I have always known about the exciting Sutherland Vineyards winery in Elgin owned by the Webb family of Thelema fame but it was really only when their 2015 Chardonnay was rated 95+ points in a blind Decanter Magazine panel tasting for South African Chardonnay a few years ago that I started to pay a lot more attention to both the brand and the wines.
I was of course on that Decanter panel that rated this wine so highly along with other South African greats like Ataraxia 2015, Neil Ellis Whitehall Chardonnay 2015 and Rustenburg 5 Soldiers 2015. So it was a real pleasure to taste not only their new release Chardonnay 2019 recently but also their delicious 2017 Viognier Roussanne Rhone-style white blend.
Also, another one of my guilty pleasures has always been the copious amounts of their Sutherland Grenache Rose that I drink when I visit South Africa. Great value, dry, vibrant and expressive, it too has become one of my perennial summertime favourites. Elgin is definitely not just about cool climate Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Riesling. This fiddle plays an array of fabulous tunes.
Sutherland Chardonnay 2019, WO Elgin, 13% Abv.
This is another wonderfully expressive Chardonnay from Elgin that always seems to show a really individual character. The aromatics balance enticing nervy yellow citrus nuances with seductive vanilla pod spices all underpinned by a bold stony minerality and delicate struck match reductive complexity. The palate is joyfully concentrated with sweet tangy pineapple and lemon pastille candied notes, a sweet and sour mouth-watering acidity and the pronounced hallmark Sutherland wet river pebble liquid minerality. Subtly savoury and herby but always vibrant and electrically fresh in the mouth, this is a wine that is enviably super individual but always stylistically classically orientated. Drink now or cellar 3 to 5+ years. Certainly a wine for white Burgundy lovers to try!
(Wine Safari Score: 94/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Sutherland Viognier Roussanne 2017, WO Elgin, 14.5% Abv.
3.7g/l RS | 3.29 pH | 6.10g/l TA
This is also a very attractive little white Rhone blend from a region more known for Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. A blend of 70% Viognier and 30% Roussanne, the wine was fermented and matured in 2nd and 3rd fill barrels which lends the aromatics a delicious rich savoury nuance punctuated by leesy notes of white toast, waxy lemons, bruised yellow orchard fruits and quince preserve. The palate has a full, fleshy textural feel not dissimilar to a ripe cool climate Chardonnay but also displays delicious notes of ripe peaches, lanolin, vanilla pod spice and a lovely stony, slatey minerality. This is certainly a wine that is reminiscent to some of the serious northern Rhone white expressions that cost 3 to 4 times the price. The perfect counterfoil to Chardonnay or oaked Chenin Blanc, this will put a very big smile on a lot of people’s faces. Drink now and over the next 3 to 6 years.
Marelise Niemann officially launched her own Momento label in 2013 when she was still working for Beaumont winery in the Bot River region. She has since taken up wine making duties at Anysbos Winery in the Bot River owned by Peter-Allan Finlayson’s uncle-in-law with her maiden vintages released from the 2017 vintage.
Marelise had also been making her Momento wines at Gabrielskloof along side Peter-Allan and John Seccombe (Thorne & Daughters) but has also moved production of these wines to the Anysbos Winery. The 2019 Disdit white is a blend of 70% Chenin Blanc, 29% Roussanne and 1% dryland grown bush vine Grenache Blanc naturally fermented and then aged for 10 months in old barrels.
Anysbos Disdit 2019, WO Bot River, 13.5 Abv.
The first time I tasted the 2017 Disdit white blend I was blown away. So what to expect from the follow-up 2019? Predictably the wine shows much more tension, flinty reduction and impressive minerality like many top SA 2019 whites. The aromatics reveal a complex melange of white citrus, wet thatch, dried herbs, fresh fennel, yellow pithy orchard fruits and a curiously alluring, earthy mineral undertone. The palate fruit expression is cool and tightly wound showing a herbal intensity, pithy white peaches, savoury buttery notes and a vibrant, fresh textured finish. Very impressive indeed! Pop this in the cellar for 1-3 years before pulling the cork.
I recently reviewed the Three Pines Cabernet Sauvignon from the Stark-Condé Winery that was launched in Stellenbosch in 1998 by Hans and Midori Schroder with a focus on producing hand-crafted premium wines. Located in the picturesque and ever so dramatic Jonkershoek Valley in Stellenbosch, it is a site with steep changes in vineyard elevation ranging from 150 to 600 metres making for a range of terroirs with distinct characteristics.
At Stark-Condé they stick to traditional winemaking methods using open tank fermentation, meticulous sorting of grapes, hand-punch downs, basket pressing and maturation in small French oak barrels.
With a very limited availability of this superb single vineyard wine, I thought I couldn’t pass on reviewing one of the most exciting Cabernet Sauvignons I have tasted from Stellenbosch in a long time. The vineyard is situated on a south-westerly aspect on decomposed granitic soils and was replanted after tragic bush fires in 2009. The 2017 vintage is of course synonymous with weightless intensity, piercing concentration and sublime elegance and this wine is yet another flag bearer for this iconic vintage and region. The wine was aged for 20 months in 70% new French oak barrels and bottled unfiltered and unfined.
Stark Condé Oude Nektar 2017 Red Blend, WO Jonkershoek Valley, 14% Abv.
6.7g/l TA | 1.9 RS | 32.3 g/l Total Extract
This utterly seductive wine is a bottling of 95% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Petit Verdot and 2% Malbec. Despite the salt and pepper additions, this is a wonderfully pure classical Cabernet Sauvignon with archetypal aromatics of pressed violets and tilled earth, crushed gravel, graphite, freshly brewed espresso and sweet cedary spice. There is an irony, bloody, iodine and black olive complexity that lends that extra dimension to the wine making it just that little bit more special. The palate is pinpoint 2017 elegance personified with piercing fresh acids, powder puff tannins, weightless saline black currant and black cherry fruit concentration and a wonderfully long, harmonious finish of melted Belgian chocolates, salty kelp, black liquorice and warm buttered brown toast. Just quite simply spellbinding. Drink now and over the next 15+ years. (Only 4,617 bottles produced)
It is kind of ironic that while single varietal Merlot wines are by no means my favourite red expressions, I do get very excited for three new releases every year. One is Masseto from Bolgheri, one of my all time favourite red wines, another is Chateau Petrus, though it might be more sensible and affordable to broaden this group to top-end Pomerols. The final Merlot release that is always highly anticipated, if indeed it is even produced in a certain year, is the Thelema Merlot Reserve.
A limited release wine using only the finest Merlot grapes of the vintage from the best parcels on the Thelema estate. Normally a straight Merlot release will be produced if the quality of the vintage does not merit the Reserve selection. Whether it is the use of the Clone 102 Merlot grown on Richter 99 rootstocks in Hutton and decomposed granite soils or perhaps the age of the vines, planted in 1988, this is certainly a Stellenbosch wine that really impresses and with a cooler vintage producing smaller more concentrated berries, the finished expression possesses great natural acidity and an array of intense berry fruit flavours. The grapes were destalked, hand sorted and fermented in stainless steel before being aged for 18 months in 100% new French oak barrels.
Thelema Estate Merlot Reserve 2019, WO Stellenbosch, 13.64% Abv.
2.4 g/l RS | 3.68 pH | 5.3 g/l TA
It always amazes me how Thelema manages to coax such an incredible amount of complexity out of their Merlot Reserve wine. This 2019 is certainly a coin with two sides though. On one hand, the aromatics are super cool, restrained and classical with text book right bank Bordeaux notes of violets, sweet piquant plummy black fruits, sandalwood, rose hip, bramble berries, coffee beans and a wonderful undertone of graphite. On the palate, all caution and classicism is thrown to the wind to reveal a bold, fleshy, dense unctuous wine with an incredibly textural harmonious mouthfeel. There are layers upon layers of black and blue berry fruits, hoisin plum sauce, brûléed espresso notes and fabulous depth. Think 2017 vintage’s weightless concentration and balance combined with 2015s dry extract, flesh and muscle. Like any great Merlot should be, this wine is eminently drinkable in its youth but should age gracefully for at least 10-15+ years. The world of fine Merlot has another exciting wine to seduce drinkers.
Stark-Condé Wines was launched in Stellenbosch in 1998 by Hans and Midori Schroder with a focus on producing hand-crafted premium wines. Located in the picturesque and ever so dramatic Jonkershoek Valley in Stellenbosch, it is a site with steep changes in vineyard elevation ranging from 150 to 600 metres making for a range of terroirs with distinct characteristics. At Stark-Condé they stick to traditional winemaking methods using open tank fermentation, meticulous sorting of grapes, hand-punch downs, basket pressing and maturation in small French oak barrels.
The 2017 vintage was a warm and dry growing season resulting in wines that were intensely aromatic and admirably elegant and harmonious with suave velvety tannins and a weightless concentration of fruit. If the wines age as well as some people expect they will, tasting the 2017s alongside the block buster 2015s in 10, 15 or 20 years’ time will undoubtedly prove to be a very popular exercise.
Stark – Condé Three Pines Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, WO Jonkershoek Valley, Stellenbosch, 14% Abv.
The grapes for this vibrant single vineyard wine were hand-picked, sorted, basket pressed and then fermented in small batches before being matured in small French oak barrels for 20 months. The wine was bottled without fining or filtration. The aromatics are piquant, spicy and thoroughly enticing with hints of fragrant black berry confit on slightly burnt brown breakfast toast supported by emerging notes of bruleed coffee beans, inky iodine, sweet cherry tobacco, cola, salty cassis and a pronounced under vein of graphite. The palate is super elegant from start to finish, suave, supple and impressively harmonious with a fine textural breadth and depth of black and blueberry saline fruits, soft, sleek silky tannins and all the tell-tale weightless concentration that has come to define this vintage’s greatest red wines. Seamless, precise and incredibly well made, this is sultry, seductive Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon at its best. Drink now or cellar for 12+ years. (8,175 bottles produced.)
Over recent years, many South African wineries have put more and more time and effort into not only seeking out more ideal terroirs for the mainstream premium grape varieties already dominant on local and international markets but also into experimenting with new and more exotic red and white varieties in an effort to mitigate for future wine market changes as well as possible climate change influences.
Glen Carlou Vineyards with their 145 hectares located in the Simonsberg-Paarl region is one such winery. After being owned for many years by the Swiss Hess Collection, Glen Carlou was brought back into local ownership in 2016 when it was purchased by a South African family consortium. Since then, significant investment has been put into a vineyard replanting programme to secure the future of this respected wine brand. Over the past two years, Glen Carlou has released several interesting “Collection Wines” including Verdelho, Chenin Blanc, Petite Syrah Malbec and Grenache Noir. The latest of these releases is an exciting Tannat red wine made from grapes grown on a 0.6 hectare plot located on the highest point of their estate. The 15 year old block is planted on primarily Tukulu and Vilafonte soils using SO4 rootstocks and clone TT401B.
Cellarmaster Johnnie Calitz and assistant winemaker Phillip Theron have primarily used the wine produced in the past for blending but 2018 sees a single variety Tannat added to the Collection Range. The grapes were fermented in a small single lot and handled with minimal intervention. The wine spent 24 months in second fill French oak barrels being left on its fine lees with no racking or movement during maturation. The 2018 Tannat was recently awarded the 2020 Diners Club Young Winemaker of the Year award.
The Glen Carlou Collection Tannat 2018, WO Simonsberg-Paarl, 14.5% Abv.
RS 4.7 g/l | TA 5.9 g/l | pH 3.46
This is a wonderfully intriguing red wine. Tasted from a Zalto Bordeaux glass, the aromatics are lifted, rich and expressive with sappy layered notes of leafy black plums, macerated black berries, piquant black cocoa chocolate and notes of freshly cut hedgerow. On the palate there is a dense, voluptuous, exotic creamy texture with seductive notes of blueberries in melted chocolate, black cherries macerated in sweet liquor with fine glassy framing tangy acids and robust sandy mineral tannins that add sufficient grip but aren’t particularly drying as the palate fruit weight lubricates all the extremities of the mouth. A slightly eccentric wine that challenges and titillates the palate in equal measure. If you have never drunk a French or Uruguayan Tannat, this is certainly a fine introduction to the grape albeit with African styling. This looks a good bet for another 6 to 8+ years in the cellar but also perfect to start drinking now. (900 bottles produced.)
It must surely be one of the most captivating stories to emerge from the Cape winelands in the past decade – the resurrection of one of South Africa’s most famous wines, the Cordoba Crescendo Cape Bordeaux Blend originally made famous by talented wine maker Chris Keet in the mid to late 1990s. For many, drinking a bottle of Crescendo 1995 ranked as one of the pinnacles of local fine wine experiences and then all of a sudden… the winery disappeared.
I started filling my cellar in South Africa in the mid to late 1990s and was fortunate enough to purchases a number of cases of the Cordoba Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and of course the Crescendo from vintages in 1995, 1996 and 1997. While I did drink and enjoy a majority of the bottles, a number of them were left to mature in my cellar. I certainly had no idea what became of the famous Helderberg estate and what the reasons were for its demise, but when the Oddo family who also have wine ventures in Sancerre, Provence, and Sicily, purchased the famous winery in 2017 and recruited cellar master Schalk-Willem Joubert of Rupert & Rothschild fame to oversee proceedings, the scene looked set for the resumption of quality winemaking.
The first new 2018 release from the estate was launched in South Africa under the Taaibosch Crescendo label earlier this year. As I understand it, the owners are not in a position to use the original Cordoba name anymore and thus moved to the Taaibosch title. All grapes on the estate were hand-picked and once received in the cellar, the grapes were gently transferred by means of gravity to both stainless steel and cement vessels for fermentation. A period of cold soaking followed which enabled a rich extraction of colour, aromas and flavours. Extended maceration followed at the conclusion of fermentation, which assists in providing the wine with a soft texture, increased colour intensity and complexity.
The soil of the Helderberg region is fertile and mostly homogenous across the region. It consists predominantly of Table Mountain sandstone resting on Cape Granite. The soil has excellent water and nutrient holding capacity and is rich in kaolinite, iron and aluminium oxides, causing the distinct red colour, associated to the region. Taaibosch is situated on a lens of withered Malmesbury shale, setting it apart from the other vineyards in the region. The Crescendo 2018 was matured in a combination of 225 litre oak barrels, 9000 litre Foudre vessels and traditional 4500 litre cement tanks for a period of three years. These different vessels each add their own personality to the finished wine, ranging from fruity characters to subtle wood influences. All these elements were then brought together selectively to form a harmonious blend.
Taaibosch Crescendo 2018, WO Stellenbosch
pH 3.57 | RS 3.7g/l | 13.5% Abv
This wine conforms to the classically defined Crescendo blend (Cheval Blanc inspired) of 65% Cabernet Franc, 30% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon harvested from vines of 20 years of age or older. On opening in the early afternoon, the Crescendo 2018 was dense, tight and grippy with mouth coating tannins drying the front and sides of the palate. Nevertheless, the over-riding sensation was one of underlying elegance, purity of fruit and intensity sitting in the clutches of a youthful fist clench. Tasting the wine over the following 4 hours started to reveal its true pedigree which admittedly could easily have been missed on the initial pop and pour prognosis. With a little time to open its shoulders, the aromatics really start to unfurl classic notes of sweet cedary briary spice, saline inky black currant fruits, buttered brown toast, rose oil, dried violets, hints of graphite and led pencil shavings. The palate is decidedly mineral and classical with stony, textured fine grained tannins that are powerful and imposing yet ripe and supple enough to allow the layers of black and red berry fruits to slowly emerge. There is fabulous density, plenty of dry extract and concentration all pointing to a power-packed wine that is built with extended ageing in mind. In many ways, the design and texture of this wine harks back to a bygone era where immediacy and complete accessibility on release were not always the winemaker’s primary objectives. This wine has wonderful gravitas, an individual character and a real palate presence and continues to tantalise the senses right up to the very last sip that is loaded with a lovely broad blood orange acidity and mouth-watering salinity. I feel confident this wine is something really special to bury in your cellar for drinking over a good 15 to 20+ years. An impressive homage to the original Crescendo blends of the late 1990s.
It has to be said that when Chris and Andrea Mullineux embarked on their new Leeu Passant adventure with silent partner Analjit Singh, there were many in the industry that thought that this duo would be better off focusing on their successful eponymous Swartland project at Roundstone instead of spreading themselves a bit thin across multiple wine regions. But when you are as driven and as wine curious as Chris and Andrea, holding back on their new winemaking endeavour was never an option. Since the first vintages released from the 2015 vintage, there has certainly been a high degree of evolution and even a bit of revolution as Chris and Andrea have shaken up the establishment in both Stellenbosch and Franschhoek.
But in 2021, the Leeu Passant project can finally be considered to have come of age with some of their most compelling releases yet. With a conscious effort to try and realign the vintage releases a little more after choosing to hold back the 2018 Leeu Passant Dry Red and the Basson Vineyard Old Vine Cinsault 2018, they have finally reached a point where the extra year in bottle for these extraordinary wines has allowed them to be appreciated and admired for what they truly are – exceptional winemaking creations.
I normally visit Chris and Andrea at least once a year in the Swartland and then finally fill in the remaining gaps on one of their many trips to London. I certainly miss the Swartland and walking the vineyards with Chris as he explains all the new ideas they’re perpetually putting into practice in the vineyards. But these are strange times and unfortunately I had to make do with a Zoom tasting to acquaint myself with their fabulous new wine releases.
Leeu Passant Stellenbosch Chardonnay 2019, WO Stellenbosch, 14% Abv.
Made from a single vineyard in the Helderberg where the climate probably has a bigger fingerprint than even the soils and terroir but at 400 meters plus, the maritime climate really shapes the wine with very consistent temperatures, that yield high acidities and often 9 TA – 9.5 TAs before settling at around 7 TA when all is said and done. Whole bunch pressed with oxidative must handling then to barrel for 18 months in oak without SO2. Barrels were 225L size of which around 30% were new with the rest 2/3/4/5th fill.
The 2019 Chardonnay is a very serious contender for one of the top Chardonnays produced in South Africa along with a very small handful of obsessive producers. This Stellenbosch 2019 is full of power and focus with all the hallmark purity that Andrea Mullineux prides herself in. The aromatics are reminiscent of granitic river pebbles immersed in lemon cordial with a dusting of honey, toffee apples, lemon grass and dried baking herbs. Always brilliantly pure, crystalline and electric, the palate shows tremendous tension and linearity supported by astonishing fruit concentration and intensity. The balance and harmony are spellbinding, revealing sip after sip, the true pedigree of this wonderful Helderberg vineyard site in the hands of a masterful winemaker. Undoubtedly comparable to the very best Chardonnay expressions produced by Leeu Passant to date, this 2019 seems to pack an extra level of lemon and lime intensity making it already an incredibly appealing fine wine. Give this vintage at least three years from release in your cellar and then drink over 10+.
(Wine Safari Score: 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Leeu Passant Wellington Old Vine Basson Cinsault 2018, WO Wellington, 13% Abv.
This treasured dry-farmed Cinsault vineyard is the oldest certified red wine vineyard in South Africa, planted in circa 1900 and farmed by the Mullineuxs since 2014. One of the original Old Vine Project “Certified Heritage Vineyards” that has been held up as a shining beacon of education and preservation, these gnarled deep rooted old Cinsault bush vines are planted on deep, weathered sandy Table Mountain sandstone alluvial soils which yield wines deceptively light in colour but also impressively structured, taut and rich. Producing as little as 600 kilograms of fruit in 2015, the plot has now been nursed back to rude health enough to yield two tons of fruit in 2019.
This vineyard always shows plenty of structure, power and focus and the 2018 vintage is considered one of the most structured yet. In its current youthful state, the aromatics are distinctively stony and mineral but also fabulously perfumed showing notes of potpourri, lavender, bramble berries, fynbos and Turkish delight. The palate is incredibly precise and foursquare with a polished structure and frame you just don’t expect from such a delicately fragrant wine. The texture is dense and tightly packed, the wine concentrated and intense but also deceptively light on its feet revealing notes of cranberry, red cherry and wild strawberries on the finish all supported by the most powdery, silky tannins imaginable. A difficult wine even for me to put accurately into words because it is so evocative on both an emotional level as well as on a sensorial level. Drink this wine from release and over the next 30+ years. (Circa 1,800 bottles produced)
(Wine Safari Score: 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Leeu Passant Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon 2019, WO Stellenbosch, 13.5% Abv
Chris and Andrea experimented with over 20 different vineyards around Stellenbosch before they started to focus on five specific vineyards including two in the Helderberg, two in the Polkadraai Hills and one 40-year-old parcel in Firgrove close to False Bay. Three of these five vineyards already contribute fruit that goes into their flagship Leeu Passant Dry Red Blend together with components of the Lotter Cinsault, the Wellington Basson Cinsault and a splash of Cabernet Franc. The wine sees only 30% new oak with some extended maceration that changes from site to site with the older Firgrove vineyard seeing the longest maceration. With vines grown on a mix of alluvial soils and decomposed granite soils, the grapes produce a sleek, crystalline, elegant style of Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon that many say harks back to the golden age of Bordeaux’s finest old Clarets. The wines are aged for 12 months before being moved to larger 2000 and 5000 litre upright oak vats for another year of aging before spending several months in bottle before release.
The aromatics are wonderfully lifted and perfumed showing all the intricacies of cool climate Cabernet Sauvignon fruit. There is an intriguing piquant leafy spice that melts into notes of liquid minerality, granitic dust and graphite while underneath the mineral veil is a powerful depth of fruit held on a very short rein lest it bursts out the glass. There are seductive notes of violets, sweet cedary spice, saline black currant, hints of iodine and fresh kelp brought in on the morning’s tide. On the palate there is plenty of textural precision on display for all to see, confidently boasting layer upon layer of stony minerality, sweet cherry tobacco, cassis leaf, black tea, tilled earth and creamy dense powdery tannins. Fabulously old school on so many levels, this wine will undoubtedly age well and develop into something that harks back to the great old Clarets of times gone by. Drink from 2024 until 2040+
(Wine Safari Score: 94/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Leeu Passant Dry Red 2018, WO Western Cape, 14% Abv.
The impressive wine is formed of two old vine Cinsault blocks (Basson and Lotter), three Cabernet Sauvignon parcels and Cabernet Franc from the Helderberg. The 2018 is a blend of 63% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Cabernet Franc, 16% Cinsault (in 2018 mostly Basson and lesser amounts of the opulent Lotter), with the Basson Cinsault being whole bunch fermented. Some of the Cinsault is co-fermented with the 40+ year old Cabernet Sauvignon while the Cabernet Franc, planted in the early 1990s, if vinified separately. The Dry Red traditionally sees the components aged 12 months in 500 litre oak barrels separately before being blended and aged for another 12 months in large 2000-litre old oak foudre. The wine now also spends an extra year in bottle “because when it was released earlier, the Cinsault component seemed to dominate the style. Now with the extra 12 months in bottle it is a far more harmonious wine”, according to Chris Mullineux. Almost 10,000 bottles were produced in 2018 compared to circa 4,000 bottles in 2015, the maiden vintage.
My experience of tasting this wine has sometimes been somewhat of a challenge because in its early years, the individual components often seemed to intermittently compete with one another for aromatic and flavour dominance. The extra years ageing in bottle has been a game-changer. The wine is now so incredibly lifted and perfumed with a real melange of red currant, wild strawberry, pressed violets and vanilla pod spice bursting out the glass. There is such magnificent purity, precision and a real synergy that shines through the wine. The palate is incredibly dense, textured and luxuriously opulent, packed full of fleshy red cherry and cranberry pastille fruits, Turkish delight and red currant jelly. Perhaps it’s the vintage or perhaps it’s just the extra bottle age but this wine seems so much more complete with less obvious sapidity and spice and much more harmonious fleshy layers of red fruit and creamy, savoury tannins. This is an absolute triumph of a wine and a flagship vintage Dry Red that single-handedly announces the true ‘arrival’ of the entire Leeu Passant project. Drink this phenomenal wine on release and over the next 30+ years.
The 2019 vintage in Santorini was described as the “pocket vintage” with circa 1,000 tons of grapes harvested on the island compared to the normal 3,000 tons. Fortunately, quality was high and new boutique producers like Vassaltis Winery, who have already established a very high quality track record, were able to source sufficient quantities of high quality old vine Assyrtiko.
For the vintage, owner and proprietor Yiannis Valambous stated that “our source vineyards in Vourvoulos yielded approximately 50% less than they did in 2018. Yields were approximately 6 hl/ha. It is scary, but it is what it is… on the upside, quality seems to be outstanding.” I recently tasted a bottle of the Vassaltis Black Label “estate” Assyrtiko and was suitably impressed.
Vassaltis Assyrtiko 2019, PDO Santorini, 14% Abv.
Summer is in the air and this new 2019 Assyrtiko from Yiannis Valambous is another serious benchmark Santorini white. With the island’s unique volcanic terroir and old vines, you always know there will be freshness combined with a concentration of flavour and minerality. This classical rendition speaks of Santorini’s maritime terroir with a fabulously complex nose of dusty basaltic minerality, crushed gravel, salted almonds, lemon bon bons and dried summer grasses. On the palate there is impressive purity and precision, a hallmark of all the Vassaltis wines that combine a palate tingling intensity of salty, briney zest, deliciously tangy acids and a remarkable palate breath that leaves a long lasting impression. Drink now and over 3-5 years.
The Guado al Tasso estate is located in the small but prestigious Bolgheri DOC appellation on the coast of 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 a new reference point in the international fine wine scene.
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 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 2019 vintage’s growing season saw relatively cool weather in April and May then hot, dry conditions throughout the end of July. The slight delay in the vines’ initial growth cycle evened out as summer began. A sudden rise in temperatures caused the vines to produce lighter, loosely packed clusters, especially notable in the late ripening varieties where fruit set wasn’t yet fully completed. The months of August and September brought steady sunny weather that allowed grapes to progress to full ripeness in optimal conditions.
Harvesting operations began with Merlot at the beginning of September and were completed with Cabernet Sauvignon at the beginning of October. The other grape varieties, Syrah and smaller quantities of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, were picked during the last half of September.
Cabernet Sauvignon was blended with Merlot, Syrah and a small percentage of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot and the final blend was reintroduced into barriques where it was left to age before bottling.
Antinori Tenuta Guado Al Tasso Il Bruciato 2019, Bolgheri DOC, 14.5% Abv.
Always an exceptional wine of compelling quality, the fresher, more structured 2018 sold out very quickly after release making the 2019 even more anticipated. An exciting new vintage, the wine is decidedly more opulent and generously fruited with aromatics of black cherry tobacco, black berry, graphite, iron filings, sweet cedar and purple rock candy confectionary nuances on the finish. On the palate there is an impressive depth of fruit with a notable glycerol, mouth-filling breadth together with sweet creamy mineral tannins and a fleshy mocha-laced black berry fruit accessibility. Where the 2018 was slightly more angular, cooler and nervy, the 2019 is more seductive, opulent, luxurious and obviously riper. While this is a wine that has increased in price significantly over the past few years it remains a real must-buy for regular Bolgheri enthusiasts.