Catherine Marshall Releases Another Benchmark 2020 Fermented in Clay Chenin Blanc…

I’ve been following the new releases of this wine for several years now and it has certainly proven beyond doubt to be one of the most accomplished Chenin Blancs on the South African fine wine scene.

Grapes for the 2020 were again selected from a single vineyard in Elgin grown on red Laterite soils also known as “koffieklip” or coffee stone as it resembles the same structure as ground coffee, and also from from grapes grown in the Bottelary Hills in Stellenbosch on old bush vines in lighter soils, which were harvested in early March. Once fermentation was completed in the clay amphorae, 800 litres of wine was decanted to oak casks for a further 9 months maturation.

The wine portion aged in the clay amphorae had no malolactic fermentation so that the fresher flinty characters would be maintained. After 9 months, the two components were blended together and lightly filtered before bottling.

Catherine Marshall Fermented in Clay Chenin Blanc 2020, WO Western Cape, 14% Abv.

TA 5.6g/l | pH: 3.4 | RS: 2.1g/l | Total Extract: 23.2g/l

After the phenomenal 2017 and eye-watering 2019 Fermented in Clay Chenin Blanc, expectations for follow up vintages become almost impossibly high. But this 2020 is another real head turner with aromatics brimming with crunchy white peaches, tangerine, orange peel, green pears and a beguiling melange of grilled herbs and stony granitic minerality. On the palate this youthful 2020 is cool, crisp, focused and texturally quite linear and taut with tangy acids, a steely concentration of peach pastille, yellow tropical fruit bon bons, clementines and yet more unfurling layers of wet river pebbles and stony liquid minerality. Cathy has now established a rock solid track record for this wine which must surely rank in the top 10 Chenin Blancs produced in South Africa.

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

Wines available to the trade in the UK from Seckford Wine Agencies.

Craven Wines Releases Another Distinguished Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon…

Jeanine and Mick Craven are the winemaking duo behind this vibrant Cape wine brand established in 2013. While their range has pretty much been bedded in over the past few years with minor tweaks, additions and the odd cuvee trimming here and there, their Devon Valley Firs Syrah continues to retain a prime position as their most distinguished wine produced. However, ever since I tasted their maiden 2018 Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon from barrel in late 2018, I have been bewitched by the succulence, freshness, varietal purity and precision of this new addition to their range.

I recently tasted their new releases which now includes a very Chablis-like mineral 2019 Chardonnay together with their exciting second release 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon made from the same premium Polkadraai Hills Cabernet Sauvignon grapes from vines grown on decomposed granite soils. This wine has an incredibly classical old-world Bordeaux feel to its demeanour and is truly unique in terms of style compared to most other beefier Stellenbosch or Helderberg Cabernet Sauvignons produced.

The beautiful Polkadraai Hills, now it’s own ward within the Stellenbosch region.

Whether it’s those stunning Polkadraai soils, their earlier picking regime or simply the skill of Jeanine and Mick in capturing the wonderful terroir of the area with their own fingerprint, this wine remains an incredibly exciting cuvee and one all self-admitted Cabernet Sauvignon obsessives should track down and try.

Craven Wines Cabernet Sauvignon 2019, WO Stellenbosch, 12.5% Abv.

What an impressive effort. The wine making philosophy of Jeanine and Mick really seems to shine through brightest with their Cabernet Sauvignon expression. Sourced from the Karibib vineyard in the Polkadraai Hills in Stellenbosch and grown on decomposed granite soils, this taut, fresh, earthy black currant fruit laden expression is fabulously precise and pure with mesmerising aromatics of violets, creme de cassis, freshly tilled earth, raisined black plums, black cherry and a lick of sweet sappy cedar oak spice. With perhaps a little more middle palate extract and texture than the 2018, this wine really ticks so many boxes and is an absolute drinking pleasure. What a stunner! It seduced me at the very first sip and continued to do so until the last glass. Drink from 2021 until 2030+.

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

New Release Review – Tasting the Exceptional Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 From Kanonkop…

The Kanonkop Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 is another classical example of this varietal grown on the prime slopes of the Simonsberg ward. Exuding a sense of compact density, balance and harmony, its coolness in character is truly impressive considering the warm, dry vintage conditions of 2016.

With the 2016, Abrie Beeslaar handles this 100% Cabernet Sauvignon wine with a masterfully deft touch drawing out every drop of prime Simonsberg terroir. These Stellenbosch vines are on average 27 years old and grown on dry land vineyards located on decomposed granite, hutton and clovelly soils. Yields in 2016 were a mere 4 tons per hectare and only 8,000 cases of 6 were produced.

Kanonkop Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, WO Stellenbosch, 14% Abv.

On opening, this 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon was initially surprisingly taut, tight and broody with reductive aromatics of oyster shell, salty creme de cassis, black currant leaf, black chai tea, iodine and maritime salinity. But as I’ve discovered repeatedly over the past 12 months, the hot dry 2016 drought vintage did produced some really excellent red wines proving that exceptional terroir handled intelligently by an accomplished winemaker can trump even difficult vintage conditions. Given ample time to breath, the nose starts to reveal a growing intensity of black cherry, salty cassis and vibrant blueberry hints with a seductive underlay of cherry kirsch liquor. On the palate, the texture is sleek and polished with multiple waves of creme de cassis and blackberry fruits rising like a tide, finishing with a tangy concentration burst of acidity and mouthwatering fruit. Tannins are understated and powdery suggesting optimal phenolic ripeness. A really beautifully constructed wine with elegance, balance and supple accessibility. Drink on release with a bit of decanting or over 10 to 12+ years.

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

The New Release Blue Lady Cabernet Sauvignon From Warwick Estate Hits the Shelves in the UK…

The first wine under the Warwick label was released in 1984, then named “La Femme Bleu” or the “Blue Lady” as it is known today. Two years later, in 1986, the Warwick Trilogy, a three varietal Bordeaux-style blend, was released and has ever since been recognised as one of South Africa’s and Stellenbosch’s top icon wines. Throughout the years, Warwick’s wines have won multiple awards as well as the hearts and minds of not only the local market but also the discerning fine wine collector market internationally, firmly establishing the brand as a true South African icon.

The resurrected Warwick Blue Lady re-emerged more recently as a non-vintage Cabernet Sauvignon made from a blend of the 2008 and 2009 vintages. The then winemaker Nic van Aarde blended the 2010 and made all subsequent vintages up until the 2018 before passing on the winemaking reins to his talented successor JD Pretorius. The Blue Lady, Nic van Aarde informs me, was normally made from Block 14, an old vine block on the Warwick estate, but in later years became a blend of three specific blocks on the farm.

Warwick’s current winemaker, JD Pretorius.

The grapes were hand harvested, de-stemmed and sorted into tanks for primary fermentation with one to three pump overs per day as well as two ‘rack and return’ over the fermentation period. After fermentation and then post-fermentation tank maceration lasting for an average of 36 days on the skins with three or four gentle pump overs per day with malolactic fermentation taking place in stainless steel tanks. After the MLF the wine was racked into French oak barrels (25% new) for a period of 27 months before a strict barrel selection process decided the final expression in the spring of 2019.

Warwick Blue Lady Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5% Abv.

The 2017 is a cool, suave, classy Stellenbosch Cabernet at its seductive best, oozing with class and pedigree. The aromatics are picture perfect with intense notes of violets, fresh cedar, lead pencil and spicy pithy black berry fruits. But no classy Cabernet Sauvignon would be complete without the signature notes of iodine and dusty graphite complexity. True to the vintage, this 2017 is rich, plush, suave and super sleek with a characterful weightless concentration of inky, earthy black plum, blueberry compote, black cherry and subtle black currant. Acids are bright and glassy but also finely harmonious on the palate with powdery, creamy, finessed tannins and a gentle but lithe textural physique. Wonderfully classical and truly Simonsberg Cabernet Sauvignon in character, this wine personifies everything great about the regions premium grape growing terroir. Drink from release and savour over 10 to 15+ years.

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

Seriously Old Dirt 2019 – Vilafonte Release the Newest Edition of Their Sought-After Second Wine…

The success and popularity of the Seriously Old Dirt label by Vilafonte has undoubtedly been one of the most significant success stories within the South African wine industry over the past 5 years. Just when you thought the global wine market, both locally and internationally, was over traded and over supplied, along comes an incredibly exciting brand that has been crafted with expertise and vision and constructed around the basic principles of accessible structure, youthful intensity and an underlying feel and character of uncompromising quality from premium Stellenbosch and Paarl terroirs.

While the Seriously Old Dirt second wine from premium boutique cellar Vilafonte based in Paarl, can no longer lay claim to only use the off-cuts from its bigger brothers Series M and Series C, the growth in the demand for this label can nevertheless be directly linked to the stylistic precision and expertise honed and perfected within the Vilafonte winery. With unused blending components from the Vilafonte vineyards forming the basic building blocks now joined by additional specially selected premium parcels of Cabernet Sauvignon fruit, the Seriously Old Dirt production has been allowed to grow in order to meet an insatiable demand.

Following on from three drought affected vintages in 2016, 2017 and 2018, the preceding winter to the harvest 2019 had a late start with good rainfall with fluctuating weather conditions resulting in an uneven budbreak. Weather conditions improved at the onset of summer and by November, warmer weather was conducive to healthy vineyard growth.

Malbec grapes being off-loaded at Vilafonte from the 2020 harvest.

As a testament to vineyard resilience, wines from the 2019 vintage from across the Cape winelands show impressive freshness, concentration and elegance but also an underlying minerality and structural classicism. The 2019 Seriously Old Dirt blend was matured for 18 months in older French oak barriques and consists of 86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Malbec, 5% Merlot and 3% Cabernet Franc. The wine is scheduled for a mid-February release date in the home market.

Vilafonte Seriously Old Dirt 2019, WO Western Cape, 13.5% Abv.

This wine casts an attractive plummy purple-black colour and offers up vibrant notes of candied Parma violets, crème de cassis, sun raisined black cherries and hints of blueberry confit with an overlay of graphite and cedar spice. There is a lovely youthful maritime salinity and black liquorice nuance that melts into notes of iodine and Chinese five spice. The palate is medium bodied, fresh and supple but slowly unfurls to reveal a solid frame of creamy mineral tannins, ample Cabernet Sauvignon extract and a long, pleasingly drying grippy structure that is bolstered by salty cassis, taut black orchard fruits, stewed black cherries and hints of complexing bay leaf herbal spice. The 2019 vintage yielded wines with freshness, structural classicism, mineral tension and harmony and this superb new release from Vilafonte speaks honestly of the vintage and continues to fly the flag for premium second wines that offer exceptional quality, value for money and age-ability. Drink this on release with some lovely slow roasted lamb or age for 2 to 3+ years to allow it to open its shoulders further. A great wine for the savvy fine wine drinker.

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

Thelema Mountain Vineyards Releases Their New Rabelais 2018 Icon Cape Bordeaux Blend…

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 obvious refinement.

The last in a trilogy of drought vintages, the 2018 harvest produced fruit of sufficient quality for Thelema to produce their iconic Rabelais blend again. This year, the Cabernet Sauvignon portion comes in at 85% with the remaining 15% devoted to Petit Verdot yet again. After fermentation, the wine was left for 12 hours on the skins before pressing and racking into 100% new 225 litre French oak barrels for malolactic fermentation and further ageing for 20 months.

Thelema Rabelais 2018, WO Stellenbosch, 13.32% Abv.

RS 1.8 g/l | pH 3.46 | TA 5.9

Quite an individual wine, this 2018 Rabelais is beautifully characterful and expressive with vivid notes of sour black plum compote, saline black currant, kelp and oyster shell, unsmoked cigars and freshly cracked black pepper all tightly smothered beneath an aromatic iron curtain of graphite and cedar spice. The palate shows an impressively polished texture with sleek marble like tannins… firm but super tight knit and precise, a medium bodied harmonious weight of red and black berry fruits and an incredibly long, saline, rock salt finish. Plenty of attractive wet river pebble minerality combines with graphite, lead pencil and complexing brûléed wood spice nuances to offer all the ‘salt & pepper’ complexity that should evolve in bottle to one day make this a truly classy, complex Cape Bordeaux blend. Crack the odd bottle after 5+ years but keep the rest for at least 10+. A fabulous 2018 blend that speaks of the vintage.

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

Recent praise from UK wine critic Matthew Jukes, after tasting the 2017 release.

Donovan Rall Creating Grand Cru Quality Wines in The Cape – Tasting the New Rall 2019 White Blend…

I first met Donovan Rall at the Cape White Blend Conference in 2009 at Forest 44 in Stellenbosch where Ian Naude had assemble 80+ of South Africa’s greatest winemakers to listen to Eben Sadie, Peter Fischer and myself talk about the farming, production and marketing of world class white blends. During one of the intermissions, this giant Viking came up to me and introduced himself. Little did I know that Donovan had worked for several months with a Handford colleague of mine at the Harvey Nichols fine wine department in Knightsbridge, London. Offering me two bottles of his by then long sold out maiden release Rall White Blend, he asked me to drink one and let him know what I thought, and also if I could please take the other bottle back to London for his old colleague Gavin to enjoy. I of course obliged.

I am not sure why he wanted to hear what I thought about his wine as this maiden vintage was already the first of three consecutive 5 Star Platter Guide wines that he eventually went on to produce. Now I am willing to wager a serious bet that no other wine maker in South Africa has achieved the fabled 5 Stars from Platter for their first three vintages ever produced! Surely a record that won’t be broken any time soon.

Rall White Blend 2019, WO Coastal Region, 13% Abv.

Some of the most serious white wines in the world are more often than not wines that can be quite illusive, restrained and slightly introverted. That’s because the greatest white wines don’t have to advertise their true potential on release with vulgar “low hanging fruit” to draw attention. It’s the complete opposite – mystery, reserve and restraint. That is exactly where this epic white blend from Donovan fits in. An exotic blend of 68% Chenin Blanc, 28% Verdelho and 4% Viognier, the fruit for this wine was sourced from a number of soil types before being fermented with indigenous yeasts and then aged for 10 months in old French oak. The nose on this blend suggests a lot but simultaneously gives little away boasting a complex but understated melange of green pears, yellow grapefruit, green apple and tangerine pith. The palate is fabulously steely and linear, taut and precise with real structure and focused purity but also an impressively harmonious balance and textural finesse that you only normally experience on the greatest white vintages of Grand Cru Burgundy. South Africa is indeed blessed to possess the raw materials (and winemaking talent) to create incredible wines like this for an absolute steal. Drink a bottle or two on release after an hours decant and cellar the rest for a good 5 to 8+ years.

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

Revisiting the Iconic Naude Family Wines Old Vines Series Chenin Blanc 2016…

So much has been written about the super iconic Naude Old Vines Chenin Blanc 2013 recently that it reminded me that at the time of the release of the 2016, Ian Naude had commented to me that he thought this vintage might be the closest expression he had come stylistically to the resplendent heights of the 2013. At the time of tasting a pre-release sample of 2016 in November 2017, I had my doubts.

But recently I was contacted by a large private South African fine wine buyer who asked me if I had tasted the 2016 recently. Shockingly I admitted that I had not. The real question centred around whether or not they should track down the last of the 2015 vintage or buy the current release 2016 on the market. So with a cold bottle in the fridge from a new shipment that recently arrived from South Africa in December, I cracked a bottle and dived in.

Made from three vineyards, two from Durbanville and one from the Swartland, the vines were at the time, on average 40 years old. Picked on taste and flavour ripeness and not analysis ripeness as is usual for Ian, the juice was naturally fermented with no additions after the fruit was crushed in whole bunches and then transferred directly into used 300 and 500 litre French oak barrels. The wines were then left as long as possible on their lees with bâtonnage generally once a week.

As with all Naude Old Vine Series wines, the essence of Ian’s style is to allow the high quality fruit to express itself as naturally as possible and allow it to tell its own authentic story. In 2016, South Africa was experiencing its second consecutive year of severe drought and many of The Cape’s vines had not quite had the time to reacclimatise to the water shortage. But beyond all reasoning and science, the hardy Chenin Blanc Old Vine vineyards across the Western Cape produced some of the most concentrated and expressive wines seen in years. Critical scores from the world’s leading wine critics abound highlighting the exceptional opulence, intensity and balance of the 2016 Chenin Blancs.

Naude Family Wines Old Vine Series Chenin Blanc 2016, 12.5% Abv., WO Western Cape

When first tasted in 2017, I described the 2016 wine as ‘embryonic’ and ‘more similar to the 2015 Chenin Blanc’ at the time. Revisiting this delicious Old Vine white, reveals the passing of time has clearly marked this wine and improved it immeasurably. The aromatics retain their austere crushed granite and gravel dust minerality but are now joined by tantalisingly rich notes of waxy green apples, under ripe quince, dried straw, summer fynbos and subtle notes of dried thyme. But it’s on the palate where the greatest differences can be observed with a fuller, more textural mouthfeel infused with reductive notes of struck flint, crunchy pears, tart white peaches and signature notes of citrus oil and pithy tangerine peel zest on the finish. The palate retains an incredible freshness, vibrancy and detailed line of acidity but seems to have gained additional flamboyant breadth and depth. While impressively youthful still, this beautiful expression gives discerning customers a rare chance to buy and experience a grand vin old vine Chenin Blanc with some developing bottles age at current release pricing. Definitely start drinking these beauties now but while not quite as monolithic as the legendary 2013 Chenin, this wine shows abundant staying power and age ability. Drink now to 2038+.

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

New Release Review – Tasting The Super Premium Kanonkop Black Label Pinotage 2018…

The Kanonkop estate in Stellenbosch is synonymous with not only one of the most premium Cabernet Sauvignon based Bordeaux blends in South Africa, the Paul Sauer, but also the most serious expression of Old Vine Pinotage produced in the country.

This super premium Kanonkop Black Label Pinotage is made from one of the oldest Pinotage vineyards in South Africa planted in 1953 on a site that has over the years continued to produce fruit of specific excellence, deemed special enough to be bottled under its own label.

This new Kanonkop Black Label Pinotage 2018 was matured for 18 months in French oak, of which 100% was new.

Kanonkop Black Label Pinotage 2018, WO Stellenbosch, 14% Abv.

Fantastically dense, brûléed and opulent, this plush textural expression shows complex notes of black plum compote, mulberry, powdered mocha, cinnamon powder and a sweet sappy cedar spice. With the senses reeling, the palate gets assaulted by a plush, fleshy, round weight of black and red berry fruits, spicy brûléed vanilla notes, charred barrel spice and a grippy, youthful tannin on the finish adding a perfect frame and structure for the fruit concentration. Beautifully open and upfront, round and expressive, this wine shows a real accessibility, a soft cool acidity and a perfect amount of grip. Not quite the precision and fresh perfumed purity of the 2017 but certainly not far off. Another very well endowed beauty. Drink from 2022 to 2040+.

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

The De Toren Z Cape Bordeaux Blend Becoming a Real Force to be Reckoned With – Tasting and Assessing the Iconic New Z 2017 Release…

The focus of the De Toren estate has always been centred around the iconic Fusion V Cape Bordeaux blend made in a Left Bank leaning expression with a dominance of Cabernet Sauvignon. But the De Toren Z has slowly but surely started to catch the attention of wine critics and connoisseurs around the world with on-trade buyers and sommeliers taking a particular fancy to this blend.

While the debate continues as to whether this Merlot based Right Bank blend was born out of the quality Fusion V off-cuts or whether it was individually designed around specific varieties and terroirs on the Polkadraai estate, one thing is certain – the De Toren Z Cape Bordeaux blend is a premium wine to be reckoned with and taken seriously as it enters a small select group of top red blends coming out of South Africa.

With the 2016 Z currently selling great guns in South Africa and around the world, I thought I’d take a sneak peek at the highly anticipated 2017 that looks set to take the world by storm.

De Toren Estate Z 2017, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5% Abv.

This wine personifies the De Toren journey of initially making one premium wine that ultimately heralded two iconic wines due to the estate’s attention to detail, terroir and focus on quality. This Merlot based blend is another absolute blinder revealing a rich, intense, brûléed aromatic array of saline cassis, nori seaweed, pithy black cherry, savoury black plum, roasted coffee beans and hints of open fire grilled winter chestnuts. The palate is super sleek and beautifully silky and suave bolstered by the most opulent, plump, hedonistic black fruit concentration, brûléed wood spice nuances and a long, mouth coating, vibrant finish. This wine speaks of the vintage with its weightless concentration and seamless balance and will appeal to Right Bank Bordeaux lovers who especially enjoy the iconic vintages. This wine is certainly right up there with the sensational 2015 De Toren Z and must surely rate as one of the best vintages of Z produced from the estate to date. Drink from 2022 to 2036+

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

Watch out for the launch of this 2017 beauty in SA around the end of 1st Quarter 2021.