Tasting the New Leeu Passant 2021 Releases – A Project of Grand Ambition Coming of Age…

It has to be said that when Chris and Andrea Mullineux embarked on their new Leeu Passant adventure with silent partner Analjit Singh, there were many in the industry that thought that this duo would be better off focusing on their successful eponymous Swartland project at Roundstone instead of spreading themselves a bit thin across multiple wine regions. But when you are as driven and as wine curious as Chris and Andrea, holding back on their new winemaking endeavour was never an option. Since the first vintages released from the 2015 vintage, there has certainly been a high degree of evolution and even a bit of revolution as Chris and Andrea have shaken up the establishment in both Stellenbosch and Franschhoek.

But in 2021, the Leeu Passant project can finally be considered to have come of age with some of their most compelling releases yet. With a conscious effort to try and realign the vintage releases a little more after choosing to hold back the 2018 Leeu Passant Dry Red and the Basson Vineyard Old Vine Cinsault 2018, they have finally reached a point where the extra year in bottle for these extraordinary wines has allowed them to be appreciated and admired for what they truly are – exceptional winemaking creations.

I normally visit Chris and Andrea at least once a year in the Swartland and then finally fill in the remaining gaps on one of their many trips to London. I certainly miss the Swartland and walking the vineyards with Chris as he explains all the new ideas they’re perpetually putting into practice in the vineyards. But these are strange times and unfortunately I had to make do with a Zoom tasting to acquaint myself with their fabulous new wine releases.

Leeu Passant Stellenbosch Chardonnay 2019, WO Stellenbosch, 14% Abv.

Made from a single vineyard in the Helderberg where the climate probably has a bigger fingerprint than even the soils and terroir but at 400 meters plus, the maritime climate really shapes the wine with very consistent temperatures, that yield high acidities and often 9 TA – 9.5 TAs before settling at around 7 TA when all is said and done. Whole bunch pressed with oxidative must handling then to barrel for 18 months in oak without SO2. Barrels were 225L size of which around 30% were new with the rest 2/3/4/5th fill.

The 2019 Chardonnay is a very serious contender for one of the top Chardonnays produced in South Africa along with a very small handful of obsessive producers. This Stellenbosch 2019 is full of power and focus with all the hallmark purity that Andrea Mullineux prides herself in. The aromatics are reminiscent of granitic river pebbles immersed in lemon cordial with a dusting of honey, toffee apples, lemon grass and dried baking herbs. Always brilliantly pure, crystalline and electric, the palate shows tremendous tension and linearity supported by astonishing fruit concentration and intensity. The balance and harmony are spellbinding, revealing sip after sip, the true pedigree of this wonderful Helderberg vineyard site in the hands of a masterful winemaker. Undoubtedly comparable to the very best Chardonnay expressions produced by Leeu Passant to date, this 2019 seems to pack an extra level of lemon and lime intensity making it already an incredibly appealing fine wine. Give this vintage at least three years from release in your cellar and then drink over 10+.

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

Leeu Passant Wellington Old Vine Basson Cinsault 2018, WO Wellington, 13% Abv.

This treasured dry-farmed Cinsault vineyard is the oldest certified red wine vineyard in South Africa, planted in circa 1900 and farmed by the Mullineuxs since 2014. One of the original Old Vine Project “Certified Heritage Vineyards” that has been held up as a shining beacon of education and preservation, these gnarled deep rooted old Cinsault bush vines are planted on deep, weathered sandy Table Mountain sandstone alluvial soils which yield wines deceptively light in colour but also impressively structured, taut and rich. Producing as little as 600 kilograms of fruit in 2015, the plot has now been nursed back to rude health enough to yield two tons of fruit in 2019.

This vineyard always shows plenty of structure, power and focus and the 2018 vintage is considered one of the most structured yet. In its current youthful state, the aromatics are distinctively stony and mineral but also fabulously perfumed showing notes of potpourri, lavender, bramble berries, fynbos and Turkish delight. The palate is incredibly precise and foursquare with a polished structure and frame you just don’t expect from such a delicately fragrant wine. The texture is dense and tightly packed, the wine concentrated and intense but also deceptively light on its feet revealing notes of cranberry, red cherry and wild strawberries on the finish all supported by the most powdery, silky tannins imaginable. A difficult wine even for me to put accurately into words because it is so evocative on both an emotional level as well as on a sensorial level. Drink this wine from release and over the next 30+ years. (Circa 1,800 bottles produced)

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

Leeu Passant Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon 2019, WO Stellenbosch, 13.5% Abv

Chris and Andrea experimented with over 20 different vineyards around Stellenbosch before they started to focus on five specific vineyards including two in the Helderberg, two in the Polkadraai Hills and one 40-year-old parcel in Firgrove close to False Bay. Three of these five vineyards already contribute fruit that goes into their flagship Leeu Passant Dry Red Blend together with components of the Lotter Cinsault, the Wellington Basson Cinsault and a splash of Cabernet Franc. The wine sees only 30% new oak with some extended maceration that changes from site to site with the older Firgrove vineyard seeing the longest maceration. With vines grown on a mix of alluvial soils and decomposed granite soils, the grapes produce a sleek, crystalline, elegant style of Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon that many say harks back to the golden age of Bordeaux’s finest old Clarets. The wines are aged for 12 months before being moved to larger 2000 and 5000 litre upright oak vats for another year of aging before spending several months in bottle before release.

The aromatics are wonderfully lifted and perfumed showing all the intricacies of cool climate Cabernet Sauvignon fruit. There is an intriguing piquant leafy spice that melts into notes of liquid minerality, granitic dust and graphite while underneath the mineral veil is a powerful depth of fruit held on a very short rein lest it bursts out the glass. There are seductive notes of violets, sweet cedary spice, saline black currant, hints of iodine and fresh kelp brought in on the morning’s tide. On the palate there is plenty of textural precision on display for all to see, confidently boasting layer upon layer of stony minerality, sweet cherry tobacco, cassis leaf, black tea, tilled earth and creamy dense powdery tannins. Fabulously old school on so many levels, this wine will undoubtedly age well and develop into something that harks back to the great old Clarets of times gone by. Drink from 2024 until 2040+

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

Leeu Passant Dry Red 2018, WO Western Cape, 14% Abv.

The impressive wine is formed of two old vine Cinsault blocks (Basson and Lotter), three Cabernet Sauvignon parcels and Cabernet Franc from the Helderberg. The 2018 is a blend of 63% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Cabernet Franc, 16% Cinsault (in 2018 mostly Basson and lesser amounts of the opulent Lotter), with the Basson Cinsault being whole bunch fermented. Some of the Cinsault is co-fermented with the 40+ year old Cabernet Sauvignon while the Cabernet Franc, planted in the early 1990s, if vinified separately. The Dry Red traditionally sees the components aged 12 months in 500 litre oak barrels separately before being blended and aged for another 12 months in large 2000-litre old oak foudre. The wine now also spends an extra year in bottle “because when it was released earlier, the Cinsault component seemed to dominate the style. Now with the extra 12 months in bottle it is a far more harmonious wine”, according to Chris Mullineux. Almost 10,000 bottles were produced in 2018 compared to circa 4,000 bottles in 2015, the maiden vintage.

My experience of tasting this wine has sometimes been somewhat of a challenge because in its early years, the individual components often seemed to intermittently compete with one another for aromatic and flavour dominance. The extra years ageing in bottle has been a game-changer. The wine is now so incredibly lifted and perfumed with a real melange of red currant, wild strawberry, pressed violets and vanilla pod spice bursting out the glass. There is such magnificent purity, precision and a real synergy that shines through the wine. The palate is incredibly dense, textured and luxuriously opulent, packed full of fleshy red cherry and cranberry pastille fruits, Turkish delight and red currant jelly. Perhaps it’s the vintage or perhaps it’s just the extra bottle age but this wine seems so much more complete with less obvious sapidity and spice and much more harmonious fleshy layers of red fruit and creamy, savoury tannins. This is an absolute triumph of a wine and a flagship vintage Dry Red that single-handedly announces the true ‘arrival’ of the entire Leeu Passant project. Drink this phenomenal wine on release and over the next 30+ years.

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

The Long Awaited Naudé Family Wines 2020 Old Vines Chenin Blanc Is Ready for Release…

Three of my favourite Chenin Blancs have come from the same producer, Ian Naude. The monolithic Coche-Dury’esque 2013 is still one of the most monumental whites that has ever been produced in South Africa while the 2015 is a slightly more classical rendition of this variety. The 2016 however was another blockbuster vintage effort and has sold incredibly quickly as Ian’s stature in the world of fine wine has continued grow incrementally over the past few years as collectors have started to pay serious attention to all his wines.

The follow-on vintage is the 2020 Chenin Blanc produced from an old vine vineyard in the Swartland planted in 1971 making it the first Chenin Blanc from Ian Naude produced from a single vineyard. The grapes were 100% whole bunch pressed and fermented naturally in stainless steel tanks for roughly 14 days with some temperature control being employed to slow the fermentation and retain more of the volatile aromas. After fermentation, the wine was transferred to old oak barrels for 6 months ageing on its lees with bâtonnage employed for the first three months.

Naudé Family Wines Old Vine Chenin Blanc 2020, WO Swartland, 12% Abv.

1.1 g/l RS | 6.1 TA | 3.3 pH | 0.4 VA

I approached this new wine with a little trepidation as I know all too well from previous experience that Ian Naude’s wines always need a few years in bottle to settle in and really start to fan their peacock tail. Happily, this 2020 is already very impressive with wonderfully complex aromatics of crystallised pineapple chunks, bruised yellow orchard fruit, tangerine peal, white peach, wet thatch and sweet & sour notes of passion fruit liquor. The palate shows lovely vibrancy and energy all wrapped up tightly in a fine, harmonious glycerol depth of fruit concentration that seems slightly more exotic than previous vintages with seductive notes of lemon cordial, pineapples in syrup, tart white peaches and pithy green apple candy. Like all Ian’s delightful creations, this wine retains an incredible crystalline purity, tangy fresh acids, nervy textural linearity and a granitic liquid minerality that washes over the palate to counter-balance the fruit intensity. This is signature Naudé Chenin Blanc but with a wonderful hint of Swartland wild child vintage character thrown into the mix. Drink from 2022 to 2040+.

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

Revisiting The New Naude Grenache 2019 That Rises From the Swartland Dust Like a Vinous Phoenix…

I first reviewed this wine back in December 2020. But with its release in the UK market imminent, I thought I would have another look at what must surely rank as one of the top Grenache reds produced in South Africa. Despite over 30+ producers producing in excess of 100 Grenache-based wines – mostly blended – from the 350 hectares of Grenache planted in South Africa, it still ranks as somewhat of a curiosity variety compared to industry stalwarts like Syrah or Cinsault.

But there is no doubt about the quality heights this grape is capable of in regions like the Swartland. If Grenache is a variety that gets you excited, look no further than the new Naude 2019.

Naude Family Wines Grenache 2019, WO Swartland, 12% Abv.

RS 1.2 g/L | TA 6.1 g/L | pH 3.2 g/L 

While this may only be Ian Naude’s second Grenache attempt from this special Swartland vineyard, he certainly seems to have done the fruit justice creating a wonderfully expressive red. A light translucent cherry red colour, the aromatics are jam packed with crunchy red berry fruits, rose petals, musk, lavender, dried baking herbs and enticing savoury Chinese five spice nuances. The clarity and purity of fruit on the nose translates into an incredibly precise, focused invigorating palate with mouth-watering juicy fresh acids, crystalised red cherries, tart red cranberry and a long, linear finish that reveals a fine stony minerality. Lovely wound spring tension lends a serious note to the wine ensuring that this fabulous 2019 will be as equally long lived as its maiden predecessor, the 2014. However, this wine definitely has more Naude signature elegance, freshness, linearity and precision than the 2014 had at the same youthful stage. The five-year wait has certainly been worthwhile! This is a triumph of skilful winemaking utilising outstanding fruit. Bravo Ian! Drink now and over the next 10 to 15+ years.

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

The legend Continues – Tasting the New Release Revenge of the Crayfish 2020 Chenin Blanc…

Sakkie Mouton is the epitome of the classic West Coast maverick or perhaps the West Coast misfit to use his own words. But whatever descriptives you use to describe his unique brand of winemaking and marketing, there is no denying this young man’s incredible talent, passion and vision. Almost uniquely, despite his enviable and obvious rock star talents, he has never been too confident or arrogant to dismiss advice or unwilling to alter course in the name of producing the very best possible end product.

With his 2018 maiden release, I likened Sakkie’s unique talents to something I had not seen since Eben Sadie hit the South African wine scene properly in the early 2000s, at first with the Spice Route Winery and then subsequently with his own labels. Perhaps the real similarity lies in both being able to elicit something quite unique and magical from varieties and vineyards that so many before them had managed to produce merely average wines from. Who knows? The industry is lucky to have them both for sure!

“Get your Cray on… “

This new 2020 Crayfish edition was picked in two different passes through the vineyards before being fermented with wild yeast in used 228 litre barrels and aged on the gross lees for eight months. The wine was then bottled unfiltered and unfined with minimal intervention.

Revenge of the Crayfish Chenin Blanc 2020, WO Koekenaap, 13.5% Abv.

With two vintages under his belt, Sakkie Mouton must surely have a fairly watertight idea of what he is trying to create with his unique Chenin Blanc fruit sourced from his homeland vineyards of Koekenaap up the West Coast. While super youthful and fresh, this 2020 expression does indeed display an impressive clarity and composure with wonderfully pure aromatics of crunchy green apples, pear drops, bay leaves, dried green baking herbs, lime peel and of course the signature West Coast notes of oyster shell and maritime sea breeze salinity. On the palate, there is notable concentration and depth of zippy white citrus, savoury yellow orchard fruits and a briny rock salt salinity reminiscent of river pebbles washed in sea water. Never a wine to reveal all its secrets willingly, a little more coaxing in a big Zalto glass allows the wine to show hints of orange citrus peel, a lovely fresh tangy sweet / sour acidity and yet more layers of maritime intensity. This new release might not be quite as wild and rebellious as some of Sakkie’s previous releases, but it certainly shows a growing confidence, maturity of thought, and texturally, an intricacy and purity that makes this wine very much one of his most complete creations to date. Give this white one to two years in the cellar from release before opening and then enjoy over 12 to 15+ years. Congratulations Sakkie on another distinguished wine!

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

Wines available in the UK on allocation from Vino SA and Handford Wines.

New Release Review – Tasting the Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines 2018 Syrah…

I recently tasted the phenomenal 2017 Mullineux Syrah again with Andrea Mullineux and was just blown away by the balance, intensity and poise of the wine. While chatting about the 2017, Andrea expressed her real excitement surrounding the release of the new 2018 Syrah which she thought might just be their winery’s best effort yet. High praise indeed.

While 2018 was the last of four drought vintages in the Cape and severely affected the Swartland region, there seems to be some consensus that the vines had slowly started to become more accustomed to the severely dry conditions. This new release was made from grapes grown in seven different vineyards all with differing terroirs – four vineyards on shale and schist, two on granite and one on iron soils. Up to 80%-90% of the fruit was whole-bunch fermented and was then matured for a further 14 months in 15% new French oak barrels, old oak barrels and also foudre.

Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines Syrah 2018, WO Swartland, 13.5% Abv.

This is a very expressive wine with complex aromatics loaded with grilled herbs, lavender, fresh bresaola, red berries, cherry cola and savoury black berry notes with a tantalising dusting of white pepper. The palate is full, fleshy, layered and impressively textured with a weightless harmonious clarity of savoury red and blue berry fruits, soft mellow acids and light airy tannins that show a fine liquid mineral schisty grip on the finish. A wonderfully supple Syrah expression that throws a spotlight on the impressive winemaking talents of the Mullineuxs. Drink now and over 10 to 15+ years.

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

The Iconic Swartland Porseleinberg Syrah 2018 Assessed and Reviewed…

Having seen the stick Christian Eedes (SA Winemag.co.za editor) received for posting a belated Porseleinberg Syrah 2018 review, long after it scored 100 points from Tim Atkin MW and also long after it had sold out, I approached the issue with a certain amount of circumspect. But sometimes great wines need to be reviewed and reassessed regardless of their first release status, so that secondary market consumers can add further perspective to their prospective purchases.

Like many regular consumers, I was ‘forced’ to make a decision on buying this wine without tasting, long before it arrived in the UK in 2020 due to the pandemic chaos. But like the Kanonkop Paul Sauer 2015, the Porseleinberg 100 point choice was fairly bullet proof from real criticism for Tim Atkin in the same manner scoring a modern Bordeaux first growth 100 points in a good vintage might be debatable yes, controversial, not at all.

I recently spent two evenings enjoying a bottle of this famed 2018 Syrah and became close bedfellows with this lastest release from Callie Louw and the Boekenhoutskloof stable.

Porseleinberg Syrah 2018, WO Swartland, 14% Abv.

The 2018 vintage yielded some very supple, pretty, lithe Syrahs with delicacy, elegance and seamless textures. Well known for its power and structure, this Porseleinberg shows a lighter, finer, more accessible expression with delicately savoury velvety tannins and fleshy red and black berry fruits. Initially quite reticent on opening, the nose slowly unfurls with aromatics laced with grilled herbs, cured meats, black liquorice, black olive tapenade and chargrilled meat nuances. The wine is more mineral than floral at this youthful stage yet still shows a lovely precision, intensity of black berry fruit and well judged oak handling. There’s a lovely tenderness and complexity to the wine that reminds you of just what a very special schistous terroir lies behind the production of this world class Syrah. Drink from 2023 to 2034+

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

Cartology 2019 – Chris Alheit Releases Another Prodigious Edition of His Old Vine Chenin Blanc Global Brand…

After the difficulties of the 2018 harvest, the fourth drought influenced vintage in a row, that produced small quantities of very high-quality wines, 2019 arrived after a winter with better rains and beckoned a vintage with heathier yields and higher volumes. While Chris waivered briefly a few years ago on the long-term future of the Cartology brand, a subsequent broader rejigging of some of the exceptional old vineyards that used to go into this wine ultimately led to a complete shake up of the range, and most importantly, the acquisition of the Nuwedam farm in the Swartland, the Paardeberg source of the Fire By Night brand, now renamed Broom Ridge.

But the Cartology Chenin Blanc based blend luckily remains central to the Alheit Family Wines long term plans. While it’s unclear how large volumes might grow one day, this wine remains one of the greatest success stories to emerge from the “New South Africa” and its winelands.

Alheit Family Wines Cartology 2019, WO Western Cape, 13% abv.

The 2019 expression of Chris Alheit’s sought-after megabrand is a blend of 90% Chenin Blanc and 10% Semillon (from La Colline) and stands as the benchmark reference point for his whole winemaking range and philosophy. Always normally requiring a bit of extra time in bottle to show at its expressive best, this delicious 2019 already reveals a wonderful balance and precision, focus and textural attention to detail. The aromatics are loaded with the now unmistakable Chenin Blanc notes of yellow orchard fruits, white peach, tangerines, wet thatch and orange peel zest with complexing waxy, honeycomb nuances. Cool, seamless and wonderfully balanced, the palate shows a lovely vein of tangy acidity that really brings the fruit flavours to life. Plush, concentrated and impressively glycerol already, this Cartology is showy and seductive but contains all the requisite stuffing required for 15+ years of ageing.

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

The Original Swartland Maverick Adi Badenhorst Presents His New 2021 Wine Releases…

The Kalmoesfontein farm is the home of Adi Badenhorst Family Wines situated in the Heart of the Paardeberg in the Swartland. An historic old farm, it was already planted with some of the oldest Grenache blocks in the country when Adi bought the farm in the mid-2000s. One of the original Swartland mavericks, Adi Badenhorst had already carved out a formidable winemaking reputation at Rustenburg before moving to the Swartland in 2006/7.

I recently caught up with Adi over a zoom tasting to taste a lovely array of his newest releases (from small decanted sample bottles which in some instances can affect a wine’s ultimate score detrimentally.)

AA Badenhorst New Releases:

AA Badenhorst Secateurs Chenin Blanc 2020, WO Swartland, 13% Abv.

Made from up to 30 vineyards from different terroirs with the juice often being blended in tanks and 30% fermented in wooden vats. No yeasts added, no acidification, focusing on an honest, affordable, non-manipulated Chenin Blanc with a lot of the fruit from old bush vines. The 2020 is packed with peach stone fruits, yellow orchard fruits, hints of wet thatch, green melon and green apple nuances with a fine textural mouthfeel, juicy acids and a peachy, pithy length. A very versatile wine that offers great value for money.

(Wine Safari Score: 88/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

AA Badenhorst Secateurs Riviera Chenin Blanc 2020, WO Swartland, 13% Abv.

A component of the Secateurs that was bottled on its own in 2018 for the first time using layers of fruit in tank to get carbonic maceration and skin contact. Mostly Chenin Blanc with a splash of Grenache Blanc. Then they draw off components of the wine at different stages and no sulphur is added. The wine is picante and aromatic, spicy and complex with delicious notes of tangerine peel, oranges, sea breeze and kelp and crunchy peaches. Definite skin contact aromas and subtle skin contact flavours on the palate but nothing enough to scare off novices. Texturally it’s full, glycerol harmonious and round and just a lovely complex glassful of wine.

(Wine Safari Score: 89/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

AA Badenhorst Sout van die Aarde Palomino 2019, WO Swartland, 13.5% Abv.

Another unique wine from Adi. Up the west coast, so one of the only vineyards quite a distance from Kalmoesfontein. Grapes from old vines (planted 1950s & 1970s) are grown in limestone chalky sandy soils, pressed and fermented in vats. The nose is pure sea breeze and oyster shell with back notes of grapefruit, white citrus and limestone minerality. On the palate, the 2019 is soft and fleshy, textured and harmonious with a cool, glycerol density, weightless concentration and a soft, almost creamy, salty finish. No edges, fabulous balance and just a pleasure to drink. 

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

AA Badenhorst Family White Blend 2018, WO Swartland, 14% Abv.

Made from 10 to 12 different varieties, the grapes are all sourced from the Swartland and the wine tries to represent the region instead of a specific variety or style but with all grapes grown on decomposed Granite soils. The nose is pithy and spicy with hints of pear, fynbos, dry thatch and back ground hints of tangerine, naartjie, peach and green apples. The palate is crisp, crystalline, pure and bright with a lovely harmonious balance, a delicate lick of vanilla and oak, subtle savoury lees characters and a long, sweet / sour intense finish loaded with pineapple pastille and yellow rock candy. Powerful, intense and textural. A really lovely Swartland expression. 

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

AA Badenhorst Golden Slopes Chenin Blanc 2019, WO Swartland, 12.5% Abv.

Another superb single vineyard bottled by Adi, the 2019 Golden Slopes Chenin Blanc is an old vines vineyard grown on decomposed granite soils and often tends to shine as one of Adi’s most accomplished expressions of Chenin Blanc. Planted at 320m above sea level on granite, with heavier clay rich soils. The heavier soils yield a more unctuous, textural Chenin expression loaded with white peach, pithy yellow orchard fruits, granitic dust and a lovely round, rich glycerol textured palate wth fabulous intensity and superb length. What not to love about this wine?

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

AA Badenhorst Klip Kop Chenin Blanc 2019, WO Swartland, 13% Abv.

Old vine bush vines near the Golden Slopes vineyard but just a bit lower down the slope or around 120 metres lower down at 200 metres above sea level, located on a rocky outcrop with more austere soils which comes through on the more steely, mineral nature of the wine. The aromatics are austere and picante, mineral and tense, loaded with stony, granitic white citrus, white grapefruit, green apple and crushed rocks. The palate is pure and linear, with a glassy defined vein of acidity and a pure, crunchy peach stone fruit finish. I love the tension, the nervous energy married to a harmonious equilibrium. Superb.

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

AA Badenhorst Family Red Blend 2018, /WO Swartland, 13.5% Abv.

Another of Adi’s signature wines, using 5 to 6 different varieties fermented in concrete, some portions in tank and then they are transferred back into concrete with around 10,000 bottles produced. Nose shows delicious complexity with savoury, meaty, red fruited notes with hints of back currant, black olive tapenade and raw marinated meat. The palate shows a lovely balance and elegance, textural finesse and seamless mouthfeel where one variety melts into the other. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. A truly delicious wine. 

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

AA Badenhorst Family Ramnasgras Cinsault 2019, WO Swartland, 12.5% Abv.

Located next to the Raaigras Grenache vineyard, located on the farm and always shows a unique character from vines planted in the early 1960’s. The secret to quality is old vines, low cropping and well tended vineyards. The nose is jam packed full of savoury red berry fruits, sun raisined cranberry, red cherry, Turkish delight and rose petals perfume but with this Swartland expression showing another layer of earthy red currant fruit, Sous Bois and leafy sapidity. On the palate the texture is cool and creamy, fabulous textural balance and finesse with silky, chalky tannins, a soft fleshy depth and an almost Pinot Noir elegance and mouthfeel. Really impressive.

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

AA Badenhorst Family Raaigras Grenache 2019, WO Swartland, 14% Abv.

A wonderfully exotic, perfumed wine that is supposed to come from the oldest Grenache vineyard in South Africa planted in the 1950s. There is a lovely creamy, savoury, earthy red berry intensity with super polished tannins, an incredibly finessed palate texture and a long, bramble berry, cranberry and rose hip finish. This 2019 shows some of the most harmonious elegance I’ve seen on any of Adi’s reds and really is a true hommage to this ancient vineyard. Bravo!

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

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)

The Judgement of Wimbledon – Assessing Some of the World’s Greatest Grenache Reds in a Blind Tasting…

It all started a few years ago when Roland Peens of Cape Town wine merchant Wine Cellar held a blind Grenache Taste-Off with some of the most famous expressions from around the world. In an astonishing result, the Naude Family Wines Grenache 2014 trumped the competition coming out top against examples that included several wines from French icon producer Chateau Rayas. This was a result that would go a long way in establishing the cult status of the maiden Naude 2014 Grenache.

Some years later in December 2017, the Naude Grenache 2014 was put through its paces once again being pitched in a blind tasting featuring several top examples of Grenache including three wines from Chateau Rayas. In a repeat of the famous Cape Town result, the Naude Grenache 2014 triumphed yet again in spectacular fashion and this tasting became known as the Judgement of Chiswick, named after the location of the superb Michelin starred La Trompette restaurant where the tasting was held. The write-up of this tasting can be read here… https://gregsherwoodmw.com/2017/12/09/creating-a-future-icon-wine-tasting-the-incredible-naude-grenache-2014-blind-with-chateau-rayas-at-the-judgement-of-chiswick/

After only one vintage, Ian unfortunately lost the contract to the fruit from this vineyard and with the maiden Naude Grenache 2014 red riding high in the market, no further releases were forthcoming… that is until 2019, when Ian managed to once again agree access to the fruit from this vineyard that was now nearing 24 years old. With a December 2020 release of this new wine scheduled by Ian Naude, myself together with two of the original judges from the Judgement of Chiswick decided it was time to put the new 2019 vintage to the test against some of the most sturdy international Grenache competition available.

Tasting with Barry and Riaan

In the past few years since the original tastings, the extraordinary Grenache wines from the Sierra de Gredos situated west of Madrid have seduced the world’s top wine critics with their precision, perfume, old vine structure and purity. Spain in general has seen a notable Grenache wine revolution unfold to include high altitude, old vine expressions from Rioja, Navarra, Priorat and Madrid. The blind line up this year would include some spectacular examples including the 100 RP Comando G Rumbo al Norte 2018, the 100 RP Les Manyes 2016 from Terrior Al Limit and also a 98 RP Les Amis 2015 Grenache from Australia’s Torbreck estate in the Barossa. Of course no line up would be complete without the original Naude Grenache 2014 as well as a young vine expression Ian Naude made in 2017 as an entry level offering primarily for the UK market, under the A Naude Wine label.

Below are my own notes and scores on the wines tasted blind:

1 – Bernabeleva Garnacha de Vina Bonita 2016, DO Vinos de Madrid, 14% Abv.

Intense aromatics of liquid minerality, crushed granite with notes of dried herbs and sappy oak spice with an underlay of supporting vermouth botanical herbs. Palate is cool and precise, layered with chalky tannins, some chewy grip and a wild herb, red candied cherry and wet river stone finish. 92+/100 GSMW

2 – Naude Family Wines A Naudé Grenache 2017, WO Western Cape, 13.5% Abv.

Deep rich and broody with bold dark fruited berry aromatics, graphite, pithy red plum and botanical spices. The palate is crystalline and pure, vibrant and lifted with bright juicy acids, creamy caramelised cranberry and red cherry and a cool, harmonious finish. Dense ripe tannins but seamless. Each sip beckons another. 95-96/100 GSMW

3 – Terroir Al Limit Les Manyes 2016, DOC Priorat, 14% Abv.

A little more complexity and evolution on the nose with hints of bramble berry, sweet kirsch liquor, sweet tobacco, wet tannery leather and wild stewed black plums. Fabulously seamless snd fleshy, there is incredible harmony and balance, depth and breadth on the palate. The finish focused and intense with subtle sweet red currant, graphite, brambly spice and fine powdery dusty tannins. Classy. 96+/100 GSMW

4 – 4 Monos Cien Lanzas Cenicientos 2016, Vino de Pueblo, Sierra de Gredos, 14.5% Abv.

This wine has pretty aromatics with showy sweet red berry fruits, stewed red cherries and red plum confit. Generous, fleshy and suave this has a wonderful harmonious texture, glycerol weight and a spicy, sappy bramble berry finish. Not quite the extreme complexity of the other wines but absolutely delicious. 93/100 GSMW

5 – Sadie Family Wines Old Vine Series Soldaat 2017, WO Piekenierskloof, 13.5% Abv.

Another deep and complex nose with broody bramble berry fruit, sappy spice, rose water and subtle botanical herbal spice. Full, round and expressive, it shows intensity and richness without sweetness or showy extravagance. Lovely weight and balance, this is another classy Grenache. 94/100 GSMW

6 – Comando G Viticultores Vino de Parcela Rumbo al Norte 2018, Villanueva de Avila, Valle de Alto Albereche, Sierra de Gredos, 14% Abv.

This red shows exotic spicy lift with subtle reductive hints of graphite, tar, black cherry, pink musk, green olive and smoky, spicy dried lavender. Palate shows lovely weight and depth, a glycerol opulent weight, smoky spicy fruits, powder tannin and a waxy liquid mineral finish. Intense, focused expression. 95-96/100 GSMW

7 – Naude Family Wines Grenache 2014, WO Western Cape, 14% Abv.

Big expressive aromatic profile with sweet cherry kirsch liquor, sweet vermouth herbs, spicy red plums and caramelised red berries. There is an oak influence but more than adequately balanced by a sweet red fruit intensity, vermouth sweetness, dried mint leaf, bramble berry herbal notes and then a more purer fruit expression emerging on the finish. 97/100 GSMW

8 – Aseginolaza & Leunda Camino de Otsaka 2018, Vino de la Tierra, 14.5% Abv.

Lovely lush dark berry fruited nose with lactic red & black berry complexity, milk chocolate and a Logan berry complexity. Perhaps a subtle lick of oak mingling with creamy cherry kirsch liquor, bright tangy acids and a finish that seems perfectly endless. Massive intensity, concentration and finesse tied together with delicious acids. This is just lovely if not a little more extrovert and opulent than the others. 94/100

9 – Naude Family Wines Grenache 2019, WO Western Cape, 12% Abv.

This shows a fascinating aromatic profile of crystalline red berry fruits, pure cranberry boiled sweets, hints of saline creme de cassis and tart red cherry coulis. Fabulous freshness, purity and linearity follows to the palate that shows well judged reductive spicy graphite hints, chalky stony tannins and a liquid mineral finish with a polished, accessible structure. Lighter touch style with elegance and finesse chosen over horsepower. 94+/100

10 – Torbreck Les Amis Grenache 2015, Barossa Valley, 15.5% Abv.

A big, full opulent expression with deep broody black berry fruit notes, sweet caramelised red plums, sweet kirsch liquor and a slightly brûléed edge. The palate follows the nose with slightly brûléed, caramelised notes, with hints of coffee bean, vanilla spice and creamy oak. Slightly obvious but fabulously punchy. 95+/100

The Judges’ Individual Blind Results:

Judge 1 (BvB)

1 – No 7

2 – No 6

3 – No 2

Judge 2 (RPot)

1 – No 6

2 – No 3

3 – No 2

Judge 3

1 – No 7

2 – No 5

3 – No 2

Judge 4 (GSMW)

1 – No 7  97

2 – No 3  96+

3 – No 2  95-96

4 – No 6  95-96

5 – No 10  95+

6 – No 9  94+

7 – No 5  94

8 – No 8  94

9 – No 4  93

10 – No 1 92+

Overall Group Results:

1st Place Wine – Naude Family Wines Grenache 2014 (No.7)

2nd Place Wine – Terroir Al Limit Les Manyes 2016 (No.3)

3rd Place Wine – A Naude Wine Grenache 2017 (No.2)

When the grand reveal was made at the end of the tasting after the scores were collated, all judges were surprised how well the Naude Grenache 2014 performed yet again, however, it was the almost unanimous third place for Ian’s ‘baby Grenache’ from 2017 that really blew everyone’s mind. Nobody expected this wine to feature in the top half of the ratings due to the formidable brands tasted alongside it. But this wine was of course rated 94 points in Decanter Magazine last year and also received a very solid 92 points from the world’s most famous reviewer, Neal Martin, writing in his 2019 South Africa Report for Vinous.com – His note for this wine was…

“The 2017 Grenache, from young Wellington vines with 80% whole bunches, is more reticent on the nose than the Cinsault 2017, offering dark berry fruits, fynbos and light rose petal scents. It needs a little more coaxing than I expected. The palate is medium-bodied with fine tannins that frame the maraschino cherry and strawberry fruit. There is moderate depth and a fleshy, sous-bois-tinged finish. Very fine.” 92/100 Neal Martin, Vinous

As for the new Naude Family Wines Grenache 2019, for such a young wine, it performed exceptionally well, lining up just behind some of the highest rated Grenaches in the world. With only a half point difference between my blind rating (94+) and my sighted review (95), I think this wine will equal and probably surpass the heights achieved by the 2014 as I truly believe that the 2019 is a more focused and accomplished wine. It has just been commercially released in South Africa, so do order some for your cellar!

This was a fabulously fun event to take part in and a special word of thanks should go to Barry van Bergen for hosting the tasting in Wimbledon and to Riaan Potgieter for helping to put together a seductive range of wines. Congratulations Ian and Merry Christmas!!