifted and hedonistic, the nose is brimming with earthy black berry, freshly torn mint leaf, camphor leaves, wood spice, dried tree bark, cassis and black cherry kirsch liquor notes with nuances of milk chocolate, bruleed coffee beans and exotic botanical herbal spices. The palate is dense, creamy and unctuous but retains a certain poise and posture supported by gravelly mineral tannins, graphite spice, crème de cassis and a fine vein of palate refreshing acidity. The finish is super long and intense with just the faintest hints of cherry cola, salty liquorice, black berry confit and freshly baked raspberry crumble. The vinous adjectives and descriptives positively drip out of ones mouth with this complex offering. It is a big wine that walks a very neat, classical line and will impress most fine wine connoisseurs.

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

So how does this wine compare to some of South Africa’s finest? In wine terms, however delicious this wine is, it still  has the taste of a lot of sunshine on the fruit and the creamy unctuous glycerol mouthfeel is perhaps not as conducive to matching with food other than perhaps with meaty barbeques. This is a micro-cuvee of only 900 cases so merits attention to detail and probably a big price tag. But I would argue there are many equally impressive South African benchmark reds every bit as alluring and complex and which are much more classically proportioned and suitable for a true gourmands palate. As for the price, well, the mind boggles. R16,000 Rand can buy quite a lot of very fine wine.

As I questioned at the Cape Wine 2018 Old Vine Seminar, the problem with South Africa’s premium wine offering is not their quality and certainly not their styles but more the fact that the wines are more appreciated overseas than they are in the local home market. South Africa’s finest crown jewels are all being exported because the local market, unlike Australia, USA or New Zealand is not comfortable paying the prices that these fine wines inevitably will need to sell for. Locals shy away from buying wines over R250 Rand (£12.99) a bottle let alone R16,000 Rand a bottle. The result is a two speed market where all the best offerings are exported to an appreciative, thirsty European audience while the home market scrapes the barrel like a fishy bottom feeder in a muddy pond trying to find the last undiscovered bargains. This needs to change before we can set about bringing better profitability to the local wine industry. A healthy fine wine market inevitably has to be driven primarily by strong local demand… then the rest will follow… a la Penfold’s top cuvees.

Elgin Ridge Winery Resurrects Their Impressive Biodynamic Elgin Chardonnay…

Organic and Demeter Biodynamic certified winery Elgin Ridge produced a 2010 and 2011 unwooded Chardonnay and then ceased production in 2012 when all their Chardonnay juice was redirected into their Method Cap Classique (MCC) bubbly.

However, the wine was finally resurrected in 2016 with a wooded version. The 2017 is due to hit select markets in Spring 2019. Limited to only 1,300 bottles, the wine was aged 10 months in 20% new French barrels.

Elgin Ridge 282 Chardonnay 2017, WO Elgin, 13 Abv.

True to it’s terroir, this wine has Elgin written all over it with a superb crystallinity, purity and brightness. The nose is youthful and primary but already shows lashings of white citrus, green fig, green apple pastille, lemon-lime cordial, smokey minerality and mouth watering vanilla pod spice. The palate is super intense with bracing acidity but also more than sufficient backing yellow grapefruit, pineapple and tart green apple fruit concentration to balance. Still a baby, this wine should blossom into an ultra focused, finely honed cool climate expression of Chardonnay. Really delicious already but will be worth ageing it for 3 to 6+ years.

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

Stop The Presses!!! – Tasting the First Ever 100 Point Wine From South Africa…

Today I had the great privilege to help chair the Whole Bunch tasting of The Wines That Raised Us – A Heritage Experience … at the Klein Welmoed Farm in Stellenbosch featuring great iconic old bottles from the Winshaw Cellar.

What a night and what profound, mind blowing wines. But sitting back and discussing the merits of the individual wines with the other producers and industry commentators in attendance, left me with no choice but to finally make my first 100 point South African wine score pronouncement!

The Zonnebloem Cabernet Sauvignon 1957, another near 100 point expression!

Chateau Libertas 1957, 12 Abv.

An incredibly youthful, vibrant and aromatic expression, this red wine at 61 years old is the most distinguished stately gentleman of wines I have ever encountered. Loaded full of youthful creme de cassis, boiled black berry sweets, macerated black cherries, earthy ripe prunes, raisined cranberries, fynbos spice, dried mint leaf and a profoundly pure and balanced palate minerality that follows the fruit complexity of the nose. It’s not just the mellow concentration and regal balance that astounds the senses, but the sweet fruited glycerol texture, the vibrantly fresh palate and tightly packed sweet mellow tannins that seduce the senses and invite you in for more. This is the stuff of legends, a wine you will want to tell your kids you drank. It’s also a wine that not only brought tears to grown winemakers eyes, but also the first perfect score on the Fine Wine Safari and possibly the first ever de facto 100 point score for a South African still wine! 🤭 Yes!

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

Pinot Passion and Precision Personified – Tasting the New Release Elgin Ridge Biodynamic Pinot Noir 2016…

Organic and biodynamic wine practices have become big business for the wine trade globally over the past few years. But what I really admire about Brian and Marion Smith’s focus at Elgin Ridge in South Africa is not only their unreserved commitment to the philosophy of organic and biodynamic winemaking but also the way they strive to genuinely be respectable and sustainable wine growers, wine makers and wine sellers. It’s certainly not done just in the name of marketing.

Elgin Ridge has had great success with their wines in the UK but latterly even more so in Scandinavia and especially Japan. Tasting their new release Pinot Noir 2016 points straight to varietal purity and precision, two key factors so important when trying to crack complicated connoisseur markets like the UK and Japan.

They may not be the poster boy of Pinot Noir production in South Africa, but rest assured this is one of the most honest, varietally pure and best value Pinot Noir reds you can buy on the market.

Elgin Ridge Pinot Noir 2016, WO Elgin, 13.5 Abv.

This organic naturally fermented Pinot Noir was produced in a very limited 3,440 bottles and was aged for 10 months in French oak barrels. The wine is structured and broody sticking to a serious old world stylistic framework for Pinot Noir. The aromatics are deep and dark with a really savoury baritone black bramble berry expression with a nose loaded with blood and iron, cranberry, incense and waxy red forest berry fruits. The palate shows delicious red fruited Cote de Beaune purity, piquant foresty spice and a dusty, bramble berry complexity. The textural precision and incredible winemaking polish does perhaps mask some of the wines earthy, artisanal charm, but in the end, this wine delivers an astonishing amount of Pinot Noir pleasure at a fantastic price point. So yes Brian and Marion, the biodynamic commitment is rewarding. Drink now to 2026+

Wine Safari Score: 93/100 Greg Sherwood MW

It’s Cabernet Sauvignon But Not As You Know It – Tasting the Craven Wines Maiden Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 “En-primeur”…

I love it when wineries make varietal wines that you would least expect them to. This is exactly what Mick and Jeanine Craven have done with their new Cabernet Sauvignon 2018.

I know Mick and Jeanine are not massive fans of wine ratings per se but as a critic, I’d certainly be remiss not to write about this epic wine and sing it’s praises as there was next to nothing produced from the 1.2 tons of fruit. Only for release probably early next year, put it in your diary else you’ll miss out! 😭

Mick Craven, one half of this dynamic wine making duo at Craven Wines

Cabernet Sauvignon 2018, 12.5 Abv.

(Barrel Sample)

Sourced from a vineyard in the Polkadraai, Stellenbosch. Currently still in cask with an envisaged ageing in barrel of 10 to 12 months before bottling. First thing that strikes you about this wine is how ripe and juicy it is without being 14-15 degrees Abv. The nose boasts the most delicious, mouth-watering aromatics of red cherry, cranberry, crunchy cassis, rose petals and an almost Cinsault’esque kiss of Turkish delight. Palate is lean and lithe, wonderfully linear and precise with Parma violets, cherry bon bons and Victoria plums a la Mick’s Adelaide roots. Not a jot of greeness in sight. Vibrant, expressive and firmly a smashable vin de soif style but certainly no frivolity in evidence. So crystalline, pure, unadulterated Cabernet fruit at its very best.

(Wine Safari Score: 92-94+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

The Fabulous New Releases From Duncan Savage – Some of His Best Ever?

With the new Savage Wines hitting the market, I’m pleased to release my Wine Safari notes on these superb bottlings. Produced in his new Salt River urban winery in Cape Town, these could possibly be the highest quality and most self assured releases from Duncan to date.

The product range has grown but quantities are still small, so you are going to have to be brisk to secure his top wines.

Savage 2017 White Blend, 14 Abv.

The 2017 Savage white is a masterful blend of 49% Sauvignon Blanc, 33% Semillon and carrying on the theme started in 2015, includes 18% of Chenin Blanc with a 14% Abv. Handled oxidatively in the cellar, the wine was barrel fermented and aged for 10 months in oak. With more malolactic fermentation seen in 2017 due to very slow ferments, the wine marries weight and intensity with purity, minerality and textural elegance. The nose is already very expressive with complex aromatics of freshly baked apple crumble drizzled in honey, orange blossom, tangerine peel, yellow orchard fruits and a delicious passion fruit twist. But like many 2017 whites, there is a real clarity and focus to the wine along with a defined core of dusty granitic minerality. The entry on the palate reveals the tart, vibrantly fresh characteristics of the Sauvignon Blanc and the Semillon, that awaken the palate with zesty yellow grapefruit, lanolin, honied white peaches and Granny Smith apple puree notes. Classic higher altitude vineyard nuances ensure this wine retains incredible intensity together with a fleshy, creamy lemon pie concentration underpinned by a cool, dusty, stony minerality. Powerful without being brutish, linear and focused without being lean. This is another wonderful flagship white blend from the Savage winery that continues the great run of form for this cuvee. Drink from 2018 to 2030+

(94/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Never Been Asked to Dance 2017 Chenin Blanc, 13.5 Abv.

The Savage portfolio has always mostly been about red and white blends. But when you chat to Duncan Savage and taste with him, you can see how eager he is to produce more single varietal wines especially after the cult success of the pure Syrah Girl Next Door. Previous Savage white blends have often included small percentages of Clairette Blanche, so when this vineyard was grubbed up, the search for an old vine vineyard replacement led Duncan to this slightly dishevelled 64 year old Chenin Blanc vineyard in Paarl. The 2017 bottling coming in at 13.5 Abv. sees a small addition of some Chenin Blanc from W.O. Malgas to augment the quantity but looks set to be W.O. Paarl only in future. Foot trodden and whole bunch fermented over 5 days with no malolactic fermentation, this wine has an alluring phenolic nose of dried basil and oregano, fynbos garrigue, apple cider, yellow orchard fruits, hairy yellow peaches and a crushed gravel minerality. This wine is less about obvious overt fruit but is a much more complex and complicated creature. There is richness, salinity and textured palate weight but also plenty of spicy, pithy, exotic phenolic grip. Still fairly tightly coiled and restrained in its youth, this old vine Chenin Blanc slowly reveals notes of crunchy peaches, orange blossom, pineapple pastille candy, old honey, apple puree and a very subtle kiss of vanilla pod spice. Finishing quite linear and precise with a rocky core of minerality, this wine challenges the senses, titillates the taste buds and promises much for those sensible enough to age it for a few more years after release. Drink from 2019 to 2030+

(93/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Follow the Line 2017 Red Blend, 13 Abv.

Every new release of Follow the Line is a cause for celebration. Indeed one could argue that this wine has such a unique cult following that you could hold a launch party every year just for this individual wine! A blend of 93% Cinsault and 7% Syrah, this 13 Abv. wine will be labelled as Cinsault this year. From the same beautiful 38 year old South-east facing Cinsault vineyard in Darling, the fruit was early picked and fermented using 50% whole bunch clusters. Malolactic fermentation was carried out in 500 litre French oak barrels with a further 9 months of ageing in large 1500 and 2000 litre foudre. Possessing a youthful red plum translucent colour, this wine has all the perfume lift and exuberance you would expect from old vine Cinsault. The nose is aromatically charged, brimming with fresh violets, cherry blossom, rose water, lychee skins, sun dried cranberries, potpourri and an exotic touch of Turkish delight. Wonderful purity and clarity are always hallmarks of this wine as are the radiant fresh acids and bright, crunchy, sappy red berry fruits. Once again, this wine is the epitome of elegance, walking quite lightly, shimmering all the way to the finish with illuminated brilliance. This really is an exceptional, mouth-watering delight. Drink from release but do cellar a few bottles for 5 to 8+ years.

(95+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Thief in the Night 2017 Red Blend, 13 Abv.

Probably one of my favourite names used in the Savage wine range, but I will let Duncan tell the story of how and why he was once called a ‘thief in the night’. Displaying little in direct relation to the wine other than being a great name… surprise surprise, this is also a delicious wine. Another new addition to the Savage range, this red is a blend of 48% Grenache, 46% Cinsault and 6% Syrah all sourced from vineyards in very close proximity to each other on the same property in the Piekenierskloof. At this youthful stage of evolution, the wine is more marked by the 42 year old vine Grenache fruit than the 17 year old Cinsault. Using 70% whole cluster, fermentation was carried out in a closed tank with aerated pump overs. Malolactic fermentation occurred in old 500 litre French oak barrels before the wine was aged for 9 months in large French oak foudre before being bottled. The wine shows a real individuality and personality with bright fragrant violet perfume, sappy spicy peppery raspberry and redcurrant confit complexity, hints of sun raisined cranberries, cured bresaola, boiled raspberry sweets and wild strawberry. The palate weight is soft and sensual, combining the best of both Grenache and Cinsault to form an impressively harmonious, silky soft sappy red blend. The wine seems to grow exponentially in the glass, unfurling and unravelling to reveal layers of strawberry jam, raspberry compote and Turkish delight all framed with bright crystalline acids that really amplify the wines purity, minerality and sense of place. Such a pretty wine with the sleekest and most polished tannins and a mellow fruit intensity. Despite its eminent drinkability in youth, this is no frivolous ‘vin de soif’ and could just maybe, over time, acquire a similar cult following to that of Duncan’s excellent Cinsault-dominated Follow The Line red blend from Darling. A very confident debut! Drink from 2018 to 2028+.

(93+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Girl Next Door Syrah 2017, 13.5 Abv.

A wine very close to Duncan’s heart, it is produced from pure Syrah grapes grown on a 0.34 hectare vineyard overlooking the Atlantic Ocean that was originally planted for ornamental purposes. These 12 year old vines, lovingly tended and rejuvenated by Duncan, survive in extreme conditions, perpetually being battered by the South Easterly winds of the Cape Peninsula. But very often, some of the most profound grapes comes from some of the most marginal vineyards. Fermented in open top fermenters using 50% whole bunch clusters, the wine was then aged in an old demi-muid (600 litre) barrel with bottling after 11 months of aging. With little more than 700 bottles produced, this Syrah shows a beautifully rich, broody nose packed full of savoury black berry fruits, earthy black currant, pithy black cherry, iron filings, black olive tapenade and a chalky, dusty mineral lift. Cool and restrained, this wine displays an overt Old World character and would not look out of place in a Cote Rotie tasting. Densely fruited, deep and richly textured, the tannins eventually rein in the wine and throw a veil of sappy, peppery, spicy graphite restraint over the bruleed black berry opulence. I have often said that this wine must surely be one of a small select group of pure Syrah reds produced in the Cape that show this variety at its classical, Francophile best. Cellar for a few years after release before drinking or age this distinguished beauty for 15 to 20+ years.

(95+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Are We There Yet 2017, 13 Abv.

Only the second release of this exciting 13 Abv. Wine of Origin Malgas red, the 2017 expression is a blend of 50% Touriga Nacional and 50% Syrah from young rocky vineyards along the Breede River near Swellendam. Both red varieties were picked on the same day and co-fermented in open top fermenters with the Syrah kept as whole bunch clusters while the Touriga Nacional was destemmed. Aged in 500 litre French oak barrels for 11 months before bottling, you can already see in the space of only two vintages how Duncan as tweaked both picking times and the winemaking to create a seriously exciting expression. Dark black purple in colour, the Syrah and the Touriga make very comfortable bed fellows and the superb synergy of these varieties is laid bare for all to see and taste. Deeper, darker and more powerful than Cinsault or Grenache, Duncan has succeeded in harnessing the power, concentration and intensity of these two noble red varieties and using his own brand of vinous alchemy, crafted a wine so full of energy, minerality and fruit concentration. Compared to the 2016, this vintage seems to unfurl a few extra layers of concentration and fruit brightness, turning up the volume but with much tighter orchestration. The nose is deliciously rocky and mineral revealing dusty river gravel, graphite and grey slate nuances that intermingle with perfumed Parma violet lift, blueberry opulence, sweet red cherry confit, boiled strawberry bon bons and purple rock candy confectionary notes. Mouth-filling and fleshy with impressive black berry and fraises des bois fruit weight and chalky graphite tannins, the palate remains impressively lithe and elegant, harmoniously focused and confident with the most alluring savoury, sappy bramble berry finish. Drink this beauty on release but do allow the age worthy credentials of the Syrah and Touriga to show their full potential with 6 to 8+ years of aging.

(94/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Savage Red Blend 2015, 13.5 Abv.

This wine has perhaps been more of an enigma than any of Duncan Savage’s wines produced to date. The last Savage Red to be released as a blend, the 2017 and 2018 will revert to being pure Syrah from initially Stellenbosch and the Swartland, and then solely Stellenbosch, as new vineyard contracts come onstream. A blend of 67% Syrah, 9% Touriga Nacional, 9% Cinsault and 6% Grenache, this 13.5 Abv. red has certainly built up a very strong, more traditional, slightly less eclectic following than the other red blends like Follow the Line. Fermented in open top fermenters using 50% whole bunches, the wine was aged for an extended 30 months in old oak and foudre prior to bottling. This dark horse has always been backward and restrained, broody and slightly sulky, but bearing in mind it comes from one of the best red vintages in the Cape in a generation, it can be forgiven for being initially shy and ungiving. With some coaxing, the nose slowly starts to reveal its secrets, showing notes of salty red liquorice spice, aniseed root, cassis leaf, grenadine, blood oranges and vermouth botanicals. The palate is taut and very precise, linear and crisply textured with vivacious notes of tangerine, naartjie peel, ruby grapefruit, sour red cranberry and earthy red plums, all dusted with a liberal dose of crushed black peppercorns and mineral graphite spice. Tantalisingly complex, it is almost impossible to unravel the intricacies of this classy red and identify traits of individual varieties. With the extra aging, the tannins are starting to become a little more supple and pliable, yet continue to lend great textural gravitas, power and focus to this blend. I’d say it has been worth the wait… but just don’t wait to put in your order for this impressive red blend as it signals the end of one era and the dawning of a new and exciting chapter in the history of the Savage winery. Drink on release and age this beauty for 10 to 15+ years comfortably.

(96/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Wines are available direct to the wine trade in the UK on allocation from importer Swig Wines

Mastering New Vintage Angst – Tasting the New Release MR de Compostella 2016 Red Blend…

I’m looking forward to writing up my summary of the best South African red wines of 2018 as the list should feature a tantalising tussle between the last few late release 2015 vintage red creations and some of the follow up 2016 new release challengers. One of the most iconic releases of 2017 was undoubtedly the 2015 MR de Compostella, still arguably the most sought after and collectable Bordeaux-styled fine wine produced in South Africa and one of the very few stalwarts that regularly trades on the Liv-ex International Fine Wine Exchange in London.

Bruwer Raats and his MR de Compostella partner Mzokhona Mvemve state that the “aim with the MR de Compostella wine is to take each of the five components and make a varietal wine in it’s own right. The wines are then tasted blind after one year in barrel. The wines that scored less than 90/100 points are then not considered for the final blend”. This is a very rigorous and ruthless process no doubt but also one which has assured that the final component blend release has never scored lower than 93/100 from international critics since the maiden vintage in 2004. So if you want a track record for your fine wine, there you have it!

The 2016 vintage was the second of the drought vintages and while 2015 was also very hot and dry, it did have the added benefit of plenty of ground water reserves after a wet 2014 winter. So an altogether more challenging set of conditions for the 2016 vintage that puts the achievements of Bruwer and Mzokhona into greater context with the magical new release of MR de Compostella.

MR de Compostella 2016 Bordeaux Blend, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5 Abv.

It happens in all fine classical regions… the angst and agony of a successor vintage following on from a block buster release like… 2015 Bordeaux, 2015 Super Tuscans or indeed 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon based blends in South Africa. Made from grapes from Stellenbosch grown on decomposed dolomite granitic soils, what immediately strikes you is the large percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon that makes up the final blend in 2016. So renowned for his exceptional Cabernet Franc creations, many of Bruwer Raats’ past MR de Compostella red blend releases have had a dominant percentage of Cabernet Franc which can leave a real signature imprint on the final wine.

The 2016 however is a blend of 63% Cabernet Sauvignon; 17% Cabernet Franc; 12% Malbec; 6% Petit Verdot and 2% Merlot with a 14.5 Abv, 3.59 pH, and a 5.7 TA. The aromatics are cool, perfumed and spicy showing plenty of overt violet fragrance, cedar spice, cinnamon stick, pencil box and dried mint leaf with an overall tendency towards elegance and classism rather than overt decadence. There is no shortage of sultry black berry fruit complexity with seductive nuances of black currant, pithy black cherry and sun raisined cranberries but they do require a bit of coaxing out the glass. Medium bodied, the palate is wonderfully understated and elegant, quite feminine but very precise and slightly more linear than some of the bigger more opulent, masculine vintages from MR, but is equally beguiling and sophisticated, teasing the senses with delicious notes of blood orange, raspberry coulis, earthy red currant, salty cassis and a sumptuous milk chocolate harmony. A thoroughly enchanting and engaging wine, the 2016 is a little more elegant and light on its feet, more ballerina than gymnast, retaining a keen line of acidity and freshness, impressive subtlety and awesome textural finesse. This has all the markings of another truly great expression. In the end, the wine does not feel Cabernet Sauvignon-dominated at all … with the sum of the component parts greatly surpassed by the finished blend. Drink this beauty from release and over the next 15+ years. Well done boys!

(Wine Safari Score: 96+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)