Another New White Variety in South Africa that Points to the Future Instead of the Past – Tasting the Momento Grenache Gris 2017…

Marelise Niemann officially launched her Momento label in 2013 when she was still working for Beaumont winery in the Bot River region. She has recently taken up wine making duties at Anysbos Winery in the Bot River owned by Peter-Allan Finlayson’s uncle-in-law. Marelise has been making her previous wines at Gabrielskloof along side Peter-Allan and John Seccombe (Thorne & Daughters) but will now move her production to Anysbos aswell.

Following 4 drought years in the Cape and a continuing uncertain future for winemaking using many cooler climate varieties such as Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Merlot etc., it is great to see that Marelise has become a real champion for varieties like Grenache, Grenache Gris, Verdelho, Tinta Barocca and Chenin Blanc, some of which may possibly point the way forward in future to more dry grown plantings as water becomes an ever scarcer commodity.

This new release is made from young Grenache Gris vines planted on the decomposed granite soils of Willie Mostert’s farm in the Voor-Paardeberg area. Grapes were destemmed and crushed and followed by a 7 day cold soak on the skins before a natural yeast fermentation commenced. The wine was then aged for 10 months in old French oak barrels. Only 4 barrels were produced.

Momento Grenache Gris 2017, WO Voor Paardeberg, 12.5 Abv.

The wine is beautifully mineral and dusty with pronounced notes of crushed granite, fynbos, dried thatch and hints of white citrus, soap stone and pithy, peppery green apples. The palate is impressively focused, texturally tight grained and super saline with intense liquid minerality marrying layers of white peach stone fruit, nougat glacé, tangerine peel and waxy green apples. An expertly proportioned white that is chiselled, concentrated and strictly linear in the mouth. There really is something special here and all from young vines. Wow! This is a new wine to track down and buy.

Wine Safari Score: 94+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Only 90 bottles made their way to the UK.

Affordable and Accessible Pinot Noir from the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley – Tasting the La Vierge The Affair 2016…

Everyone knows Pinot Noir is not an easy grape to cultivate to high quality standards and certainly it does not make for good cheap wine very easily… if at all! The grapes for the La Vierge The Affair Pinot Noir were harvested in six batches by hand for this delicious cuvee, enjoying cool early morning temperatures with vines yielding 2 to 4 tons/ha (13 – 26 hl/ha)… which is relatively meagre.

In the cellar, after overnight cold storage the grapes were sorted, destemmed and gently crushed into fermentation tanks. Cold maceration occurred for an average of 3 days until spontaneous fermentation begun. The wine was then fermented under controlled temperatures until dry. The skins were then lightly pressed and the wine racked into a selection of French oak barrels for 9 months ageing and maturation. The final blending occurred one month prior to bottling and the wine was allowed to develop further in bottle prior to release. The results are impressive for this heartbreak variety!

La Vierge lying just north of Hermanus in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley.

La Vierge The Affair Pinot Noir 2016, Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, 13.5 Abv.

The Affair Pinot Noir 2016 is a refined, stylish Pinot Noir showcasing the love affair between the soft feminine side of Pinot Noir, being the lifted floral perfume, hints of potpourri and spice, the textural silkiness; and the masculine linear strength of the mineral tannins, hints of oak and brooding dark forest floor aromas. The palate is both silky and textured, displaying a lovely fleshy rondeur as well as soft, integrated tannins, crisp bright acids and impressive length. High quality cool climate Pinot Noir for an excellent price… the vinous holy grail! Drink now and over 5 to 8 years. 

(90+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Recommended Retail Price in the UK £18.99pb

Another Bright Young Winemaker to Watch in the Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley – Tasting Natasha Williams Signature Wines Chardonnay…

After many years of industry employers frowning upon winemakers and assistant winemakers doing their own creative side projects, it has thankfully now almost become the norm with employees free to experiment and let their creative juices flow while the employer not only retains the winemaker but undoubtedly benefits from the extra knowledge and creative inspiration spawned by these side projects.

The latest one on my radar is the highly talented Natasha Williams who by day works at the Bosman Winery’s Hemel-en-Aarde property but “after hours” makes some delicious Chardonnay under Natasha Williams Signature Wines. I recently acquired a sample of her new 2017 Chardonnay and what a cracker it is!

Produced from grapes originating in the Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, a specially selected high density (6667 vines per HA) block from the DeBos Farm was vinified to produce 1,060 bottles. Picked early in the morning, the grapes were trucked to the Lelienfontein Cellar in Wellington where they were basket pressed and the juice allowed to start a spontaneous natural yeast fermentation lasting 2 months with 50% in concrete tanks and 50% in older 300 litre French oak barrels. The wine spent 10 months on fine lees in 3rd and 4th fill barrels before being racked and aged a total of 16 months in French oak. (13 Abv., 3.31 pH, 5.84 TA, 2.2 RS).

Natasha Williams Chardonnay 2017, Upper Hemel en Aarde Valley, 13 Abv.

An attractive cooler climate expression of Chardonnay is always a vinous treat from South Africa. In the glass you can indulge in a wonderful bouquet of pithy lemon and lime peel, limestone minerality, dusty crushed gravel, white pepper and yellow grapefruit preserve with just the most subtle salted toffee vanilla oak kiss. On the palate, the wine is classically steely and linear as you’d expect but with an incredibly fine accompanying textural balance, waxy soap stone minerality, grated lemon rind, more limestone, caramelised green fig and succulent ripe honeydew melon notes on the finish. I love the purity, crystallinity and elegance that is ever present with the wine never straying too far into the reductive spectrum while retaining a wonderful sense of restraint. A very impressive solo debut from winemaker Natasha Williams.

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

Vilafonte’s Co-Owner Mike Ratcliffe Unveils the Phenomenal New Release Series C 2016 in London…

So all it took was a fleeting flying visit to London to give a small select group of wine trade buyers a sneak peak of this exciting new Vilafonte Series C 2016 blend and the hype and excitement was in full swing. Co-proprietor Mike Ratcliffe scheduled this pre-release tasting to allow a few UK market heavy weights a chance to hear about and taste the success story of the 2016 vintage first hand before the official South African launch on the 1st of November.  

The first plantings were made at Vilafonte on their 42 hectares way back in 1995 and at the time included Petit Verdot which was the only one of the five Bordeaux varieties which proved to be unsatisfactory and was subsequently grubbed up. On the plus side, varieties like Malbec proved to be incredibly successful along with the classics of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, all planted on the 750+ million year old low potential “Vilafonte” soils of Paarl.

With the first commercial release now already the 2003 vintage, Vilafonte can no longer be regarded as one of the fine wine new kids on the block but rather one of the leading lights in the premium red wine category in South Africa. To put the new release into proper context, the 2016 was tasted along side an illustrious array of older vintages of both Series C and Series M.

With Co-owner Mike Ratcliffe

Vilafonte Seriously Old Dirt 2014, 13.5 Abv. (Second Label of Vilafonte)

A blend of 41% Merlot, 31% Cabernet Sauvignon, 28% Malbec and produced from the same meticulously farmed vineyards as the Series C and M wines, inevitably when you are making complex blends, there will be high quality wine components that don’t make the final Grand Vins, which are instead redirected to the second wine Seriously Old Dirt. The 2014 shows a sophisticated dark broody nose full of earthy black berry, cassis leaf, crushed gravel and blueberry spice. The palate is plush and restrained, full of complex layers of black bramble berry fruit, tobacco spice, graphite and liquid minerality. Very grown up, wonderfully classical and texturally incredibly pure and polished with little oak imprint. A superb introduction to the profound wines of Vilafonte. 

(Wine Safari Score: 92+/100 GregSherwood MW)

Vilafonte Series M 2015, 14 Abv. 

40% Merlot, 31% Cabernet Sauvignon and 29% Malbec, with 22 months ageing in French oak. 68 barrels produced. The bouquet shows a leaning towards a plummier opulence with liquid graphite, dusty gravel, black cherries, damson plum, brûléed coffee beans and subtle sweet chocolate and tomato puree nuance. The palate texture is incredibly classical and fine, harking back to some of the finest right bank Merlot based blends produced. The finish shows saline plum, cassis, piquant lipstick spice and the most dreamy creamy chocolate eclair generosity. Delicious wine from a very classy, top notch vintage. This is certainly one for the cellar.

(Wine Safari Score: 94+/100 GregSherwood MW)

Vilafonte Series C 2009, 14.8 Abv.

54% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Franc and 8% Malbec aged 23 months in 100% new French oak. 23 barrels produced. Still an impressively dark garnet red rim, the bouquet resonates with complex notes of wet tannery leather, dusty chew tobacco, dried thyme and sage, espresso, freshly tilled earth and stewed red currants. This big bold vintage is rich and youthful, full of creamy brioche, black currant and sweet black plum notes with cool fresh acidity harmoniously balanced by eminently powerful and bold sweet textural tannins. A vintage regarded as one of the greats and showing very gracefully. In a happy place at the moment but certainly no rush to drink this one.

(Wine Safari Score: 94/100 GregSherwood MW)

Vilafonte Series C 2014, 14.5 Abv

65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, and 6% Malbec aged 22 months in 70% new French oak. 48 barrels produced. Wonderfully pure, fine and fragrant with a noticeably youthful fragrance of black cherries, graphite, violets and caramelised red berry fruits. A lovely fine hedonistic opulence is present in the glass with the most intricate and expensive oak profile, vanilla pod spice and supple, creamy, polished mineral tannins. Wonderful purity and freshness to behold. Wow, not the most famous vintage for red wine collectors in South Africa but a wine with a surfeit of poise and elegance, purity, focus and harmony. A splendid wine indeed.

(Wine Safari Score: 95+/100 GregSherwood MW)

Vilafonte Series C 2015, 14.5 Abv.

57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc and 9% Malbec aged 22 months in 67% new French oak. 44 barrels produced. A superbly distinguished classical red blend with a lush opulent bouquet of black cassis, espresso, dried sage, sweet tobacco, graphite spice and buttered brown toast. What a wonderfully proportioned wine that really takes South African red wine quality to the next level. Purity and precision, seamlessly integrated oak with effortless power, concentration and balance. This has all the hallmarks of greatness.

(Wine Safari Score: 96/100 GregSherwood MW)

Vilafonte Series C 2016, 14.5 Abv.

62% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, 12% Malbec and 11% Cabernet Franc aged 22 months in 77% new French oak. 30 barrels produced. The most focused and intricate of aromatics, the small, tight, compact black grape bunches harvested in 2016 are accurately captured and represented perfectly in this stunning premium wine. Less distinctly showy and opulent than the 2015 blockbuster at the same stage of its evolution, this is an incredibly finely composed red blend with massive precision but also plenty of curb appeal, revealing fragrant layers of crushed violets, blueberry pie, vanilla pod spice, buttered brown toast, saline cassis, liquid minerality and a graphite complexity. Within a restrained, concentrated style, this vintage represents the most intelligent extraction and tannin management possible reflecting the care required to handle the small, thick skinned berries in this drought vintage. A hauntingly pretty wine that is seriously compact and complete and dare I say a step up in quality on even the spectacular 2015 release. Drink from release or cellar for 25+ years as this wine certainly has the structure and stuffing for the long haul.

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

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

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

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

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

Sutherland Elgin Reserve Chardonnay 2016, 13 Abv.

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

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

Kanonkop 2017 Black Label Pinotage – A Wine for the Most Intellectual of Palates… we

“The 100pt rating was most certainly a terrific boost for the brand,” says Johann Krige, co-proprietor of Kanonkop. “We have never experienced such a demand for the Paul Sauer and it looks as though the interest is spilling over into our next release, namely the Black Label Pinotage 2017 of which only 6 900 bottles are available – far less than the Paul Sauer 2015.”

Black Label is made from one of the oldest Pinotage vineyards in South Africa, one planted in 1953 on a site that has over the years proved to produce fruit of specific excellence and deemed special enough to be bottled under an own label. According to Kanonkop cellarmaster Abrie Beeslaar, the 2017 vintage was truly excellent for the Black Label. “It did not initially look as if this was going to be the case, as 2017 was the third very dry year in a row on the farm,” he says. “We only had 500mm of rain, 250mm less than the long-term average.” But the final results are captured in the bottle and are results worthy of adoration.

Kanonkop Black Label Pinotage 2017, Stellenbosch, 14.5 Abv.

When it comes to Pinotage, there may certainly be bigger wines, bolder opulent wines or more funky wines on the market but nothing ticks all the fine wine boxes like Kanonkop Black Label. The 2017 release marks the dawning of a new era where the local sales in the home market are properly mirrored with an enthusiastic international collector market pre-release offer for the first time. And what better way to do this with than with the 2017 expression which now comes from noble 67 year old vines which create a majestic elixir matured entirely in new French oak for 18 months before release. What Abrie Beeslaar has created in this vintage is a marvel to behold marrying new world hedonistic opulence with old world, Bordeaux’esque delineation and structure. This is a block buster that tantalises and teases the palate in the most intellectual sense and rewards the palate with a cornucopia of stimulation. The bouquet is positively bursting with lifted maraschino cherry, kirsch liquor, clove spice, blueberry, earthy mulberry and plum coulis. But it doesn’t stop there, before this block buster even gets out the starting blocks and close to your palate there are complex notes of sweet cloves, wood shavings, branded oak, iced tea and fresh oregano, sage and rose petal to behold. The palate is equally complex and alluring, exotically seductive in the most sensual sense of the word, showing the succulent delineation you would hope for and expect from a wine of this pedigree and price point but also a complexity of sweet bramble berry fruits, cut hedgerow, freshly tilled Stellenbosch earth and cherry kirsch liquor chocolates. But the stand out quality of this wine is undoubtedly the bright, crunchy yet sultry saline acidity that leaves you coming back for one sip after another. The lasting impression of this wine on the palate is the vitality, precision, knowhow and authority that beam from the glass akin to facing down a glass of Romanée Conti Burgundy. But I’ll stop there… the rest is up to you… the consumer! Dive in now or over the next 20+ years.

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

Adam Mason Making Some of South Africa’s Most Exciting Wines – Tasting The New Raised By Wolves Releases and Barrel Samples…

While I was out in South Africa recently for Cape Wine 2018, I had the great privilege to meet up with Adam Mason at Mulderbosch winery where he carries out his “day job”. But in the twilight hours, Adam can be found forging some of the most exciting and innovative wines in South Africa under his Raised By Wolves label.

Together with Adam’s UK importer, Andrew Johnson from Woodwinters UK, we tasted through his entire 2018 range of whites and reds En-primeur before tasting all the new releases in bottle. An incredible array of individual, characterful, high quality wines. If you are looking to add some spice and variety to your South African selection, look no further than these epic wines from master winemaker Adam Mason.

Adam Mason tasting through his 2018 barrel samples.

Raised By Wolves Barrel Selection:


Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, 13.5 Abv.

The Cabernet component of the old school red, with 300 cases produced from vines planted in the 1980s. Rich, expressive nose of mulberry, cassis, black berry and mocha oak spice. Palate shows power and concentration, classical grip and fabulous purity and berry freshness. Lovely focus.

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

Old School Red Blend 2017, 13 Abv.

2/3 Cinsault & 1/3 Cabernet Sauvignon

Beautiful aromatics of black plum and blackberry, roses,Turkish delight and rosemary bushes on a warm summers day. There is superb freshness and delicious bright red berry crunch, soft supple tannins and lovely energy and verve all packaged with a comforting harmony and balance. 

(Wine Safari Score: 91-93+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Pinot Meunier 2018, 11.5 Abv. 

Fermented in 500 litre barrels, Grapes from Newlands, a hilltop property that overlooks Spier winery and False Bay. Whole bunch pressed, early picked, natural ferment. The nose is warming and round, quite earthy and savoury with leafy resinous, sappy depth and subtle red berry notes. Fine balancing freshness, cool spicy plum skin nuances with a  long, savoury liquid mineral finish. Halfway house between Rose and a white wine.

(Wine Safari Score: 90-91/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

La Colline Semillon Gris 2018, 10.6 Abv. 

Famous Franschhoek vineyard made famous by Chris Alheit. Natural ferment, hole bunch, carbonique maceration with 10 days skin contact including fermentation. Aromatics of greengage, sour plum, lemon biscuits and red cherry. Cool, very fine, impressive texture and a superb liquid minerality.

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

Semillon La Colline 2017, 13.08 Abv.

Green grapes picked separately from the La Colline vineyard. Broad, savoury aromatics with lanolin, creamy lemon butter, white citrus and green apple purée. Lovely cool crystalline purity, soft elegant harmony, piquant spice and vibrant yellow citrus and waxy green apple depth. Delicious acid freshness and a long gravelly mineral finish.

(Wine Safari Score: 91-93/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Cuvee 777 Chardonnay 2018, 13 Abv.

Grapes from the Piekenierskloof. Picked at 22.8 Brix, the wine has wonderful steely, mineral linearity showing crisp appleskins, white peach, melon and taut white citrus intensity with tart pineapple and white peach pastille finish with a delicate oak kiss. Wow. Very nice indeed.

(Wine Safari Score: 93-94+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Chenin Blanc 2018, 12.5 Abv.

Montpellier Chenin Blanc clone in Stellenbosch but will be Adam’s last Vintage from this vineyard that unfortunately is likely to be grubbed up soon. The nose is full of green apple, greengage, white citrus, amazing tension and linearity. Acids are cool and steely framing the palate beautifully. Very different take to Cape Chenin.

(Wine Safari Score: 93-94/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Sauvignon Blanc 2018, 13 Abv.

140 cases of 12 produced from Elgin grapes picked at 22.8 brix. Classic cool climate Sauvignon aromatics with green apple, pear drops, fynbos spice, dry straw and subtle lemon / lime citrus peel. Palate is dry and mineral with a subtle barrel fermented oak spice adding salt and pepper complexity to the green apple pastille fruits and also lending beautiful texture to the wine. Very impressive.

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

Raised By Wolves Bottled Selection: 

Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, 12.85 Abv.

1,181 bottles produced. Earthy, slightly mealy savoury nose on this pure Cabernet. Develops sun raisined black berry notes, violets, sweet wet tobacco. subtle cedar spice and hints of Christmas cake. Palate is ultra light, fresh and sleek, very light on its feet showing powdery mineral tannins, a chalky texture and a bright spicy, graphite-laden finish.

(Wine Safari Score: 90/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Old School Red 2016, 12.77 Abv. 

Cabernet planted in the 1980s and a Cinsault block planted in 1965. Attractive notes of roasted herbs, grilled meats, violets, rosemary,  pine needles and black currant. Palate is full and fleshy but exhibits finely polished, ripe tannins, sweet tobacco spice and cool, sweet / sour plummy finish. Delicious wine.

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

Pinot Meunier 2017, 12.7 Abv. 

Whole bunch pressed, Barrel fermented in 500 and 300 litre barrels. Savoury, gravelly red berry nose, liquid minerals, dried herbs, sour plum and wonderful dried herb finish.

(Wine Safari Score: 90/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Semillon Rooi Groen Druif 2017, La Colline, 11.8 Abv. 

Dark salmon, copper colour, this expression show spectacular notes of cantaloupe, watermelon, crushed gravel, vinyl and hints of lime peel. Palate is broad and plush, softly textured but surprisingly pithy and mineral with chalk, cherry spice and dry irony, graphite finish. Very serious expression. Not for novices.

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

Semillon La Colline 2017, 12.87 Abv.

Dried herbs and dusty mineral, liquid chalk, lime peel, lanolin and creamy, vanilla kissed white peach. Fabulous freshness, lovely bite and crunch and a spectacularly long, intense finish. Very impressive.

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

Cuvee 777 Chardonnay 2017, 13.10 Abv. 

First vintage from Piekenierskloof fruit from Shelley Sandell at Tierhoek. Quite a taut, mineral, restrained nose revealing previously little at the moment. A bit of coaxing reveals hints of lime peel, vinyl, lemon cordial and tart melon. Lovely palate depth, fine creamy texture embellished with cedar and vanilla pod spice and finishing with verve and vigorous.

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

Chenin Blanc 2017, 13.53 Abv.

A fine aromatic melange of creamy lemon biscuits, honied peaches and white toast. Palate shows that classic fruit intensity, crunchy white peach depth, sour plum and a dried herb laced depth. Very impressive.

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

Bonniemile Muscat 2017, 10.5 Abv. 

Wonderful exotic, expressive nose of lychee, pineapple chutney, ginger, curried peaches, raisins, and exotic yellow fruits. Palate is sleek, fleshy, aromatic and piquant with hints of curry powder, wood spice and sun dried peaches. Very expressive, super exotic and wonderfully expressive.

(Wine Safari Score: 90+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

With Adam Mason, UK importer Andrew Johnson from Woodwinters UK and Brian Smith from Elgin Ridge.