The Ultimate Chameleon Brand – Tasting the Diemersdal Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2020…

On my recent trip to South Africa, I finally popped my cherry and tasted the much talked about Diemersdal New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc 2020 from Marlborough. Already the third vintage in the collaboration between this South African estate and New Zealand producer Ben Glover from Glover Family Vineyards, tasting this wine inspired me to write a column for Winemag.co.za on chameleon brands. Read here: https://winemag.co.za/wine/opinion/greg-sherwood-mw-is-there-merit-in-chameleon-wine-brands/

The grapes for the 2020 were machine harvested at 21.2 Balling and crushed and destemmed reductively. The juice was co-inoculated with X5 and VL3 yeast which enhance some of the thiol notes but maintain the vibrant ripe herbaceous notes of the vineyard. The approximate time of fermentation was around 2 weeks, at around 12/13°C. The wine was then left on its lees for 3 to 4 weeks before racking and a small SO2 addition. The wine spent a further two months on its fine lees before bottling.

Diemersdal Sauvignon Blanc 2020, Marlborough, New Zealand, 12.5% Abv.

3.6 g/l RS | 7.8 g/l TA | 3.18 pH

First nosing of this Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc indicates that there is a lot going on in the glass. The aromatics are classical and subtle but equally complex with notes of pithy white citrus, green apple cordial, white peach, dried herbs and savoury tinned petit pois nuances. The palate is taut and crisp with a strict linear structure in the mouth bolstered by cool, clean green crunchy acids and layers of green papaya, crunchy pears, apple pastille and peach fruits. Never too fruity or too pungent, but always cool and crystalline with some lovely limestone minerality on the finish, this is quite a grown-up expression of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc from the Wairau Valley. Drink now and over the next 2 to 3 years.

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

The Vilafonte Winery Prepares to Release Another Effusively Modern 2019 Series M Vintage…

2019 represents the first post-drought Series M vintage to be released by the team at the Vilafonte winery in Paarl and the vintage clearly illustrates what is possible when nature decides to co-operate to yield some exceptional raw materials. According to winemaker Chris de Vries, the vintage was really a tale of two seasons. While rains initially remained elusive, there was an upswing in rainfall towards the end of the 2018 winter and continuing into spring and early summer.

Weather fluctuations in the spring did however result in uneven bud-break and berry set. Conditions improved somewhat at the onset of summer with a warmer November being very conducive to healthy vineyard growth. Some uneven ripening was remedied with in-bunch sorting after veraison and by the time harvest arrived at the beginning of February, the fruit quality was looking exceptional.

The Series M 2019 is a blend of 48% Malbec, 34% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon and 3% Cabernet Franc which was aged for 22 months in 22 percent new French oak barriques with the balance in a mixture of older French oak barrels. 51 barrels were produced.

Vilafonte Series M 2019, WO Paarl, 14% Abv.

This excellent vintage has yielded a truly impressive wine for the Vilafonte team displaying a brilliant and intense ruby and red plum hue. The aromatics are expansive and hedonistic sending notes of violets and crushed red cherries, raspberries and pressed rose petals soaring out the glass with confidence and vigour. Fabulously complex and intricate, attractive notes of wild berries and red currant follow to the dense, full bodied palate that boasts a broad seductive array of black liquorice and black plum, cocoa powder and brown toast crust nuances. The Malbec and Merlot are like a marriage made in heaven, offering svelte supple tannins and a texture that wraps its arms around you in the most comforting embrace. With time in the glass, the full fleshy palate shows further layers of baked plums, blue berries and red cherries all underpinned by fresh vital acids. This is most definitely one of the most powerful, potent and heady wines produced in the Series M range to date displaying an impressively ample fine wine self-confident personality. Drink this wine in its youth or cellar for 20+ years.

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

Another Strong Performance from the Carinus Family Wines Polkadraai Heuwels Chenin Blanc 2020…

Cousins Danie and Hugo are 5th generation growers with prime vineyards in the Swartland, Devon Valley and the very exciting Polkadraai ward in Stellenbosch. Great wine is made in the vineyards and they supply a roll-call of exceptional producers – names like Alheit Vineyards, Crystallum, Raats Family Wines, Thorne & Daughters, Mulderbosch and LeRiche to name but a few. Embodying the drive of the new generation Hugo and Danie decided not only to sell grapes but to make some wine too. So started Carinus Family Wines using a selection of grapes from their extensive vineyard plantings to focus on producing some high quality reds and whites that offer excellent value for money.

The 2020 Polkadraai Hills Chenin Blanc is already their third release. After whole bunch pressing the juice was moved to concrete eggs for fermentation and ageing which took ten months. The granitic soils and total absence of oak has created a pure but punchy wine with an attractive “nakedness” on display with a perfect balance of pH (3.14) and acidity (6.6g/l) that should allow this wine to develop further beneficial complexity with additional ageing in bottle.

Carinus Family Wines Polkadraai Heuwels Chenin Blanc 2020, WO Polkadraai Hills

An attractive Stellenbosch Chenin Blanc that displays a wonderfully cool, sleek, mineral laden aromatics flushed with stony gravel notes, fynbos, crunchy green pear, white peach and subtle salty citrus zest nuances. On the palate, a lovely full texture marries restrained elegance with a glycerol liquid minerality, lime zest and quince nuances and a long, stony wet river pebble finish. Concrete egg Chenin Blanc has never been more sexy! Drink on release and over 6 to 8+ years.

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

KWV’s Roodeberg Brand is Riding High With An Impressive 2020 Red Blend Release…

High quality volume brands made with attention to detail are required by all wine industries around the world. Often we just expect that one or another large wine corporation will step into the breach with its branded offerings and simply supply the goods. Well, in South Africa that has not always been the case. Fortunately, times are changing and the fabric of the South African wine industry is changing, allowing new and old players to step up once again and present the world’s consumers with some quality wine brands that do the country proud.

The Roodeberg label is just one such iconic brand that rose to fame in the 1950’s and 1960’s and then icon status in the 1970s and early 1980s before mysteriously losing its way with the changing of the guard post 1994. But the Roodeberg brand is back and with each of the last few vintages, quality has been paramount. With a 90/100 point score awarded for the excellent 2019 red blend by Winemag.co.za, all eyes were always going to be on the new release 2020 to see if the consistency of quality could be maintained. I tasted the 2020 recently and was pleasantly impressed.

KWV Roodeberg Red Blend 2020, WO Western Cape

An unspecified blend of red varieties, this delicious wine looks to tick as many boxes as possible for the consumer and the expressive 2020 certainly does the trick. On the nose the fruits are rich, opulent and pure, loaded with red currant, blue berry and black currant nuances, a real triumphant berry melange that is dusted with subtle brûléed oak notes, roasted coffee beans and vanilla pod spice. The acids are sleek, integrated but fresh and vibrant in the mouth, the fruit concentration textured and expressive showing a real generosity, notable complexity but also plenty of mainstream commercial appeal. Hats off to the Roodeberg winemaking team with this effort. Drink now and over the next 6-8+ years. (Tasted from magnum)

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

South African Icon Winery Vilafonte Releases Their New 2020 Seriously Old Dirt Super Second Wine onto the Market…

I have not visited South Africa since February 2020, though this is about to be remedied very soon. But on my last trip, I found most of the best wine shops festooned with bottles of the Vilafonte Seriously Old Dirt red blend, which admittedly, is one of my favourite premium second wines from South Africa along with the export-only version of Meerlust Red.

Well priced, always over-delivering and increasingly available in the correct off-trade and on-trade retail channels, I have long punted this wine to be one of South Africa’s best global ambassadors for premium red offerings making every new release highly anticipated.

The post 2019 harvest rains marked the onset of a more traditionally wet, cold winter in the Cape after 4 to 5 years of drought and abnormal seasonal rainfall. But with Spring, fair weather beckoned healthy, homogenous vine growth in the early season. Windy conditions during flowering might have threatened fruit set but generally yielded looser clusters and smaller berries. Temperatures during ripening were moderate without the usual heatwaves which led to a long, calm, measured picking season overall.

Vilafonte Serious Old Dirt 2020, WO Western Cape, 13.5% Abv.

This is another serious effort from the Vilafonte team after last year’s award winning 2019 release. The 2020 blend consists of 86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot, 4% Malbec and 2% Cabernet Franc and was matured for 18 months in older French oak barriques. Moving more towards a distinctly Cabernet Sauvignon dominated blend compared to earlier editions which often featured more Merlot and Malbec, this rich ruby red coloured wine shows all the classic aromatics of black currant, strawberry shortbread, gingerbread cookie dough, cherry tobacco and hints of vanilla pod spice. Always a wine that unashamedly aspires to a higher, more hedonistic mantra, like the 2019, this 2020 exhibits a supremely well-honed, polished, elegant textural mouthfeel with effortlessly friendly tannins, an intense but weightless black and red berry fruit concentration and a plush, long, tightly focused finished. Knowing that this wine traditionally holds a lot of secrets, I reviewed it over two consecutive night’s tasting but came to the same conclusion in the end – that this is yet another very polished wine with age-worthy credentials that will appeal to seasoned collectors and the man in the street alike. A serious wine that is also seriously delicious! Drink from release and over the next 10 to 15 years.

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

Lismore’s Samantha O’Keefe Comes to London to Launch Her Phenomenal New Releases – Part 2: Reviewing her Lismore Age of Grace Viognier 2020…

In a second instalment to my new release tasting with Samantha O’Keefe, the owner of Lismore Winery in Greyton, who was recently in London for the first time in over two years, I tasted the highly acclaimed 2020 edition of her ‘Age of Grace’ Viognier.

The grapes for this release were sourced in the Bot River, Elgin and Stellenbosch. The wine was matured in a combination of concrete eggs and used oak barrels of which 10% were new for the 2020 cuvee. The Age of Grace is a wine that actually helped establish the Lismore brand globally in the mid to late 2000s. With so little top quality Viognier being grown and produced in the Western Cape, what Sam has achieved with both this wine and previous vintages of her Viognier Reserve is truly remarkable.

Viognier Age of Grace Viognier 2020, WO South Coast, 14.5% Abv.

Rich, soft and fleshy, this unique, aromatically expressive Viognier is packed full of struck flint, white peaches, tart yellow plums, yellow apple purée and delicate musky, lychee nuances with a hint of buttered white toast. Beautifully textured, fleshy and glycerol, this wine is so expressive, individual and complex with sufficient pithy phenolics, bright peach stone fruits and a luxuriously long, persistent finish in a most mouth watering way. Whether produced from the Northern Rhone or the Cape, it is not easy to make Viognier this attractive and refreshing. Bravo Sam! Drink now to 2028+.

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

Starting 2022 In Style – Reviewing the Sensational New Thelema Estate Rabelais 2019…

The Thelema Rabelais red blend originally started out as the prestigious Thelema Cape Winemakers Guild blend before evolving into the Rabelais label with the 2007 vintage, being produced originally from only Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. From 2009, Petit Verdot started to replace the Merlot portion and now the blend appears fairly settled at approximately a 90% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Petit Verdot mix. The Rabelais represents the very best Bordeaux components from the Thelema range where the wines clearly show concentration, polished ripe tannins and undeniable refinement.

As with so many Cape Bordeaux Blends of this quality, the Rabelais cuvee has now earned itself an impressive following, both at home and globally, making the wine increasingly sought after and necessitating tighter and tighter allocations at the estate. If you missed the impressive 2015 or the eye wateringly great 2017, it’s time to track down some of the delicious 2019.

Thelema Mountain Vineyards Rabelais 2019, WO Stellenbosch, 13.5% Abv.

The 2019 Thelema Rabelais is another incredibly refined creation being a blend of 90% Simonsberg Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Petit Verdot. Since the 2015 vintage, this flagship wine has shifted into a sixth gear and is now hitting some exceptionally high quality notes. Always classical and composed, the aromatics boast notes of perfumed violets, dried herbs, black cherry and seductive hints of crème de cassis with undertones of sweet cedar wood spice, brûléed coffee beans, brown toast and some dusty mineral strands of crushed slate and graphite. The palate is silky soft, predictably sleek and polished and displays impressive textural elegance with fine filigree tannins, fresh acids, subtle complex layers of black currant, cherry cola, capsicum and breakfast espresso. This is another head-turning, eye-opening wine that displays wonderful balance and harmony. Fabulously pure, precise and regal on so many levels. Simply outstanding. Drink from 2024 to 2040+.

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

John Seccombe Fast Establishing his Thorne & Daughters Rocking Horse White Blend as One of the Best in the Cape – Tasting the 2020 Release…

Writing about and reviewing Cape White Blends has got to be one of my favourite pastimes. Why you may ask? Well, it’s all about the unique ability of the Cape producers to mix and match some truly expressive varieties to produce incredible wines that despite being a fruit salad of varieties, continue to display their own unique sense of terroir and place while producing wines of incredible quality with impressive age worthy credentials. Oh, and of course they are impossible to imitate and copy. Some countries like Chile and New Zealand have tried their hand at producing similar esoteric white blends but I think it’s safe to say none have gained an international following and quality reputation equal to any of the great brands from the Cape.

John Seccombe has been producing his unique Rocking Horse Cape White Blend since the 2013 vintage and every subsequent vintage seems to get more sophisticated and refined. As well as being one of the most exciting white blends in the Cape, it also represents incredible value for money, something that is becoming less and less common in the world of fine wine these days. This is most definitely a wine you would want in your cellar.

Thorne & Daughters Rocking Horse 2020 Cape White Blend, WO Western Cape, 13.5% Abv.

A complex blend of 35% Semillon from Franschhoek, 28% Roussanne from both Stellenbosch and the Paardeberg, 16% Chardonnay from the Ceres Plateau, 15% Chenin Blanc from the Paardeberg and 6% Clairette Blanche from the Swartland. The aromatics display a seductive melange of white peach, green pear, freshly squeezed lime, tangerine peel and delicate hints of roasted pistachio nuts. Still embryonic in its youth, the palate reveals impressive linearity and tension, a fresh acid frame and delicious lingering notes of green apple, savoury yellow orchard fruits and bees wax complexity. There is more an educated sense of intensity and concentration on the palate rather than an overt unctuousness. But everything points to a very impressive wine with a fabulous stony minerality and a classically harmonious finish. Drink now over a couple of days or bury in the cellar for 3 to 5 years minimum.

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

Stark Conde Releases Another Dazzling Pair of Premium 2018 Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignons..

There is a lot of uncertainly in the world these days but one thing you can be sure of is that during the year, the top Stellenbosch boutique wine producers will create magic and release some of the most tantalising Cabernet Sauvignon wines imaginable.

The Three Pines single-vineyard iconic Cabernet Sauvignon is based on a high elevation vineyard site (350m). The finely textured decomposed granite soil, cooler temperatures, and ample winter rainfall creates perfect growing conditions for premium Cabernet. The wine is characterized by its silky tannin structure and unique floral notes. Since its maiden vintage in 2000, this has been one of South Africa’s most consistently awarded Cabernets.

Stark Conde Three Pines Cabernet Sauvignon 2018, WO Jonkershoek Valley, 14% abv.

A 4.5 hectare vineyard from Stark Conde named after where the grapes are grown, the 2018 Three Pines combines Cabernet Sauvignon with 10% Petit Verdot and Malbec to reveal plenty of dark saline black berry fruits, tart black plum, blueberry and complex maritime kelp hints with subtle liquorice notes. The palate is sleek, glassy and super polished with very precise tight knit tannins, a firm structured acid frame and embracing saline black cherry and black berry fruits that lend a lot of mouth-watering pleasure already but leave you in no doubt that this is certainly a wine that will age and improve gracefully for atleast 10 to 12+ years or more. Simply a delight to drink.

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

The Oude Nektar wine is based around the highest elevation vineyard on the Stark Conde estate, which at 550m is arguably one of Stellenbosch’s highest Cabernet vineyards. The site has very stoney decomposed granite soils, and a perfect aspect toward the afternoon sun. Although this vineyard gets a cooling breeze, it averages 45 minutes more sunlight each day which allows for a slower ripening period. This Bordeaux-style blend is matured for about 20 months in French oak barrel (70% new) before being bottled with no fining and no filtration.

Stark Conde Oude Nektar Cabernet Sauvignon 2018, WO Jonkershoek Valley, 14% abv.

This is another really impressive expression of a Cabernet Sauvignon based wine from one of South Africa’s preeminent Stellenbosch proponents. The aromatics are spectacularly lifted and intense with perfumed notes of saline black liquorice, oyster shell, lilac, cassis leaf, black currant and hints of fresh mint, wet tobacco and buttered brown toast. The palate shows incredible precision framed by crisp linear acids that add to both a tightly knit steely texture and wound-spring tension. Lacking no amount of saline black fruit, the wine is also mineral and focused with hints of graphite, sweet cedar spice and a broody, stony veneer on the finish. This wine is all about sinewy tension, complex gravelly minerality and restrained, classical fruit intensity. Stellenbosch and the Jonkershoek Valley excel yet again! Drink from 2022 to 2035+.

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

Imported into the UK by Museum Wines.

Wine Safari New Release Review – Tasting the KWV Roodeberg 1949 Second Release…

The 1949 Roodeberg Red Blend is a return to the original premium Roodeberg tradition and philosophy attempting to create a wine with universal fine wine appeal. The excellent maiden 2017 vintage was produced from premium Stellenbosch grapes grown on the Grondves Farm, one of the primary sites for the development of mother plant material for the South African wine industry. The 2018 is another very impressive creation and a very worthy follow-up blend.

Roodeberg 1949 embraces the revival of exciting French and Spanish varieties – Cabernet Sauvignon forms the foundation of the blend supported by Tempranillo, Carignan and Carménère. After fermentation, the different components were left to mature for circa 18 months in new French oak barrels with only the best barrels selected for blending and bottling for this commemorative wine.

KWV 1949 Roodeberg Red Blend 2018, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5% Abv.

A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo, Carignan and Carménère. Much like the maiden release 2017, the new Roodeberg 1949 displays wonderfully seductive aromatics of violets and lilac, lush ripe red and black berry fruits and a creamy, bruleed top note of brown toast and roasted coffee beans. While the bouquet is certainly very inviting, the palate texture is simply drop dead gorgeous with a cool, fleshy, dreamy harmony of tart black plum, black cherry, black currant, salty black liquorice and a subtle leafy sapidity on the finish that adds plenty of interest. This is a wine that never lacks acidity but always shows an impressive balance, superb depth of flavour and plenty of poise. Stylistically, this is South Africa’s very own Ribera del Duero red that is masterfully crafted and blended. Quite simply, if you missed the incredible maiden release 2017 that sold out almost before customers could hear about it, then you have been warned. The 2018 second release is coming and it’s a cracker too. Drink on release and over 8 to 10+ years.

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