“Craig Hawkins has long been experimenting, pushing the boundaries and finding new ways to bring us wine in its most unadulterated form.” A wonderful sound bite pinched from Roland Peens at Wine Cellar, one of Craig’s biggest retail sellers in South Africa. So it’s not surprising that his wines have an insatiable cult following among consumers, connoisseurs and sommeliers around the world primarily because the wines excel at representing site, terroir and authenticity.
‘Natural wine is simple: organically farmed at the very least in the vineyard, no added yeast or acid or tannin, in fact, nothing added except small amounts of SO2 if need be… and no fining/filtration.’ – Craig Hawkins
Testalonga El Bandito Monkey Gone to Heaven 2016, WO Swartland, 13 Abv.
This 15 year old vineyard has yielded some delicious Mourvèdre fruit from this dry 2016 vintage. But of course this variety is normally very at home with hot dry conditions and prospers successfully in the hot South of France where it needs warmth to ripen fully. This expression from the Swartland has an appealing nose of dried potpourri, black chocolate and peppermint crisp combining with aromatics of garrigue, dried herbs, thyme, sweet green peppercorns and dry fynbos. But there is also plenty of complex black berry fruit on the palate mixing with black olive tapenade, chalky mineral spice, hints of graphite and a tantalising fresh black currant herbal tea infusion on the finish. Another classic over achieving wine from Craig Hawkins. Drink now to 2028+.
Already described as one of the finest and most exciting Grenache reds made in South Africa, 2017 saw this wine introduced to some of my biggest collectors and connoisseur clients in London. Many had heard of the blind tasting held in South Africa pitching the Naude Grenache against the world famous Chateau Rayas from the Southern Rhône. So after a certain amount of planning and diary co-ordinating, the Naude Grenache was again pitched against two Chateau Rayas wines in a small blind line up at one of London’s top Michelin Star restaurants, La Trompette in Chiswick, West London, owned by restauranteurs Nigel Platts-Martin and Bruce Poole.
In the blind line up with the Naude Grenache 2014 was the David & Nadia Grenache 2013, Chateau Rayas Chateauneuf du Pape Pignan Reserve 2007, and Chateau Rayas Chateauneuf du Pape Reserve 2004.
The grapes for the Naude Grenache come from an 8 year old vineyard in the Paardeberg in the Swartland which was renowned for its 2 to 3 week slower ripening in previous seasons, allowing the fruit to mature and ripen more slowly and evenly. A combination of whole bunch, destemmed grapes and stalks were fermented in a stainless steel tank with one or two gentle pump overs per day before being pressed off into 225L French oak barrels for 12 to 15 months. The wine was first released in 2015 with a 14 Abv., 1.3 RS g/L, 6g/L TA, and a 3.37 pH.
Naude Grenache 2014, Swartland, 14 Abv.
The wines colour seems to have gained a little extra depth of colour in the past year showing a crystalline red plum and red cherry glow. The nose is spectacular with a most complex and evocative perfume of violets, lavender, cherry blossom, polished oak, frais des boisses, cured meats, marzipan, red plums and red cherry confit. Just so much going on and so much depth and earthy complexity. The palate shows a fine sleek medium bodied texture, impressive tension and delicious expressive wild strawberry, bramble berries, cut hedge row, Chinese five spice and subtle sappy peppery spice on the finish. Such lovely cool freshness, intensity, focus and polish, without being at all heavy at 14 Abv. A wonderfully classic Grenache with subtle mineral balance and real personality. This wine is a towering achievement in the unfolding history of South African Grenache. Drink now and over the next 20+ years.
(Wine Safari Score: 95+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Over a fantastic meal, the reds were served blind by the sommelier in his chosen order. The Naude was served first followed by the David & Nadia 2013 Grenache which showed great purity, linearity, polished granitic tannins and crystalline red fruits. While the mid palate felt a little flat footed some guests commented, overall this was another accomplished wine. (92+/100 GS).
Next up was the Rayas Pignan 2007. This instantly showed great ripeness, fruit weight and some earthy, jammy, bruleed red fruit notes. Perhaps in hind sight, a little more evolved than we would expect such a youthful Pignan to be. (91/100 GS) Finally, the Chateau Rayas 2004. Along with the Naude, these two wines were considered the most profound and impressive of the flight. Despite the 13 years of age, the 2004 was youthful, taught, focused and beautifully balanced with real black cherry and stony raspberry fruit precision, mineral tannins and bright pure acids. True class evident for all to see. (94+/100 GS)
La Trompette’s famous sour dough waffle with egg, chanterelle mushrooms and truffle.
With the blind results in, the Naude Grenache 2014 came out on top again by a whisker … and “the Judgement of Chiswick” was forever etched into the history of South African fine wine.
Langoustine tails and butternut.
The amazing recently disgorged Ca del Bosco Dosage Zero 2001 method champenoise sparkling wine.
Etienne Sauzet Chevalier Montrachet Grand Cru 2001 Burgundy.
Well, it’s that time of year when we gather to bid farewell to fine wine friend Keith Prothero before he decamps to the Cape for the summer / UK Winter. I volunteered to organise the lunch finale with Bruce Poole, co-owner of Chez Bruce, Keith’s favourite restaurant in London and below is a little snap shot of the epic wines consumed. All wines were tasted blind before they were revealed.
First up, a vibrant, tantalising Clos des Goisses 1996 Champagne from Philipponnat with a fine leesy biscuit lift and a pronounced, creamy citrus note. Beautiful definition, purity, and a salty briney undertone that melts away into dusty lemon, buttered toast and a crisp, vibrant finish with great structure. A good bottle drinking at its peak. (96/100 GS)
The first flight of five whites started with an impressive Niepoort Coche White Blend 2011, briming with creamy peachy yellow fruits, lovely struck match reduction, ample minerality, woodsmoke, cassis leaf, wet slate, and wonderfully fine depth. I loved the tension and profound, subtle, buttery depth. Truly one of Portugal’s finest still white wines. Malcolm Thwaites, who has just recently visited Dirk Niepoort during harvest, actually called the wine amazingly! (95+/100 GS)
Next up, Keith’s Sandhi Sanford & Benedict 2011 Chardonnay. Initially smokey and seductive, with intense saline notes, lemon and lime cordial richness, huge concentration, this was a complete ringer for an old world Burgundian grand vin. Only after it had sat in the glass for a while, did it finally start to reveal some exotic new world fruit notes. A monumental effort from California and the ultimate ringer capable of fooling even the most talented tasters. (96/100 GS)
The Sandhi was followed by one of the truly great white wines of Burgundy, a superb bottle of J-F Coche Dury Meursault 2013. Wow, tasted blind, this was intensely taught, pin point, and precise showing lime, stoney liquid minerals, crushed limestone tension and focus. Very intense with seamless texture, regal mineral complexity, subtle passion fruit hints and great rigour on the finish. “Wines like this should challenge the senses, not entertain them!” was a very poignant comment from Nigel Platts Martin. (96/100 GS)
At these lunches, we always seem to open our “back up bottles” even when not required, and here again, my Didier Dagueneau Buisson Menard Pouilly Fume 1997 was added to the first flight. An interesting bottle, it had tasters scratching their heads endlessly as the wine unfurled in the glass. Plenty of white peach, passion fruit, pineapple and stoney minerality were in evidence. Beautifully exotic with a mercurial dry finish. “A bit of an upstart”… but certainly showed its class in my mind. (93/100 GS)
Just as we were about to move on to the reds, we were treated to another late addition and definite rarity. A fine bottle of Raveneau Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos 2002. The initial nose was quite lactic, with hints of cottage cheese and cream, yet also full of oyster shell, fennel, pineapple and aniseed. There was a touch of wet dog to the wine combined with great minerality which led many of us to the Loire. But this was classic, elegant, fresh, super fine Grand Cru Chablis at its best and developed wonderfully in the glass. (94/100 GS)
The first three reds revealed a Rhoney theme but with a few twists. First up was Neal Martin’s amazing Jaboulet Cornas 1972 that showed a bouquet of rich brûlée oranges, savoury cured meats, and cherry confit. Rich and textural, this beautifully lifted wine sang a wonderful melody, and while mature, was thoroughly enchanting. So typical of the Northern Rhone, almost all at the table plumped for Hermitage or even perhaps a great vintage of Crozes-Hermitage. La Chapelle was even mentioned. But Cornas it was. I would have expected a little more blood and iron for a Cornas but perhaps the Jaboulet personality was shinning through more than the appellation’s terroir. A real treat. (93+/100 GS)
The wine that followed was younger and required a bit more thought. Beaucastel Chateauneuf du Pape Hommage a Jacques Perrin 2000. Very complex Mourvèdre dominated wine (60%) loaded with black berry and bramble fruits with saddle leather, cured meats, liquorice, tar and sweet earthy black fruit notes. Dense and concentrated, this was a delicious grand vin wine almost certainly drunk too young. Give this classic another decade at least. (96+/100 GS)
So we were well and truly treading a Rhone path, when the next red from Alex Lake had us all a bit fooled. A Giaconda Warner Vineyard Shiraz 2002 was not to my memory picked out as New World by anyone. Smoky lifted nose with granite dust, aniseed root, and earthy black berries, this was a very compact, focused wine with plenty of tension, crisp acids, and a subtle, restrained, savoury boxwood and pepper corn spice finish. A very smart wine that along with the Mullineux reds, is one of the few new world Syrahs / Shirazes Keith openly admits to drinking! Nice to taste this wine again with more age, but still a long life ahead of it. (95/100 GS)
The next pair of reds charmed some more than others, but as a devout Italian fine wine lover, the next two reds had me weak at the knees, (or was that the previous 10 bottles?). An utterly sublime Soldera Case Basse Brunello di Montalcino 1999 was bursting with sweet cherry blossom perfume, savoury earthy notes, saddle leather and wet tobacco, gun smoke, and graphite. Plenty of energy, this really was a superb, seductive hedonistic red full of character. (96+/100 GS)
To partner the Soldera was another real rarity ~ a Valdicava Madonna Del Piano Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 1990. Not a wine you come across very often anymore, this wine had all the archetypal power and prowess Valdicava’s Riserva’s are so famous for, except this one was finally giving an impression that despite being beautifully fresh and vital, it was approaching peek drinkability after 27 years! Dark and smoky, dense and dusty, it was quite saline, tight and precise, with pithy caramelised cherry fruits, grilled herbs, leather, graphite, aniseed and meaty savoury bramble berry depth. Very fine acids and also a touch of VA just to add more lift and complexity. The Riserva can be a hard wine to understand in its youth, or when James Suckling scores them 100 points, like with the 2010. But after tasting a maturing vintage like this, a lot of puzzle pieces fall into place. (96+/100 GS)
At this point, we were all amazed that no Burgundy or Bordeaux had featured in the flights yet! But the next wine broke the drought. A most majestic Chateau Cheval Blanc 1985 from St Emilion. This was a real treat and must be one of my favourite vintages of Cheval Blanc. Loaded with black berry fruits, gun powder, briary, and aniseed notes, it was also so vibrant, energetic and packed full of saline cassis, a touch of ink, leafy spice, sandalwood and buttered brown toast. Drinking in the perfect harmonious mid point between youth and maturity. For me, a top right bank Bordeaux ready to drink does not get much better than this. (98/100 GS)
The last red was possibly another late addition, hence it was not included in the Rhone flight. But in many ways, it received more deserving attention being served in isolation. A contender for wine of the lunch, the Les Cailloux Chateauneuf du Pape Cuvée Centenaire 1990 from Lucien & Andre Brunel was indeed profound. A solid 100 pointer on the Wine Advocate scale, Robert Parker once described this wine as one of the greatest vintages ever made at the estate. This bottle was deliciously saline, rich, intense and dense but never tipping over to heavy in anyway. Sleek, crystalline, and supremely elegantly textured, this wine is still so youthful, fresh and perfumed, showing its true class. A really profound wine. (98/100 GS)
To accompany a most delicious cheese dessert course, two sublime sweet wines were served. The iconic Mullineux Olerasay No.1 Chenin Blanc NV made from a Solera system. The word that encapsulates this wine is effortless harmony. It is neither too sweet nor too unctuous, merely finely balanced and beautifully intense. A lot of effort goes into making straw wines of this quality, and this blend deserves a big score if for no other reason, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Amazing wine. (98/100 GS)
Before we could cross our T’s and dot our I’s, we were treated to another profound dessert wine ~ the Reinhold Heart Ohligsberger 2010 Mosel Eiswein. After a long afternoon of intense, thought provoking fine wines, nothing could possibly refresh the senses better than a delicious, vibrant glass of rapier fresh Eiswein. Packed full of lemon and lime cordial notes, white peaches, and sweet yellow grapefruit, the acidity balanced the sugar brilliantly and was the perfect ending to a fascinating afternoon of fine wine and of course exceptional Michelin starred food.
Bon voyage Keith, I am sure most of us will still be talking about many of these wines by the time you return in 6 months time.
One of the original young gun pioneers of the Swartland, Adi Badenhorst is making some startling single vineyard wines from Palomino, Chenin Blanc and Grenache. They are all very impressive examples of specific varieties that seem to be excelling in the hot, dry vineyards of the Cape.
The Raaigras Grenache is made from possibly the oldest registered vineyard of this varietal in the Cape on his Kalmoesfontein farm and the 2015 is only his second release of this single vineyard old vine red.
Where Adi’s version differs from many of the others on the market, is the level of minerality, tannin and structure he illicit from his old vine fruit while managing to retain a modest alcohol of only 12.5 Abv. Quantities produced are tiny, so if you manage to track this one down, snap it up and pop it in your cellar.
AA Badenhorst Family Wines Raaigras Grenache 2015, WO Swartland 12.5 Abv.
This is must be one of South Africa’s best Grenache reds. Coming from old vines planted on Adi Badenhorst’s farm on the decomposed granite hills of the Paardeberg, Swartland in 1951, this wine shows such Grenache purity, power and authenticity. Made using only old oak and 30% whole bunches, the fragrant perfume is intoxicating, showing fraises des bois, parma violets, lavender, dried rose petals, bramble berry fruits, garrigue, and a delicious, savoury bresaola cured meat complexity. Plenty of textural precision, the more this wine opens up, the more minerally pronounced the tannins become, finishing with an intense, rasping granitic dry grip. Plenty of mineral tension, the finish remains very pure with great clarity and purpose together with the most alluring vermouth botanical herbal complexity. Drink now with food or age for another 3 to 5 years before cracking into your case. This one promises a long drinking curve, 10 to 15+ years. Well done Adi.
Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines is on top of its game at the moment. Inspired by the successful range extension with their uber premium but equally high quality Leeu Passant wines, it seems Chris and Andrea can do no wrong. But of course their phenomenal success globally is purely down to good old hard work in the vineyards and the winery. When you make outstanding wines, marketing and selling them becomes an altogether easier, more enjoyable endeavour.
Grapes for their 2015 Granite Chenin were sourced from 2 parcels of sustainably farmed old vine, dry farmed bush vines planted in the decomposed Granite soils of the Paardeberg. The vineyards are 39 and 43 years old. These very deep decomposed Granite soils tend to produce wines with great acidity and a flinty, stony aromatic profile. Grapes were harvested between the 29th January and 6th February 2015 with a yield of 6 tons/ha (30HL/ha).
Grapes were first chilled in their cold room then pressed whole-bunch and the juice allowed to settle overnight. Minimal SO2 is added and, as with all their wines, no further additions are made. The juice is then racked to barrel for fermentation which is with indigenous yeasts and lasts for about 4 weeks. The wine is left in barrels, on its lees, until spring, during which time malolactic fermentation has completed. The barrels are then racked and blended just before the following vintage and bottled unfiltered. 12 months in 3rd and 4th fill French oak barrels. Alcohol 13.5%, RS 1.6 g/l, TA 5.6 g/l, pH 3.3.
Mullineux Granite Chenin Blanc 2015, WO Swartland, 13.5 Abv
A beautifully crafted wine from the Mullineuxs, this single terroir expression of Chenin Blanc shows incredibly flinty minerality and salinity. The nose bursts with crushed granite dust, lemon grass, dried herbs, and dried orange peel. I love the austerity and dried grass spice. The aromatic breadth and complexity follows to the palate except the volume is turned up a few notches. Pin point purity, intense electric acids and amplified tangerine and orange citrus zest cloak the palate and almost overwhelm the senses. A very measured, well proportioned wine with extra concentration and acid intensity to suggest a long life lies ahead if we’ll cellared. Drink now to 2030+
David Sadie was born and bred in the Swartland and studied viticulture and oenology at the University of Stellenbosch. It was there that he met and later married Nadia, a qualified soil scientist and viticulturalist. Together, they have crafted some of the most profound wines coming out of South Africa.
I became acquainted with the single vineyard wines a few years back when David was making 3 different versions. Last year, the 2015 Hoe Steen Chenin Blanc trounced all before it in the annual Decanter Magazine Blind South African Chenin Blanc Tasting, scoring an eye watering 98 point consensus with all three judges. Well yes, I was one of the three judges and I stand by my score, blind or sighted.
Sadly, the 2015 stock disappeared like a small rain puddle evaporating in the midday heat of the Karoo dessert. But what do you expect when only just over 300 bottles or one barrel were produced. In 2016, David bottled two single vineyard wines, the Hoe Steen and the Skaliekop Chenin Blanc.
Made from dry land farmed bush vines planted in 1968 on decomposed granite based soils with Koffee Klip and Quartz on top, on the western side of Malmesbury. The grapes were wholebunch pressed using minimal sulphur during the short cold settling for the juice before being wracked into barrel for spontaneous fermentation and malolactic fermentation. The wine ages for around 12 months in two old 400 litre French oak barrels. In 2016, production was upped to a massive 530 bottles. pH 3.41, RS 3.0 g/l, TA 5.5 g/l, total SO2 127 mg/l.
David & Nadie Hoe Steen Chenin Blanc 2016, WO Swartland, 13.39 Abv.
Like many of the 2016 Chenin Blancs, this wine displays more subtlety, restraint, elegance and finesse with a slightly more refined, fine boned structure than the big, broad, intense 2015 expressions. The nose is more delicate and soft spoken, showing white peach, crunchy green pear, tangerine peel, fynbos, baking herbs, and incredible dusty, crushed granite mineral lift. The palate is electric and fresh with a dry lemon, rasping mineral intensity, subtle smoky reduction and picante spice notes. Like the 2015, there are beautiful, beguiling saline maritime notes that spar with the bold zippy acids. This vintage is all about speaking intelligently with authority and sophistication rather than preaching in a loud, punchy, doctrinal style. The extra restraint, twinned with balance, harmony and inner core tension make for another profound Chenin Blanc expression. Drink now or keep for 8 to 15+ years.
Having just tasted Duncan Savage’s new 2016 Are We There Yet? Touriga Nacional based blend, reinforced again what great potential these “alternative” warm climate varieties have in a future South African wine landscape. While this was Duncan’s first release, Eben Sadie on the other hand is already half a decade into the Treinspoor releases.
Made from 42 year old Tinta Barocca sourced from a vineyard in the Swartland, the 2016 new release appears to have reached a nouveau of quality not seen before for this variety in South Africa. This latest bottling rides on a wave of lifted perfumed perfection, with intense red cherry pastille, parma violets, rose water and sweet jasmine all mingling with seductive, piecing red and black bramble berry fruits. The palate shows a vibrant focus and purity of fruit I don’t recall ever seeing to this degree on this wine before. There are lashings of sweet cherry sherbet bon bons, pink musk sweets, red currant confit , purple nastergal (African nightshade berry), and tart Victoria plums. Wonderful concentration, palate tingling acidity freshness and superb harmonious depth. The ‘poor cousin’ in the Old Vine Series has just hit the jackpot and is riding high. Drink now to 2030+
(Wine Safari Score: 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
I guess it makes complete sense then when Eben says he feels that this red grape Tinta Barocca “might well transport the Swartland Terroir best into liquid form, purely because it captures the soils and the earthiness of the place.”
Eben regarded his 2015 as the most refined version ever, but for me, the 2016 I tasted surpasses even this monumental achievement.