Ever since bubble wizard Paul Gerber moved over from Le Lude to Colmant, everyone knew there would be fizzy fireworks to follow with some exceptional Method Cap Classique wines planned. While the standard estate Blue Label Colmant MCC remains one of my go to sparkling wines along with Graham Beck’s Blanc de Blancs, the release of the new Colmant Absolut has certainly raised some eyebrows.
The Absolu Zero Dosage NV is made from 100% Chardonnay fruit coming from Franschhoek (65%) and Robertson (35%). A portion of the base wine (15%) is fermented in French oak barrels while a further 15% of reserve wine from previous vintages is also blended in. These techniques certainly contribute to the complexity and elegance of the finished product – as does the extended time on lees, 85 months minimum – or seven years in layman’s terms.
Colmant Absolu Cap Classique Zero Dosage NV, WO Western Cape, 12% Abv.
This is a fascinating wine with all the complexity, richness and texture you’d expect from a wine aged for a phenomenal 85 months on its lees. The nose has a wonderful briney, saline lemon brioche character supported by creamy, savoury freshly baked croissants nuances together with a dusty, leesy nutty character. The palate is wonderfully detailed, fresh and pin point with a lively creamy mousse, plenty of maritime saline zip and a lovely long, lingering toasty, leesy, broche finish with a kiss of lemon pastille. This is pure class as it takes very skilful winemaking to make a MCC base wine that can age and improve over 85 months and still show incredible energy, opulence, verve and vigour when bottled. Drink now and over the next 3 to 5+ years.
Equilibrium, harmony, finesse and elegance characterise the great Vintage Ports of Noval, which are declared only when they are certain that the year has produced a blend, however small, that is worthy of bearing the name of Quinta do Noval Vintage Port.
Noval always follows its own path in its approach to declaring Vintage Ports. If they believe that they have the wines of the right quality and personality to join the ranks of the Quinta do Noval Vintage Ports of previous years, they will bottle it and declare it, even if this means declaring several years in a row, and even if it means, as is often the case, bottling only a few hundred cases of Quinta do Noval Vintage Port, representing a tiny percentage of the total production of the Quinta. In the case of 2019, the selection of 2,780 cases represents just 14% of their production.
2019 was marked by a mild winter and generally dry conditions, with almost no rain from May to the end of August. While in many parts of Europe producers faced heat waves, and although the Douro Valley enjoyed prolonged sunny weather, summer temperatures were fortunately lower than usual this year, making the absence of rain easier to bear for the vines. Moreover, low humidity led to low disease pressure in the vineyards and beautifully healthy grapes. Harvest started on September 9th for the red varieties. Harvesting conditions were ideal, with moderate temperatures and overall dry weather. A small amount of helpful rain fell on September 21st-22nd and later between October 14th and 17th. Yields were slightly higher than their 10-year average and musts showed great natural acidity and freshness.
Quinta do Noval 2019 Vintage Port, 19.5% Abv.
100 g/l RS | 5.55 TA | 3.63 pH
Made from a fine selection of grapes including Touriga Nacional, Touriga Francesa, Tinto Cão, Sousão and Tinta Roriz sourced from 145 hectares over three large areas of vineyards allowed for a lot of flexibility at blending time, with the 2019 representing 13 different parcels that all add a unique character to the finished wine. Elegance and balance are the hallmarks and are all present in the 2019 in abundance. In many ways, the 2019 resembles the 2018 on steroids with just more profundity. Immediately attractive, deliciously forward and fresh, there is great finesse and balance in evidence with a silky, creamy texture and a youthful approachability. Gone are the old school grippy tannins of years gone by that used to be found on most young vintage Ports. Indeed the 2019 shows no less tannins and structure, just much more precision, purity, freshness and black fruit focus. (2,780 cases produced)
There are more than a few top Chenin Blanc wines made in South Africa that capture ones attention when new vintages are released. Indeed the list of iconic high scoring collectable whites from South African grows longer by the day. But one of these benchmark wines, year on year, comes from the Chenin King himself, Bruwer Raats.
While the Raats Family Wines Original Chenin Blanc and Raats Family Wines Old Vine Chenin Blanc are both exceptional wines offering excellent value for money, it is undoubtedly Bruwer’s super-premium Eden High Density Single Vineyard Chenin Blanc that regularly pulls in the star ratings. A Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc vineyard planted in the late 2000’s right behind Bruwer’s house in the Polkadraai Hills, the Eden wine range was conceived with extreme precision viticulture in mind.
This 0.6 hectare Eden Chenin Blanc vineyard is planted with the unique and now rare Montpellier clone that was sourced from the last remaining mother block in the Nuy Valley. Known to give very small, loose bunches, this clone eventually fell out of favour despite its ability to yield very high quality fruit.
Raats Family Winery High Density Eden Chenin Blanc 2019, WO Polkadraai Hills, 13% Abv.
2019 was an exceptional vintage for Chenin Blanc and the quality is clear for all to see on this impressive wine. The aromatics are subtle but sophisticated with delicate notes of yellow peaches, crunchy pears, wax and incense, wet thatch, oat meal and hints of dried orange peel. On the palate, the texture is taut and focused, crystalline and pure with a delicately weighted fruit concentration, vibrant tangy acids and a genteel melange of ripe peach, yellow apple and tangerine fruit zest. This is a very understated wine, an elegant but complex offering with incredible drinkability and a generous accessibility that results in the bottle being finished long before expected. Like all the very best bottles of white, this wine just somehow seems to evaporate out the glass! Drink on release or cellar for 8 to 10+ years. (Only 2,390 bottles produced.)
ALS is the exceptional new creation from three young Greek winemaking talents in Yiannis Papaoikonomou, Ilias Roussakis and Alexis Kolovos. Yiannis Papaoikonomou studied oenology in Athens before coming to Santorini in 2009 to work at Domaine Sigalas, where he worked as a vineyard manager (under the guidance of a consultant) and as an assistant winemaker. In 2013, Yiannis left Santorini to go to Chile (Vina Maquis), New Zealand (Oyster Bay) and France (Chapoutier) for further work experience and in 2015 he finally returned to Santorini to literally help build the Vassaltis Winery from scratch with Ilias Roussakis.
Ilias studied agronomy in Athens and oenology in Montpellier. He started to work in Santorini’s vineyards, working at Sigalas and Hatzidakis while he also worked at T-Oinos on the island of Tinos as chief oenologist. His broad based experience helped him to consult at wineries all around the Cycladic islands with great success. The third member of the team behind ALS is Alexis Kolovos, who originally studied agronomy and now works as a landscape architect all around the Cyclades. But his goal was always to manage a vineyard and finally with the ALS project, this has become a reality.
While sharing the same vision for Santorini’s terroir, there is also a strong friendship that connects the three ALS partners. In 2015, they finally got the opportunity to rent a vineyard in Imerovigli with a 25 year contract…. that you can find on Google maps at:
The vineyard is 2,5ha and certainly wasn’t in a great condition when they took it on. Year after year, they started renting more vineyards and also started renting fields to convert into vineyards. They created a company which today runs 6,5ha of healthy, productive vineyards in Vourvoulos, Oia, Megalochori and Imerovigli.
While most of their grapes are now sold to wineries like Vassaltis, they just couldn’t resist the temptation to vinify a part of their own grape yields and so in 2018 they decided to make their first wine. With the help of their good friend Nikos Chatzakis, a fellow winemaker on the island of Syros, who agreed to host them and allow them to vinify ALS in a corner of his premises, their first pure Assyrtiko creation was born.
Selecting the only the very best clusters from every plant, they harvested their first grapes on the evening of the 19th of August 2018, loading a refrigerated truck before taking the ferry across to Syros. Four hours later they were pressing the Assyrtiko whole bunch grape clusters in a pneumatic press. They kept the juice in a tank for a day, with low temperatures to let it clarify a little and then racked the wine the following day. The juice was pumped gently into their small inox tank where the fermentation took place at 20-21 degrees centigrade with selected yeast. The wine stayed on its lees for 12 months with battonage for 4 months before being bottled on the 11th of July and spending an additional 16 months in the bottle before being released. The current release is still the 2018 but they also produced 1,300 bottles in 2019, 2020 and 2021. From 2022, they hope to increase their production quantity.
ALS Extreme Terroir Dry White Wine 2018, 14%, Greece
RS 2.5 | pH 2.97 | TA 6.8 | VA 0.4
This is certainly a unique expression of Assyrtiko unlike any other wines I have tasted from Santorini to date. With 12 months ageing on its lees in tank and a further 16 months ageing in bottle, the aromatics show complex layers of bruised yellow orchard fruits, bees wax, ripe pears, chamomile tea, briney sea breeze salinity and pronounced mineral nuances of crushed basalt and gravel. There are some truly alluring, dusty, leesy notes but the nose still retains impressive purity, focus and depth. The palate is broad, plump and quite glycerol with soft, creamy, spicy yellow fruits, green herbal tea nuances, spicy almonds and walnuts and then yet more savoury peachy, salty, briney maritime complexity. This certainly is a very impressive maiden release white wine with exceptional depth, palate concentration and a mellow, harmonious balance. The wine coats the palate and from the last swallow, the flavours resonate with leesy, savoury intensity and persistence for over a minute before the clean, soft acids bring the extravaganza to a final curtain call. An extraordinary creation. (Only 1,300 bottles were produced)
With so many of South Africa’s top Cape Bordeaux Blends and Cabernet Sauvignon producers stepping up to the mark to produce their best wines ever across the 2015 and 2017 vintages, 2018 was always going to be under the spotlight to see if some of the magic of these previous vintages could be applied by winemakers to the benefit of the final wines.
Certainly, the winter rainfall was higher than the previous two winters but with irregular temperatures from winter until the flowering period, together with cool growing conditions, there were inevitably some variations in ripening across the Simonsberg vineyards. However, cooler weather and regular rain showers led to less water stress for the vines during the ripening period.
Having tasted most of the top 2018 Cape Bordeaux blends now, the signature style and characteristics of the vintage are becoming clearer and clearer – Very cool, precise wines with impressively glassy acid frames, silky powdery tannins, impressive fruit intensity but without the 2015’s inky dry extract or the 2017’s weightless fruit concentration. The 2018s are very attractive wines, more classically leaning with a little less exoticism but plenty of the traditional characteristics on the aromatics and palate that have made the wines so popular with French Bordeaux collectors and connoisseurs around the world.
The grapes for the 2018 Paul Sauer were fermented in open top concrete fermenters at 29 deg C with the floating skins being punched down by hand every 2 hours during fermentation. The juice was drawn off the skins after 5 days. After malolactic fermentation the wine was matured for 24 months in 100% new 225 litre French Nevers oak barriques.
With only 7,000 cases or 42,000 bottles produced, stake your marker in the allocation queue nice and early as this iconic wine seems to sell out faster and faster every year. This of course is the reward for a proven pedigree and quality track record.
Kanonkop Paul Sauer 2018, WO Simonsberg – Stellenbosch, 13.91% Abv.
2.4 g/l RS | 6.2 TA | 3.55 pH | 90 mg/l Total SO2 | 0.63 g/l VA
The 2018 Paul Sauer is a classical blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Franc from vines averaging 30 years of age grown on dryland vineyards of Decomposed Granite and Hutton and Clovelly soils. Vibrant and ruby / purple, the wine almost glows in the glass with inviting promise. At this youthful stage, the Cabernet Sauvignon component shines through strongly revealing a generally dark, broody, black fruited demeanour embellished with subtle notes of saline crème de cassis, star anise, lead pencil shavings, dried violets and signature nuances of freshly tilled earth, buttered brown toast and hints of breakfast espresso. In the mouth, the palate shows gorgeous elegance, purity and fruit focus with the most fine grained filigree tannins, soothingly generous black berry fruits and delicious mouth-watering acids. This wine is precision personified showing such effortless grace and harmony together with a measured power and intensity. The 2018 is certainly a very classically schooled expression that waltzes across the palate without ever putting a foot out of place. Like all truly great Bordeaux blends, this has the finesse and textural harmony to drink on release but also the intensity and gravitas to age effortlessly for 20 to 30+ years.
The 2018 vintage in South Africa is often described as the third of the drought years after 2015. But if you look at the rainfall data for all areas, 2015 was also an exceptionally dry year except the vines had the benefit of ample ground water supplies from a wet rainy preceding winter in 2014.
With producers’ expertise growing incrementally with every new drought vintage in regards to growing and handling fruit in these difficult drought conditions, the 2018 vintage was actually handled very well by most wineries in the end with Boekenhoutskloof also having the significant added benefit of vinifying the 2018 vintage in their spectacular new underground cellar.
I recently caught up with Mark Kent currently based in Holland for a zoom tasting to discuss the latest offerings from this iconic South African winery.
Boekenhoutskloof Semillon 2018, 13.6% Abv.
A blend of old vine vineyards including fruit from the famous La Colline vineyard in Franschhoek. Aromatics are delicate and dusty with hints of sapidity, yellow citrus, nectarine, white peach and a smattering of white pepper and sea breaze. The palate is full, fleshy, creamy and round with a lactic white chocolate notes, leesy biscuit, picante white stone fruits but also a fine line of crystalline acidity. Lovely textural breadth, balance and depth. Fabulous.
Rich, opulent and expressive with ripe lifted notes of sweet red and black berry compote, raspberry jam, violets and subtle brûléed notes of salted toffee and crème de cassis with a delicate kiss of eucalypt and dried mint leaf. Cool, sleek and beautifully elegant, this shows a vibrant red cherry sherbet energy on the palate with pink rock candy, red plum, fine grained tannins and expressive mocha and wood spice notes on the finish.
Almost a single vineyard wine, this was, along with the Syrah, one of the first wines to be produced at the winery in 1996. Previously 100% new oak, this wine now sees circa 80% of new oak and around 8 to 10% of Cabernet Franc and shows attractive fragrant notes of violets and lavender, pink musk and red cherry spice. The palate is chiselled and elegant, spicy and suave with cool polished tannins, a powdery sleek textured mouthfeel and a long intense length displaying red currant, red cherry and tart savoury black currant. A little more seductive, and dare I say, feminine than its more muscular Stellenbosch stable mate.
(Wine Safari Score: 95+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Boekenhoutskloof Syrah 2018, 14.1% Abv.
Now sourced from the Swartland from fruit grown on the famed Porseleinberg vineyard and also the Goldmine farm vineyards next door to the Mullineux’s Roundstone farm. This wine shows lashings of sweet molasses, earthy black berries, tilled earth and smoky salty black liquorice. The layers of black earthy berry fruit are noticeably savoury with notes of barbequed meats, bacon fat, buttered brown toast and brûléed milk chocolate notes on the finish.
(Wine Safari Score: 94/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Cap Maritime Chardonnay 2018, 13.8% Abv.
Still made from leased vineyards, some of which are at Sumaridge. This is quite an earthy, savoury, oxidatively handled style with notes of wax and incense, bruised yellow peaches, green melon and ripe lemon peel. The palate shows lovely concentration, a broad mouth-filling texture and yet more savoury, earthy yellow fruits and pineapple pastille on the finish. A lovely wine but still a work in progress.
(Wine Safari Score: 92+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Cap Maritime Pinot Noir 2018
Made from Upper Hemel-en-Aarde fruit, the aromatics show lovely exotic spice, incense, vermouth botanicals, fynbos and delicate notes of leafy red berry fruits. The palate is wonderfully polished and pure, lithe and elegant with chalky powdery tannins, spicy sapidity and an elegant length that boasts a subtle kiss of bramble berry complexity. A very smart effort.
No two single wines in South Africa signal a higher quality ambition than the production of the Raats Family Wines’ Eden high density red Cabernet Franc and white Chenin Blanc. Coming from a 0.2ha high density vineyard (8,000 vines per hectare) meticulously planned and planted 9 years ago by Bruwer Raats at his Polkadraai property in Stellenbosch, the grapes were fermented in tank and then aged for 9 months in new French oak followed by a further 9 months elevage in older French oak barrels.
Ever since tasting a barrel sample with Bruwer Raats back Cape Town in February 2020, I have been awaiting this impressive new wine release. It is now quite simply the leading single varietal Cabernet Franc in South Africa and continues to gain an obsessive following among collectors and connoisseurs across the globe.
In reality, the only thing holding back its even faster success and popularity is the impossibly tiny quantity of wine produced. One single barrel or 365 bottles. This is a true unicorn wine offering and certainly a fine wine that should find a happy home in any of the greatest wine cellars around the world.
Raats Family Eden High Density Single Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2018, 13% Abv.
The 2018 vintage yielded another impressive expression of Cabernet Franc and who better than Bruwer Raats to perform his own kind of magic and conjure up another enchanting, seductive rendition of this iconic single vineyard wine. The nose is initially discreet and classical, leaning towards a purer, black and blue berry fruit driven expression with delicate floral notes of violets and rosemary with a youthful backing chorus of fresh brown toast, mocha, sweet tobacco, black currant and sappy cedar notes. Medium bodied but fabulously concentrated and intense, this sleek textured wine shows plenty of power with smooth mineral granitic tannins, mouth watering vitality and simply awesome persistence. This has all the finesse and pedigree you could ever want from a benchmark Cabernet Franc. Give this wine 3 to 5 years to mellow and then enjoy over another 10 to 15+.
Dublin based wine merchant and Master of Wine Mick O’Connell has finally released his new vinous creations from Sardinia. Not only do we get a 5th vintage of his Garnacha this year but also a mighty quaffable Vermentino white just in time for the European summer.
Loyal followers of the Cancedda O’Connell project will want to watch out closely for these two new release micro vinifications that look set to hit European wine shelves in the coming months.
Buccia not Battles V1 Vermentino, Vino Bianco, Sardinia, 11% Abv.
Pithy and expressive, this exciting white boasts aromatic notes of dry summer grass, dried herbs, roasted nuts, peach stones and pithy pear drop. The palate has definition and balance with a tangy freshness, juicy pear pastille, green apple purée and candied yellow orchard fruit notes. A fine maiden Vino Bianco release from this winery.
(Wine Safari Score: 90+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Garnacha not Guerra V5 (2019) Vino Rosso, Sardinia, 11.5% Abv.
This shows all the fabulous lift and aromatic perfume of a Sardinian garden in full bloom boasting notes of violets, lavender, crushed raspberries, sun ripened cranberry and subtle hints of red liquorice stick. The palate is light, pure and ethereal with a deliciously moreish acidity, fine powdery mineral tannins and mouthwatering nuances of blood orange, sour red plum, wild strawberry and a delicious melange of vermouth herbs and pithy bramble berry spice. The perfect light touch red for summer quaffing.
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+.
The 2017 Niepoort Vintage Port was one of the fastest selling ports released by the winery… or at least it was until they released the 2019. At the release tasting of the 2019 Niepoort vintage Port, Dirk interestingly also showed us his 2000 Vintage Port because this was probably the vintage where he started to redefine how the Niepoort wines were made, with extra special attention to the little details that certainly make a very big difference to the final finished product.
In 2019, the average rainfall was low in the winter months but throughout the year, to make up for this, the Douro and in the case of Niepoort, the Cima Corgo sub-region, was lucky due to two compensating factors: firstly, the summer months were unseasonably cool and secondly the timely rainfall on the 26th-27th of August was invaluable, allowing fruit to reach complete maturity.
At Vale de Mendiz, harvesting started on the 2nd of September under fine conditions and the last grapes were received in the first week of October. All years are remembered for different and unique reasons, and 2019 will surely go down as a year with amazing natural, acids, balanced musts and very cool weather, reminiscent of the elegant year of 2008 – all in all perfect conditions in which the Niepoort house style thrives.
All the components for 2019 Vintage Port were trodden by foot in circular granite lagares with 100% of stems. The wines were racked soon after harvest, aged in “tonéis” (large oak vats) in the Douro over the winter, and then moved to the cellars in Vila Nova de Gaia in the Spring of 2020. The average vine age is 80 to over 100 years old and the key grape varieties used in the blend were Touriga Franca, Tinto Cão, Tinta Francisca, Tinta Amarela, Sousão, Tinta Roriz as well as a few others. At the time of tasting samples, the winery was already sold out of the 2019, so consumers will have to hunt down allocations in their individual markets from Niepoort’s importers.
Niepoort Vintage Port 2019 (Proposed Blend)
This lovely signature Niepoort 2019 vintage Port apparently has higher tannins than the famed 2017, but at this youthful stage, it is hard to comprehend this with its rich, accessible, voluptuous layers of silky, juicy soft black fruits. Benchmark certainly, a notable success – absolutely. The aromatics are so much more important than the palate flavours at this early blending phase (according to Dirk) and this enticing 2019 shows attractive notes of sweet sun ripened black berry fruits, hints of creamy molasses, savoury black stewed winter orchard fruits and a dusty, stony, smoked cigars complexity. Beautifully silky, supple and textured, there is also a fine, stony, grippy mineral tannin mouthfeel that lends a wonderful frame for the juicy blue and black berry fruit finery to be displayed. Fabulously drinkable, deliciously fresh and vibrant, but eminently bold and characterful, this is certainly another very accomplished wine from the House of Niepoort. (Residual Sugar: 88 g/l RS)