It seems quite fortuitous that the very week Bruwer Raats and Mzokhona Mvemve choose to release their new vintage of MR de Compostella 2018, the most famous and influential wine reviewer in the world, Neal Martin chose their MR de Compostella 2008 as his Vinous Cellar Selection and scored it 96/100, matching the original rating he gave this iconic wine exactly 10 years ago.
I was of course lucky enough to host Bruwer Raats in London in October 2019 when we tasted through the first ever complete vertical of MR vintages from the maiden 2004 until the 2017. Then, when I managed to visit Bruwer at the winery in Feb 2020, long before the pandemic struck, he was already talking about another exceptional vintage that was different to many of the others but was perhaps one that clearly reminded him of the famed 2008 vintage. As it turned out, the 2018 ended up spending approximately 27 months in barrel compared to the usual 22 to 24 months for an MR de Compostella, creating another similarity with the famed 2008 vintage.
Whether this extended ageing enhanced the 2008 or whether it was just an exceptional vintage to start with, what I do see are the clear similarities between the 2018 and the 2008 vintages. This is sure to be a very stable, slow burning vintage and undoubtedly, a release you are going to want to have in your cellar.
MR de Compostella 2018, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5% Abv.
The 2018 MR de Compostella is a blend of 54% Cabernet Franc, 23% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Malbec, 5% Merlot and 3% Petit Verdot. Deep garnet-purple in colour, one sniff of the bouquet reveals another truly towering effort with incredible perfume lift, a complex melange of red and black berry fruits and the most fabulously integrated oaking imaginable. The nose is loaded with black cherry kirsch liquor, black truffle, crushed violets, crème de cassis, mulberries, graphite and freshly tilled earth nuances. Despite an extensive elevage in French oak barriques, the sweet cedary wood spice and vanilla pod notes play very much a subtle supporting role allowing the bold multi-dimensional fruit intensity to take centre stage. While only medium-bodied, the palate is super sleek, laser focused and intense, washing over the senses in energetic waves of saline cassis, black cherries, black plum and baked blueberries. This is classical winemaking at its very best where a harmonious freshness combines with beautifully silky poised tannins to deliver a wine with not only overt mouth-watering appeal but also plenty of latent structural depth. Undoubtedly another individually monumental wine that displays the brilliance of the special Mvemve-Raats winemaking partnership clearly for all to see. Old School and New World all at the same time, this is a wine that will appeal to the classicists as much as to the New World connoisseurs. Drink it on release or bury it in your cellar for 25+ years for further rewards.
The Klein Constantia emphasis has recently been re-engineered and re-imagined with a renewed emphasis on the exceptional Sauvignon Blanc terroirs of this ancient Constantia estate. With the Vin de Constance sweet wine project reaching new heights of quality annually together with the accompanying international critical praise, this has allowed the powers at Klein Constantia to dedicate more thought and resources to the future potential of Sauvignon Blanc as well as the red wines at Anwilka in Stellenbosch.
Chatting to head winemaker Matt Day recently, he explained that he has learnt a lot from the single vineyard block wines over the past few years as well as from the Metis joint-venture project with Pouilly Fume producer Pascal Jolivet, inspiring him and his team to refocus and refine the knowledge and knowhow acquired over the past years and channel it into the estate’s white Sauvignon Blanc wine range. In the past, the single block wines have acted as the research and development lab for the estate and now it is time to put this knowhow to greater commercial use in raising the quality profile of first and foremost, Klein Constantia’s main Sauvignon Blanc Estate wine.
Ahead of World Sauvignon Blanc Day celebrated from the 7th to the 9th of May, I tasted through Klein Constantia’s exciting new releases and was simply bowled over by the world class quality.
Klein Constantia Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2020, WO Constantia
13.8% Abv. | 3.3pH | TA 5.8 | RS 1.8
Up to 36 different blocks from vines grown on Granite and Sandstone soils are used in this impressive Sauvignon Blanc blend with around 80% of grapes fermented using wild fermentation to produce on average 120,000 bottles. No sulphur is used at crushing and fermentation temperatures start at 14 to 15 deg C before being cooled down to 12 deg C, before finally being raised at the end of fermentation back up to 15 deg C to finish off.
An attractive, complex Sauvignon Blanc that thrives on expressing a blend of the cool climate Klein Constantia sites that show a delicious melange of bitter / savoury / umami and saline characters. With the Sandstone soil sites offering richer and rounder flavours and the granitic soils tauter, more mineral, pithy white citrus characters, this vintage reveals a wonderfully rich textured and expressive palate that is loaded white citrus, yellow grapefruit, gooseberry, mango peel, apple puree, freshly cut grass and quince preserve. Fabulously constructed with delicious mid-palate balance, notable concentration and a long alluring finish. This is a fantastic vintage for Sauvignon Blanc, Klein Constantia and lovers of intricate Sauvignon Blanc.
(Wine Safari Score: 92+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Klein Constantia Metis Sauvignon Blanc 2018, WO Constantia
14% Abv | 3.26 pH |6.5 TA | 2.2 RS
Metis is a wine that grew out of a historic collaboration with Loire producer Pascal Jolivet and pushes Constantia Sauvignon to the limits in an attempt to emulate a more Sancerre style of winemaking with oxidative must handling, 100% wild ferment used and 20% neutral oak fermentation and then ageing, with the resulting wine left for 9 months in barrel before being racked to stainless steel tanks, back blended and aged in tank for a further three months.
2018 was a hot early drought vintage and despite Constantia suffering less vintage variation than hotter inland areas due to the tempering effect of the ocean, the Metis is still boasts a bold 14% alcohol yet remains incredibly cool, classical and mineral with a pronounced stony, grey slate character. The style of winemaking tries to accentuate the philosophical Old World roots of Metis and boasts vineyards with altitude and that are rich in granitic soils. The character of the wine reveals layers of limestone, savoury lime peel, citrus, salinity and yellow grapefruit notes and finishes with a long tangy, peppery, concentrated flinty intensity. Fabulous balance, mouth watering acidity and an overall feeling of liquid minerality. An impressively different expression.
(Wine Safari Score: 93+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Klein Constantia Perdeblokke Sauvignon Blanc 2020, WO Constantia
13.8% Abv | 3.08 pH | 7.0 TA | 2.2 RS
The first single vineyard wine produced since 2005. Pungent, bold, expressive and made in a punchy style that’s made to assault the senses with its intensity. Fermation was begun in stainless steel and 100% barrel finished for the final 2/3rds of fermention. There is nothing shy about this wine and in 2020, it is loaded with even more intensity and Sauvignon Blanc fire power. The aromatics burst with black currant leaf, orange citrus, umani savoury notes, rich tangerine peel, flinty spice, fresh naartjies and quince with subtle cut grass and root fennel savoury nuances that will almost certainly acquire rudimentary notes of cat’s pee on a gooseberry bush with further bottle development. Full bodied and precise while never erring on the side of heavy, this wine will drink wonderfully in its youth due to its mouth-watering acidity and intense fruit concentration.
(Wine Safari Score: 93/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Klein Constantia Clara Sauvignon Blanc 2020, WO Constantia
13.38% Abv | 3.16 pH | 6.8 TA | 2.4 RS
Normally a blend of predominantly blocks 372, 381, and the 361 organic block as well as oddments of other blocks all aged in 500 litre French oak and acacia barrels, 30% new. After fermentation, the best barrels are selected from the best blocks and the wine is made in a more opulent, punchy style primarily for the US market, with more richness, texture and generally more rounder Bordeaux style white characters. 30% of the fermentation completed in tank before being transferred to barrel with the fine lees to complete fermentation.
Klein Constantia are said to be aiming for a bolder, richer Bordeaux Blanc style with the Clara, displaying pear, pineapple, yellow grapefruit pastille and a riper and rounder texture. The end result is just splendid. There is indeed more richness and lees contact complexity, notes of kiwi fruits, acacia wood and an overall rounding influence of oak without the wine showing any overt oaky characters per se. Rich, intense, plush and textured, this is seriously grown-up Sauvignon Blanc with sensational concentration, intensity and length. I am certainly sold! What a beauty.
(Wine Safari Score: 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Klein Constantia Block 382 Sauvignon Blanc 2019, WO Constantia
13.87% Abv | 3.19 pH | 6.8 TA | 2 RS
One of the gems in the Klein Constantia portfolio, these three segmented parcels of the Block 382 are located on almost directly South facing slopes at 320 metres above sea level on grainy granitic soils. Block 382.1 is trellised and Block 382.2 and 382.3 are 100% bush vines. In some vintages, they only use the trellised vines and in others, like 2019, only the bush vines which were fermented and aged for 20 months in 500 litre barrels before bottling.
Matt Day says if he could make just one Sauvignon Blanc every year from the estate, he would want it all to taste like the 2019 Block 382. The wine presents an intricate nose of gun smoke, wet stones, struck flint and savoury, briney maritime notes. The palate is packed full of gooseberry, prickly acids, grassy green pear, green apple bolstered by a fleshy, glycerol mid-palate, tart lime, gooseberry and a rock salt, briney finish. Super complex, very stable from extended ageing, Matt describes this iconic wine as “bullet proof” and one for the long haul. In my experience, it is certainly one of the most profound expressions of Sauvignon Blanc I have tasted from South Africa in many, many years. Track it down if you can!
La Croizille is a wonderfully situated Saint Emilion Grand Cru Chateau that was acquired by the Belgian De Schepper – De Mour family in 1996 and whose wines are sold mostly in the Benelux. The 5 hectares of vines belonging to the Château benefit from the same remarkable soils, on the borders of the clay-limestone plateau of Saint-Emilion in the commune of Saint-Laurent des Combes, as Chateaux such as Tetre Roteboeuf and Troplong Mondot.
After 1996, the De Schepper family commenced on a large investment spree, bringing the estate into the modern winemaking era, combining its sought after terroir with high-end technology and traditional know-how to create a wine with great opulence, finesse, modernity and personality under the watchful eye of respected head winemaker, Jean-Michel Garcion.
Chateau La Croizille Saint Emilion Grand Cru 2018, 14.5% Abv.
This is an impressive effort that shows just why so many 2018 right bank Bordeaux wines are being fawned over at the moment. It displays a deep purple-black colour and offers up exotic, hedonistic notes of black currant compote, liquorice, caramelised black cherries, creme brûlée and stewed winter plums. On the palate the texture is silky, soft and sensual with an impressive fleshy depth of fruit, smoky graphite mocha notes, pithy plum stone minerality and a long, fresh, well honed finish. The subtle drying grip from the velvety tannins are reminiscent of a well brewed cup of raspberry and black currant herbal tea. It possesses a simply magical harmony and a wonderful balance making this another standout effort from Chateau La Croizille. Drink from 2022 to 2034+
IDDA is an exciting joint venture winery project between Angelo Gaja of Piedmontese fame and Alberto Graci that may have passed some people by unnoticed when its first red was released post lockdown 1.0 in July 2020. Together they own 20+ hectares of vineyards in the villages of Belpasso and Biancavilla which are currently planted with Nerello Mascalese and Carricante located at 700 to 800 metres above sea level on the south-western slopes of Etna where only three other wineries are located.
The 2017 was the first vintage of the IDDA Etna Rosso red and a pretty smart effort it was as well. However, 2017 was from a much warmer, riper vintage and while the finished product in the bottle was very high quality, the cooler, fresher, more ethereal expression of 2018 is for me, far more typical of the lighter, more elegant styles of wine associated with Etna and more specifically, the Nerello Mascalese grape.
Gaja Idda 2018 Etna Rosso, 14.5% Abv.
Fermentation and maceration for the 2018 Rosso lasted for around three weeks, partially in oak and partially in concrete vats. The wine then spent a further 24 months ageing in oak and concrete. The 2018 is fabulously bright, lifted and perfumed with a pale translucent cherry red colour. There are pretty aromatics of dried rose petals, violets, potpourri, musk and earthy red bramble berry fruits supported by a complementary leafy sapidity and dusty, peppery, five spice nuances. On the palate an impressive clarity and purity of fruit is notable with cool juicy red berries, red cherry, bitter almonds, grilled herbs and slightly drying, chewy, grippy volcanic basaltic mineral tannins on the finish. Already beautifully harmonious and elegant, this wine certainly doesn’t lack any focus and structure in its youth and is undoubtedly a vintage perfectly suited to Etna and Nerello Mascalese where the purity and finesse of the fruit finds a wonderful symmetry with the freshness and minerality. This has class written all over it. Drink from release and over 8 to 12+ years.
I was in the Cape in 2018 around harvest time and again at the Vilafonte winery in February 2020 only days after the Series M 2018 had been bottled. Proprietor Mike Ratcliffe and US partners Phil Freese and Zelma Long, visiting for the 2020 harvest, struggled to contain their excitement over the final 2018 results. After reviewing the superb Series C 2018 in September 2020, I knew all eyes would be on the Series M that Mike described as possibly the best the winery had ever produced. With maturing vineyards, ever greater fine tuning of their precision viticulture techniques as well as winemaker Chris de Vries just getting to know his terroir better and better, further improvements in quality seem an almost certainty.
The 2018 vintage was certainly marked by one of the worst droughts on record and presented some significant challenges for all vine growers and winemakers in the Western Cape. With water resources at an all time low and strict rationing in effect, reduced water availability for irrigation led to reduced vine vigour and canopy sizes. Some unseasonable rains and low temperatures in October and November disrupted fruit set and further reduced the number and size of berries on grape clusters.
In the end, harvest timings were close to normal, beginning on February 2nd and continuing uninterrupted until February 27th. Overall, the vintage saw yields contract by -24% following a very generous crop in 2017 and the fruit was marked by berries being on average -25% smaller in size than normal leading to wines with an intense inky colour, piercing concentration and striking fruit richness.
Vilafonte Series M 2018, WO Paarl, 14.5% Abv.
The 2018 Series M is a blend of 45% Merlot, 41% Malbec, 13% Cabernet Sauvignon and 1% Cabernet Franc that was aged for 22 months in 24% new French oak barriques with the remainder aged in used French oak barrels. This wine exhibits an alluringly deep dark garnet-purple colour and wilfully offers forth an exhilarating aromatic array of seductive notions of blueberries, boysenberries, black plum and sweet cassis. The purity and detail is very impressive with delicate violet and vanilla pod nuances combining with notes of star anise, warm buttered brown toast smothered with black cherry preserve, freshly baked pastries, hints of mocha and espresso and some subtle background cedar spice complexing oak notes. The palate shows a wonderfully expansive and multi-dimensional flavour explosion together with a carefully measured richness, pinpoint purity and truly show stopping concentration all delivered with subtlety and jaw-dropping finesse. There is boldness and creamy textured fine-grained supporting tannins but first and foremost, there is freshness, supreme balance and sublime harmony. This very well may be one of the finest young Vilafonte reds I have ever tasted on release. Drink now or cellar for 15+ years.
I first reviewed this wine back in December 2020. But with its release in the UK market imminent, I thought I would have another look at what must surely rank as one of the top Grenache reds produced in South Africa. Despite over 30+ producers producing in excess of 100 Grenache-based wines – mostly blended – from the 350 hectares of Grenache planted in South Africa, it still ranks as somewhat of a curiosity variety compared to industry stalwarts like Syrah or Cinsault.
But there is no doubt about the quality heights this grape is capable of in regions like the Swartland. If Grenache is a variety that gets you excited, look no further than the new Naude 2019.
Naude Family Wines Grenache 2019, WO Swartland, 12% Abv.
RS 1.2 g/L | TA 6.1 g/L | pH 3.2 g/L
While this may only be Ian Naude’s second Grenache attempt from this special Swartland vineyard, he certainly seems to have done the fruit justice creating a wonderfully expressive red. A light translucent cherry red colour, the aromatics are jam packed with crunchy red berry fruits, rose petals, musk, lavender, dried baking herbs and enticing savoury Chinese five spice nuances. The clarity and purity of fruit on the nose translates into an incredibly precise, focused invigorating palate with mouth-watering juicy fresh acids, crystalised red cherries, tart red cranberry and a long, linear finish that reveals a fine stony minerality. Lovely wound spring tension lends a serious note to the wine ensuring that this fabulous 2019 will be as equally long lived as its maiden predecessor, the 2014. However, this wine definitely has more Naude signature elegance, freshness, linearity and precision than the 2014 had at the same youthful stage. The five-year wait has certainly been worthwhile! This is a triumph of skilful winemaking utilising outstanding fruit. Bravo Ian! Drink now and over the next 10 to 15+ years.
Sakkie Mouton is the epitome of the classic West Coast maverick or perhaps the West Coast misfit to use his own words. But whatever descriptives you use to describe his unique brand of winemaking and marketing, there is no denying this young man’s incredible talent, passion and vision. Almost uniquely, despite his enviable and obvious rock star talents, he has never been too confident or arrogant to dismiss advice or unwilling to alter course in the name of producing the very best possible end product.
With his 2018 maiden release, I likened Sakkie’s unique talents to something I had not seen since Eben Sadie hit the South African wine scene properly in the early 2000s, at first with the Spice Route Winery and then subsequently with his own labels. Perhaps the real similarity lies in both being able to elicit something quite unique and magical from varieties and vineyards that so many before them had managed to produce merely average wines from. Who knows? The industry is lucky to have them both for sure!
This new 2020 Crayfish edition was picked in two different passes through the vineyards before being fermented with wild yeast in used 228 litre barrels and aged on the gross lees for eight months. The wine was then bottled unfiltered and unfined with minimal intervention.
Revenge of the Crayfish Chenin Blanc 2020, WO Koekenaap, 13.5% Abv.
With two vintages under his belt, Sakkie Mouton must surely have a fairly watertight idea of what he is trying to create with his unique Chenin Blanc fruit sourced from his homeland vineyards of Koekenaap up the West Coast. While super youthful and fresh, this 2020 expression does indeed display an impressive clarity and composure with wonderfully pure aromatics of crunchy green apples, pear drops, bay leaves, dried green baking herbs, lime peel and of course the signature West Coast notes of oyster shell and maritime sea breeze salinity. On the palate, there is notable concentration and depth of zippy white citrus, savoury yellow orchard fruits and a briny rock salt salinity reminiscent of river pebbles washed in sea water. Never a wine to reveal all its secrets willingly, a little more coaxing in a big Zalto glass allows the wine to show hints of orange citrus peel, a lovely fresh tangy sweet / sour acidity and yet more layers of maritime intensity. This new release might not be quite as wild and rebellious as some of Sakkie’s previous releases, but it certainly shows a growing confidence, maturity of thought, and texturally, an intricacy and purity that makes this wine very much one of his most complete creations to date. Give this white one to two years in the cellar from release before opening and then enjoy over 12 to 15+ years. Congratulations Sakkie on another distinguished wine!
(Wine Safari Score: 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Wines available in the UK on allocation from Vino SA and Handford Wines.
The Proprietor’s Red Blend is a selection of six varieties all of which are sourced from the Ernie Els winery property. These vineyards are grown primarily on the warmer, north-facing slopes of the Helderberg within the Stellenbosch region.
These particular varieties thrive under these conditions and result in rich, full-bodied red wines with balancing freshness. At an altitude of approximately 250 metres above sea level, together with the cooling influence of the Atlantic Ocean, the ripening period or hang time of the grapes can be extended, resulting in wines with optimal phenolic ripeness and pure, bold, concentrated flavours. This of course is one of the reasons Stellenbosch has become so famous for successfully growing premium Bordeaux varieties as well as some excellent Syrah / Shiraz.
I recently tasted the Ernie Els Proprietor’s Blend and was pleased to see the pedigree of the 2017 vintage captured in this new release.
Ernie Els Proprietor’s Blend 2017, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5% Abv.
A premium red blend made up of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Shiraz, 5% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, 5% Malbec and 5% Petit Verdot. The result is a rich enticing blend with expressive aromatics laced with tannery leather, decomposing forest floor, sweet black berry compote, black currant pastille, graphite and nuances of freshly tilled earth. The palate is finely weighted with creamy round tannins, layers of crunchy black currant, black cherry and blueberry spice with delicately integrated cedar wood vanilla spice notes. This wine shows impressive density, power and concentration for a vintage renowned for having a more lithe, silky, weightless character. Here we see the elegance and textural finesse of 2017 but certainly with a little more dry extract, stuffing and grip. Nevertheless, this is a wine that can be enjoyed now on release or cellared for 10-12+ years comfortably. Another triumph for prime Stellenbosch terroir.
(Wine Safari Score: 93+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
The Ernie Els Wines are distributed in the UK by Seckford Wine Agencies.
I’ve been following the new releases of this wine for several years now and it has certainly proven beyond doubt to be one of the most accomplished Chenin Blancs on the South African fine wine scene.
Grapes for the 2020 were again selected from a single vineyard in Elgin grown on red Laterite soils also known as “koffieklip” or coffee stone as it resembles the same structure as ground coffee, and also from from grapes grown in the Bottelary Hills in Stellenbosch on old bush vines in lighter soils, which were harvested in early March. Once fermentation was completed in the clay amphorae, 800 litres of wine was decanted to oak casks for a further 9 months maturation.
The wine portion aged in the clay amphorae had no malolactic fermentation so that the fresher flinty characters would be maintained. After 9 months, the two components were blended together and lightly filtered before bottling.
Catherine Marshall Fermented in Clay Chenin Blanc 2020, WO Western Cape, 14% Abv.
TA 5.6g/l | pH: 3.4 | RS: 2.1g/l | Total Extract: 23.2g/l
After the phenomenal 2017 and eye-watering 2019 Fermented in Clay Chenin Blanc, expectations for follow up vintages become almost impossibly high. But this 2020 is another real head turner with aromatics brimming with crunchy white peaches, tangerine, orange peel, green pears and a beguiling melange of grilled herbs and stony granitic minerality. On the palate this youthful 2020 is cool, crisp, focused and texturally quite linear and taut with tangy acids, a steely concentration of peach pastille, yellow tropical fruit bon bons, clementines and yet more unfurling layers of wet river pebbles and stony liquid minerality. Cathy has now established a rock solid track record for this wine which must surely rank in the top 10 Chenin Blancs produced in South Africa.
(Wine Safari Score: 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Wines available to the trade in the UK from Seckford Wine Agencies.
I recently tasted the phenomenal 2017 Mullineux Syrah again with Andrea Mullineux and was just blown away by the balance, intensity and poise of the wine. While chatting about the 2017, Andrea expressed her real excitement surrounding the release of the new 2018 Syrah which she thought might just be their winery’s best effort yet. High praise indeed.
While 2018 was the last of four drought vintages in the Cape and severely affected the Swartland region, there seems to be some consensus that the vines had slowly started to become more accustomed to the severely dry conditions. This new release was made from grapes grown in seven different vineyards all with differing terroirs – four vineyards on shale and schist, two on granite and one on iron soils. Up to 80%-90% of the fruit was whole-bunch fermented and was then matured for a further 14 months in 15% new French oak barrels, old oak barrels and also foudre.
Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines Syrah 2018, WO Swartland, 13.5% Abv.
This is a very expressive wine with complex aromatics loaded with grilled herbs, lavender, fresh bresaola, red berries, cherry cola and savoury black berry notes with a tantalising dusting of white pepper. The palate is full, fleshy, layered and impressively textured with a weightless harmonious clarity of savoury red and blue berry fruits, soft mellow acids and light airy tannins that show a fine liquid mineral schisty grip on the finish. A wonderfully supple Syrah expression that throws a spotlight on the impressive winemaking talents of the Mullineuxs. Drink now and over 10 to 15+ years.