Beginning of a New Era at Champagne Taittinger with the UK Launch of Comtes de Champagne 2007…

Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger was in London last week to present the fabulous new Comtes de Champagne release, the first since 2016. With new winemaker and chef de caves, Alexandre Ponnavoy at the helm, it looks like the beginning of a new chapter in the history of Taittinger.

The 2007 vintage is regarded by Taittinger as a very good vintage in Champagne with an especially warm winter resulting in early vegetative growth. The harvesting started with Chardonnay being picked in early September.

Greg Sherwood MW with UK Taittinger importer Patrick McGrath MW and Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger, President of the Grandes Marques.

The character of the vintage, according to Alexandre, “showed fine freshness, crystalline purity, ample complexity and an intricately bright acidity underpinned by a fine, pin point salinity” which is generally regarded as the key to the 2007’s great success.

The Four Principles of Comtes de Champagne:

Extremely small production, 10 years of bottle aging on the less before disgorgement, five top Grand Cru sites, making a wine that is “an affordable luxury”… appealing to real Champagne connoisseurs, not just millionaires or billionaires.

1 Unique terroir

2 A long vinification history allowing a wine personality to develop

3 Vinification with attention to detail

4 Good forests, using a small amount of oak foudre for ageing a portion of this wine to add a little “salt and pepper” to its character and complexity.

Tasting with new chef de caves Alexandre Ponnavoy.

Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Brut 2007, 12 Abv.

A fantastic young Champagne with a colourful personality. Chalky aromatics bristle out the glass, interwoven with dusty limestone minerality, lemon and lime cordial and yellow grapefruit notes. Sublime balance, harmony and creamy textural elegance, this really is such a sympathetic wine with delicious mouth watering acidity and vibrancy. The wine oozes breeding and regal heritage but without any pretentious airs or graces, delivering palate depth, structure and a focused creamy mousse with delectable notes of lemon biscuits, buttered white toast, lemon bon bons, hazelnuts and a wonderful zesty white peach pastille complexity. A luminous bright citric core, refined palate breadth and a creamy sour dough and buttered brioche finish. So, so lovely. A worthy successor to the block buster 2005 and 2006. Drink now or cellar for 15+ years.

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

Some of the other “treats” at the launch lunch.

The End of the Beginning – Tasting the Maiden Release Tokara Telos 2015 in London with Owner G.T.Ferreira…

The Tokara farm was bought by GT Ferreira in 1995 without a single vine on the property, initially with view to being a “gentleman’s residence.” But with such illustrious neighbours as Thelema and Rustenberg, it was always written in the stars that this prime property would be planted and established as a great wine producing estate in its own right. The Tokara winery has also had the exceptionally good fortune to have the same steady hand of Miles Mossop overseeing the wine production for the past 18 years, a factor that has almost certainly helped hasten the dawning of this new super premium wine Tokara Telos. Miles has since announced that 2018 will be his last vintage at Tokara as he leaves to pursue new winemaking projects. We all wish him the best.

I like to think that I have been a close long term observer of the ongoing progress at the Tokara winery, watching over almost two decades as the wines became finer and more accomplished with every subsequent vintage release. However, the Director’s Reserve white blend was undoubtedly the first wine to make international and local critics sit up and genuinely take serious notice of the potential of this winery. But for many years the reds somehow seemed to lag behind the fame of the whites until more recently, when some very smart red wines started to be bottled under the Director’s Reserve red blend label.

Owner of Tokara, GT Ferreira, the successful South African financier who calls Tokara home

The Tokara Telos red blend maiden release can therefore be regarded as the coming of age moment for winery, its vines, and in many ways, the conclusion of a long held vision. Indeed Telos, for those not schooled in classical Greek, is a noun used to describe “the end term of a goal-directed process; especially, the Aristotelian final cause.” So is this the end? No, not at all… it is merely the end of the beginning!

The 2015 vintage saw the driest growing conditions and subsequently the earliest harvest at Tokara in many years. The main Cabernet Sauvignon portion of the wine was harvested on the 5th of March 2015 at 26 degrees balling, the Merlot on the 3rd of February at 24.6 degrees balling and the Malbec on the 24th of February at 24.4 degrees balling. It was one of the smallest crops on record and on average had harvest dates that were two weeks earlier than previous years. At harvest, grapes were placed in a cold room overnight and sorted twice on a Pellene Mechanical sorter and subsequent individual berry sorting on a vibrating table. After a four day cold maceration in tank, with 30% whole berry and 70% crushed berries, natural fermentation was allowed to proceed with wild yeasts.

As has become all the rage with new premium releases in South Africa, the Tokara Telos 2015 was presented ‘sighted’ within an impressive flight of what can only be called ultra-premium Bordeaux reds all rated 100 points by Robert Parker on release. Hell, if you are going to go down the whole comparative benchmarking route, why not do it properly and present your wine alongside the best there is!? Needless to say, this approach needs more than a little confidence and self-belief to be effective. According to the owners, the Telos launch was held in London before South Africa as a nod of acknowledgment to a market that has been one of Tokara’s most supportive and receptive over the past years. A subsequent launch is planned for Johannesburg and then again at the winery in Cape Town.

Tokara Telos 2015, Stellenbosch, 14 Abv.

A 17 year old single vineyard block making up a 1,000 bottle blend of 92% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Malbec and 3% Merlot, aged for 22 months in 63% new oak with medium toast and ‘house toast’. 2.1 g/l RS, 6.2 TA, 3.52pH. This young 2015 red blend displays an impressively perfumed nose with subtle potpourri and dried pink flower fragrance, violets and hints of lavender. Dusty graphite and gravelly minerality is tightly interwoven with attractive black berry, dusty bramble berry nuances and subtle fleshly cut hedgerow spice. The palate is sleek, lithe and particularly suave and fine boned with a very polished, sultry, light touch elegance and textural focus. There is already impressive complexity but also a modicum of classical restraint that seems to overtly shy away from elevated ripeness, oakiness or glossy sweet fruit characters. This is a rare South African expression that boasts a vibrant natural acidity and very ripe, fine grained powdery mineral tannins that cushion a beautifully natural sense of balance, harmony and finesse, all elements coming together seamlessly and effortlessly at such an early stage in the wines evolution. A really polished, faultless, old world leaning expression that is undoubtedly a new and impressive tour de force on the South African fine wine scene. Drink this wine from 2020+  onwards and cellar comfortably for over 20+ years.

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

Other Bordeaux Wines Tasted Alongside the Telos 2015:

Chateau Montrose 2010, Saint Estephe, 14 Abv.

An expectedly dense, dark, broody expression, that is quite reserved and closed. But it slowly offers up dark earthy black berry, bramble berry, and sweet graphite and cedar spice notes. An attractive sweet tobacco depth and spicy cassis opulence meanders to a finish with steely precision, incredible focus, monolithic structure and pristine depth. Very young but a profound wine nonetheless. One for the cellar!

(Wine Safari Score: 98-99/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou 2009, Saint Estephe 13.5 Abv.

Sweet leafy cedary red currant fruit notes elucidating a delicious ripe cassis opulence with boxwood hints and a soft, sappy, black fruited core. This wine screams Cabernet Sauvignon and fans it’s aromatic tail with lead pencil, graphite and violet complexity. Still showing a relatively chunky palate with plenty of textural flesh, fine vibrant freshness and an impressively sweet bramble berry and tannery leather length.

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

Chateau Leoville-Poyferre 2009, Saint Julien, 14 Abv.

Dark, deep, spicy, black currant and earthy cassis depth with an incredibly complex nose of graphite, dusty gravel and liquid minerality. A plump, opulent sweet pocket of overt fruit and piquant tannins coat the palate that shows a sweet, glycerol, cinnamon tinged earthy red currant depth. A very smart effort with an incredibly seamless balance. Classy.

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

Chateau Pavie 2009, St Emilion Grand Cru Classe,14.5 Abv.

A more opulent, generous nose with overt, ripe notes of molasses tinged black plum, earthy black berry confit and caramelised plums. The only wine in the flight with obvious sur maturite palate sweetness but almost pleasantly so, showing a more bold and riper side of right Bank Bordeaux. A wine with many merits and a delicious drinkability. Perhaps a little overblown for your classical connoisseur Claret drinker?

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

Chateau Cheval Blanc 2005, St Emilion Grand Cru Classe (A), 14 Abv.

Already 13 years old, the 2005 is starting to show subtle tertiary aromatic hints of sous bois, earthy red currants, bruised red plums, black tea and sweet tannery leather. There is no lack of classism, graphite and gravelly liquid minerality either. A super Bordeaux example with depth, elegance and fine length.

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

Chateau Latour 1996, Pauillac, 12.5 Abv.

A 22 years old expressive, classical Pauillac Claret that reveals sweet roasted herbs, briary, red currant and piquant sweet pipe tobacco spice. Lovely maturity, dusty grainy tannins and fine tertiary complexity. The 1996 is a classic power packed Latour ageing gracefully and showing plenty of pedigree.

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

Steven Spurrier in attendance at 67 Pall Mall

Neil Ellis – A True Legend of the South African Wine Industry Unveils His 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon in London…

A well known English importer who recently returned to the UK after tasting the new releases in South Africa, commented that one of his best visits was with wine trade great Neil Ellis, a legend in his own time. But he also mentioned that Neil was also perhaps one of the most under appreciated assets of the South African wine scene.

I suppose as a new era dawns and son Warren takes over the reins from his famous father, the attention of the wine drinking public will shift and the achievements of the industry greats will begin to fade from the consumer’s collective memory. Needless to say, legends like Neil, who was instrumental in inspiring a new generation of winemakers to strive for even higher quality standards for reds and whites, will always be held on a high pedestal amongst members of the international wine trade.

Fortunately for us in the UK, Neil recently travelled to London to release his stunning new 2014 Jonkershoek Cabernet Sauvignon to the trade and of course I was there to pick his brains and have a good wine trade chat.

Neil Ellis Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Jonkershoek Valley, WO Stellenbosch, 14 Abv.

Beautifully expressive nose of crunchy red cherries, violets, cherry sherbet, tart cassis and leafy, sappy black currant fruits. Classical Cabernet Sauvignon at its best. The palate is beautifully suave, sleek textured, ultra polished and plush, boasting incredible grandeur, restraint and a long black berry and tobacco spice laden finish. This is prime Stellenbosch terroir at its very best. With such intensity and balance, this wine will have a long future ahead of it but is already drinking exceptionally well. Cellar your 2013s further and crack open this deliciously forward, attractive 2014 now.

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

Reinventing The Original Cape Red Blend – Tasting the New Mullineux and Leeu Family Wines Leeu Passant 2016 Dry Red Release…

I recently caught up with Swartland rock star wine couple Chris and Andrea Mullineux at their Roundstone farm to taste their new Leeu Passant releases. Of all the new wine brands released on to the South African and international wine market of late, few have generated as much discussion and debate as the Leeu Passant Dry Cape Red.

Too much of this discussion has perhaps superficially centred around the wine’s ultra premium pricing of £95-£100 per bottle and whether this pricing is merited instead of around the wine’s exceptional quality, its old vine fruit sources and it’s philosophical interpretation of a wine style synonymous with the early years of the 20th century Cape wine industry.

But new innovative wines that push the boundaries usually make easy targets for wine trade sceptics. It is without doubt the success of wines like this that will open new doors and pathways to financial viability and success for the whole of the South African wine industry. In the meantime, indulge yourself and savour some true precision winemaking with the Leeu Passant Dry Red.

Leeu Passant Dry Red Wines 2016, WO Western Cape, 14 Abv.

A blend of 36% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Cabernet Franc and 31% Cinsault using 100% whole bunch for the Cabernet Franc and Cinsault portions. 100% new oak was used for the Cabernet Franc fermentation. Lifted and aromatic, this wine initially displays a pronounced sweet leaf, red currant, cedar and red berry fruit character. Intensely focused concentration from low yields and super small berries in 2016 makes for a wine brimming with overt notes of earl grey tea, bergamot spice, pithy citrus peel, spicy red bramble berries and a broody, earthy red currant depth. A fine wine with ample structure and seriousness, impressive minerality, precision and power. This red will certainly be a great keeper that’s destined for many a collectors’ cellar. Hats off to Chris and Andrea Mullineux for succeeding in creating yet another collectable vinous gem in only year two of this new project. Drink on release if you are flamboyant, drink after 10 years if you are patient, and drink after 30+ if you are youthful and have time on your side.

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

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)