Happy New Year from the Fine Wine Safari. May your 2023 year be filled with fine food, fine wine and enduring wine sharing friendships. To all my readers out there, I thank you for your ongoing support and will endeavour to bring you many more “hot off the press” wine reviews and new “star wine finds” in the year ahead.
As the fine wine marketplace consolidates ever more with an increasing number of customers and merchants chasing an ever-smaller concentric group of allocated wines, I feel stronger than ever that it’s part of my job to try and discover and raise the new fine wine stars out of industry obscurity, highlighting their incredible wines and telling their unique heart-warming stories so that wine drinkers can fill their cellars with as many diverse fine wines from around the world as possible.
Of course, South African fine wines will continue to occupy many column inches on my website as I truly believe, more so than ever, that the country and its dynamic winemakers offer some of the most enticing and exciting wines being produced anywhere in the world and are, for the time being, still available at a fraction of what they are really worth.
So let’s all raise a glass to the exciting wine journey we will travel in 2023.
Poderi e Cantine Oddero was established in the late 18th century by the Oddero family, who have lived in La Morra since the first half of that century. In the 1890s, Giovanni Battista Oddero began vinifying grapes, which lead to the winery’s establishment. Later, his sons, Lorenzo and Luigi followed in his footsteps. It was the first Giacomo Oddero, who started selling wine in bottles. However, it was the second Giacomo Oddero, who renovated the ancient farm and began elevating the quality and prestige of the region’s wine. Today, his legacy lives on through his daughter, Mariacristina, and his grandchildren, Isabella and Pietro, who represent the seventh generation of vinicultural tradition.
Early reports of the 2019 Piedmont vintage described it as a classic year. A cold wet spring slowed vine growth and the persistent rain made rot and disease a threat. However, despite the added risks, the rains gave the soils the much-needed water to survive the warm summer months. June then delivered a fantastic summer with the hot, dry days lasting through to August when a hailstorm broke loose. Good conditions swiftly picked up again and idyllic weather continued into September. Many of the grapes, particularly Nebbiolo, benefitted from the warm days and juxtaposing cool evenings.
However, a significant thunderstorm, as a final threat to the growing season, struck in early September followed by a nasty hailstorm which, depending on the vineyard, cut yields significantly particularly in Barbaresco. Good conditions allowed the harvest to begin early in September and picking began for both white grape varieties and early-ripening red varieties in the first week, while later-ripening varieties were picked towards the end of the month and into October. The resulting wines reached good phenolic ripeness forecasting good things to come with wines likely to have good fruit character, impressive structure and balancing acidity.
ODDERO LANGHE NEBBIOLO 2020
A taut, fairly reserved aromatics leading with earthy aniseed root, earthy red cherry, tilled earth, chalk dust and red apple skins. Palate is sleek and structured, tight yet generous with hints of tarragon spice, red peppercorns, red cherry and tangy bitter blood orange peel on the finish. A serious effort, with a stern frame, soft but fresh acids and a long harmonious finish.
(Wine Safari Score: 91+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
ODDERO BARBARESCO CRU GALLINA 2020
Wonderfully elegant and perfumed styling to this pretty Cru Gallina that shows rose petals, potpourri, red cherry and raspberry herbal tea. The palate shows incredible focus and precision, pristine purity and a fine grained texture bursting with red cherry, cranberry and tart red currant. Fabulously polished marble tannins frame this beautifully harmonious Barbaresco. Very impressive.
(Wine Safari Score: 95+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
ODDERO BAROLO 2018
A blend of Crus including among others Bricco del Fiasco, Villero, Capelot, Rocca di Castiglione, Monvigleiro, Bussia, etc. This wine is lovely and expressive, exotic and complex with deep, rich, sweet red and black cherry notes, kirsch liquor, blood orange, vermouth, subtle reductive saline cassis notes and hints of tar and black liquorice. The palate is beautifully polished, silky yet potent, with creamy powdery tannins, an opulently plump mid-palette and multiple textural layers of red strawberry and black cherry, kirsch and aniseed spice under a veil of smoky minerality. The pedigree of a top producer shines in this pure fruited benchmark estate blend. Bravo!
(Wine Safari Score: 94/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
The New 2019 Releases
ODDERO BAROLO 2019
Another cracking vintage delivers impressive depth and complexity on the nose and palate. The aromatics are expressive and perfumed with rich layers of pressed rose petals, red and black cherry, saline reductive black currant leaf, salty liquorice and subtle caramelised strawberry hints. The palate shows an impressive harmony and an opulent fleshy mouth-filling depth of fruit while retaining sufficient muscle, structure and shape. Vibrant and mouth-wateringly juicy, this is truly an unmissable Barolo normale that will thrill serious Nebbiolo lovers. Drink from 2024 and over the next 10 to 15+ years.
(Wine Safari Score: 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
ODDERO BAROLO CRU BRUNATE 2018
A pretty wine with a certain amount of lift and overt perfume already. But still tightly knit and taut aromatics with hints of glacé cherry, red plum, aniseed and vermouth macerated oranges. The palate has purity and precision yet lacks nothing in the power department. Wonderfully sleek, mineral and spicy, you feel the power, the assertiveness and most definitely the precision of polished tight grained tannins. I’m always a fan of top Cru Brunate and this beauty definitely impresses again. Most certainly youthful but undoubtedly there’s a super seductive essence to this wine. I’m totally sold!
(Wine Safari Score: 95+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
ODDERO BAROLO CRU BRUNATE 2019
Always an impressive Cru in great vintages, this is a rich, perfumed potent Brunate with aromatics of red cherry, dried herbs, tea leaf and a complex spearmint and cinamon lift. The palate shows a generous volume of red and black berry fruits, a plush fleshy mid-palate depth and delicious stony mineral layers that melt seamlessly into a juicy red cherry and spicy, earthy cranberry length. Pin point Barolo perfection. Simply superb!
(Wine Safari Score: 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
ODDERO BAROLO CRU ROCCHE DI CASTIGLIONE 2019
A lovely individual expression of Nebbiolo that reveals rich earthy, savoury red and black bramble berry fruits, sun dried cherry, aniseed stick and dried fennel seeds. The palate is broad and muscular with a fine grained mouth coating mineral tannin, spicy sweet baking herbs and a broody, fleshy finish with subdued berry fruits. Bury this beauty in the cellar for at least 5 to 8 years and your patience will be rewarded.
(Wine Safari Score: 97/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
ODDERO BAROLO CRU VILLERO 2019
This shows a darker fruited expression than the Brunate but still with plenty of overt appeal, tar and roses, smokey reductive saline cassis and sweet earthy black cherry nuances. The palate boasts a generous, fleshy, fruit forward opulence with seductive showy red and black berry concentration, sweet fleshy tannins and a long, creamy, mouth-coating candied finish. Fabulous depth, plenty of fire power and undeniable class.
A much bolder, riper, deeper red expression with lush, broody, opulent aromatic layers of black cherry, liquorice, caramelised red cherry, vanilla pod and a broody, exotic earthy blood orange depth. Super plump, dense, focused yet deliciously spicy, taut and linear with frame and tension. Certainly enough extract and stuffing on the palate to allow this to age for quite a few more years.
(Wine Safari Score: 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
ODDERO BAROLO CRU BUSSIA VIGNA MONDOCA 2017
Another potent, focused, powerful expression of Nebbiolo with piercing aromatics of black cherry, kirsch, melted black liquorice, polish mahogany and smoky hot tarmac. The complexity follows to the palate, showing a surprisingly silky, spicy, accessible elegance, a delicately fleshy savoury red and black berry fruit concentration, caramelised vanilla pod hints and a long, plush, finessed finish. A real beauty and an absolute triumph for the vintage! Ready to go now.
(Wine Safari Score: 96+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
ODDERO BAROLO CRU VIGNA RIONDA RISERVA 2016
This is one of the most coveted Crus of Serralunga d’Alba, an exceptional place where Barolo and Nebbiolo expresses itself in a truly unique way. The 2016 shows a complex set of aromatics in the glass revealing layers of earthy truffle, savoury red fruits, smoky cured meats, bresaola, salty liquorice, tar and roses and a subtle smoky hint of reduction. There’s a savoury, earthy red fruited ethereal power veiled under extreme textural elegance, salty concentration and focused mineral length. Vigna Rionda’s mystery lies in the sum of its characteristics and is manifested perfectly in a wonderful 5 star vintage like 2016. A true wine for connoisseurs and collectors alike. Make space in your cellar!!
(Wine Safari Score: 98/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
The Oddero wines are available to UK trade from their exclusive importer Astrum Wines.
In September, Chris “Butch” Alheit returned to the United Kingdom to present his new 2021 vintages at his importer’s portfolio tasting. With over 120+ wines from South Africa being poured, most with their producers in attendance, I decided to write up a series of “snap-shot” tastings for drinkers and collectors to use as a quick and easily accessible reference for a whole series of new releases. I fortuitously had another opportunity only a few weeks later to retaste the entire Alheit range again with Chris in Cape Town at the Cape Wine 2022 wine show in October. So my below scores are an aggregate of the two tastings.
Chris explained that in general, his vineyards ripened around 10 days later in 2021 than the previous year, with low yields but very high quality across the board. In 2021, no Huilkrans Chenin Blanc was made as the crop from this Skurfberg “lieu dit” vineyard was simply too small. Then there was the Magnetic North catastrophy which saw the entire tank of Chenin Blanc from this famous vineyard ruined by a faulty tank gasket seal that imparted an unpleasant bitterness to the wine. As if Alheit demand and supply is not strained enough in a regular vintage, 2021 with its exceptional white wine quality will create even more severe headaches for collectors and drinkers looking for allocations of these incredible wines. But I recommend you persevere as the wines are once again truly outstanding.
Alheit Vineyards Hereafter Here 2021, WO Western Cape, 13% Abv.
Made from young vine Chenin Blanc vineyards from Upper Blaauwklippen, Polkadraai and the Swartland, the idea is that some of these grapes will eventually be channelled into Cartology in years to come as the vines age. Deliciously cool, silky and taut with green fruits, white flowers, white citrus, green apple and crunchy peach nuances. Acids are mouth-wateringly tangy and the fruits crystalline and pure with impressive clarity and balance. A clear step up in quality and intensity on the maiden 2020 release.
Alheit Vineyards Cartology 2021, WO Western Cape, 13% Abv.
A blend of 90% Chenin Blanc and 10% Semillon from circa nine dryland bush vine parcels around the Cape with a minimum age of 35 years but with most between 40 to 80 years old. The entry shows a massive vibrant concentration of white citrus, peach and tangerine with complexing notes of wet thatch, fynbos and struck flint reduction. The palate is rich and textured, plush and fleshy, showing the true class and pedigree of the 2021 vintage. This must be among the finest Cartology releases produced to date. Do not miss it!
Alheit Vineyards Fire By Night Chenin Blanc 2021, WO Swartland, 13% Abv.
Previously known as Broom Ridge, this wine has reverted back to its original name and label due to popular demand. From vineyards on the property Chris bought in the Swartland, the vines were planted between 1971 and 1985 on decomposed granitic soils. The aromatics are predictably stony, dusty and pithy with white peach, crunchy pear, green tea, fynbos and tangerine undertones. The palate shows its usual tell-tale reductive flinty hints together with an incredible liquid minerality that is supported by crystalline pure fruits and pinpoint fresh acids. Once again, a very impressive showing from this Paardeberg vineyard.
Alheit Vineyards Nautical Dawn Chenin Blanc 2021, WO Helderberg, Stellenbosch, 13% Abv.
Grapes for this single vineyard wine come from a beautiful higher altitude site in the Helderberg planted in 1978 that overlooks False Bay. The soils are weathered decomposed granite that look like caster sugar in texture. True to this vineyard’s terroir, there is an incredibly pronounced rock salt salinity on the wine with an overt maritime sea breeze complexity that combines with notes of peach, pear, lime peel, tangerine and a savoury liquid minerality on the finish. Intense, complex and certainly quite profound. Wow!
The grapes from this famous La Colline vineyard were planted in 1936 and offer up complex notes of melted bee’s wax, incense, sweet baking herbs, black currant, lemon rind and tangerine. There is a generous, concentrated fleshy savoury fruit core all held in perfect equilibrium by fresh taut acids. Still showing a complexing hint of smoky reduction, this is undoubtedly a profound Semillon offering from one of the most famous vineyards in the country. Pop this in your cellar for 3 to 5 years and then drink over 8 to 10+ years.
Alheit Vineyards Hemelrand Vine Garden 2021, WO Hemel-en-Aarde, 13.5% Abv.
A blend of 36% Chardonnay, 27% Roussanne, 18% Chenin Blanc, 16% Verdelho and 3% Muscat. This field blend offers up rich earthy, peachy fruit notes with yellow orchard fruits, white flowers, citrus oil and lychee with subtle baking spice nuances. The palate is fresh and full fruited with a fruit salad melange enlivened by juicy, tangy acids and a delicately savoury, mineral finish. Plenty of intensity on display here but also a fine purity and a harmonious balance. One of the best Hemelrand Vine Garden releases to date.
Alheit Vineyards Lost and Found Hanepoot Straw Wine 2019, WO Breedekloof, 7% Abv.
Looking at this rich, unctuous wine in the glass is akin to gazing through an ancient piece of Jurassic fossilized amber – ripe, captivating and most definitely warmly inviting. But this is no normal sweet wine and one sniff of the rich, ripe, potent aromatics reveals an enchanting bouquet of freshly boiled marmalade jam, green mango preserve, barley sugar, sweet herbs, wet straw and dried apricots. Give the dense, glycerol wine another slow swirl in a big Zalto Bordeaux bowl and it shifts gears again to offer yet more pithy orange peel nuances and seductive notes of quince jelly, pressed grapes and burnt caramel. Like some of South Africa’s other truly great sweet wines, the aromatics are so complex and seductive that you almost forget to sip the wine! Incredibly viscous and fleshy on the palate with a round glycerol opulence, there is no suggestion at any point that this wine is going to be overly sweet and clawing with its 450 g/l RS. In fact the sweetness is kept smartly in check by a searing acidity that scythes through the caramel and barley sugar laden fruit layers with samurai sword precision. The finish is gloriously mouth coating, hedonistic and persistent with just the most subtle sappy, pithy, bitter orange peel vermouth twang.
The beautiful Guado al Tasso estate is located in the small but prestigious Bolgheri DOC appellation on the coast of the Upper Maremma, about one hundred kilometers southwest of Florence. This appellation has a relatively recent history as it was only established in 1994 but has since gained worldwide recognition as featuring one of the most prestigious red wines in the premium Antinori family portfolio – Tenuta Guado Al Tasso.
Il Bruciato, the second wine, was first produced in 2002 in one of the most difficult vintages ever for the famous Guado al Tasso estate. The Il Bruciato wine is now regarded as a modern interpretation of Bolgheri’s unique terroir made from carefully selected Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah grapes from all around Guado al Tasso’s vineyards.
The 2020 vintage in Bolgheri was a rather challenging, warm vintage, especially in the summer, that was however mitigated by good rains in 2019 and some 2020 Spring showers. At neighbouring estate Ornellaia, Director of Winemaking Axel Heinz stated that… “2020 was a great example of the now-unpredictable nature of our (Bolgheri) weather. We had to deal with challenges on various fronts: a spell of high heat and periods of cooler temperatures and rain.” But fortunately the ‘in-bottle’ results from most of the top producers are indeed very impressive, reinforcing how knowledge and expertise can fine tune a challenging vintage.
Tenuta Guado Al Tasso Il Bruciato Rosso, 2020, 13.5% Abv.
In a similar vein to Bordeaux’s second wines, the top Rosso second wines from Bolgheri offer impressive depth, opulence, complexity and sensual drinking pleasure, giving the consumer a brief snapshot into the estate’s ‘first wine’ offerings even if the cepage of grapes is sometimes slightly different. Of the big name estates in coastal Tuscany, Il Bruciato has been one of my perennial favourites coming from the beautiful estate of Guado Al Tasso. The 2020 blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah is yet another star performer boasting lush aromatic layers of black cherry, piquant black chocolate, smoky black currant with sweet grilled herbs, roasted caramelised almonds, stewed plums and toasty brûléed brown toast nuances. The palate is luxuriously rich and generous with dense sweet silky tannins, a compact core of black berry fruits and savoury meaty graphite hints on the leafy, sappy finish. Drink this on release and over 8 to 10+ years.
Jasper Wickens started working with Adi Badenhorst at the Kalmoesfontein property in the Paardeberg in 2009 and was a central character in the whole Swartland Revolution movement. As the dynamic Swartland movement gathered pace, Jasper met his now wife, Franziska Wickens (néé Schreiber), who is the third generation of a Swartland farming family in the Siebritskloof Valley in the Paardeberg and studied viticulture at Elsenberg with a focus on cellar management. Their relationship grew at a similar pace to the popularity of the Swartland’s red and white wines and were finally married in 2016 on Franziska’s Waterval farm.
Exactly 10 years after he first moved to the Paardeberg, Jasper completed his final harvest at AA Badenhorst Family Wines in 2018 as he prepared to move full time into the repurposed wine cellar at his Waterval farm next door to focus on his own Swerwer range that was established back in 2012 with the sole purpose of creating authentic “wines of place” that represented the true essence of their local terroirs. Franziska owns and manages extensive family vineyard plantings and now supplies some of the most sought after Swartland grapes to producers such as JH Meyer, AA Badenhorst, Blacksmith Wines, Paul Jordaan’s Bosberaad, John Seccombe, Samantha Suddons’ Vinevenom label and Martin Lamprecht’s Marras label.
Jasper’s Swerwer range is now quite extensive and includes, among others, a Chenin Blanc, an old vine skin contact Tiernes Chenin Blanc, a Semillon Gris, as well as reds made from Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah, Tinta Barocca and Touriga Nacional. Jasper is undoubtedly making some of the most exciting wines in the Swartland that will surely become a lot harder to buy as his reputation for quality continues to grow year by year. So if you haven’t tasted the wines from his Swerwer range yet, the Chenin Blanc and his Red Blend made from Cinsault, Grenache, and Tinta Barocca are the perfect place to start your discovery. Jasper is definitely a Swartland producer to follow closely.
JC Wickens Swerwer Chenin Blanc 2020, WO Swartland, 13.5% Abv.
This is another beautifully expressive Chenin Blanc from warm granitic mountain slopes in the Swartland region. Jasper and Franziska Wickens own and farm some truly profound vineyards in the Paardeberg area and this Chenin Blanc is a classically styled steely white shaped by its decomposed granitic terroir. The aromatics are cool and supremely mineral with layers of crushed gravel, dried green herbs, oatmeal biscuits, lemon rind, yellow orchard fruits and sweet wet hay nuances. The palate reveals lovely textural tension and fruit / acid intensity without losing any elegance and precision, showing plenty of pineapple pastille, bruised yellow orchard fruits, wet river pebble minerality and a pithy, leesy finish. This is a wine that speaks volumes of its origin, expresses its unique terroir and seduces the drinker in doing so. There are many far more expensive Swartland Chenin Blancs on the market but few which reach this level of complexity and palate-appeal for a similar price. Drink now and over the next 5 to 8 years.
(Wine Safari Score: 94+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
The Cinsault and Grenache were sourced from vineyards growing on well drained, granite soils. Cinsault was often known as the workhorse variety and of the rare Grenache only very few old vineyards remain. Tinta Barocca has proved itself in the Swartland already for decades and completes this traditional blend. Here it is sourced from a warmer clay–rich vineyard.
JC Wickens Swerwer Red Blend 2020, WO Swartland, 13% Abv.
An eclectic blend of Cinsault, Grenache, and Tinta Barocca make for a truly delicious Swartland red blend. The deep, dark aromatic base notes of the Grenache and Tinta Barocca are raised out the glass by the delicate rose petal perfumed lift of the Cinsault before more complex notes of cured meats, bramble berries, red cherries, cola, and Turkish delight come to the fore. The palate is both compact, concentrated, and sleek but also wonderfully light on its feet, enlivened by a mouth-watering red berry acidity, hints of cranberry, wild strawberry and smoky, meaty charcuterie savoury nuances. This certainly is a very impressive versatile red that can be sipped on its own or paired with almost any food dishes. Jasper Wickens is truly a master craftsman and this fabulous red is a tribute to his winemaking skills. Drink now and over the next 3 to 5+ years.
As the world’s wine merchants return from Burgundy after tasting the almost non-existent 2021 vintage, Domaine de la Romanee Conti prepares for the latest ‘in-bottle’ releases of their 2020 vintages in early 2023. But as I tasted the 2019 releases earlier this year, it was certainly clear for all to see that a new era was dawning at the Domaine with Bertrand de Villaine taking over from his uncle Aubert, and Perrine Fenal moving into the place of the late Henry-Frédéric Roch. For an estate that is based on tradition and unerring continuity, these changes constitute a true “changing of the guard” and must be considered substantial and significant in nature.
So sadly, this occasion probably constituted the last new vintage tasting I will ever do with Aubert de Villaine in attendance. Thankfully, the 2019’s are another truly incredible array of Burgundy wines.
Domaine de la Romanee Conti Corton Grand Cru 2019
Launched in 2009, the Corton Grand Cru blend delivered a truly graceful expression in 2019 showing its perfumed elegance to perfection, with complex aromatics of rosehip, violets, brambly sweet vermouth spices over dark black berries, fruit cake and dried orange peel. The fruits of the palate are dark, earthy and sweet with impressive concentration, a rounded mouthfeel and a harmonious yet fresh interwoven acidity. The finish is elegant, mineral-laced and very precise.
(Wine Safari Score: 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Domaine de la Romanee Conti Echezeaux Grand Cru 2019
As the last of the domaine’s reds to be harvested, this 2019 reveals a fully ripe, exotically red and fruited core boasting notes of mulberry, spicy blackberry compote and stewed winter black fruits. The palate follows with notes of macerated black berries, stewed black cherries, plum stone and brambly wild nuances laced with dried mint and wild herbs. A ripe, opulent, generous expression of Echezeaux.
(Wine Safari Score: 94+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Domaine de la Romanee Conti Grands Echezeaux Grand Cru 2019
Paler and brighter than the Echezeaux, the aromatics are equally seductive and complex showing lovely perfumed notes of Rosehip, pressed violets and top notes of cherry kirsch liquor. The palate follows with a similar sense of graceful power and coiled intensity of red and black berries, blood orange and pomegranates over limestone minerality and a cool freshness the accentuates this wines purity. A very classy Grands Echezeaux vintage.
(Wine Safari Score: 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Domaine de la Romanee Conti Richebourg Grand Cru 2019
Harvested slightly earlier than some of the other cuvées, this Richebourg offers up a wonderfully perfumed richness and generosity of violets, cherry blossom and intense notes of red cherries, pink musk and sweet exotic vermouth spices. The first sip confirms the wines intensity and power, racy freshness and piercing concentration that arrives in supple waves, drenching the palate in refined flavours of red and black berries, sun dried cranberries and pink rock candy nuances. Lovely focus and precision but also super refinement.
(Wine Safari Score: 97+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Domaine de la Romanee Conti Romanee St Vivant Grand Cru 2019
This vintage offers up a distinctly rich, round, opulent expression cool aromatics of stony blue and black berry fruits, black cherry and bramble berry spice. Its boldness lies in fruit generosity rather than ethereal perfumed intricacy with a real sweet and sour acid vibrancy on the palate, piercing concentration and a seamlessly elegant persistence. Simply beguiling harmony and power.
(Wine Safari Score: 96+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Domaine de la Romanee Conti La Tache Grand Cru Monopole 2019
A wine Aubert suggests rivals the great 2018 in its youth, this is certainly a rich, ripe expressive La Tache with plenty of dark mysterious black earthy berry fruits, raisined cranberry, sweet black berry compote overlying a resinous sapidity and richly extracted depth of fruit. The freshness is uplifting and effortless and helps invigorate the long, persistent finish mixed with dried herbs and crushed mint. A wine of great substance.
(Wine Safari Score: 97/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Domaine de la Romanee Conti Romanee Conti Grand Cru Monopole 2019
A decidedly deep, taut and broody expression of Romanee Conti that reveals imposing old vine concentration and an aromatic melange of pressed roses, chalky minerality, black fruit purity and baked black plums. The palate is silky and effortless, intense and concentrated with regal depth, contemplative textural intricacy and delectable prowess. A Pinot Noir blessed by the gods themselves!
(Wine Safari Score: 99/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Domaine de la Romanee Conti Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru 2019
Always special to taste a maiden release especially when it’s from DRC, and this new white conjures up the same excitement as tasting the maiden 2009 Corton red. Rich and golden, the aromatics offer up all the classic Charlemagne notes of lemon pastille and butter, lemon cream biscuits and a deliciously complex mealy, leesy intensity. On the palate there is clear pedigree with generous, unctuous, mouth-coating concentration and fabulously savoury, harmonious balance with freshness and a light touch elegance on the long finish.
Clayton Reabow of Môreson and Craig McNaught of Stony Brook winery are the winemakers behind this new head-turning Franschhoek-based label and the owners of the Lokaia brand. It was their belief that there was more to explore in the potential of the Franschhoek Valley with varieties like Semillon, Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc that led to an exciting new range of wines. With second vintages of all three wines hitting the market both in South Africa and further afield, it seems the hype and excitement around the wines has been well founded.
The name “Lokaia” is derived from Ole Lukøje, the title of a fairy tale by author Hans Christian Andersen about the God of Dreams, and I’m sure neither Clayton nor Craig could have imagined the level of acclaim to which their three new wines would be received by markets, both locally in South Africa and internationally.
I really loved the electric early picked freshness on the whites and the purity and precision on their Cabernet Franc red. The market, as a whole, is so often top heavy with ripe, alcoholic, fruit bomb wines that sometimes fine wine lovers of elegance, tension, purity and freshness at lower alcohol levels are often forgotten about. But thankfully Clayton and Craig have created a tight range of wines that ticks so many boxes while also playing to the strengths of their local Franschhoek terroirs.
Such is the popularity of these wines and the instant following (and small production) that all three new releases sell out instantly on release in the local market. So worth looking out for these in the UK and further afield while they are still slightly less well known! It’s certainly not going to last!
Lokaia Pound of Flesh 2021, WO Bo-Hoek, Franschhoek, 10.5% Abv.
This impressive wine comes from a vineyard planted in 1995 on the Stony Brook farm in the Bo-Hoek area of Franschhoek. Despite its ultra-crystalline clear translucent colour, the wine saw a small amount of skin contact in the press before an extra four months ageing in stainless steel. There is an alluring dusty, stony mineral aromatic character on the attractive nose before more complex notes of lemon grass, lime peel, white pear, green herbs and lemon pastille emerge. At 10.5% Abv. the wine is impressively ample and ripe with taut textural layers of tart peach stone fruits, wet river pebble minerality and lime cordial, all framed by a steely, intense, glassy acidity that has more in common with Australia’s tart, dry Hunter Valley expressions than the more generous, glycerol, lanolin and lemon fruited expressions we are more used to from Franschhoek’s famous old vine vineyards. Like Lokaia’s other wines, this is another super classy expression that will seduce the fussiest of Old World fine wine aficionados. Drink from release and over the next 8 to 10+ years.
Stellenbosch and its nine wards have basically made Cabernet Sauvignon its very own flagship grape over the past thirty or forty years. Indeed, it is when we open some of these older wines from the 1980’s or 1990’s that we see just how well suited the various terroirs of Stellenbosch are to making premium ageable Cabernet Sauvignon. Within the region, there are undoubtedly a handful of top producers who regularly push the boundaries of quality and finesse and Thelema Mountain Vineyards most definitely falls into this category.
Located high on the slopes of the picturesque Simonsberg Mountain in the heart of Stellenbosch, Thelema Mountain Vineyards can be considered an absolute Cape classic. With vineyards grown at elevations of between 370m and 530m above sea level, Thelema is one of the highest and coolest estates in the area with 100 percent of the fruit used coming from their own vineyards. But 2019 was an unusual year with severe weather fluctuations during bud break and flowering, followed by cool windy conditions which contributed to less and more uneven bunches and certainly smaller berries making for wines with intensity and a surprising amount of elegance at lower alcohol levels.
Thelema Mountain Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2019, WO Stellenbosch, 13.5% Abv.
1.6g/l RS | 5.6g/l TA | 3.66pH
The 2019 vintage Thelema is a plush, dense offering with dramatic fleshy layers of red and black berry fruits and aromatics that show true Cabernet Sauvignon nuances of red currants, earthy cassis, hints of violets, sweet grilled herbs, sweet tobacco, capsicum and black tea. The nervy herbaceous notes are balanced by fleshy red and black fruits, spicy black plum, sweet yellow capsicum, coffee bean spice and a strong undertone of graphite and stony minerality. Medium bodied with a velvety texture, the wine has plenty of freshly tilled earth savoury complexity, a subtle integrated oak spice and powdery dry tannins on the elegant finish. Still showing plenty of youthful restraint and reserve, this is a classically constructed Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon that will reward at least 10+ years ageing in the cellar before drinking.
Regarded as one of the true rising stars of Pomerol and the right bank, Charlotte Krajewski, daughter of owner Martin Krajewski, has overseen winemaking at the Chateau Seraphine property since 2017 as the Technical Director and Chief Wine Maker after previously travelling and working extensively in France, Australia, USA and more latterly New Zealand in Hawkes Bay.
Their vineyards have an overall surface of 2.2 hectares but is split into two parcels of vines. At Plince they have one hectare of vines situated on a well-draining slope of sandy topsoil over clay and deep gravels and 0.4ha of this plot was replanted with Cabernet Franc in April 2017 at 8000 vines per/ha. The second block at Mazeyres is 1.2ha and is also laid out in two distinct sections. The first part consists of a raised deposit of deep gravels on 0.6ha and is planted with old Merlot vines. The second part sits on a gently sloping 0.6ha and is a patchwork of shallow sandy soils over gravels and blue clay (smectite) and was replanted with Merlot in April 2017 at 8,000 plants per/h.
The growing year started slowly but was followed by a series of heat waves, a drought and heavy rain in late September although Seraphine also enjoyed an almost endless dry summer that led to a very fine harvest. During the 2019 growing year Seraphine decided to maintain a slightly higher density canopy and so did only a light leaf-thinning in the early season on the side of the rising sun. Then in early August they also did a green harvest to adjust the crop size and to take pressure off the vines after the long warm summer.
In the winery, the harvested fruit was carefully loaded from small baskets onto a first-sorting table and then de-stemmed using their precision CUBE system followed by a berry hand-sorting table and a gentle crushing before arriving in the fermentation tanks by gravity. The average yield was approximately 35hl/ha for the older vines although not all of the fruit went into the Grand Vin, and 25hl/ha for the younger vines, which was used exclusively for the ‘second’ wine.
Chateau Seraphine L’ Innocence de Seraphine 2019, Pomerol, 14% Abv.
Surely the expectations for a premium 100% Merlot Pomerol from a top vintage like 2019 will be high and this second wine certainly does not disappoint. The aromatics are accessible, rich, broad and expressive with high toned notes of violets and lilac over hints of tilled loamy earth, wet clay, earthy black plum, burnt wood embers, bitter black chocolate, dried coconut flakes and bruleed coffee beans. The palate is equally inviting with soft, spicy, pithy layers of chocolatey black berry fruits, dusty graphite, vanilla pod, black tea, stewed cherries and exotic baking spices. The tannins are classically mineral and piquant offering structural support to the supple dark berry fruits ensuring serious drinking pleasure for true Bordeaux connoisseurs. Drink this now or cellar comfortably for another 5 to 8+ years.
(Wine Safari Score: 93+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
This wine is available in the UK at £59.99pb from Museum Wines.
Swig Wines represents one of the most exciting and dynamic set of international wine producers in the UK and recently they held their portfolio tasting in Soho, London. Of course, the South African contingent was well represented as usual with the likes of Duncan Savage, Alex Starey from Keermont and Pieter Walser from Blank Bottle. But there was one glaring omission, Craig Wessels from Restless River.
Unfortunately, Craig experienced a freak accident surfing and had broken his leg and was unable to travel with the SA brat pack and share a warm sleeping bag with Duncan Savage! 😉 So I was extra excited to hook up with him at Cape Wine 2022 in early October for a proper tasting and a good catch up. But you can imagine my surprise and joy to be contacted by Craig only a short time afterwards asking to hook up again in London to taste his new releases one-to-one. Restless River’s new offerings always represent one of the most exciting and high-demand South African fine wine releases of the calendar year and so getting a proper run down from Craig himself was an invaluable experience for me.
Craig bought the Restless River estate with 7ha planted planted in 1998 (one hectare pulled out subsequently). Plantings are now already up to 21 hectares. Craig’s first vintages released were the 2012 for the Ava Marie Chardonnay and the 2008 for the Main Road & Dignity Cabernet Sauvignon with his Wunderlust label representing an experimentational range allowing him to express his creative juices, producing one-off wines that are never usually repeated.
Restless River Ava Marie Chardonnay 2020, WO Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, 13% Abv.
The 2020 vintage has a little more apparent acidity than the 2019, combining the fruit and salinity with the fresh acids. The 2020 was all produced in 500 litre barrels followed by blending and ageing in stainless for 3 to 4 months, settling and stabilising on its fine lees before bottling for better integration. The wine already shows lovely Lemon butter and leesy aromatic complexity with hints of white toast, lemon rind, white citrus, melted wax and a mellow kiss of salted caramel. The palate is bright and fresh but also shows a generous mid-palate concentration and textural fleshy character. This is a fabulous terroir driven wine that is harvested over the period of a month allowing for individual parcels to be brought in to the winery to be blended into the perfect assemblage. Incredible balance and mid-palate weight make this a tantalising offering. Simply benchmark in terms of Chardonnay in South Africa. Very similar to the 2019 in many aspects with the same ‘inner profile’ but with a tad more acidity and minerality in the 2020. A true classic that is worthy of a place in any collector’s cellar … if you can get an allocation! (10,901 bottles produced.)
(Wine Safari Score: 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Restless River Main Road Dignity Cabernet Sauvignon 2019, WO Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, 14.01% Abv.
Made from 23 year old vines, yielding 2 -2.5 tons per hectare. The 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon had a very long hang time which gave it super smooth, ripe, dry fine grained tannins on the palate. Harvested from 10th March to 7th May, an almost unheard of length of picking spread for two small 1.59 hectare and 0.71 hectare vineyards, which are vinified separately by parcel within each vineyard, with each parcel matched to a different cooperage. Aged for 23 months in barrel and then almost another 24 months in bottle, the wine certainly hits the ground running in a most spectacular fashion. Such pristine purity and precision with beautiful purple and black berry fruits, creme de cassis, blue berry and an essence of watermelon making for a deliciously exotic, hedonistic wine. So incredibly lithe and fresh in the glass with tangy acids, a sleek but supremely intense concentration of blue and black berry fruits and a pronounced maritime salinity on the finish. But it’s undoubtedly the ‘wagyu-styled’ fine tannins that are massaged to perfection with an imperceptible mineral grip and a sleek velvety texture thanks to the longer hang times. So incredibly delicious. Wow! (8,124 bottles produced.)