Fine Wine Safari New Release Tasting Notes – Crystallum Cuvée Cinema Pinot Noir 2019…

This small boutique winery was established in 2007 by brothers Peter-Allan and Andrew Finlayson. Their father, Peter, was of course one of the pioneers in the production of cool climate Chardonnay and Pinot Noir at Bouchard Finlayson, laying the perfect foundations for Peter-Allan and Andrew to follow in his footsteps but with their own new label, Crystallum.

Crystallum is now regarded as one of the top wineries in South Africa with fruit sourced from some new vineyards. All of the wines are fermented using indigenous yeasts and new oak has gradually been reduced to focus on the wines’ brightness and fruit purity.

The 2019 Cuvée Cinema Pinot Noir was produced from fruit grown in a single vineyard – one of the highest in the Hemel-en-Aarde region. This region is characterised by a moderate climate which results in delayed ripening and a late harvest. The soils are clay and shale in composition, which allows optimum fruit development while naturally restricting vigour and keeping crop levels low.

Once a location for a film based on the life of Napoleon, the ‘Cuvée Cinema’ vineyard produces some of the most intense, age worthy Pinot Noir in South Africa from Dijon clones.

Crystallum Cuvée Cinema Pinot Noir 2019, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, 13.5% Abv.

This wine is always one of the most opulent and expressive wines in the Crystallum line up and this 2019 is another exceptional offering produced from 100% Ridge fruit with 70% whole-bunch fermentation. The bouquet is super fragrant and exotic with notes of Indian spices, violets and rose petals, dried leaves and subtle hints of forest floor and the most attractive melange of red currants, sour cherry and black bramble berries. The signature plushness and elegance of the palate is well measured and beautifully pure with marked notes of pink musk, red cherries, hints of cranberry brightness and a kiss of cinnamon spice on the finish. The tannins are suave and velvety lending enough structure and frame to give this wine a wonderful shape in the mouth. A really fabulous expression of Pinot Noir that could comfortably rub shoulders with some of Burgundy’s finest wines. Drink now and over the next 8 to 10+ years. (6,744 bottles produced)

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

Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines End an Agonising 5 Year Wait with the Release of Olerasay Segundo…

For many, 2020 will undoubtedly be a year to forget, an annus horribilis of pandemics, economic crises and lockdown blues. But while it might be marked for being a challenging year all-round, it will also hopefully be remembered in fine wine circles for the highly anticipated second release of the famed Mullineux sweet wine, the Olerasay Straw Wine made from air dried Chenin Blanc grapes.

The Olerasay No.1 or “Primiero” as Chris and Andrea call it, was an inspired creation that fractionally blended multiple vintages of their prestigious Chenin Blanc Straw Wine into a mellow, ultra complex multi-vintage blend covering components parts from 2008 to 2014. With the reputation for the Mullineux Straw Wine already well established, the Olerasay Primiero took the wine world by storm and garnered sky high scores such as 99/100 from Neal Martin at Vinous but also a rare 99/100 from the Fine Wine Safari.

A truly incredible wine, the Primiero Olerasay sadly came and went all too quickly in the retail market and by the time many consumers woke up to the greatness of this wine, it was completely unobtainable except at auction. Five years later we are finally being treated to the release of Olerasay No.2 or “Segundo” which is made up of component vintages from 2008 to 2019.

Straw Wine Chenin Blanc before pressing.

Grapes are sourced from the Mullineux’s own vineyards (owned or leased), primarily from the Schist based soils of the Kasteelberg and the decomposed Granite based soils of the Paardeberg. Vineyards are picked at the normal time with around 22-23 Brix sweetness but are then dried outdoors in the shade under nets for three to four weeks allowing the moisture in the grapes to evaporate naturally, concentrating sugars, acids and the natural Chenin Blanc flavours.

However, the vineyards selected every year are always the blocks showing higher acids at full ripeness, very healthy clean bunches of just the right size with grapes not too tightly packed together to avoid any problems with Rot.

Mullineux Olerasay No.2 Straw Wine Chenin Blanc NV, 8.3% Abv.

Always 100% Chenin Blanc, the Segundo was bottled on the 17th of January 2020, producing 6,180 375cl bottles or 515 cases of 6. The total RS at bottling was 331 g/l balanced by a TA of 11.3 g/l and a pH of 3.36. The final blend is bottled unfiltered and unfortified from 225 litre French oak barrels in the solera. Beautiful old gold yellow, the aromatics on this wine are spectacular! Every time you take a sniff, the wine offers up yet another layer of complexity. Always vibrant and fresh, the nose shows truly delicious notes of lemon cordial, passion fruit, sweet white peaches, honey on warm white toast, grapefruit preserve and zesty piquant notes of tangerines and Seville Orange marmalade. Utterly mesmerising, you could easily sit and nose a glassful for an age before even contemplating taking a sip. The rich fruit aromatics are followed by yet more dried fruit characteristics with pronounced nuances of dried apricots and pineapple slices, grilled nuts, dusty granite and blood oranges. The palate too is enthralling and delivers on all the expectations. Dense, creamy and textured, the wine remains fresh to the very end with the help of a razor sharp balancing acidity. This may have 331 g/l residual sugar but at no point does the palate feel clawing or over the top. It really is the luxurious complexity combined with the vibrant freshness and purity of fruit that make this wine a real knockout. No oxidative sherry or toffee notes to speak off, just a beautiful intensity of candied fruit. As this is a solera style sweet wine, you can certainly drink it on release without any guilt but it will of course age practically forever! Drink from 2020 to 2060+. (6,180 bottles produced.)

(Wine Safari Score: 99/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Tasting Three Vintages of One of South Africa’s Greatest Icon Cabernet Sauvignons – Reviewing the New Release Le Riche Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2017…

In the words of winemaker Christo le Riche… “2017 was a great vintage!” The stand out factor that links it to 2015, and the possible reason these two vintages are putting up their hands as some of the greatest ever in modern South African winemaking history, is the moderate yet consistent weather the winelands experienced during ripening. Chatting to Christo, he feels confident that “…pre-veraison, the drought worked its magic, but it seems that having few to no heat waves and a long autumn was certainly the key to greatness even though evenings were slightly warmer on average.”

While many wineries are super proud of the final in-bottle quality of their wines, it was by no means an easy vintage. Christo explains… “In the winery it was a complete nightmare. All the Cabs, except one block, ripened within eight days. In 2020 we picked over 29 days in comparison. In 2017 we ran out of tank space, forcing me to become creative with fermentation vessels. But luckily, everything worked out in the end and the quality is exceptional. The IPT (total tannin levels) on the wines were the highest I have seen. It was also the year I met my wife!” In many ways, Christo reminded me of the comments from Bordeaux winemakers during both the 2009 and 2010 harvests, two of the greatest vintages in the region since the epic 1989-1990 duo. All that the winemakers could talk about was the highest IPT readings they had ever recorded, yet the wines were still silky, smooth and soft with delicious balancing ripeness and fabulous finesse.

So when it came to tasting and reviewing the exciting new Le Riche Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, I thought I would do my tasting a little bit differently. Christo kindly sent me a bottle of the 2016, which I had not tasted yet either, along with the new 2017 which is only due for release towards the end of the year, and then I added one of my last 2015s to the line up. Finally, inspired by Christo’s comments about the wines IPTs, I decided to add a top bottle of Bordeaux red from a similar vintage into the line up to help calibrate all the scores. I chose the classic Leoville Barton 2016 because not only is it unquestionably a benchmark winery, but the wine has been scored 95+/100 from The Wine Advocate and 97/100 from the Wine Spectator magazine and was also crowned their Number 1 Wine of the Year in 2019! Big kudos indeed.

The Mini Le Riche Vertical Tasting

Wine 1:

Le Riche Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, Stellenbosch, 14.5% Abv.

The generosity of the epic 2015 vintage has without question of doubt produced a really beautiful expression of pure Cabernet Sauvignon… as well as possibly one of the greatest red wine vintages ever in South Africa. What is most striking about this wine is its incredible purity and perfume that rises out of the glass imperiously in multiple waves of fragrant cherry blossom, violets, potpourri and crushed rose petals. It possesses copious amounts of mocha, sweet tobacco leaf, dried herbs, cedar spice, black currant coulis and a delicious earthy, brambly, wild forest berry complexity. The palate continues to show such sophistication and textural seduction with classical Cabernet flavours filling every corner of the mouth. Still beautifully charming, but a little less open-knit and expressive than it was even last year as it starts to perhaps enter its slumber and shut down a little. Undoubtedly, this wine reveals the class of a truly great vintage with a full bodied fleshy weight, a finely delineated purity and the most charming harmonious balance and intensity. Start drinking this wine in 3-5 years time and over the next 25+ years. It’s a true thing of beauty.

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

Wine 2:

Le Riche Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, Stellenbosch, 14% Abv.

The 2016 Le Riche Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon was always going to be a highly scrutinised creation following the incredible 2015. But hats off to Christo Le Riche, he has conjured up another exceptional effort. When you are talking about one of the leading proponents of Cabernet Sauvignon in the country, I guess there aren’t really “off vintages” in any real sense. Where the 2016 departs from the 2015 is in its plumper, rounder, fleshier texture and palate weight. Still fabulously pure fruited and approachable, the nose boasts wonderful overt aromatics of cedar spice, plumy richness, violets and vanilla pod, exotic blackberry preserve, sweet tobacco leaf and complexing mineral graphite notes. Full bodied, plump and showy, the palate has very attractive curves and stands out as an exceptional effort in a hot, dry vintage. The tannins are svelte, soft and silky and the mouthfeel fleshy, creamy but intense, with an admirable salinity and freshness on the long, pure black fruited finish. The wine is not as strict or linear as the 2015 but more generous already at this young age. It’s an exceptionally attractive pure Cabernet nevertheless. Drink now and over the next 10 to 15+ years. (Le Riche has created only 4,500 bottles of this particular reserve, marking their second smallest vintage to date.)

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

Wine 3:

Chateau Leoville Barton 2016, Deuxieme Cru Classe Saint Julien, 13% Abv.

The Château Léoville Barton comprises 48 hectares of vines on the north side of Saint Julien, with south-facing hillsides with elevation. The 2016 is a classic blend of 86% Cabernet Sauvignon with the rest of the blend made up by Merlot. The result is a wine that displays all the classic Left Bank Bordeaux notes with a strong graphite core but also vivid notes of dried violets, rose petals and potpourri spice. Regarded as one of the top wines in a vintage that is now considered benchmark on the Left Bank, the palate is a little tight and subdued to start but once you warm up the engine, this wine reveals a lot of horse power of blue and blackberry fruit flavours, dusty graphite and liquid minerality, salty oyster shell nuances and an intense, saline, crème de cassis finish with just the finest hint of liquorice candy. The tannins are still bold and powerful as you would expect on a young Bordeaux of this quality, but the whole package is tight, compact and super impressive. Opened for the purpose of benchmarking the quality of the Le Riche Reserve Cabernets, but otherwise, its certainly not a wine I would anticipate drinking for another 10+ years at least. (Technically speaking, at 86% Cabernet Sauvignon, this could be labelled a varietal Cabernet.)

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

Wine 4:

Le Riche Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, Stellenbosch, 14% Abv.

Tasted alongside the 2015 and 2016 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon for added perspective reveals a wine that is quite simply drop dead gorgeous. While 2017 is of course another excellent vintage for reds in the Cape and the quality of this icon was always expected to be high, I was not anticipating it being this good! The aromatics are super fragrant and exuberant, showing intricate perfumed notes of violets and lilacs, cinnamon stick, cedar and sandalwood, cigar box and wonderfully complex herbal hints of thyme, dried fennel seeds and Chinese five spice. There is an impressive elegance and gravitas to the silky, finely textured palate which boasts all the classical Cabernet notes of black currants and black plum, crème de cassis, graphite and savoury, earthy nuances of freshly tilled earth. A beautifully proportioned, multi-dimensional wine that shows such a harmonious balance and sophisticated composure reserved for only the finest red wines around the world. Medium bodied, super elegant and weightlessly intense, the fruit flavours are perfectly ripe and precise, growing in the mouth and energised by an exhilarating freshness that holds everything in place so effortlessly. Certainly one of the most ‘complete’ wines I have tasted from the 2017 vintage so far. Drink this beauty on release but be sure to hold back a couple of cases for long term cellaring of 10, 15 or 20+ years.

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

The 2017 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon is scheduled for release at the end of 2020.

The Meerlust Estate Prepares For Another Momentous New Release – Tasting the Meerlust Rubicon 2017 Red Blend…

The 2017 release of the Meerlust Rubicon represents another classical expression of this fabulous Cape Icon wine. The high critical praise heaped upon the 2015 vintage helped it to become the fastest selling Rubicon release on record. Indeed, one cannot even begin to imagine a South African fine wine landscape that does not feature this wine prominently. Great expectations are placed on every new release and year after year, this Cape heritage estate delivers.

The 2017 vintage was surprising in that from the very beginning, the estate felt that the wines were very similar to the excellent 2015 reds. A cold winter in 2016 followed by a warm spring ensured early and even bud break. Although comparatively dry, as the Cape was still experiencing a drought, the 2017 crop was greatly enhanced by the estate’s ability to irrigate strategically, ensuring steady ripening and eventual phenolic ripeness across all varieties.

Tasting at Meerlust in March 2018 with Hannes Myburgh, Chris Williams and viticulturalist Roelie Joubert who sadly passed away in April 2020 from a sudden heart attack.

The 2017 is again a Cabernet Sauvignon dominated four grape blend with each of the varieties fermented separately before being aged in 300 litre French Nevers oak barrels, 60% new and 40% second fill. After 8 months in barrel, the components were blended and given another 10 months in barrel for harmonization before bottling. I first tasted this wine in its component parts back in March 2018 with the then winemaker, Chris Williams. I knew instantly that we were in for another exceptional release of Rubicon. Then in January 2020, I met up with owner Hannes Myburgh in London and got my first taste of the Meerlust Red 2017, the second wine made up of components not used in the Rubicon blend. I was bowled over by the beauty of this wine and while it is only really sold in export markets, it served to raise my quality expectations for the Rubicon 2017 even higher.

In November 2019, winemaker Wim Truter joined Meerlust, taking over from Chris Williams to become only the third winemaker to take the reins at this historic estate. Chris finally followed his calling and agonisingly decided to move on to the next chapter of his winemaking career, to pursue his own Foundry wine project full time.

The old Meerlust farmstead with some of Hannes’s beloved dogs.

Meerlust Estate Rubicon 2017, WO Stellenbosch, 13.6% Abv.

The 2017 Rubicon is a classical blend of 68% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc and 4% Petit Verdot, each vinified separately before undergoing malolactic fermentation in 300 litre French Nevers oak barrels, 60% new and 40% second fill. Deep purple-black in colour, the intensity and gravitas of this vintage is highlighted by the tight, dense, dark broody aromatics that require more than a little coaxing out the glass before revealing a very focused, slightly introverted bouquet of complex, tightly interwoven notes of violets, black currant preserve, black plum, Black Forest gateaux and hoisin sauce with backing notes of dried fennel, salty black liquorice, spicy cedar and an exotic Asian 5 spice nuance. While 2017 certainly stands out as another classical year of exceptional quality, the vintage will surely be remembered for its stand-out elegance, seamless palate textures and its signature weightless intensity and concentration. This Rubicon does of course possess plenty of stuffing and dazzles with gentle waves of blackberry crumble, crème de cassis, macerated black cherries, freshly tilled earth, unsmoked smoked cigars and a finely textured, powdery tannin frame that dries the palate on the finish and reminds the drinker that this wine, however enjoyable in its youth, is also built for extended ageing. This really is another exquisite vintage with charm and poise, Grand Vin potency and an overt, unbridled determination to deliver long-term drinking pleasure. Drink from 2022 to 2040+

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

Vilafonte Prepare to Release Their New Seriously Old Dirt Red Blend – Tasting the 2018 Vintage of the Most Desirable Second Wine On the South African Market…

It seems an age ago now, visiting with Phil Freese and Zelma Long at the Vilafonte Winery on the 13th February in Stellenbosch. Who could possibly have known what lay just around the corner! Nevertheless, my brief visit to South Africa was very productive with one of the highlights being able to visit the Vilafonte Winery again together with the iconic duo of Phil and Zelma, the US partners in crime with Mike Ratcliffe at one of the most exciting premium quality wineries in South Africa.

Right from the very beginning with the 2012 Seriously Old Dirt vintage, I championed the vision of a truly special super premium second wine that over delivers in bucket loads. When I tasted the Seriously Old Dirt way back then, I knew that this ‘Members Only’ blend was a wine I needed to push on behalf of consumers and indirectly encourage owner Mike Ratcliffe to do the right thing and unleash this fabulous blend onto the wider wine world.

Seven vintages in to the project and Seriously Old Dirt is surely the number one premium selling second wine in South Africa. The consumer uptake and affinity has been exceptional both in South Africa and internationally. The new 2018 release was marked by the worst drought on record and the challenges that accompany such a vintage. After a drought spell from 2015 to 2018, water resources were at an all time low and rationing was put in place in the Western Cape.

Tasting with Phil Freese, Zelma Long and Chris de Vries.

Low moisture in spring and limited water availability led to a reduced vigour and canopy size. Some unseasonable rains and low temperatures in October and November disrupted fruit set and reduced the number and size of berries on each cluster. Harvest time proceeded on schedule, commencing February 2nd and continuing uninterrupted through to February 27th. In 2018, yields were down -24% following a generous 2017 crop. (However, production was increased as parcels of premium fruit were bought in to up the production and meet demand. This in all likelihood will be the practice going forward.)

The Seriously Old Dirt was matured for 21 months in older French oak barriques and 135 barrels were produced or approximately 40,000 bottles which is indeed a big jump up in quantity from the previous vintages of 8 to 10,000 bottles. But as always, quality is at the forefront of the Vilafonte operation and this is another exceptional release of Seriously Old Dirt. Due for earlier than planned release on the 25th June 2020.

Vilafonte Seriously Old Dirt 2018, 13.5 Abv. (Bottled Dec 2019)

89% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Malbec, 4% Merlot and 2% Cabernet Franc. A Cabernet Sauvignon driven blend this vintage, the 2018 sees a pronounced spicy aromatic lift of sweet black berry fruits, leafy cassis, sweet sandalwood and spicy damson black plums. Cool, focused and fairly linear at this youthful stage, the tannins are satin smooth and the texture generous yet structured. Finely layered and fresh, attractive black cherry, blue berry and black currant notes melt into mineral nuances of graphite and wet granite. Wonderfully polished and sophisticated as you’d expect from Vilafonte, this wine will be ready to drink on release but will undoubtedly benefit from a few years extra cellaring to allow the large Cabernet Sauvignon component to mellow and reveal further tertiary treats for the drinker. Seriously Old Dirt is on a seriously good run of form!

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

The Leeu Passant New Releases – Part 3: Tasting the Stellar New Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon 2018…

I recently caught up with Chris and Andrea Mullineux over Zoom for an intimate tasting of their new Leeu Passant releases. Instead of running through all the wines in one foul swoop, I thought I would afford each wine the time and respect they deserve by profiling each new release in three separate reviews. So following on from Part 1 profiling the delicious Franschhoek Old Vine Lotter Cinsault and Part 2 reviewing the grand old Wellington Old Vine Basson Cinsault, the final instalment features probably one of my favourite new Leeu Passant wines… their Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon.

Chris and Andrea Mullineux have spent years trying to fine tune a style of Cabernet Sauvignon with ripe fruit flavours, intensity and structure. After working with over 20 vineyards around Stellenbosch, they have focused on five vineyards including two in the Helderberg, two in the Polkadraai Hills and one 39 year old parcel in Firgrove close to False Bay. Three of these five vineyards already contribute fruit that goes into their flagship Leeu Passant Dry Red Blend together with components of the Lotter Cinsault, the Wellington Basson Cinsault and a splash of Cabernet Franc.

With vines grown on a mix of alluvial soils and decomposed granite soils, the grapes produce a sleek, crystalline, elegant style of Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon that the Mullineuxs admit has a certain Swartland tilt to the approach and style. Using French oak 500 litres barrels of which only around 30% are new, the wines are aged for 12 months before being moved to larger 2000 and 5000 litre upright oak vats for another year of aging. The wine spends a final six months in bottle prior to release.

Leeu Passant Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon 2018, WO Stellenbosch, 14% Abv.

These cooler sites for Cabernet Sauvignon definitely perform well in this new release for the Leeu Passant red repertoire. The nose is magnificently perfumed, complex and utterly compelling, teasing the senses with violets and cherry blossom, lavender, pithy red cherry, sour black plums, black currant and a deep dark vein of spicy graphite minerality with just the slightest veneer of dried cedar and tarragon herbal spice. The palate texture is harmonious, tender, lightly saline and utterly seductive, displaying a fleshy medium bodied weight with bright fresh tart black berry acids, creamy milk chocolate tannins and a spicy crystalline blueberry fruited finish that is positively loaded with invigorating energy. Like the other two new releases, I obediently drank this bottle over three nights and while the majority of my score was cemented within the first few sips on day one, the expressive and energetic nature of this wine really did start to show with further air, confirming my complete adoration for this wine. This surely has got to be one of the most exciting ‘new’ pure expressions of Cabernet Sauvignon to come out of Stellenbosch in recent years? Drink now and over the next 20+ years.

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

The Leeu Passant New Releases – Part 2: Tasting the Wellington Old Vines Basson Cinsault 2017…

I recently caught up with Chris and Andrea Mullineux over Zoom for an intimate tasting of their new Leeu Passant releases. Instead of running through all the wines in one foul swoop, I thought I would afford each wine the time and respect they deserve by profiling each new release in three separate reviews. So following on from Part 1 profiling the delicious Franschhoek Old Vine Lotter Cinsault, it’s time for the Basson Old Vine Cinsault to get its moment in the spotlight.

This lauded dry farmed Cinsault vineyard is the oldest certified red wine vineyard in South Africa, planted in 1900 and farmed by the Mullineuxs since 2014. One of the original Old Vine Project “Certified Heritage Vineyards” that has been held up as a shining beacon of education and preservation, these gnarled deep rooted old Cinsault bush vines are planted on deep, weathered sandy Table Mountain sandstone alluvial soils which yield wines deceptively light in colour but also impressively structured, taut and rich boasting almost Cabernet-like minerally spicy tannin structures.

The famous Old Vine Basson Cinsault vineyard next to the Wellington highway. A true national treasure.

Regardless of the natural structure from the terroir, Andrea Mullineux also makes very precise wines that will age a long time and as such, she always recommends giving the wines plenty of air or decanting before drinking, especially for new releases like this.

Indeed, the Basson vineyard is another very important component of their flagship Leeu Passant Dry Red Blend which the Mullineuxs have started to age longer in bottle before release. The Basson Old Vine Cinsault will also be released a year later than their Lotter Cinsault.

Leeu Passant Wellington Old Vines Basson Cinsault 2017, WO Wellington, 13.5 Abv.

The grapes for the Basson Cinsault were crushed and destemmed into tanks with fermentation starting spontaneously with indigenous yeasts with pigeage twice a day. After 11 days of fermentation, the wine was given a further three weeks of skin maceration before being drained and pressed to barrel where it matured for 20 months in 500 litre French oak barrels. The aromatics are distinctively spicy and complex showing top notes of potpourri, dried rose petals, freshly trimmed hedge row spice and wild herb notes of fynbos and thyme. Imposing yet silky textured with beautifully polished dry tannins, there is plenty of broody depth and power lurking behind the bright red fruits of pithy cherry, raisined cranberries, blood oranges and sweet lingering peppercorn spice. The fabulously dense, focused, tight knit texture finishes with an impressively pure, dry, mineral tannic restraint reinforcing the stature of these grand old 120 year old Cinsault vines.

Andrea encouraged me to have a secondary taste of the Basson on day two (and day three if possible!) and I am glad she did. While the structure and sappy spice remained resolute, multiple extra layers of juicy red fruits enlivened with bright cherry acids had surfaced to make the wine a little less broody and stern. Certainly one of the most serious and breathtaking renditions of premium Cinsault produced in South Africa without a doubt.

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

The Leeu Passant New Releases – Part 1: Tasting the Franschhoek Old Vines Lotter Cinsault 2018…

I recently caught up with Chris and Andrea Mullineux over Zoom for an intimate tasting of their new Leeu Passant releases. South African wineries were once again allowed to send out samples as of the 1st of May as lockdown started to be eased, and after tasting through their new releases, it is clear and evident that fine wine lovers are in for a considerable treat with these new single varietal reds.

Instead of running through all the wines in one foul swoop, I thought I would afford each wine the time and respect they deserve by profiling each new release in three separate reviews. Starting with the seductive Old Vine Lotter vineyard Cinsault from Franschhoek, this is a vineyard Andrea has gotten to know more and more intimately after producing a 2015 and 2016 mono-varietal wine from this site for her Cape Winemakers Guild submission. The Lotter vineyard also forms a key part of the Leeu Passant flagship Dry Red Blend.

For many years, Franschhoek got a bum rap for producing wines that supposedly just weren’t up to the high levels of Stellenbosch, Paarl and the Swartland. Substandard terroir or lazy winemaking? Of course, nothing could be further from the truth, a fact highlighted by the production of exceptional white wines like those incredible Semillons from the La Colline old vine vineyard and of course reds like this Old Vine Lotter Cinsault sourced from a vineyard planted in 1932 but farmed by the Mullineux duo since 2015.

As Andrea points out, it is fascinating to walk through the wonky rows of the Lotter vineyard which have only ever been farmed by hand and horse, with the deep rich brown clay soils adding gravitas and density to the Cinsault grapes harvested from this 2 hectare vineyard. The plot was originally 4 hectares but by the time the Mullineuxs had managed to contract the fruit, over half the vines had already been grubbed up to make way for fruit trees. Andrea works with whole bunch clusters and only natural yeast fermentations for grapes from these eastern slopes of this south west facing vineyard planted with an ancient field blend of 90% Cinsault, 2% Cinsault Blanc, 6% Cinsault Gris and 2% Palomino. The grapes are harvested and fermented all together.

Leeu Passant Franschhoek Old Vines Lotter Cinsault 2018, WO Franschhoek, 14 Abv.

The large Cinsault berries in the Lotter vineyard develop thick dark skins and yield a skin to juice ratio not dissimilar to small Cabernet Sauvignon berries. This wine was matured for 20 months in 500 litre French oak barrels and shows a fascinatingly different expression to their Basson Old Vine Cinsault from Wellington. Fabulously red fruited, the bouquet shines with crushed rose petals, sweet red plums, sun ripened red currants, macerated cherries and exotic Turkish delight nuances. Fuller, rounder and more opulently fleshy on the palate, the generosity of fruit belies a density, depth and concentration supported by a plump, textured mouth feel enlivened with hints of sapidity, hedgerow herbaceousness and mulled wine Christmas spices. Beautifully sweet, well honed tannins leave a lasting impression on the long plush finish. A wine still playing its cards close to its chest, but suggests great rewards lie in store for those willing to cellar their bottles for a further 5 to 8+ years before revisiting.

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

Tasting the Boutique Chenin Blanc 2018 from Wildehurst Wines in the Swartland…

Wildehurst Wines is a small boutique wine cellar in the small Swartland town of Koringberg. Together, owner Joanne Hurst and winemaker Sheree Nothnagel, produce wines that attempt to capture the essence of their unique terroir in the Swartland wine region in the Western Cape, South Africa.

Joanne planted her “garden vineyard” in 2006 consisting of 90% Shiraz and 10% Viognier producing her first wines in 2009. At the end of 2013 the business grew to the point where it was necessary to appoint a full time winemaker and with a degree in Oenology and Viticulture, Sheree Nothnagel, joined the winemaking team. All grapes are hand harvested and wines are produced as naturally as possible with minimal intervention. Wildehurst Wines currently produce 16,000 bottles annually.

This 2018 Chenin Blanc was produced from 30 year old vines in the Swartland. After being whole bunch pressed, the must was barrel fermented with minimal intervention using natural yeasts and no acidification. The finished wine was racked and transferred back to old French oak barrels where it was aged for a further six months before bottling. Only 865 bottles were produced. Alcohol: 12.5% Residual Sugar: 1.8g/L, TA: 5.1g/L, pH: 3.43

Wildehurst Wines Chenin Blanc 2018, WO Swartland, 12.5 Abv.

A bright medium straw yellow colour, this wine has a very expressive nose of classic Swartland Chenin Blanc. There are complex notes of spicy orange peel, pineapple pastille, crushed granite, wet thatch and white peach stone fruits on the nose. The palate shows an initial piquant bite with a light to medium bodied mouthfeel, pithy peach skins and a subtle phenolics grip. There is plenty of elegance and subtlety together with nuanced flavours, a sleek accessibility and distinct lemon and peach iced tea characters on the finish. Perhaps not quite the palate weight or concentration of some of the more illustrious Swartland examples, but this delicious, well balanced little boutique white certainly captures many of the most attractive characteristics of Swartland Chenin Blanc.

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

www.Wildehurst.com

The Crystalline Brilliance of John Seccombe – Tasting the Exceptional Thorne & Daughters Rocking Horse 2018 White Blend…

I have been following the outstanding work of John Seccombe from the very beginning of his Thorne & Daughters label which was started in 2012 by John and wife Tasha with the aim to produce authentic wines in the beautiful Western Cape. John works with grapes from all over the Cape peninsula and seems to have honed a particularly refined aesthetic when it comes to his winemaking. His Thorne and Daughters family concern is truly pushing the boundaries with old vines and simple, natural winemaking techniques.

Sometimes other producer’s wines have been more highly lauded or more vocally praised but this certainly has nothing to do with the quality of John’s wines. Indeed, John must be one of the most modest, humble and intelligent winemakers plying his trade in the Cape… silently and brilliantly. John’s 2018 Thorne & Daughters Rocking Horse Cape white blend incorporates several old vine heritage vineyards that looks more to Burgundy rather than the Rhône for its stylistic compass.

With the release of John’s 2019 Rocking Horse hitting the airwaves at the moment, I thought it would be the perfect time to retaste the impressive 2018 blend, a wine that got a lot of wine trade tongues wagging at the New Wave 2019 tasting in London last year. As the current release and the wine most widely available, the 2018 is certainly worth further examination.

Thorne & Daughters Rocking Horse 2018 wWhite Blend, WO Western Cape, 13.2 Abv.

The 2018 is an exotic Mediterranean blend of 25% Roussanne, 22% Semillon, 19% Chardonnay, 18% Clairette Blanche and 16% Chenin Blanc. A rich straw yellow colour, the aromatics are complex and expressive brimming with notes of leesy lemon biscuits, white citrus, dried baking herbs, fynbos and thatch and dried tangerine peel. On the palate, the textural intricacy is notable as you would expect from a wine with 25% Roussanne in the blend, which lends extra dimensions of fleshy white stone fruit and marzipan depth. Naturally fermented in old oak, the 2018 shows the classical crystalline purity of the vintage framed by a tart lemon lime acidity and a stony, liquid mineral granitic complexity. Beautifully sensual and pristinely balance, every mouthful stimulates the senses and gives the drinker additional flavours to contemplate… crisp white peaches, crunchy green pears, granny smith apples, bay leaf herbal notes  and yet more green mango and saline twang on the long exhilarating finish. Impressively intense and taut for the vintage, this must be one of the most drop dead gorgeous white blends produced in the Cape at the moment. Drink now or age for 10+ years.

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

Thorne & Daughters wines are distributed in the UK by Liberty Wines.