The Savvy Swartlanders Putting Stellenbosch Chardonnay on the World Map – Tasting a Pre-Release Bottle of Leeu Passant Stellenbosch Chardonnay 2016…

As I near the end of my March trip to South Africa, one of my favourite visits and tastings lay ahead at the Roundstone farm of Chris and Andrea Mullineux in the Swartland. With the new Leeu Passant wines due for imminent release, it was great to get a sneak peak of one of my favourite new white wines on the South African wine scene, the Leeu Passant Stellenbosch Chardonnay.

As it becomes apparent that the Elandskloof Chardonnay Cuvee will no longer be made, the Mullineux’s have instead decided to focus on their Stellenbosch Chardonnay Cuvee from the Helderberg, which they believe offers the best future potential for premium quality and cellar ageability.

In the past few years, the debate has certainly hotted up in Europe and the USA around the collectability and quality of premium new world Chardonnay versus expensive top white Burgundy. New challengers to the holy Burgundy grail will certainly emerge, and I’m putting my money on this wine being in the mix for top honours.

Mullineux Leeu Passant Stellenbosch Chardonnay 2016, 14 Abv.

Another incredibly serious, focused, grown up release from the Mullineuxs. Regal, refined and linear, the fruit comes from the same 26 year old Helderberg vineyard as the 2015 release. Beautiful lime and white citrus pastille fruit notes are very pure and pithy with an alluring wet limestone and waxy lemon rind edge. Very tight grained, tightly wound and taut, far more so than even the very serious 2015 release. The intense lemon and lime cordial freshness is supremely balanced and harmonious performing a sophisticated, choreographed Burgundy styled routine with an expertly judged amount of struck match reduction complexity. The finish has a dusty, gravelly dry mineral length that will impress the most educated fine wine collector. Cellar this beauty for 2 to 3 years before opening, and drink over 20+ years.

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

The Dawning of a New Era – Tasting the Tantalising Old Vine Treats of Naude Family Wines…

One of my life long mantras has always been that nice people make nice wines. Well, in Ian Naude’s case, you can add chocolate sprinkles and icing sugar to his delicious treats. A veteran of 11 years hard graft at Adoro Wines, in 2018 Ian has finally grasped the prickly chalice and branched out with his own venture, Naude Family Wines.

After much politics, multiple accounting headaches and a lot of strategic and logistic planning, the boat is back on the water and the sails are gathering a heathy turn of speed. Naude Family Wines has graduated and is now in the big ivy league.

A lot of work and many marketing challenges still lie ahead, but the true essence of decades of Ian’s hard work, sweet and tears have established a watertight quality reputation on par with rock star Eben Sadie when it comes to quality Old Vine Cinsault, Grenache, Chenin Blanc and Semillon. Watch this space… the godfather of South Africa’s white blends is back! With a bang!!

The new garagist operation is still bedding in but already shows great excitement.

Naude Family Wines White Blend 2006, WO Western Cape, 13 Abv.

54% Chenin Blanc – Durbanville, Stellenbosch, Agter Paarl, 37% Semillon – Durbanville and Stellenbosch, 9% Sauvignon Blanc – Stellenbosch, Darling, Paarl, Elgin, Elim. RS 1.6 g/l, pH 3.4, SO2 Free 30ppm / 70 total

A rich expressive nose packed full of exotic fragrance. Evolving beautifully, there are layers of green quince, apple pastille, pineapple and tarte tatin notes. The palate is ripe, concentrated and characterful, brimming with gooseberry confit, spiced pears and complex, textural lanolin notes. The finish is dry and powerful, punchy, disguising it’s 12 years of age masterfully. Drinking well now, this wine still has plenty of legs.

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

Naude Family Wines White Blend 2007, WO Western Cape, 11.5 Abv.

72% Chenin Blanc – Durbanville, Stellenbosch, Agter Paarl, 19% Semillon – Durbanville and Stellenbosch, 9% Sauvignon Blanc – Stellenbosch, Darling, Paarl, Elgin, Elim. RS 1.7, pH 3.16, SO2 Free 52ppm

What a difference one year can make. The 2007 Naude white blend comes from an altogether more complicated vintage for aromatic whites yet with 11 years in bottle this wine is still very impressive. Taut, fresh and lean, there is a wonderful linearity to the wine allied to cool green crunchy fruits and brazen liquid minerality. With an exotic boxwood spice kiss, the palate shows excellent purity of gooseberry, green apple and lime cordial, finishing with plenty of energy and spice. The lower alcohol is just the cherry on the cake. Drink this beauty now with seafood or allow it to age further in your cellar because it gets better every time I taste it.

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

Naude Family Wines Semillon 2016, WO Western Cape, 12 Abv.

Made from Durbanville and Stellenbosch fruit, Semillon gives a much smaller window to pick if you want to capture the seductive green apple, lemon & lime zest vigour. The nose is full of green apple, white peach pastille fruit and delicate orange blossom notes. In the mouth it is full, broad and glycerol with the most delicious texture, twinned with lime cordial, citrus blossom, green apple, white pepper and vanilla pod spice. A wonderfully harmonious, generous wine that retains the intensity and linearity of Semillon but with extra concentration and almost Chardonnay palate power. A real triumph. Drink from release and over 20+ years. One of the best current examples of this variety on the South African market. Snap this up on release in South Africa in June.

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

Naude Family Wines Cinsault 2015, WO Darling, 12 Abv.

100% Darling 37 year old vine Cinsault from the late Boetie van Reenen’s farm, a more classical and characterful varietal Cinsault you won’t find. The nose is all marzipan, Turkish delight, violets and dried rose petals. Wonderfully fragrant and perfumed, there is just the faintest hint of cracked black peppercorns and cedar wood spice notes. The palate is bright and vibrant with the most delicious salty blackberry, Victoria plum and black cherry pastille fruit notes that linger and coat the mouth. So expressive but also impressively classical and restrained. This wine has earned a massive, well deserved following with its superb quality and is known to be one of Old Vine Guru Rosa Kruger’s favourite Cinsault’s in the whole of South Africa.

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

Mick and Jeanine Craven Blazing Their Own New Wave Trail In Old School Stellenbosch…

Mick and Jeanine Craven of Craven Wines have been creating some deliciously contemporary wines from single vineyards in one of South Africa’s oldest and grandest appellations, Stellenbosch. Wines are confidently modern and ‘new-wave’ in style, picking early and often using whole-bunch fruit in the natural fermentations. Their Pinot Noir is made from grapes grown in Faure, Stellenbosch and is consistently one of their most popular reds. Before she was a Craven, she was Jeanine Faure and the 650 hectare Faure farm was previously part of Jeanine’s family holdings where she grew up.

450 of the 650 hectares are planted to vines where Mick and Jeanine currently source their Syrah and Pinot Noir grapes. The Faure Pinot Noir block is one of the coolest sites in Stellenbosch on a south-westerly aspect only 4 kilometres away from the ocean and was planted exclusively with clone 115 in 1998 on decomposed granite and sand.

Stellenbosch is not an area synonymous with Pinot Noir, and outside of Meerlust’s excellent example, most people would probably struggle to name more than one or two more wineries successfully making notable wines from this variety. Mick and Jeanine have blazed their own trail and their own style of early picked, sappy, spicy, crunchy Stellenbosch Pinot Noir that should taste decidedly Burgundian once it is aged in bottle for 5 to 6 years.

Craven Wines Faure Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016, WO Stellenbosch, 12 Abv.

A Pinot Noir definitely made in a “less is more kind of style”. The distinctive nose shows sappy red raspberry fruits, raisined cranberries, pithy strawberry, wet chalk, crushed gravel, resinous wood and stalk spice and complex dried flower notes. Whole bunch pressed, the 2016 was also 70% foot trodden leaving some grapes intact. The palate walks lightly buts carries plenty of concentration and sappy, strawberry and raspberry fruit weight dusted with exotic Asian spice complexity. I’ve seen this wine described before as atypical or sometimes idiosyncratic, but I find the purity impressively focused, classically charming with a mouthfeel delicately textured revealing dusty chalky tannins. Made in an earlier picked style, this slightly sinewy bramble berry fruited wine is a really characterful cracker. Drink now and over the next 3 to 5+ years.

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

Meerlust Estate Previews Probably the Greatest Expression of Their Rubicon Red Blend in 38 Years of Production – Tasting the Meerlust Rubicon 2015 with Hannes Myburgh…

“Alea iacta est. The die is cast,” Julius Caesar is supposed to have said as he led his troops towards Rome in 49BC. The crucial border of the ancient capital was the Rubicon River, and the decision to cross it marked an irrevocable point in history. It would profoundly shift the course of Roman politics – there could be no turning back. On Wednesday the 24th January, Hannes Myburgh and the Meerlust Estate might just have crossed another epic Rubicon with the unveiling of their 2015 Meerlust Rubicon Bordeaux Blend in London.

Not due for release in the South African market for several more months, this is a wine that both owner Hannes Myburgh and winemaker Chris Williams believe could be the greatest expression of Rubicon ever made. As a long time follower of this wine, having tasted every vintage back to the maiden 1980 multiple times, I have to agree with them. Many great vintages of Rubicon have been produced over the past 38 years, but the 2015 vintage release coincides with what is almost certainly the greatest vintage for South African red and white wines in the modern winemaking era.

As if just to cast out any doubts, Hannes Myburgh unveiled the as yet unlabeled 2015 vintage at the end of a fascinating Rubicon vertical masterclass at their UK importer’s 2018 portfolio tasting.

Meerlust Rubicon Bordeaux Blend Vertical Tasting

Meerlust Rubicon 1986, 12.19 Abv.

A really traditional expression, the colour is still dark opaque brick red brown. The nose is classically proportioned revealing English breakfast tea, cedar spice, earthy bramble berries, lactic creamy milk chocolate and sweet tannery leather notes. Palate is super fresh, vibrant, almost tart, with a delicious earthy melange of red currants, tertiary sous bois, bruised red orchard fruits and bruised red plum. So fresh still, incredible purity, classical sweet cedary tannins and a very long brûléed coffee bean finish. Leaves you speechless. Drink now to 2030+.

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

Meerlust Rubicon 1991, 13 Abv.

Very fine wet earth complexity to begin, this wine is perfumed and intense showing saline cassis, iodine, briney oyster shell, sweet boxwood notes and complex hints of grilled herbs. The palate still shows such rich vibrancy, sweet black tea intensity, black current coulis and a suave, creamy sweet tannin finish. So fresh, bright, pure, dense and utterly youthful! Lovely structure balanced by big concentration. Utterly spellbinding. Drink now to 2035+.

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

Meerlust Rubicon 2001, 13.5 Abv.

One of the all time greats from Meerlust, this was one of Giorgio dalla Cia’s last great vintages which won the Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande Best Bordeaux Blend Trophy in 2006. Still beautifully vital and intensely coloured showing a crystalline ruby red hue. The nose is jam packed full of black cassis fruit, brûléed coffee beans, violets and sweet dried baking spices. Plush, lush and almost weightless in the mouth, the palate is so broad, concentrated, vibrant and intense, with the most harmonious youthful balance and seamless silky balance with just a hint of salinity and mineral graphite on the finish. So suave, so regal, this is a wine that defines elegance. A true South African icon. Drink now to 2040+.

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

Meerlust Rubicon 2005, 13.94 Abv.

So very classical on the nose, you could be sitting on the banks of the Grionde in Bordeaux drinking a classical Pauillac when you taste this wine. Chris Williams’ second solo vintage, he considers this wine possibly one of the best Meerlusts ever made. Still starkly youthful, the nose is packed with black tea, cedar spice, violets, dried herbs and pot pourri complexity with an underlay of saline cassis, oyster shell and slightly drying, powdery grippy tannins. At this embryonic stage, it has all the power, grip and intensity to justify long term aging. Very classy, slightly showy and deliciously fresh with a great long future ahead of it. Drink now to 2045+.

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

Meerlust Rubicon 2010, 14.5 Abv.

A blend of 62% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot that was matured for 24 months in 60% new oak from Nevers. The 2010 Rubicon has a well defined smokey bouquet showing sweet blackberry mixed with blueberry fruit opulence. Another very classical expression, this wine also has Bordeaux left bank written all over it. Quite dense and youthful, showing grilled herbs, graphite, bold sweet tannins and an elegant, balanced acidity. This is going to continue improving for a good 15+ years. Not quite as eye catching yet as some Rubicon vintages, but you can expect this wine to blossom further and improve in bottle. Drink now to 2040+.

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

Meerlust Rubicon 2015, 14 Abv.

(Bottled in November 2017)

A mesmerizingly dark black purple colour, this youthful wine is wonderfully crystalline, focused and pure, possessing such pretty aromatics of cherry blossom, rose petals, caramelised cranberries, violets, cherry pie, raspberry infused herbal tea and a subtle creamy vanilla pod extravagance. The palate is ultra suave, opulent yet effortlessly fresh and defined, supremely balanced and concentrated. Such gorgeous depth and seamless elegance, a tantalizing brûléed buttered brown toast complexity, creamy filigree tannins and an incredibly long, spellbinding finish. This is going to be a definite future icon vintage on par with the very best Cru Classe wines produced in Bordeaux but at a fraction of the price. Get in early, get in quick, and go long. This is one of the most profound Rubicons of the modern era. Drink from 2020 to 2045+.

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

Another Block Buster On the Way – Tasting the 2017 Meerlust Chardonnay with Owner Hannes Myburgh…

This 1756 wine estate has long been the pride and joy of South Africans since the 1970s and the corresponding love for this estate and its wines is practically ingrained in the South African psyche.

I’ve known both owner Hannes Myburgh and winemaker Chris Williams for a very long time so catching up with either of them in London is always a privilege. After a brief visit to Ireland, Hannes was straight back into the London trade to present a fantastic Rubicon Vertical in London, for which the write up is to follow soon.

But the Meerlust Chardonnay is a wine which has a following almost as passionate and loyal as that of the Rubicon. So today, given the opportunity, I dived straight in to review this new vintage classic.

Meerlust Chardonnay 2017, WO Stellenbosch, 13 Abv.

A very pale, faded apple core yellow, this is another wonderfully expressive Chardonnay from Chris Williams championing the “less is more” mantra with this restrained style. The nose is complex yet classically restrained revealing layers of smokey green Granny Smith apples, green pears, crunchy honeydew melon and a tantalising suggestion of struck match and dusty minerality. Lovely clarity, purity and focus throughout. Despite the lower 13 Abv, this wine is jam packed with intense flavours of sweet ripe lemons, lime cordial, honey suckle, toffee apple and green gauge fruits, embroidered and embellished with intense piercing fresh acids. Very polished and grown up, you can see instantly why this impressive wine remains a perennial consumer favourite. Another real beauty to drink from release and for 10+ years.

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

The Fine Wine Safari Top 10 Most Memorable South African Red Wines of 2017…

South Africa must possess some of the most distinguished and diverse high quality white wines in the world. But some how it seems that consumers, connoisseurs and collectors judge a country or region’s prestige almost exclusively based on the quality of the red wines produced. In 2017 South Africa fortuitously released many of its truly greatest 2015 red wines making it a bumper year for red wine ratings and reviews internationally.

My top 10 selection of reds and whites is based on wines that I tasted and drank through the year and that I considered supremely memorable as well as very high in quality. They were not selected purely based on scores.

So again, in no specific order…here is my Top 10 Most Memorable South African Red Wines of 2017.

MR de Compostella Bordeaux Blend 2015, Stellenboch – 98/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Bruwer Raats may be known as the Chenin King but it has to be his incredible red wines that have truly cemented his global reputation as an iconic fine wine producer. There can be no doubting the quality of his amazing Cabernet Franc reds which he is so proud of. Indeed, who can forget the high powered tasting in Europe where his 2001 Cabernet Franc trumped Cheval Blanc 2001 and was lauded by Jancis Robinson OBE MW as one of the greatest varietal Cabernet Francs in the world. But for me, it is another wine that has always captured my heart.

As a consummate Bordeaux lover, the MR de Compostella has been an absolute eye opener since the maiden 2004 was released. Tasted again recently, the 2004 is still youthfully dense, taught, concentrated and utterly majestic with another 20+ years of life left ahead of it. Having tasted every vintage pre-release since 2004, I like to think I have an intimate knowledge of this wine. So when Bruwer did a pre-release vertical tasting in London earlier this year, we got to see the 2015 in all its noble splendour. I received a few raised eye brows for scoring this wine 98 points, but my argument was simple… When tasted along side critically acclaimed MR vintages that scored 95 or 96 points internationally, the 2015 was considered 15% to 20% better. So I had no hesitation in scoring this wine 98 points and declaring it my 🍷🍷 South African Red Wine of the Year 2017.  

Congratulations Bruwer Raats and team.

Raats Family Wines Eden Single Vineyard High Density Cabernet Franc 2015, Stellenbosch – 97/100 Greg Sherwood MW 

As if making one of the highest rated reds in South Africa wasn’t enough, Bruwer has continued to pursue his passion for all things Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc related, launching the first Raats Eden High Density red and white releases last year to great acclaim. The Eden Cabernet Franc has seduced journalists from far and wide, astounding drinkers with the quality achieved from 6 year old vines. ‘Quality by Design’ is the buzz phrase attributed to these fascinating wines that have been recognised locally in South Africa and internationally as outstanding examples of Cabernet Franc varietal purity and precision. Made in tiny quantities, this is a red wine designed to impress the most accomplished and educated palates. I sense there will be very little disagreement on the inclusion of this wine.

Beeslaar Pinotage 2015, Stellenbosch – 96+/100 Greg Sherwood MW 

I recently attended the International Wines & Spirits Competition awards ceremony in London a few weeks ago and sat at the neighbouring table to Abrie Beeslaar and Johan Krige, to witness them being awarded the “International Winery of the Year” for the third year in a row and “Winemaker of the Year” for their outstanding wines at Kanonkop. What an honour. But Abrie also has a small project on the side producing limited amounts of this eponymously named wine from some exceptional Pinotage grapes. Only in its fourth vintage, this impressive Pinotage comes from a 22 year old single block close to Simonsig planted on shale soils. Seeing less new oak than the super premium Kanonkop Black Label, this expression is an opulent, sleek, textured glassful of brilliance with the most incredible harmony, purity and balance. This is exceptional Pinotage that really puts this unique variety on the world wine map. An outstanding effort from Abrie Beeslaar.

Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines Roundstone Schist Syrah 2015, Swartland – 95+/100 Greg Sherwood MW  

In March I paid a long awaited visit to Chris and Andrea at their Roundstone farm in the Swartland to taste the new releases of their Mullineux and the Leeu Passant wines. The Schist Syrah, sourced from grapes grown on the Roundstone farm,  has become one of their most sought after wines internationally due to its opulence, fragrance and balanced blueberry fruit intensity that harks back to the great icon wines of the northern Rhone in every way. I do have an inkling that their Granite or Iron Syrah Cuvées may age better over the very long term, but over the medium term, the Schist Syrah represents one of the most outstanding expressions of Syrah coming out of South Africa at the moment.

Duncan Savage Follow the Line 2016 – 95+/100 Greg Sherwood MW 

Of all the new red wine creations that have come out of the Cape in the past five years, few can rival Follow the Line for its mantel of most delicious cult wine! This wonderful Cinsault / Grenache / Syrah blend from Duncan Savage is a wine that effectively captured the mood of a new generation of wine drinkers looking for characterful, vibrant, energetic, crunchy fresh reds that could be drunk on release or cellared for 10+ years. Since the maiden 2014 release, this wine has got better and better and now that Duncan is settling into his own new urban winery in Salt River in Cape Town, you can expect all his whites and reds to become even more focused and distinguished. One of my favourite red wines from one of my favourite South African winemakers. If you have not tried this wine yet, get your skates on!

Sadie Family Wines Columella Red Blend 2015, Swartland – 96+/100 Greg Sherwood MW 

What a year it has been for Eben Sadie! Winemaker awards, sell out wines, continued growing cult status internationally, and high quality wines that seem to get better and better every year despite vintage conditions. With already two whites making my top 10, this has got to be the wine that Eben takes the most pride in producing. He has always been aware of the hype that surrounds the micro vinifications in the Old Vine Series, but the Palladius and Columella are his “day job” and his bread and butter and most certainly his pride and joy. So to have released two of the greatest ever expressions of both of these wines is a true testament to the upward trajectory that Eben continues to travel on. One of the truly great winemakers of the world and one of the greatest wineries. What an accolade to make South African’s proud.

Brian Smith & Niels Verburg The Cabernet Franc 2014, Bot River – 96+/100 Greg Sherwood MW 

While neither Brian Smith or Niels Verburg are newcomers to the South African wine scene, their new joint venture red certainly ruffled a few feathers in the local South African wine scene with the release of the THE Cabernet Franc sourced from a small vineyard in the Bot River region. Classy, polished, opulent, and distinguished, this wine has all the attributes of a Napa Valley cult wine including the matching price tag. The greatest thing about this wine has been the discussion and open debate that has resulted after its release… which was one of its primary aims to be fair. The contents is certainly very sexy and luxurious and drinking my first bottle was undoubtedly a very memorable moment.

Boschkloof Epilogue Syrah 2015, Stellenbsoch – 97/100 Greg Sherwood MW 

I remember seeing my Swartland based Rhone junkie friends Ryan Mostert and Samantha Suddons drinking bottles of Boschkloof Syrah and occasionally Epilogue Syrah years ago and thinking that I need to get to grips with these wines (I grew up drinking father Jacques Bormans’ wines!) When Jamet junkies are raving about them, they must be serious. Last Christmas I reviewed the Epilogue 2014 Syrah and rated it as one of my top reds of the year. Surely the epic 2015 vintage would have to be better!? Well, I would say it is equally as good but not better. It is the perennial trap we fall into thinking that block buster vintages always make better wines. For most producers they do, but for the likes of Reenen Borman, his real talents are revealed in the less than perfect vintages (2014 or 2016). But splitting hairs aside, this is one of the most profound northern Rhone, Cote Rotie’esque  expressions of Syrah available in the New World. Well done Reenen!

Naude Family Wines Grenache 2014 – 95+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

What a year of change it has been for Ian Naude. After years of serving other masters, he has finally gone solo and become his own boss. Under the Naude Family wines label he will now seduce us with his very best talents in the form of Old Vine Chenin Blanc, Cinsault and Semillon. But just like last year when I included his “older” Chenin Blanc 2013, this year I have found myself simply unable to exclude his most profound, complex and impressive Grenache 2014. Such is the intrigue surrounding this wine that we felt compelled to repeat the “Wine Cellar / Roland Peens” Rayas blind show down again in London at one of the top Michelin star restaurants. Yet again, this fabulous wine beat off the competition and trounced some of the world’s greatest Grenache reds with ease. Sadly, this vineyard grape contract was subsequently lost and has not been made again since. So it is now not only one of the great red wines of South Africa, but it is firmly moving into the Unicorn ranks of collectability. We stand in hope that Ian will venture back into the Grenache minefield and attempt to craft another gem from this temperamental Rhone grape. Meantime, if you find any of the 2014, snap it up immediately!

Vilafonte Series C 2015, Paarl – 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW 

This is another winery project that I have been following closely since its maiden vintage release in 2003. This joint venture between Warwick Estate’s Mike Ratcliffe and Californian wine guru power couple Phil Freese and Zelma long, unashamedly set out to produce the most precise, polished, high quality expressions of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot possible from their manicured vineyards in Paarl. There is a subtle gloss to the wines, there is incredible polish, and the wines are quite international in style in many ways, but above all, there is a sense that the end goal is extreme quality without compromise. Ok, this approach may not work quite as well with wilder Syrah, Grenache or Cinsault, but for international varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec… it is surely the path to greatness. Add to the ingredients a 5 star block buster vintage and hey presto, the Series C 2015 miraculously resembles some of the iconic high scoring Chateaux of Pauillac and St Julien from a riper left bank vintage in Bordeaux but with the precision and polish of Napa Valley.

The Fine Wine Safari Top 10 Most Memorable White South African Wines of 2017…

What a busy year it’s been. No sooner had the smoke from the New Year’s Eve 2017 fireworks cleared then it seemed plans were being made for Christmas lunch 2018. Where did the year go?

Fortunately, I can punctuate my year with some of the exciting wines I have tasted and drunk along the way… and there have been a lot of them. My Top 10 list of whites and reds is not necessarily made up of the 10 highest scoring wines I tasted but is more focused on wines that were very memorable and enjoyable to experience. Inevitably, most of them will be among my highest rated wines of the year.

And the winners are… in no particular order… though I’m starting with Raats Family Wines as a nod of respect to Bruwer Raats for winning the Platter Wine Guide Winery of the Year 2017 Award.

Raats Family Eden High Density Single Vineyard Chenin Blanc 2015 – 96+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

I first tasted the first release 2014 with Bruwer Raats in South Africa at his winery tasting room pre-release. I thought it was knock out good. I couldn’t believe you could make a wine this profound from vines so young (4 or 5 years old back then). Tasting the 2015 merely reinforced Bruwer’s incredible achievement, making another fabulous wine of note from young high density Montpellier Clone plantings of Stellenbosch Chenin Blanc. If the vineyards remain healthy, the mind boggles at the potential quality that might be seen in 15 or 20 years time!

Alheit Family La Colline Semillon 2016 – 97+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Made from vines planted in 1936 on a southern slope at 320 metres in the Franschhoek Valley, this old vine Semillon blended with a little Semillon Gris, is a very profound offering. Such complexity with notes of peaches, beeswax, jasmine, custard pie, tangerines, and yellow citrus. But the wine also manages to remain dense and concentrated yet light on its feet, understated and restrained, classically shaped, but also showing a touch of struck match reduction. I tasted this wine several times, but it was during the Old Vine Project tasting at the South African High Commission in London that this wine really stood out in the same way a Grand Cru white Burgundy would in a tasting of village wines. An amazing winemaker using an amazing vineyard. One of South Africa’s very own Grand Cru expressions.

Sadie Family Old Vine Series ‘T Voetpad 2016 – 97/100 Greg Sherwood MW

While they are all incredible wines, there is always a stand out wine in the Old Vine Series range every year. This year the Kokerboom Semillon and Skurfburg Chenin Blanc were both very impressive but it was the extra depth and complexity of the Voetpad field blend that captivated me. This is a wine that ages incredibly well and previous vintages tasted blind at lunches have been called out as Grand Cru Burgundy before. This is the league in which this wine comfortably sits. Only small quantities are produced and allocations are always small, but it is a wine worth tracking down and spending a few bob on.

Sadie Family Palladius White Blend 2015 – 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW

While we are talking about the incredible talents of Eden Sadie, it seems appropriate to highlight one of his most outstanding achievements. As a part time hobby winemaker myself, I qualified as one of the Masters of Wine who got to cast a vote for the Institute of Masters of Wine’s Winemakers Winemaker Award 2017… which thankfully went to Eben Sadie. I have been voting to Eben for years and it is rewarding that his talents have well and truly been internationally recognised now. So it is fitting that he released what is probably his finest expression of the Palladius White blend to date this year. Tasted again most recently at his masterclass held in London, this is a wine that can hold its own against the greatest whites from around the world. Every connoisseurs’ cellar should have a few cases in it!

Reyneke Natural Chenin Blanc 2016 – 95+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

I have always loved the purity and energy of the biodynamic wines of Reyneke especially the reserve white which often appears in journalists’ top wines of the year lists. This Natural Chenin was a latecomer for me as I did not taste it earlier in the year in South Africa and stock only just arrived in the UK in December. But I reviewed this wine on the Fine Wine Safari site recently and it really blew me away. The energy, intensity, complexity and drinkability really took me by surprise and pleasingly, another Stellenbosch Old Vine Chenin Blanc squeezed its way into my top 10 wines of the year. Well done to Rudiger Gretschel and Johan Reyneke.

David & Nadie Hoe Steen Single Vineyard Chenin Blanc 2016 – 96+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

I feel intimately related to this wine having been one of the Decanter judges on the blind panel that made history and awarded the 2015 Hoe Steen 98/100 and the unofficial Chenin crown. Again, the 2016 like the 2015, was made in tiny quantities and will be sold out before most people even get to hear about it. But this is a wine and a vineyard site that is being made into something really great by the gentle giant David Sadie (no relation to Eben Sadie). Together with his wife Nadia, they are producing some of the top white and red wines in South Africa. If you can’t get your hands on the Hoe Steen or his other Single Vineyard Chenin Blanc Skaliekop, then just buy his amazing regular David & Nadia Chenin Blanc. Another successful year for this lovely couple.

Thorne & Daughters Paper Kite Semillon 2016 – 96+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Another of my favourite producers in South Africa, everything John Seccombe touches seems to turn into something magical, none more so than his Paper Kite Semillon old vine white. With all their successes, it is hard to believe John and Tasha Seccombe only started their winery in 2012. Funnily enough, I tasted this wine earlier in the year in March with John and proclaimed at the time that this wine could already be a candidate for my top 10 whites of the year. Nothing has changed since then and along with the Alheit La Colline, remains one of the most tantalising expressions of this varietal in South Africa.

Leeu Passant Stellenbosch Chardonnay 2015 – 95+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

It’s safe to say a lot of planning and hard work went into the sourcing of suitable fruit and the subsequent production of this amazing wine. But of course, Chris and Andrea Mullineux don’t do things by half measure. Released earlier this year to great acclaim, the Leeu Passant range consists of two Chardonnays and one red blend. Just in the same way I love to taste profound Chenin Blanc from Stellenbosch, after all the headline stealing wines from the Swartland, so too is it rewarding to taste a great Stellenbosch Chardonnay in the face of incredible upstarts and challengers from top wineries in Elgin and the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley. This is a delicious wine and yet another success story for this winemaking power couple based in the Swartland.

(A previous deconstructed vintage label)

Kershaw Wines Deconstructed Chardonnay Bokkeveld Shales CY548 2016 – 96+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Talking of upstarts from Elgin… Richard Kershaw MW has turned the world of New World Chardonnay on its head and succeeded in producing one of, if not the most profound examples ever seen from South Africa. His deconstructed range takes the terroir and clonal components of his main Kershaw Wines Chardonnay and bottles small amounts of them individually to illustrate the unique character and winemaking results of the soils and clones on their own. This version is spellbinding, with nuances harking back to the greatest Premier Cru vineyards of Meursault in Burgundy. Almost impossible to buy now, but if you come across this wine via the internet or on a restaurant list, pay the money and drink this profound wine. It could change your life!

Patatsfontein Old Vine Steen Montagu Chenin Blanc 2016 – 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW

2016 was the second of what looks like being four years of difficult drought vintages in South Africa… 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018. After a wet winter, the 2015 whites had plenty of water reserves to ripen wonderfully healthy fruit and the resulting wines have been every bit the expected block busters. So it was with great surprise that I tasted and rated this 2016 Chenin Blanc from Reenen Borman even more highly than the delicious 2015. A masterful, intelligent winemaker, Reenen has crafted a real gem from this Montagu vineyard. If the partnership involved in producing this wine can retain the vineyard fruit contract in Montagu, drinkers will be in for several more years of incredible Chenin Blanc treats from Patatsfontein.

So those were my Top 10 Most Memorable Whites of 2017. As it’s not based on scores, it becomes a very much more subject exercise. Wine is based on enjoyment and sharing experiences with friends. These experiences in turn hopefully become treasured memories.

Watch out for my high powered “Top 10 Most Memorable South African Reds of 2017” coming soon as well as “My Year in Wine 2017 in Pictures.”

Merry Christmas! 🎅🏼