What Future For South African Second Wines? Tasting Top Super Premium Vilafonte’s Seriously Old Dirt Cuvee…

South Africa is currently enjoying a very buoyant year for red wine releases at a time when the onslaught of big white wine reviews seems almost relentless. Much of this new found red success is undoubtedly down to the incredible “once in a generation” 2015 vintage that has produced some of the most lauded and iconic red wines in the modern era of the South African wine industry.

One of the questions that this new found success raises for me as prices push to new super premium levels is the potential role second wines currently play or could play in the future development of the South African fine wine market. They are not a new phenomenon. After all, anyone who loves top South African Bordeaux blends will remember the declassified Meerlust Rubicon 2011 blended away into the delicious Meerlust Red 2011, or the MR de Compostella 2010 that was “declassified” to create the new Red Jasper 2010, now an established brand on the market. Or even the De Toren Z, which started off life as an “off-cut” blend of Fusion V but which has now also established itself as a popular fine wine in its own right regularly scoring as high if not higher than the Fusion V from international wine critics.

On this blog, I have already been running a series of reviews on second wines from top Bordeaux Chateaux as I look to identify the over performers, the dark horses and the unexpectedly great second wines worthy of consumer attention. These wines after all serve an important role in the market, giving fine wine consumers a glimpse of the greatness they might encounter with the more expensive, more premium first wines. With a lower price tag comes an abundance of powerful premium branding, desirability but also affordability and of course a greater degree of earlier drinking accessibility.

In this vein, I cracked a bottle of premium brand Vilafonte’s Seriously Old Dirt 2014, a wine produced from unique ancient soils with quality assured for current enjoyment in a true second wine model. Made with a 6-7 day cold soak, partial natural fermentation with an extended fermentation period, the wine was aged in French oak barrels for 22 months. Vine age varies between 4 and 20 years old and the 2014 vintage surpasses both the 2012 and 2013 vintages that were released almost exclusively to the Vilafonte Wine Club and is a blend of Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.

Vilafonte Seriously Old Dirt 2014, WO Paarl, 13.5 Abv.

Lovely rich, opulent nuanced nose of cedar, vanilla pod, polished teak, creamy choc spice, mocha, black berry, black plum and crushed rose petals. The palate is medium-bodied with a truly plush, succulent mouthfeel, infused with brown sugar, cassis and leafy plum. Tannins are very fine grained and classical, sweet but retaining ample mineral, stony graphite grip. A seductive, enticing wine that definitely shows its aspiring pedigree and noble parentage. Drink now to 2028+

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

Another Eye-Catching Paardeberg Chenin Blanc From the Swartland – Tasting the Fire By Night 2017 from Chris Alheit…

Another new addition to the Alheit Family portfolio as Chris Alheit increasingly starts to focus on his premium range of single site and single terroir Chenin Blancs. This new cuvee is made from grapes sourced from three parcels on grape grower Christa von La Chevallerie’s Paardeberg farm planted between 1974 and 1980 and was tasted in London with Rosa Kruger and Andre Morgenthal at their fantastic Old Vine Project Masterclass.

Fire by Night Chenin Blanc 2017, WO Swartland, 13 Abv.

Old vine Chenin Blanc vines aged 38, 40, and 44 years old are conjured into an intense, complex white offering a bright crystalline purity, wonderful textural tension and intensity, loaded with liquid granite minerality, limestone, crunchy green gauge, apple, white peach and white pears. Pithy with slight phenolic nuances, the palate shows a spicy pear purée expression and such clarity and focus. Mouth watering acidity and subtle maritime salinity, this wine tells an amazing story of top old vine Chenin Blanc from decomposed granite soils made with incredible attention to detail. Another impressive addition to the Alheit range, this wine will drink well on release but also age beautifully for 10-15+ years.

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

A Towering South Africa Chenin Blanc Good Enough to Bring Tears to Your Eyes – Tasting the Huilkrans 2017 from Alheit Family Wines…

This is the first vintage that Chris Alheit has bottled something from the Oudam farm as a stand-alone wine.  Chris has been working with the Visser family since 2011 and has been planning this wine since 2015.  They chose the name Huilkrans, the name of a cliff on the farm that weeps when it rains.  Since the untimely passing of the owner’s son Kallie last year in 2017, the name now has an unintended double meaning. Even so, they’ve elected to keep it unchanged.

Chris Believes this wine is absolutely thrilling. Despite the excellent form of Magnetic North, Huilkrans might well be his best wine of the 2017 vintage? This is benchmark Skurfberg Chenin Blanc loaded with pithy minerality, charged with electric energy and is drenched with citrus and vibrant acidity. You can expect this to be impossibly rare and collectable from the moment it is released. So act quick!

Alheit Family Wines Huilkrans Chenin Blanc 2017, Citrusdal, 14.2 Abv.

Made from a vineyard on the Skurfberg from 42 and 32 year old Chenin Blanc plantings owned by the Visser family. This young nervy Chenin shows a wonderful melange of pure minerality, a granitic heart, wet hay, grated apple, yellow citrus, white peach and crunchy green pear with subtle hints of orange blossom, tangerine and dried herb spice adding extra backing complexity. Incredible harmony and balance, this wine has a very precise, polished textural focus but piercing concentration, crystalline acids and a profound liquid mineral depth. A thought provoking wine in so many ways, expertly delivered by Chris Alheit. This is Grand Cru in all but name and certainly ranks among the top Chenin Blancs ever produced in South Africa. Drink now until 2035+

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

South African Chardonnay On the Cusp of Greatness – Tasting the New Paul Cluver Seven Flags Releases From Elgin…

After the recent Blind Chardonnay Challenge 2018 Results were revealed (Read the write up here… https://gregsherwoodmw.com/2018/06/18/the-great-blind-chardonnay-challenge-2018-new-world-chardonnay-giving-burgundy-a-run-for-its-money/), many questioned why no South African Chardonnay’s made the final line-up. I replied that none scored high enough from the multiple judges in the several preliminary blind selection tasting rounds. But of course, this was not to imply that South Africa does not make exceptional Chardonnay. They do, and in many ways, South African Chardonnay currently sits on the cusp of greatness, just needing to take the final upward quality steps to Valhalla.

Indeed, this belief was reinforced again recently when Andries Burger from Paul Cluver Winery came to visit and show me his latest releases of Paul Cluver’s premium Seven Flags Chardonnay and Pinot Noir range. Some exceptional wines that twinned with an exceptional vintage, really show the potential of these varieties in cooler climate regions of South Africa. Is the work over? Of course not, but the results from the 2017 vintage are very encouraging.

Andries Burger from Paul Cluver

Paul Cluver Seven Flags Chardonnay 2016, Elgin, 13.5 Abv.

Rich opulent toasty lemon nose made from two 31 year old clones of Chardonnay using 100% whole bunch pressing before going straight to barrel for wild yeast fermentation. Around 30% new French oak, there are multiple layers of brûléed lemon peel, lemon pastille, honeydew melon and vanilla pod spice. With only 5-10% malolactic, the wine shows a wonderfully bright, crisp, taut texture with very impressive piquant lemongrass spice, waxy green apple, yellow citrus concentration and a fine generosity and pinpoint salinity on the finish.

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

Paul Cluver Seven Flags Chardonnay 2017, Elgin, 13 Abv.

With slightly more new oak on the 2017 at 35%, this young wine shows a surprising primary fruit driven style with crystalline white citrus, honeydew melon, green apple and white peach purity. But there is also a fine dusty, gravelly minerality emphasising the wines greater restraint, freshness and salinity. A fine core of taut yellow fruits is still very tightly wound. The intense concentration raises its head one more time on the long, complex, linear finish. Very classy and certainly a wine that is more flamboyant in youth but will certainly reward cellaring.

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

Paul Cluver Seven Flags Pinot Noir 2015, Elgin, 13.5 Abv.

A very attractive nose of raspberry confit, red cherry, bramble berry spice with hints of milk chocolate and savoury cured meats. There is great palate power, intensity and fruit focus with earthy meaty red and black fruits, salinity, and piquant foresty brambly wood spice finish. Lovely restrained oak just adding a bit of salt and pepper complexity.

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

Paul Cluver Seven Flags Pinot Noir 2016, Elgin, 13.5 Abv.

Still young and primary, the 2016 initially shows some flinty, spicy reduction, red plum, crushed blackberries and bramble berry hedgerow spice. Includes around 30% whole bunch in the ferment adding sappy, brambly foresty fruit nuances. There is a lot of energy, a super bright acidity and a long, vivacious, dark fruited, linear finish.

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

Tasting The Innovative Cool Climate White Wines From Klein Constantia With Winemaker Matt Day…

Whenever friends tell me they’ll be in Cape Town for work or other travel and have one day spare for some wine tourism, Klein Constantia is normally top of the list along with Groot Constantia and Buitenverwachting for an idyllic few hours of wine tasting.

Dating back to 1685 and described as one of the world’s most beautiful wine estates, this famous winery set amidst ancient trees on the upper foothills of the Constantiaberg, with views across False Bay, offers some of the most interesting Sauvignon Blancs and sweet wines in the entire Cape.

Young Klein Constantia winemaker Matt Day started his wine career with an internship at Meerlust Estate in 2007 and followed that experience up with stints in the Barossa Valley, Napa Valley, St Emilion and Sancerre. In 2009 he was appointed as the assistant winemaker to Adam Mason before taking over the top job itself in 2012 when Adam moved on to Mulderbosch.

The 146 hectare wine estate originally formed part of “Constantia”, a vast property established in 1685 by Simon van der Stel, the first governor of the Cape. This particular valley was chosen not only for its beauty, but also for the decomposed granite soils on its slopes, gently cooled by ocean breezes. Prized by world leaders and the global aristocracy throughout 18th Century Europe, Constantia’s Vin de Constance was revived by Klein Constantia in 1986, reaffirming this unique natural sweet wine’s place in history.

Today, Klein Constantia not only continues to make some of South Africa’s very best dessert wines but also an impressive array of Sauvignon Blanc cuvees that reflect the cool Constantia climate. On his most recent trip to London, I caught up with Matt to taste his current releases as well as some exciting new vintages.

Klein Constantia Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Constantia, 13.5 Abv.

Wonderful opulence with a delicious melange of tropical fruits, cassis leaf, gooseberry and smokey boxwood spice with hints of mango peel and waxy green apples. Full and mouthfilling, textured and broad, this warm vintage has yielded massive leesy concentration, rich citrus flavours but ample vibrant acidity. Very impressive.

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

Klein Constantia Sauvignon Blanc 2017, Constantia, 13.5 Abv.

Another warm dry vintage but with 17% wild ferment and a portion of barrel ageing. Still slightly reduced, there are layers of minerals, crushed granite, cassis leaf, wet slate and pear purée. Palate is bright, zippy and intense, with fine palate core tension, big aromatics, vibrant acidity and luxurious complexity on the finish. A very pretty wine.

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

Klein Constantia Metis Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Constantia, 14 Abv.

100% wild ferment, small amount of barrel ferment from some single vineyard declassified parcels. A far more dusty, mineral nose with crushed granite, limestone, boxwood and hints of flinty struck match reduction. Rich and textural, but still plenty of fruit restraint. Quite a distinct chalky, gooseberry atypical style of Sauvignon Blanc that spends 12 months on the lees. Bright, drying acids, this is one for old world lovers.

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

Klein Constantia Perdeblokke Sauvignon Blanc 2017, Constantia, 13.5 Abv.

Hints of new season asparagus, gooseberry, dried baking herbs and fennel root notes. Super individual and complex from this superb high slope single vineyard. Palate follows with crystalline fresh acids, fresh sage, waxy green apples and an incredibly long, concentrated finish. Quite profound expression, this assaults the senses and titilates the palate. A beauty!

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

Klein Constantia No. 382 Experimental Block Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Constantia, 14 Abv.

No sulphur at crush, free run juice, all wild ferment in a more funky Metis kind of style. Lovely nuanced nose of green fruits, gooseberry leaf, cats pee, black currant pastille and a dusty khaki-bush fynbos character. Sweet mint leaf, waxy green apples, quince and exotic fennel root and savoury asparagus complexity. Wow, what a wine!

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

Klein Constantia No. 382 Experimental Block Sauvignon Blanc 2017, Constantia, 14.8 Abv.

Unique nose of asparagus, green fruits, tinned petit pois peas and an alluring savoury boxwood and wet chalk mineral depth. Creamy and textural, there is big glycerol weight, palate flesh, sweet gooseberry and leesy, white citrus concentration. Still a baby, this is a wine with gravitas and power, focus and impressive depth. Touch warm on the finish but certainly tempered by the fresh crystalline acids. A whole lot of wine in a bottle!

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

Klein Constantia Chardonnay 2015, Constantia, 12.5 Abv.

Aged in 500 litre French oak barrels, there is plenty of subtlety with a fine cool climate approach keeping this wine restrained and in check. Plenty of palate opulence with pink rock candy, citrus peel, dried herbs and creamy biscuit spice. Very cool, rich but light on its feet, with great drinkability.

(Wine Safari Score: 89/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Klein Constantia Estate Red 2014, Constantia, 14 Abv.

58% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Shiraz, 14% Petit Verdot, and 9% Malbec. Sweet creamy opulent black fruits, plummy and sappy, sweet resinous breadth with creamy vanilla pod spice, black berry flesh and coffee bean mocha spice. Lovely texture, sleek fine grained and lovely harmonious cherry and black berry confit focus. Plenty of attention to detail.

(Wine Safari Score: 91+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Boekenhoutskloof Journeyman Red Blend 2015 – Tasting Another Epic Red From The Belle Époque…

In the past few months I have reviewed a lot of 2015 South African Cabernet Sauvignons and Cabernet based red blends, many of which have admittedly received rather impressive scores. Some commentators have raised eyebrows and questioned if these wines are really individually exceptional or whether I’ve just had a rush of blood to the head. But time and time again I simply point out that an exceptional vintage like 2015 comes along maybe only once in a decade, or with global warming bearing down on us, perhaps only once in twenty years?

I am certainly not prone to hubris or score inflation but merely look, taste and assess the quality in the glass put in front of me and judge it in an international quality context. Which brings me to another of the top 2015 wines I have been waiting to taste… the Journeyman red blend from Marc Kent and Gottfried Mocke at Boekenhoutskloof.

Produced from grapes off the Franschhoek estate, this wine possesses a slightly mythical reputation, being almost unobtainable internationally and only irregularly by the bottle at cellar door. Mostly Cabernet Franc with a 10% splash of Merlot, this wine has been one of winemaking talisman Marc Kent’s pet projects for the past 10 years (when he’s not obsessing about Swartland Syrah!)

Boekenhoutskloof The Journeyman 2015, WO Franschhoek, 14 Abv.

Thoroughly distinguished, this wine whispers class from the moment you pull the cork. Dark, deep and broody, it tantalisingly suggests a lot but tries to hide its hand like a sneaky poker player. But with enough coaxing the nose reveals aromatics of cedar, sweet wet tobacco, subtle rose petal perfume and potpourri spice, raisined cranberries interwoven with mineral graphite depth. On the palate, there is a surfeit of classy cherry and black cassis fruit, powdered chew tobacco, vanilla pod spice, mocha coffee espresso and buttered brown toast. So incredibly elegant, a tight rope walker that is so assured and focused, brimming with confidence. This is certainly up there with some of the finest 2015 wines produced in South Africa. Buy it IF you can find it. Drink now to 2030+

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

Tasting An Ageworthy South African Cabernet Sauvignon From A Historic Off-Vintage…

After tasting a lot of 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon recently made me think about the age-ability of South African wines. We all expect great vintages like 1974, 1995 and 2015 to age well, but what about off vintages? Tasting this 1977 Nederburg Cabernet Sauvignon recently in South Africa from the Distell Tabernacle cellar reinforced the true longevity potential of this grape in South Africa even when sourced from an off-vintage.

The early 70s was a very successful era, with 1970, 1972 and 1974 all being excellent vintages, while 1976 and 1978 were also good. But 1977 was plagued by wet weather and was regarded as a very, very difficult vintage overall receiving a 2/5 star rating. This wine bears testament to the winemaking techniques of Nederburg and their ability to create iconic wines.

Nederburg 1977 Superieur Cabernet Sauvignon, WO Paarl, South Africa

Fine deep notes of black berry, boxwood, plum skins and earthy black currant. Far less tertiary than one would expect, While tasting this wine, I received a brazen nod from Michael Fridjhon that this is certainly a classic Cabernet Sauvignon and a classic Nederburg but not from a lauded vintage. The palate is full, fairly sweet fruited, rich and textural, but also quite compact, pure and relatively unevolved. Showing great black earthy, tobacco Cabernet Sauvignon typicity, this is about as good as Cabernet gets in a cool rainy vintage like 1977. This wine shows power, distinguished chalky tannins, subtle hints of molasses and sweet tobacco spice and is absolutely delicious to drink. An impressive and powerful wine that still has plenty of legs!

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