The Fine Wine Safari’s Top 10 Most Memorable “Off-Piste” White Wines of the Year 2018…

The Fine Wine Safari Top 10 Whites and Reds of the Year was a modest attempt to illustrate South Africa’s finest benchmark wines and styles for all to see and to give international collectors and drinkers a handful of names and labels to look out for. However, one of the absolute cornerstones of the recent global success of the South African wine category has been its incredible diversity and in many cases its inspired eccentricity combined with outright wine quality.

So in an attempt to show the more experimental and alternative “off-piste” face of South African wine, I have enjoyed compiling my Top 10 list of most memorable whites and reds of truly outstanding wines produced by producers who do not necessarily aspire to 100 point ratings or mass market appeal. Nevertheless, these wines are all more than worthy of a valued slot in your cellar!

(In the true spirit of these wines, they are not scored here and are presented in no particular order of preference!)

Alheit Family Wines Vote For Pedro 2017

Francois Bezuidenhout Leenders Baviaan White Blend 2018, 13 Abv.

Pieter Walser Blank Bottle Winery Epileptic Inspiration Semillon 2016, Elgin

Terracura Smiley V4 Chenin Blanc NV, Swartland

Donovan Rall Grenache Blanc 2017, Swartland

Andre Bruyns City on a Hill Dry Muscat de Alexandrie 2017, Swartland

Bosman Family Wines Fides Skin Contact Grenache Blanc 2016, Wellington

Iona 8 + 8 Riesling 2017, Elgin

A.A.Badendorst Family Wines Geelkapel Dry Muscat de Frontignan 2017, Swartland

Momento Grenache Gris 2017, Voor-Paardeberg

The Fine Wine Safari Top 10 South African Red Wines of the Year 2018…

What a fascinating and historical year 2018 was for red wines in South Africa. With the exception of only a few wineries, most premium producers released their incredible 2015 wines made from what is generally being regarded as probably the best quality vintage in South Africa’s modern post-apartheid era of winemaking.

Having already released the Fine Wine Safari Top 10 Whites of the Year, I have been overwhelmed with the comments of agreement and support for my selections. But then again, many will argue that the list included a multitude of excellent 2017 vintage wines and that the “white category” still remains South Africa’s strongest talent. While all of this may be true, 2018 saw the release of multiple red wines that pushed quality boundaries like never before. We’ll hand some of that to the vintage conditions of 2015 and 2017 but I’d also like to credit the growing confidence, expertise, knowhow and ambition of winemakers across the South African landscape.

If you are a seasoned veteran of premium South African wines, you will nod knowingly and expectantly at many of my red selections. If you are new to the South African category, perhaps living in the USA, Europe or Asia, make an effort to track these wines down now as many might still be available and all are definitely worth buying, even at their sometimes lofty price points! In my mind, they all represent relative value for money for what they are. Enjoy!

Kanonkop Paul Sauer Red Blend 2015, Stellenbosch – 98+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Meerlust Rubicon Red Blend 2015, Stellenbosch – 97+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Vilafonte Series C 2016 Red Blend, Paarl – 97+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Boekenhoutskloof Journeyman Red Blend 2015, WO Western Cape – 97+/100 GregSherwood MW

Donovan Rall Ava Syrah 2017, Swartland – 97/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Tokara Telos Red Blend 2015, Stellenbosch – 97/100 Greg Sherwood MW

MR de Compostella Red Blend 2016, Stellenbosch – 96+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines Iron Syrah 2016, Swartland – 96+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Le Riche Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, Stellenbosch – 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Duncan Savage Red Blend 2015, WO Western Cape – 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everyone who helped make 2018 such a memorable year! 🍷🎄 🦄

Don’t miss my “Year in Photographs” coming up before New Years Eve 2018.

The Fine Wine Safari Top 10 South African White Wines of the Year 2018…

What a fabulous year for South African wine it has been! Of course for many 2018 was extra special because a lot of people who may not normally go to South Africa regularly made the pilgrimage down to Cape Wine 2018 in September. Personally, I made four separate visits to South Africa this year including a mammoth 10 day mega session that covered both the Nederburg Auction and the entire week of the Cape Wine trade fair.

— 🥁🥁🥁🥁🥁 …. drum roll ….

So for 2018, my Top 10 South African White Wines of the Year are as follows:

Alheit Family Wines Huilkrans Chenin Blanc 2017, Swartland – 97+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Sadie Family Wines Old Vines Series ‘T Voetpad 2017, Swartland – 97/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Lukas Van Loggerenberg Kameraderie Chenin Blanc 2017 – 96+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Sadie Family Wines Palladius White Blend 2016, Swartland – 96+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Alheit Family Wines Magnetic North Chenin Blanc 2017, Skurfberg – 96+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

David & Nadia Hoe Steen Chenin Blanc 2017, Swartland – 96+/100 GregSherwood MW

Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines Radicales Libres White Blend 2012, Swartland – 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Restless River Ava Maria Chardonnay 2016, Hemel-en-Aarde Valley – 95+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Naude Family Wines Old Vines Semillon 2016, Western Cape – 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Klein Constantia Vin de Constance 2015, Constantia – 97+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

A huge heartfelt congratulations to all the distinguished producers who made my Top 10 Whites this year. Merry Christmas! 🎄🍷

Coming up next before the New Year… the ultimate Fine Wine Safari Top 10 South African Red Wines of the Year 2018. Definitely not to be missed!

Exploring the Incredible New Californian Releases from the Highly Talented Paul Lato…

Paul Lato was born in Poland. He worked as a certified sommelier in one of Toronto’s most exclusive restaurants and only visited California for the first time in the early 1990s.  Jim Clendenen, the owner of ABC Winery and Clendenen Wines, was influential in finally getting Paul to pack up and move to California to take up a job at Bien Nacido Vineyards. But it was really only after a rave review after a chance encounter between Robert Parker and “the Polish sommelier making wine” that Paul’s stardom was truly sealed. 

Paul was recently in London to launch his famously sought after new releases of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah which are unsurprisingly highly allocated and difficult to secure. After reviewing a large selection of Paul’s incredible 2015 whites and reds, there was no way I was going to miss the opportunity to taste the new 2016 releases. The intensity, purity and freshness Paul manages to capture both in his whites and his reds is truly impressive.

These are definitely wines to seek out and find a home for in your cellar. They are not necessarily cheap, but then wines of this quality and precision never are, wherever they are produced. Paul’s wines were certainly some of the most exciting wines I tasted in 2017 and his new vintages look certain to continue his phenomenal run of form.

Paul Lato Le Souvenir Sierra Madre Chardonnay 2011, 14.5 Abv.

Opulent, hedonistic style showing evolved aromatics of stewed quince, honied waxy lemons, stem ginger, pear purée and apple spice. The palate is very creamy, supple and plush, spreading across the mouth with great concentration and intensity. Very youthful but absolutely delicious and great integrity.

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

Paul Lato Le Souvenir Sierra Madre Chardonnay 2015, 13.9 Abv.

Rich opulent nose brimming with lemon confit, intense white citrus pith and tangerine peel. Incredibly finely integrated oak melting into a creamy, textural palate of pineapple and lemon pastille with a tender kiss of salted caramel. Wow. 

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

Paul Lato Le Souvenir Sierra Madre Chardonnay 2016, 14.3 Abv.

Riper, youthful green melon fruits mingle with lemon blossom, notes of sweet Seville oranges and white citrus. Despite a higher Abv than the 2015, there plenty of is tension, glycerol texture and a lovely youthful woodspice finish. 

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

Paul Lato East of Eden Pisoni Vineyard Chardonnay 2011, 14.5 Abv.

This last bottle of Paul’s first vintage of the Pisoni Vineyard Chardonnay. Lovely exotic aromatics of apple pastille fruits, lemon bon bons and fresh buttered white toast. Palate is full and rich, plush and textured, showing excellent youthful crystalline purity, bright yellow citrus and the most delicious brioche and lemon biscuit finish. Very classy.

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

Paul Lato East of Eden Pisoni Vineyard Chardonnay 2016, 14.3 Abv.

Very fine, floral, pin point aromatics with incredible purity and focus. White citrus, yellow citrus pastille and custard cream pastries. Palate shows impressive tension and vibrancy, energy and freshness all wrapped in a wave of intense concentration. Great length and power but with an incredible fruit ~ minerality equilibrium.

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

The skin contact Batana Malvasia Bianca 2016 from Paul Lato – one of the most exciting whites I tasted from anywhere in 2018!

Paul Lato Batana Larner Vineyard Malvasia Bianca 2016, 13.5 Abv.

Lifted exotic aromatic nose of pithy pear, baked apples, tangerine peel, marmalade, stem ginger and resinous sappy spice. Taut and fresh, mouth-wateringly vibrant and bright, brimming with cherry skin pith, crunchy quince, green apple and passion fruit sorbet. Profound purity, intensity and complexity. One of the most impressive wines I have tasted in a very long time.

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

Paul Lato Lancelot Pisoni Vineyard Pinot Noir 2008, 14.8 Abv.

Cool, dark, earthy broody nose of forest floor, sous bois and earthy red forest berries. 10 years old and beautifully youthful, showing a subtle lick of oak and savoury notes of peaches, red currant, loganberry and red plums. Fine minerality and complexity. Delicious now.

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

Paul Lato Suertes Solomon Hills Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Santa Maria Valley, 14.8 Abv.

Earthy red foresty nose with hedgerow spice, sappy red plum, pomegranate and blood oranges. Very plush and concentrated, piercing intensity and a long, fruit driven finish with crazy complexity, textural breadth and mineral nuance.

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

Paul Lato Suertes Solomon Hills Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016, Santa Maria Valley, 14.1 Abv.

Lifted perfumed nose of bramble berry, pomegranate, gun flint, graphite and black cherry spice. Beautifully fresh and pure, vibrant and intense with crystalline sappy red forest fruits, spice orange peel and macerated blood orange and graphite finish. Wow. Really beautiful, harmonious wine with artisanal character.

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

Paul Lato Atticus John Sebastiano Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016, 14.2 Abv.

Beautifully fragrant nose with a more piquant note. Plenty of cherry blossom, rose petals, lavender and sweet lilac depth that intermingles with sour red cherry, red apple and pomegranate spice. Palate is pithy and sleek, textured and spicy with classical Pinot Noir elegance, vibrantly fresh acids and a long, harmonious finish.

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

Paul Lato Cinematique Syrah Larner Vineyard Syrah 2008, 15 Abv.

Lovely deep, broody, savoury nose with almost Priorat style depth, bramble berry fruits, sweet red currant, freshly sliced bresaola and stewed earthy plums. There is a subtle kiss of oak, creamy foresty depth, a lovely smoky intricacy and a sweet toasty coffee bean finish.

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

Paul Lato Il Padrino Bien Nacido Vineyard Syrah 2009, 15 Abv.

A wonderfully complex nose filled with wood smoke, charcoal embers, spicy black currant, cured meats and savoury graphite spice. Palate is cool and fleshy, piquant and exotic with black berry confit, coffee bean, espresso and a long, sappy, meaty, black olive finish. Drinking very well now.

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

Paul Lato Il Padrino Bien Nacido Vineyard Syrah 2014, 15.4 Abv

Darker, more taut mineral aromatics speak of this cooler Syrah vineyard. Quite saline and mineral with cassis, black berry, graphite and sea breeze nuances. Beautifully pure and creamy, textured and mineral, embroidered by bright acids and a real energy. Very impressive expression.

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

 

Lunch with Paul Lato and his wines at new 1 Star Michelin restaurant Hide by Ollie Dabbous.

Paul Lato with Hide Restaurant and Hedonism Wines owner Yevgeny Chichvarkin.

Allocations available in the UK through importer Tiger Vines.

A Chilean Fine Wine Icon Brand with An Impressive Track Record – Tasting a Mini Almaviva Vertical with Michel Friou in London…

Established more than 20 years ago by the Concha y Toro family’s joint venture with the Baron Philippe de Rothschild group, Almaviva can be regarded as one of Chile’s first high quality fine wines that carries a global presence. At a recent tasting dinner hosted in London, Almaviva technical director Michel Friou presented a number of current vintages alongside older back vintages to illustrate the wines pedigree, age worthiness and consistency.

Made from grapes grown in Puente Alto in the Maipo Valley, Almaviva set out to mimic the Bordeaux chateau model making a wine from its own surrounding vineyards which have slightly higher average temperatures than Pauillac but also a much higher elevation at 630 metres and a lot lower average rainfall at 340mm.

To illustrate this Bordeaux’esque stylistic leaning, Michel Friou selected four vintages from cooler, wetter vintages that display more elegance, freshness and classical restraint. Always using Cabernet Sauvignon as the base, the blend also includes a significant percentage of Carmenere, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot since 2010.

Now distributed in Europe almost exclusively through the Bordeaux Place and by several negociants, the brand’s reach and consumer awareness have perhaps suffered as a direct result of this distribution method. While this channel to market works well for Bordeaux releases, it can prove more tricky for some new world brands. Despite this, producers such as Errazuriz (for Chadwick and Sena) and Lapostolle (for Clos Apalta) have all chosen to follow the Bordeaux negociant distribution channel to market.

Almaviva 2016, 14 Abv.

An intriguingly mineral and restrained expression from Chile. Dusty and lifted but boldly opulent and intense showing a fragrant bouquet of cassis leaf, black currant, charcoal embers, graphite and crushed granite minerality. A lovely piquant saline line is drawn straight down the palate and personified further by bright acids and dusty chalky tannins. An impressive, classical but forward looking Chilean expression.

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

Almaviva 2014, 14 Abv.

A more stern, taut, linear expression, I just love the dusty, gravelly, mineral restraint with nuances of maritime oyster shell, graphite and black cherry pith. Palate is simultaneously vibrant yet strict, taut and powerful, revealing precise linearity, tension, black cherry and a pin point black fruit focus. Very impressive precision.

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

Almaviva 2007, 14.5 Abv.

This vintage shows a much more savoury, plush evolution of Almaviva with a nose of salted cured meats, pork scratchings, cassis and stewed black plums. The palate is full, rich and opulent, sweetly textured with massive generosity, vibrant freshly sweet black fruits and a delicious creamy breadth. Touch of alcohol heat on the bold finish, building a little more with wood spice influences. Drinking well now and over the next 3 to 5 years.

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

Almaviva 2002, 14.5 Abv.

Finely evolved nose of sweet leather, cedar and cinnamon spice, graphite and gun smoke. Tantalisingly elegant, evolved yet retaining vibrancy. The palate reveals a lovely full fleshy expression, that is dense, earthy, savoury and sweetly fruited, finishing with rejuvenating acids and a sweet, fleshy cloak of fruit. Drinking now and over 2 to 5 years.

(Wine Safari Score: 91+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Indulging In The Exotic Complexity of Dry Skin Contact Muscats – Tasting the A.A.Badenhorst Geelkapel 2017…

I recently caught up with UK based journalist /wine show organiser / winemaker Christelle Guibert at a trade tasting in London and was super excited to hear that she was working on a follow up release to her first 2,000 bottle sell out 42 day skin contact Muscat orange wine made from 150 year old vines in the Itata Valley in southern Chile. See my review here… https://gregsherwoodmw.com/2018/03/27/new-wines-and-new-horizons-tasting-christelle-guiberts-tierra-del-itata-muscat-orange-wine-2016/

For those that have never tasted skin contact dry Muscat, it really is a wonderful style that is quite common in northern Italy but less so around the world, with many producers instead choosing to make sweeter dessert styles from their grapes. But thankfully, we have a few new additions to this global category including from South Africa, Craig Hawkins’s Sweet Cheeks and also Adi Badenhorst’s Geelkapel.

I first tasted this expression made by Adi Badenhorst last year (or was it 2016?) when Andrea Mullineux presented a selection of the Cape Wine Makers Guild wines at High Timber Restaurant in London with attendees including the legend Hugh Johnson and UK journalists Matthew Jukes and Neal Martin. The wine has now gone “mainstream” and looks set to be a regular offering in the Badenhorst selection. Track it down, it’s a fascinating wine that is truly delicious and characterful.

A.A.Badenhorst Geelkapel Wit Muskadel Single Vineyard 2017, Moutonshoek Farm, Swartland, 13.5 Abv.

This dry Muscat expression shows an alluring dark golden honey yellow colour with aromatics that are equally seductive. Spending 10 days on its skins during fermentation, there are wonderfully complex layers of spicy dried peaches, fresh ginger, bitter orange peel and freshly torn rose petals. The palate is ultra sleek, fresh and polished with impressively spicy notes of freshly brewed beer and toasty hops, tangerine peel, ginger biscuits and crunchy white peaches. Very reminiscent of the superb dry examples of Zibibbo (Muscat) whites of northern Italy or the skin contact expressions from Itata in Chile, this wine style is far less unconventional and obscure than many local commentators would have you believe. But I guess it’s all about context, point of reference and one’s personal experience of global wine styles. Drink this characterful wine with an array of spicy and aromatic cuisines or a fine Bobotie from the Cape.

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

Marc Kent and Gottfried Mocke Extending Their Winemaking Portfolio in the Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley – Tasting the New Cap Maritime 2017 Releases…

The Hemel-en-Aarde Valley seems to be a popular region for brand extensions. Producers like Wellington based Bosman Family Wines has recently branched out there and now so too has Franschhoek / Swartland based producer Boekenhoutskloof under the Cap Maritime label.

With no vineyards currently in the ground, viticulturist Rosa Kruger has been tasked with designing and planting the new Cap Maritime vineyards for Marc Kent and winemaker Gottfried Mocke, who will lease vineyards nearby until their own plantings come on stream. In the meantime, the 2017 and 2018 vintages have already been vinified at their Franschhoek winery, although there will be no brand association of Cap Maritime with the parent company, in a similar way to which Porseleinberg operates and is marketed separately.

Cap Maritime Chardonnay 2017, Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, 13.5 Abv.

Making great Chardonnay and Pinot Noir come naturally to Gottfried Mocke and however successful he is at Boekenhoutskloof with Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, it is Chardonnay specifically that shows off his true talents. The new release Cap Maritime Chardonnay is overtly mineral and stony with layers of limestone, crushed rocks and wet river pebble nuances melting into a melange of yellow citrus, white blossom, grape jelly, green melon preserve and the most sublte kiss of French oak spice. The palate displays a full plump mouthful with hints of ginger bread, grapefruit peel, wet chalk, green honeydew melon, pithy apple skins and a complex vanilla pod spice finish. Seamless and fresh with a harmonious texture from start to finish, this wine shows great refinement and would not look out of place standing amongst some of the finest young Pouilly Fuisses of Burgundy. Drink on release or cellar for 2 to 3+ years before opening.

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

Cap Maritime Pinot Noir 2017, Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, 14 Abv.

This 2017 release is a wonderfully classically proportioned Pinot Noir true to its terroir of the Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley. Sensual and fleshy, sleek and beautifully perfumed, the aromatics are lifted and opulent, brimming with crushed maraschino cherries, pink musk, parma violets, dusty limestone and a sappy resinous complexity. There is none of the structural tannic frame as seen on many 2016 Hemel-en-Aarde Pinot Noir wines but rather more elegant mineral laden red and black berry fruits that show delicious purity together with mouth watering acidity. I don’t think you would confuse this expression for Old World Burgundy, like you could for the Chardonnay, but there is nevertheless all the tell tail hallmarks of a very fine terroir combined with intelligent winemaking. Drink this on release and over the next 6 to 8 years.

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