Tasting the Maiden Release of Carsten Migliarina’s 2015 Single Vineyard Elgin Chardonnay…

South Africa’s Carsten Migliarina has made some superb Chardonnays in the past, so it was with great excitement that I tasted his new single vineyard expression from Elgin. His wine making reputation is growing by the day and so are his awards. He also works masterfully with cool climate terroirs as evidenced in the precision of his Elgin Chenin Blancs, Riesling and of course Chardonnay.


Migliarina Single Vineyard Chardonnay 2015, W.O. Elgin

At 14 Abv, you’d expect this wine to show some depth and power… and of course it does. The nose is beautifully complex with green apple skins, tart crunchy green pears and dusty minerality. But the oaking is also perfectly judged for the weight of the fruit concentration. On the nose it’s very subtle with bruleed creme caramel hints and lemon pie brightness. The oaking on the palate, at this stage, is a little more obvious, but definitely very high quality. Even with the multiple layers of pithy lemon confit, honeydew melon and caramelised fig notes, Carsten’s signature minerality prevails, dominating the finish with a real classical restraint and dusty, gravelly, Schweppes bitter lemon intensity. A fantastic expression with all the old world minerality of a top Umbrian or Friuli cool climate Chardonnay. Drink from 2018 to 2025.

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


Like Father Like Son… Warren Ellis Continuing the Neil Ellis Legacy…

When you have to think of one or two words to sum up a winery and it’s wines, it can sometimes be quite difficult… but sometimes not. After tasting through a large swathe of the current Neil Ellis range with Warren Ellis, I felt the wines could all be quite succinctly described as wines with composure and finesse.


Composure and finesse are perhaps traits Warren has inherited from his legendary winemaker father, Neil Ellis. These labels also apply to Neil’s wines from the late 80s and early 90s. Who can forget the early vintages of Groenekloof Sauvignon Blanc from Darling, that set the world on fire, or indeed some of Neil’s Cape Independent Winemakers Guild Cabernet Sauvignons, as the CWG was called back then. Epic, age worthy wines. 


Thankfully, Warren’s wines are equally impressive with a quiet, soft spoken elegance and finesse. Don’t miss his impressive Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 available at a bargain price of £25-£26 per bottle in the UK, or indeed his 2014 that only this week was awarded 92 points and top honours in a recent SA Cabernet tasting.


Neil Ellis Vineyard Selection Jonkershoek Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, W.O. Stellenbosch, 14 Abv. 

Dense aromatic perfumed nose of small black berry fruits, saline cassis, black currant leaf and dusty graphite. This classical Cabernet is cool, elegant, and fine grained, impressively pure fruited with suave, sleek, polished mineral tannins. There is beautiful balance and finely composed complexity leading to a seamless, exotic, finish packed full of red cherry fruits, parma violets and pink musk. A beautifully individual style of Cabernet aged for 18 months in 300 litre mostly blond and medium toast French oak barrels. Pop this in the cellar for another 5 to 8 years to develop a little more tertiary complexity and drink for 10 to 15+. 

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

Another New Super Impressive White Release From Larger Than Life Winemaker Donovan Rall…

I recently caught up with the Viking giant Donovan Rall to taste his exciting new release whites and reds. I first met Donovan at the White Blend Seminar in 2009 where I co-presented a seminar at Forest44 in Stellenbosch with Eben Sadie. He was attending with a broad who’s who of the younger generation of the South African wine industry. 


He pulled me over at the end and offered up two rare bottles of his sold out first vintage Rall White Blend that had just won 5 stars in the Platter Guide. Unbeknownst to me at the time, Donovan had previously worked at premium London retailer Harvey Nichols with our Handford General Manager, Gavin Deaville. Donovan asked me to take the bottles back to London and enjoy them with Gavin and let him know what I thought of the wine.


Fast forward almost 8 years and Donovan is an established producer of some very fine whites and reds from multiple regions. But it was this unusual, saline, fresh Grenache Blanc 2016 that caught my eye at our recent tasting and made me sit up and pay closer attention.


(The only previous South African Grenache Blanc I’ve enjoyed this much was Chris Williams’s Foundry 2013 that garnered a sizeable amount of praise in the UK media, including very favourable commentary from Tim Atkin MW and Victoria Moore of The Telegraph broadsheet newspaper.)


Rall Grenache Blanc 2016, W.O. Piekenierskloof, 12.5 Abv.

Partially skin Fermented in a combination of open top wood fermenters (20%) and Eggs (80%), then aged in concrete and old oak, this compelling white has a very pronounced saline, sea breeze, briney salinity mixed with yellow stone fruits, white flowers and crunchy white peaches. The palate is taught, displaying a zippy freshness, and a dusty, granitic, alka seltzer mineral complexity. There are some waxy phenolics adding texture and extra depth, but the wine retains great tension and remains fine and focused from start to finish. A genuinely impressive, high achieving expression of Grenache Blanc. Chapeau Donovan!

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

Another Exciting Experimental Elgin Release from Carsten Migliarina…

There are a lot of great cool climate wines being produced in the Cape, many of them originating in Elgin. But unusually, this new release is not a Chardonnay, Semillon or a Sauvignon Blanc, but a superb cool, crunchy, mineral Riesling.


Seitensprung means an “affair” or “side step” and Carsten’s idea is to make one experimental wine from a different grape variety every year. This would allow Carsten full artistic experimental freedom and no accumulative pressure or expectations, with the wines only being bottled if quality meets his high standards.


This is a one-off Riesling, itself unusual in South Africa and lovers of the variety will hopefully see some of Carsten’s German heritage in this exciting new wine.

Migliarina Wines Riesling Seitensprung 2016, W.O. Elgin, 12 Abv.

Like all Carsten’s wines, this is another serious effort. So grown up and old worldly in style. Not sure how he pulls it off time and time again, but this is so taught and mineral-laden with gravel, wet river pebbles, wet chalk, dried herbs and dry summer stable straw. The palate is a mirror image of the nose, seamlessly balanced and vibrantly fresh showing crunchy green apple, dried straw spice, pithy green pear, and incredibly rasping dry lemon complemented by crystalline purity and framed by profound liquid minerality. This is a very classy Riesling unlike anything I’ve tasted recently in South Africa, built more in a structured German Nahe or Rhinegau Trocken style. Superb wine. Glückwunsch Carsten!

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

Getting In the Mood For the Real Wine Fair with Testalonga El Bandito Cortez Chenin Blanc…

Craig Hawkins’ interpretation of Chenin Blanc can divide opinion. Well, I love his wines. He always seems to somehow capture extra nerve, wound spring tension and vibrant freshness. There’s much more to it than merely explaining it as a result of earlier picking having tasted a lot of early picked versions that are hard, tart, one dimensional and lacking in texture and flavour complexity. No such problems for Craig’s wines.


I’ve never made a white wine myself, only red, but having followed Craig’s evolution as a winemaker, you can really see the subtle tricks he’s learnt along the way while making some “funky” whites with up to 2 years skin contact. As he always told me… “I wasn’t looking for any particular result with all the experimentation with skin contact, I just wanted to see how far I could push things … and learn something in the process.”


Well, Craig has certainly reined things in a little over the past few years, a clear sign that he has matured into a high quality, thoughtful, considerate winemaker. But importantly, he has never compromised his flair or his wines characterful natural purity and textural style. With his 2015 El Bandito Cortez, Craig has hit his zenith with Chenin Blanc.


Testalonga El Bandito Cortez Chenin Blanc 2015, 12.5 Abv.

This Chenin Blanc has a beautifully bright pale golden colour with aromas of baked crab apples, white bread drizzled with honey, incense, and tinned white peaches in syrup. Superbly expressive and complex. The palate is cool, taught and intense with Craig’s hallmark low pH feel and vibrant tension, but with perhaps a few extra layers thanks to the sublime 2015 vintage character. Plenty of racy freshness, white citrus, pithy river pebble minerality, waxy tangerine peel, fresh fennel and beautiful briney, salty sea breeze zest. This wine typifies low intervention winemaking at its very best. Decant before serving for best results. Drink from 2017 to 2030+.

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


Thorne & Daughters Paper Kite Semillon 2016 ~ Another Contender for One of My Top 10 South African Whites of the Year…

A few weeks ago, on a visit to see Peter Allan Finlayson at Gabrielskloof, I managed to also meet up with John Seccombe to taste his new vintages. John has been based at Gabrielskloof for a while now, leasing cellar space to produce his fantastic range of wines.


Last year, the Paperkite Semillon 2015 achieved one of my highest scores for a South African white and flew straight into my top 10, not an easy feat considering all the amazing 2015s that were on the market at the time. This year sees more of the same… and the 2016 version is another cracker!


Thorne & Daughters Paperkite Semillon 2016, 13.2 Abv.

A blend of 85 year old Semillon and 56 year old Semillon Gris from Siebrietskloof in the Paardeberg, the beauty has a rich opulent aromatic lift of lime peel, waxy lemons, white peach and tangerine peel. There are lovely dried herb nuances of thyme combined with sappy crushed leaves. The palate is creamy and intense, brimming with sweet pineapple pastille fruit concentration, tangy fig confit, granitic stoney minerality, finishing with a massively long finish that resonates around the back palate. Wow… A really profound, expressive fine wine. Chase it… buy it… drink it!

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

An Embarrassment of Riches from the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley ~ Tasting Another Fine Chardonnay from Restless River…

It seems consumers are being spoilt rotten at the moment with all the amazing Chardonnays from both Elgin and the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley. If you follow my blog, you might be mistaken for thinking that’s almost all I drink! Well, I’ve been following Craig Wessels’ beautiful reds and whites for the past few years starting with purchases of his unique Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 and his 2012 Chardonnay.


Craig’s latest release in the UK market, the Ava Marie Single Vineyard Chardonnay 2014 from the Upper Hemel-En-Aarde Valley, is another top notch crackerjack wine. Using 15% new oak, the grapes were harvested between the 27th of February and the 12th of March and barrel fermented after wholebunch pressing. The wine was left 8 months on its lees without battonage.


Restless River Ava Marie Chardonnay 2014 Upper Hemel-en-Aarde, South Africa, 12.9 Abv.

Exotic, fragrant nose on this expressive wine. Shows salted caramel, lemon butter, toffee apple and hazelnut complexity. Wow, super complex nose. The palate does not disappoint either with intense caramelised white citrus fruits, creme brûlée, and nutty chalky complexity. Perhaps from a more difficult vintage but this is an extremely fine effort that is showing amazingly well. Most 2014 Walker Bay Chardonnays were probably sold out and drunk up long ago, but this elegant white is singing at the moment. Well done Craig Wessels!

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