Tasting The Luxurious Wines of Domaine de la Romanee Conti From The Classical 2017 Vintage…

It’s a real anomaly that Domaine de la Romanee Conti releases its new vintage allocations one year after most of burgundy’s producers. So while we finish off the small but swift Burgundy En-primeur 2019 campaign, DRC are only about to release their “in bottle” 2018 vintage wines. But in South Africa, the official DRC agent Great Domaines operates yet another year behind with the 2017 vintage allocations only now going out to a handful of very lucky consumers.

But it was this fact that reminded me that the DRC tasting in London was one I did manage to attend before the UK went into lockdown in late March 2020. So time to post my notes on these rarified wines which are some of the most sought after hedonistic Pinot Noir cuvees known to man.

2017 was the first truly generous vintage for the domaine since 2009 yielding wines packed with generosity, energy, refinement and utter charm that expressed a more classical interpretation of intricate structure, power, intensity and length.

The grandes Dame of the UK wine trade Jancis Robinson MW melting in the presence of “the Pope”…

The vintage was marked by three significant events, namely a threatening frost between the 27th and 29th April, the second a wonderfully early and fast flowering over three days at the end of May, and lastly, a final notable event being the retirement, after 39 years, of Maitre de Chai Bernard Noblet. In the end, when the final bottling was completed in the Spring of 2019, another exceptional vintage had been completed at the world’s most famous wine estate.

Domaine de la Romanee Conti Corton Grand Cru 2017

A fabulously bright and inviting nose greets you with lifted perfumed offerings of crushed red cherry, strawberry compote, violets and earthy red plum. The palate is vibrant and fresh with more classicism, tension and restraint than seen from more riper recent vintages like 2015 and 2016. All the hallmark harmonious balance is on display with a fine mineral under vein, powdery tannins and a fine focused finish of moderate length.

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

Domaine de la Romanee Conti Echezeaux Grand Cru 2017

The Echezeaux displays a strikingly darker fruited nose than the Corton with complex black berry notes, earthy black currant, dark orchard fruits together with alluring notes of sappy wood spice and pink musk. The entry is pure and focused with a crystalline purity of red cherries moving to a mid palate of red and black bramble berries and wild strawberry before becoming slightly more reticent again on the stony, mineral finish. Again, a wine that speaks of the vintage through its elegance and classicism.

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

Domaine de la Romanee Conti Grands Echezeaux Grands Cru 2017

This is a serious offering with perhaps less lift, overt opulence and sex appeal but hides a finely tuned V8 engine under the fine structured curves of its bodywork. There is ample fragrant dark black berry fruits, black bramble berries and a sweet wood spice underpinned by sweet plump chalky tannins, full glycerol concentrated weight and an impressively balanced fruit – acid balance. What this wine may miss now in immediacy and showiness, it more than makes up for with structural precision, classical power and an intense, harmonious long finish.

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

Domaine de la Romanee Conti Richebourg Grand Cru 2017

The aromatics of this expression show the intense stony dusty minerality of Burgundian terroir with notes of graphite and sappy spice lending further interest. The red cranberry and red cherry fruits are subtle and restrained in a way that classical Burg hounds would find highly appealing and reassuring in this age of global warming and ripe, showy vintages. There is nevertheless plenty of concentration, depth and broody structured power that should reveal all in years to come.

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

Domaine de la Romanee Conti Romanee St Vivant Grand Cru 2017

The RSV offers up a harmonious, complex melange of fine limestone dust, wood smoke, wet stones together with hints of cherry pip, forest strawberries and dark broody black orchard fruit notes. The palate is seductive and pure with crystalline red fruit notes, sleek polished marble tannins and a mouthwatering acid freshness. This has the perfect balance of power, minerality and fruit purity.

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

Domaine de la Romanee Conti La Tache Grand Cru 2017

Sweet, earthy red fruits, red bramble berry and sweet strawberry notes, with chalk spice, piquant minerality, wet stones and sappy chalk duster nuances. Palate is foursquare and fleshy with palate weight, breadth and expansive complexity of red musk, pink and purple rock candy and a silky, sensual, long persistent finish. Utterly sublime and probably wine of the vintage?

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

Domaine de la Romanee Conti Romanee Conti Grand Cru 2017

Deep dark and broody full of black bramble berry fruits, violets and cassis, salinity and sapidity. Crystalline and glassy with tension, taut tight fisted reticence and finely formed chalky mineral tannins. Broody, restrained and cloaked in mystery, there is subliminal power and depth, textural feel and potency that will come to the fore with time in bottle. One for the classical Burg lovers with deep pockets.

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

Tasting The Crystallum Whole Bunch Pinot Noir 2019 – A Truly Characterful Expression…

We all know Peter-Allan and Andrew Finlayson make some of the prettiest and accomplished Pinot Noirs in South Africa. With their family heritage and know how engendered in them by their father Peter Finlayson, top Pinot and Chardonnay has always been part of their DNA.

But when it comes to their Whole Bunch Pinot Noir cuvee, this small production endeavour has always been a vehicle for experimentation. Some drinkers, like myself, have certainly become besotted with previous vintages like the 2016 and 2018, but equally, I do realise it can be quite a divisive wine stylistically. In my mind, it probably comes down to how much French Burgundy one drinks and also from which domaines, which will decide your proclivity.

The 2019 was fermented using only native yeasts in small open top vessels. 100% whole bunches were employed. The wine spent a total of six weeks on the skins after which it went into French and Hungarian oak barrels (25% new) for 11 months ageing.

Crystallum Whole Bunch Pinot Noir 2019, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, 13.6% Abv.

pH 3.52 | TA 5.3 g/l | Total SO2 46 mg/l | RS 2.5 g/l | Only 1219 bottles

What a complex and intricate wine with aromatics that combine the best of the local terroir with fabulous whole bunch sapidity and minerality. Combine these notes with wild strawberry, cranberry, sun-dried cherry, bramble berry and sappy wood spice and you have the makings of a wonderful Pinot. The palate starts off a little raw, grippy and tight but with a little air quickly shows round supple notes of delicious black cherry, hoisin plum sauce, fresh fennel and spicy bramble berry fruits. The Whole Bunch has always been a bit of an outlier but wow, what an incredibly characterful wine. All the Whole Bunch wines normally need a bit of extra time to come around but in 2019, yet again, Peter-Allan knocks it out the park! Drink from 2022 to 2032+

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

The Crystallum wines are distributed in the UK by Liberty Wines.

Possibly the Greatest Value Red Wine in Piedmont ~ Tasting Produttori del Barbaresco Langhe Nebbiolo 2019…

This famed co-operative in Piedmont dates back to 1894; forced to close in the 1920s because of fascist economic rules, it was regenerated and revived in 1958 by the village priest of Barbaresco who recognized that the only way the small properties could survive long term was by joining forces and combining their efforts. Today the cooperative has 56 members and 100+ hectares of Nebbiolo vineyards in the Barbaresco appellation, which amounts to almost 1/6 of the vineyards of the area.

Their Langhe Nebbiolo in particular has long been one of the greatest and most profound value reds on the international wine market, recognised and lauded unanimously by critics far and wide. With murmurings of ‘another great vintage’ in 2019 possibly to rival 2016 being whispered by some producers last year, anticipation and excitement has been building steadily for the first Langhe Nebbiolo releases as these wines undoubtedly act as a harbinger of the future potential quality of Barbaresco and Barolo releases!

Produttori del Barbaresco Langhe Nebbiolo 2019, 14% Abv.

Produttori del Barbaresco makes its Langhe Nebbiolo with declassified Barbaresco fruit (often from parcels on lower slopes) so production volumes are notably reduced in the better vintages when more of the prime fruit finds its way into the delicious village Barbaresco DOCG or indeed one of the classy nine Cru Riservas. This young Nebbiolo is utterly seductive with intricate perfume that wafts out the glass in waves of wild strawberry, red cherry, violets and pink blossom and an underlying hint of garrigue, vermouth botanicals, blood orange and dry roasted nuts. Very classy and quite individual with exceptional quality year in, year out, the 2019 palate is sleek, silky and wonderfully fresh with a mouth watering acidity, youthful chalky tannins and a real melange of cranberry, red cherry, vermouth bitters and subtle liquorice nuances on the finish. Fabulously elegant and energetic, this vintage is ripe and characterful with impressive fruit concentration but also a supple, elegant texture. Another cracking vintage that should drink well over 6 to 8+ years.

(Wine Safari Score: 93/100 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.

Creation Estate’s New Release Emma Pinot Noir Battles it out for Supremacy with the New Art of Pinot Noir 2019 Cuvee…

The beautiful Creation Winery in the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge region of Walker Bay has established itself in a relatively short period of time as one of the quality benchmark producers for both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in South Africa. Originally from Switzerland, owner JC Martin together with his South African wife Carolyn (nee Finlayson), bought their original 22 hectares of virgin land in the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge and completed their cellar in time for their 2007 harvest. Their Walker Bay estate now encompasses 50 hectares planted with over 11 varieties, but focusing mainly on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Every year there is a mega battle of wills and palates (and maybe egos?) as JC Martin fights it out with his daughter Emma to see who will take the spoils with the international critics for the best rated Creation Pinot Noir between the Emma Cuvee and the Art of Pinot Noir Cuvee from their Creation estate. I love the competitiveness and the resulting quality realised every vintage. Last year the 2018 Emma excelled and was clearly a more intense, complex, mesmerising expression on release. But 2019 was a different beast of a vintage offering up a lot more structure, tension, minerality and sapidity. So it was all to play for!

Game on! I recently tasted these two exceptional wines over two days and the results were as follows…

Creation Emma Pinot Noir 2019, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge

A barrel selection by Emma – JC and Caroline’s 18+ year old daughter from the Art of Pinot Noir vineyard barrels. This is certainly a very serious glassful of premium Pinot Noir. Opened on Boxing Day 2020, it was taut and spicy showing some overt oak notes over savoury bramble berry fruits and hints of black plum and sous bois. But tasting this wine over two days really does it justice as not only is it super youthful, but it’s one of the most serious and luxurious expressions of Pinot Noir in South Africa. Day two and this wine blossoms with true Pinot Noir grandeur, unfurling layers of strawberry, cranberry, dusty limestone chalk, sappy stalky spice, red cherry pastille and an underlying structure of crunchy acids, graphite minerality and spicy polished tannins. This is definitely a keeper and will require a few years in the cellar to do it justice. Very impressive yet again.

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

Creation Art of Pinot Noir 2019, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge

Like the Emma, the aromatics of this young wine are a little disjointed straight after pulling the cork but allowed a bit of air and time, this wine also comes together impressively. The aromatics are markedly different with more sappy red berry, sour cranberry, sour plum and a savoury, earthy red berry core. There are complexing notes of crushed leaves, sous bois and sour cherry but on the palate the density and concentration is harmonious and polished, pithy and chalky merging with an irony, bloody, red berry tartness and a long, stony, brambly finish. Intense, captivating and thoroughly delicious. Give this 3-5 years before enjoying.

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

So the final verdict sees the Emma, the defending champion, retain the title of Best Creation Pinot with punch! But of course, they do say anything a man can do, a woman can do better!

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!!

Restless River’s New 2020 Releases Raise the Quality Bar Yet Again…

Craig Wessels took the South African wine scene by storm with his first 2012/2013 red and white releases. Although his range has grown to include a spectacular 2019 Pinot Noir and a superb Grenache and Sauvignon Blanc, it has always been the Restless River Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon that have been the stand out wines that have helped redefine quality in the entire Hemel-en-Aarde Valley.

With the 2017 vintage yielding a blockbuster Chardonnay last year, this year it’s the moment for Craig’s spectacular Cabernet Sauvignon to take centre stage. From the moment Hemel-en-Aarde nobility Anthony Hamilton Russell shared some of his father’s early 1980’s Grand Vin Noir Bordeaux blends from the valley, I knew many producers were missing a real trick forgetting the cool climate opportunities for Bordeaux varieties in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley. The 2017 Main Road & Dignity Cabernet from Craig captures all the grandeur possible in this region renowned for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Restless River Main Road & Dignity Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, WO Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, 14% Abv.

This attractive Hemel-en-Aarde Cabernet Sauvignon is fabulously dense and textured with multiple layers of creamy tannins coating the opulent fruit concentration. Full and glycerol in the mouth with refreshing acids, bright creme de cassis, black cherry and earthy baked plum fruit nuances. This vintage shows all the classic 2017 vintage elegance, focus and intensity with impressive mouthfeel and superb balance. You know this is something very special from the very first sip and certainly could be Craig Wessel’s finest Cabernet effort to date. Drink now and over 15+ years.

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

Restless River Ava Marie Chardonnay 2018, WO Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, 13% Abv.

This is a classically structured Ava Marie 2018 with crystalline tangy acids, generous green and yellow citrus fruit flesh, intricate mineral flintiness and an intensity of lemon and green melon candy on the long, persistent, noticeably concentrated finish. Less steely, malic and severe in style than the impressively taut 2017 (96/100 GSMW), but certainly carries on the Ava Marie tradition of freshness, bright acidity and wonderfully focused purity. Drink now and over the next 10-15+ years.

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

(Tasted 27th November 2020)

Tasting Jessica Saurwein’s New Chi Riesling 2020 – One of the Most Exceptional Dry Rieslings Produced in South Africa To Date…

Never one to shy away from a challenge, there is just something very gentle and chilled about Jessica while simultaneously being one of the most dogged and determined new female winemakers in South Africa. Now days you will usually find Jessica mulling around the winery with a child hanging in a papoose while she tends one of her superb Pinot Noir wines in barrel or checks in on one of her two cuvees of Riesling from Elgin.

The 2020 sees Jessica incorporate a 40% portion of Riesling fruit from the Paul Cluver farm, which is blended together with the original Casey’s Ridge fruit sourced from the Vrede en Lust property of Dana Buys. When I last caught up with Jessica in Cape Town in February at the Cape Wine Auction 2020 with wine trade hubby Roland Peens, she seemed decided that the two parcels would be blended together to make one wine, where as at the New Wave wine show the previous year, Jessica seemed open to possibly creating another second Riesling cuvee. Tasting the results in bottle, I am pleased she eventually decided to take the blended option as the final wine reaches new heights of quality not seen on either the 2018 or 2019 editions.

View from the top of the Casey’s Ridge vineyard in Elgin.

Despite production creeping up to a “massive” 5,900 bottles, this wine evaporates about as quickly as a summer rain puddle in the Karoo desert. There are certainly a handful of delicious Rieslings being produced in South Africa at the moment from the likes of Paul Cluver, Spioen Kop, Lothian and occasionally Carstens Milgliarina, but Jessica’s Chi Riesling remains for me one of the most impressively drinkable Rieslings around.

Saurwein Chi Riesling 2020, WO Elgin, 12.5% Abv.

(RS 7,8 g/l | TA 7,0 g/l)

The new 2020 Chi Riesling from Jessica Saurwein is just a fabulous expression of this Germanic variety. I don’t know whether it’s Jessica’s own Germanic roots that have helped her find a closer affinity with this grape or perhaps just her deft female winemaking touch? Either way, this wine is a real cracker, bursting with energy and electricity and the crystalline purity of artic ice. The nose is delicately fruity with complex notes of citrus blossom, green apple, dry bitter lemon, white peach, grey slate and delicate dried herbs with just the faintest hints of lemon sherbet and rock candy. The palate is chiselled and precise with a tart lime peel zest, a saline line of acidity but also a juicy, mouth-filling breadth that is elegantly dry but also incredibly stimulating. This 2020 shows an extra level of fruit intensity and concentration on the previous 2019 and 2018 expressions and a focused spine of acidity that should help this delicious wine age effortlessly for 8 to 10+ years without a question. So it’s onwards and upwards for Jessica Saurwein and her exceptional range of wines.

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

Nothing More Fun Than the Second Time – Tasting the New Tesselaarsdal Chardonnay 2020 Release…

Berene Sauls is a testament to hard work, belief, faith, and a simmering vision for greatness. I feel so utterly privileged to be one of the wine trade professionals who tasted her early vintages and identified her passion and vision.

But making a top Pinot Noir was never going to be enough for her so roll on the challenge of making a premium Chardonnay. The maiden 2019 was pretty impressive with its steely tension and crystalline purity. But of course it’s always the second release, the second album, that is always the hardest challenge. I recently tasted the second release from Berene and was suitably impressed!

Tesselaarsdal Chardonnay 2020, WO Hemel en Aarde Ridge

This is another accomplished Chardonnay from Tesselaarsdal that boasts a breath and depth of textural opulence making the maiden 2019 vintage look more like a chiselled Premier Cru Chablis in comparison. The 2020 nose boasts classic notes of spicy yellow citrus, green honeydew melon, white peach and a bold limestone mineral vein. The wine coats your mouth with a fine glycerol weight and delicious mouth-watering green apple pastille notes enlivened with pronounced tangy acids. Seamless and harmonious, Berene Sauls has created another attractive expression of premium Chardonnay that is ready to drink on release.

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

Tasting the Special Limited Release Salt River Sauvignon Blanc 2020 from Duncan Savage…

Duncan’s previous life at Cape Point Vineyards is certainly well documented, for it was during his tenure there as head winemaker that he pretty much perfected the art of producing iconic Sauvignon Blanc. In 2019 Duncan happened to stumble upon a 32 year old block of bush vine Sauvignon Blanc in Stellenbosch. The elevation, wind and vine age all pointed in the right direction and after a bit of experimentation, the Salt River Sauvignon Blanc label was born.

It seems Duncan fell in love with the wine and vineyard and along with his UK importer Swig Wines, decided to create a new brand and style separate from the rest of the Savage Wines range. Salt River is in the heart of the city of Cape Town, and is of course where Duncan’s trendy urban winery can be found. As Duncan’s UK importer Swig Wines points out, “Salt River is very reminiscent of an edgy Shoreditch in London a few years back.”

Duncan in his Salt River winery in Cape Town’s city centre.

This Sauvignon Blanc was fermented in a combination of stainless steel tanks, concrete eggs and old barrels. The wine spent four months in these vessels before being bottled, followed by a further two months in bottle prior to release. Only 500 cases of this wine were produced.

Savage Salt River Sauvignon Blanc 2020, WO Stellenbosch, 13.5% Abv.

RS 2 g/l | pH 3.3 | TA 6.4 g/l

This has all the hallmarks of an expert Sauvignon Blanc master negotiating the ripeness and pungency of this variety with extreme precision. Beautifully complex and intense, the aromatics show notes of freshly cut fennel, green asparagus, yellow baking apples, waxy lemon peel and hints of fresh wet thatch. On the palate, it’s just as impressive with nervy, pithy yellow grapefruit peel zest, white citrus spice, tangerine and glycerol peach liquor nuances on the saline finish. This is next level Sauvignon Blanc that will appeal to novices and connoisseurs alike. Pop and pour!

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