Raats Family Wines Releases Their Benchmark Eden High Density Cabernet Franc from the Epic 2017 Vintage…

It is rather refreshing to engage with the master winemaker Bruwer Raats for many reasons but primarily because of his obsessive and unerring quality focused approach to making wines from two specific varieties – Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc. With his skills and expertise he could undoubtedly pull rabbits out of any varietal hat but instead he has always gone about resolutely trying to make the greatest wines he can from these two Loire Valley premium varieties. An admirable quest indeed.

 

No two single wines in South Africa signal a higher quality striving than the production of the Raats Family Wines’ Eden high density red and white. Coming from a 0.2ha high density vineyard (8,000 vines per hectare) meticulously planned and planted 8 years ago by Bruwer Raats at his Polkadraai property in Stellenbosch, the grapes were fermented in tank and then aged for 9 months in new French oak followed by a further 9 months elevage in older oak barrels. The 2017 Eden Cabernet Franc is due for release on the 28th August 2019 in South Africa.

 

Raats Family Eden High Density Single Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2017, 13.5 Abv.

While the 2015 Eden Cabernet Franc was undoubtedly an awesome thing of beauty, the 2017 release feels intuitively like the fruit comes from a vintage even more suited to this variety. Perfume, elegance, purity, intensity and freshness are the calling cards of this wine. Lifted high toned perfume notes waft endlessly from the glass confounding the senses with a complex aromatic offering of saline cassis, sour black cherry, cedar and cinnamon spice, wet thatch and the most mouth watering notes of granny’s freshly baked blue berry pie newly out the oven. Fabulous varietal purity and typicity follow to a pristinely focused, vibrant, electric palate that shows incredible concentration, piercing intensity and high voltage acidity. The linearity and tension on the wine are classic hallmarks of the decomposed granitic soils of the vineyard with the 2017 vintage lending an extra tart brightness, precision and finesse. Cabernet Franc is never about brute force and while the 2015 certainly carried a bigger arsenal of tannin fire power, this wine is understated and supremely classical in construction but also finely chiselled and delineated. Finishing with dusty graphite, sweet baking spices and satin mineral tannins, this wine has to stand alongside the greatest Cabernet Francs ever produced in South Africa to date. Drink this incredible wine at as many points of its evolution as possible over the next 25+ years.

(Wine Safari Score: 98/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Creation Wines Cracking The Enigma Code of Great Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in South Africa…

Let’s be honest, South Africa is not the easiest place in the world to make great Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. While Pinot Noir is the original heart break variety, Chardonnay too has hit some pretty solid glass ceilings quality wise in the various cool climate regions that have had a degree of success with these two varieties.

So much more it seems is required to make great Pinot Noir and Chardonnay than merely a ‘suitable terroir.’ Clonal material, soil types, careful canopy management, picking dates, type of cooperage, length of oaking etc., and so the list goes on. Even with all of the above done correctly, you still need a massive amount of winemaking knowhow, plenty of luck, a forgiving vintage and then a whole bunch more luck. Cracking the secrets of these two varieties has not come easy – not in South Africa nor in other “New World” producing nations.

But a handful of producers seem to be on the cusp of producing wines that can be considered “next level” when tasted along side top international benchmarks from France, New Zealand or California. One such producer is Creation Wines in the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge. Originally from Switzerland, JC Martin together with his South African wife Carolyn (nee Finlayson), bought their original 22 hectares of virgin land in the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge and completed their cellar in time for their 2007 harvest. Their Walker Bay estate now encompasses 50 hectares planted with over 11 varieties, but focusing mainly on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

JC Martin was back in London recently to show off his new release 2018s along side some impressive 2017 reds and whites.

Creation Reserve Chardonnay 2017, 13.5 Abv.

Made from a 18 year old single vineyard and aged 11 months in oak and then blended together before spending 6 months in stainless steel before bottling. The aromatics show subtle wood spice, boxwood, stemmy sap, biscuity lees and fabulous lemon peel notes. Such beautiful linear tension, white citrus zest, crisp crystalline acids and a really harmonious, balanced fruit length. Superb vitality.

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

Guests attending JC’s masterclass tasting at 67 Pall Mall.

Creation Art of Chardonnay 2017, 13.5 Abv.

Also from a 18 year old single vineyard but from plants that show the most balanced growth. A much more creamy, deep, broody nose with leesy biscuit notes, green melon preserve, grapefruit zest and lemon cordial. Incredible subtlety, freshness, and a low pH 3.3 feel with super taut acidity, plump fleshy mid palate and a suave, stylish length punctuated by a spicy vanilla pod and oak spice kiss. A very Grand Vin.

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

Creation Art of Chardonnay 2018, 13.3 Abv.

Soft freshly baked white bread, green mango, lemon cordial, honey drizzled brioche and ground vanilla pod spice. Super tight and reserved but ultimately one of Creation’s most expressive, characterful wines. Less is almost always more! Fabulous sweet – sour acidity, green citrus crunch and a long, linear, focused finish. Really very regal expression of South African Chardonnay.

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

Creation Reserve Pinot Noir 2018, 13.4 Abv.

Wonderful brightness, lift and exotic pomegranate wildness that is so suave, elegant and super complex with bramble berry, stem sap, plum skins and blueberry reduction. The palate is very tight, creamy, virtually seamless and ultra polished with a superb harmony and equilibrium. Really love this wine and it’s incredible value for money equation.

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

Creation Reserve Pinot Noir 2017, 13.5 Abv.

Aromatics of savoury earthy black cherry, blueberry and bramble berry spice. Very serious, focused and compact wine displaying sappy dusty mineral notes, black olive and pithy black cherry power. A delicious, quality, punchy Pinot Noir with incredible finesse and great regional and varietal typicity.

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

Creation Emma Pinot Noir 2017, 13.5 Abv.

A barrel selection by Emma, JC and Caroline’s 17 year old daughter from the Art of Pinot Noir vineyard barrels. A deliciously dark, broody, somber nose of sappy black berry, black cherry, spicy pithy plum and structured depth that aspires to red Burgundy as it’s raison d’être. Definitely more restrained and reserved than the Art but also quite seductive.

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

Creation Emma Pinot Noir 2018, 13.3 Abv.

First impressions are lasting impressions and this one is an absolute gem! Emma has done good and this selection is going to put a bit of pressure on Dad! Pure, dense and much more complete than the 2017, this wine is deliciously opulent, expressive, complex and silky with pomegranate, blood orange, red plum and the most seamless balance and focused length. I love this wine and it’s precision. Very very smart! Certainly one of the best Pinot Noirs produced in South Africa.

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

These wines are distributed by Bibendum Wines in the UK. Art Series available in UK direct from Creation Wines.

David Sadie Makes His Annual Pilgrimage to London to Unveil His New 2018 Single Vineyard Chenin Blanc Releases…

Few white wines from South Africa have emerged from the vinous landscape to stake a greater claim to Grand Cru quality status than the single vineyard Chenin Blanc expressions from David and Nadia Sadie. With a formidable track record being established for the Hoe Steen and Skaliekop bottlings, these wines have found a strong following among collectors and connoisseurs and are now joined by the excellent Plat’Bos single vineyard cuvée.

These wines just seem to tick all the requisite boxes… exceptional quality, consistency, age ability, limited production, old vines, site specific and international critical acclaim… making these annual new releases an important feature of the South African fine wine landscape.

David & Nadia Skaliekop Chenin Blanc Single Vineyard 2018, WO Swartland, 13.5 Abv.

Single vineyard planted in 1985 on brown shale soils with a north west facing aspect. Picked in the last week of January over two or three passes through the vineyard. Instantly taut, restrained and mineral driven with gravel, green apple pastille, crunchy pear and dry bush veld spice nuances. Palate shows a sleek texture, fabulous intensity and balance, fresh electric acids, salinity and an impressively long, white peach and pear purée finish. Nice coiled tension and eminently age worthy without any doubt.

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

David & Nadia Hoe Steen Chenin Blanc Single Vineyard 2018, WO Swartland, 13.5 Abv.

Planted in 1968 with a massale selection of grapes with at least two clones of Chenin Blanc. A south facing vineyard with little terraces, the soils are clay rich with lots of coffee klip. Aromatics are very dusty, spicy and gravelly with perhaps hints of the other aromatic varieties like False Pedro, Semillon, Palomino and Crouchen Blanc interplanted shining through. Fabulously spicy and saline with dried herbs, pear purée, apple pastille and crunchy pineapple. Incredible Grand Cru palate weight and breadth, coating concentration and length without ever losing poise and finesse. Wow, what a wine. The ultimate Grand Cru Chenin!

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

David & Nadia Plat’Bos Chenin Blanc Single Vineyard 2018, WO Swartland, 13 Abv.

Little bush vines planted in 1981 next to the Skaliekop vineyard but on 100% granitic soils. Nose shows a lovely balance between minerality, pithy spicy yellow orchard fruits, crushed granite and dry fynbos and thatch herbal spice. Cool, clean, crystalline, powerful and linear, this cuvée shows the classic tension of Chenin Blanc grown on granite soils, an entrancing saline crisp acidity and a sleek, polished marble textural harmony and finesse. Really quite impressive now but this is most certainly a wine for medium to long term cellaring. One for the collectors!?

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

David & Nadia wines are distributed to the trade in the UK by Justerini & Brooks.

Another Amphora Wine from Thierry Germain – Tasting the Exotic Domaine des Roches Neuves Outre Terre Qvevri Saumur Champigny…

Thierry Germain’s domaine Roches Neuves, whose vineyards are planted in Saumur for white wines and the Saumur-Champigny appellation for red wines, has rightfully become one of the greatest examples of biodynamic vine growing throughout France. His total dedication to site specific wines producing “parcellaires” wines from Cabernet Franc and Chenin Blanc often with the added exotism of flor or amphora ageing, has allowed him to produce some of the most exciting wines in the entire Loire Valley.

Thierry relocated to the Loire from Bordeaux in the early 1990s and soon fell under the influence of his spiritual father, Charly Foucault of Clos Rougeard. Thierry would ultimately convert his entire domaine to biodynamic viticulture. His incredibly diverse terroirs are translated into wine in bottle with utter clarity and precision making Thierry arguably one of the top producers in the Loire Valley and certainly one of the most highly sought after by Loire wine lovers and collectors alike.

Thierry Germain Domaine des Roches Neuves Outre Terre Cabernet Franc Amphora 2014, Saumur Champigny, Loire, 13 Abv.

From one of my favourite Loire producers, the Outre Terre is among his rarest and smallest production reds. Fermented and macerated for 8 months in 800 litre Georgian Qvevri (amphora), this 2014 is still opaque and dark with a purple black plum rim. Initially on opening the bottle, the wine reveals some lifted notes of sweet plum, earthy bramble berries, dried herbs and a sweet raisined black currant note. But interestingly this slightly stewed berry note blows off fairly quickly to reveal the real inner workings of an intricate amphora engine. There are all the mineral, rocky, gravelly tell tail signs of amphora ageing complemented by piquant black cherry skin spice, thyme, potpourri, violets and bath soap perfume. There is certainly a clarity, purity and minerality that carries over to the palate which is tart and crystalline, refreshing and electric, showing off Cabernet Franc’s fine powdery tannins but supported by a linear, crunchy line of acid. Wonderfully energetic and fabulously balanced, this wines only fault at this stage is that it’s too youthful still. The finish is spicy, pithy and slightly savoury with sweet black currant, tart Victoria plum, graphite spice and a weightless concentration and focus. Give this superb 2014 another few years to uncoil its tension and flesh out. A truly classy, nuanced expression of Cabernet Franc.

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

A Fitting Send Off For Paul Symington – Tasting a Fabulous Array of Old Vintage Ports and Old Tawny Ports to Mark His Retirement…

The Symington Family Estates is one of the most famous wine and Port houses in the whole of Portugal, which has owned and operated several vineyards and wineries since the 19th century. This family run business, now run by the 4th and 5th generations, owns several prestigious brands of Port, Madeira wine and Douro DOC wines, including some of the oldest and most well-known Port and Madeira offerings.

Today there are 10 family members working across the business, none more committed and married to the business than Paul Symington. A hugely influential and charismatic figure in the Port wine trade for many decades, Paul has finally called time as one of the figureheads of the Symington group and will be succeeded by his cousin, Johnny Symington, who will become chairman while Rupert Symington, previously joint managing director with Paul, will become CEO.

Over the past 20 years that I have worked in the London fine wine trade, it has always been Paul with his cool, calm, measured approach that has been the banner man and figurehead of the Symington Family Estates’ portfolio. So to mark this obviously sad but momentous decision, Paul, along with his long time importer in the UK, John E Fells, decided to go out in style with one of the most incredible Port tastings at the Armoury at the Tower of London.

With the veritable who’s who of the wine trade in attendance, we were treated to a tasting of some of the estate’s greatest wines over the past 100 years. The company is of course in safe hands but Paul will be missed by myself and many in the UK wine trade. Bon voyage et bon chance!

 

Graham 1994 Vintage Port

With 22 years in bottle, this is considered one of the best 3 or 4 post war vintage Ports according to the Symingtons. A classical beauty that is starting to reach a semblance of maturity showing an attractive bouquet of earthy beetroot, milk chocolate, aniseed root, dusty crushed granite, spicy black berry and sweet tobacco. Palate is dense and cool, creamy and sensual with an underlying backbone concealing incredible depth and power, fresh acids and wonderful harmony and balance. Utterly stunning but decades of life ahead of this wine.

(Wine Safari Score: 98/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

 

Graham 1963 Vintage Port

An iconic vintage, this was marked as the first vintage in many years that actually made the family some decent money. At over 50 years old, there is a complexity of burnt brown sugar, polished oak, botanical herbs, oranges soaked in cognac and exotic wood spices. The palate shows creamy sweetness, caramelised depth, orange peel, bergamot, cinnamon spice and a spicy salted caramel finish. Mature but certainly delicious.

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

 

Dow 20 Year Old Tawny Port

A very different wine to the Graham 20 year old, this tawny shows an exotic spicy lifted nose with dusty minerality, dried orange peel, aniseed root, caramelised figs and cherries in cognac. Incredible tension and core power, fantastic textural precision and balance with an overall drier finish with complex notes of burnt sugar, spicy almonds, pistachio and salted liquorice. Tannins are beautifully elegant and lend a fine gravitas to the long, dry, mineral finish with the most subtle kiss of sweet tobacco and red bramble berry. A finely matured, mellow tawny that is very distinguished.

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

 

Graham 1982 Single Harvest Tawny Port

A wine released to commemorate the marriage of HRH Prince Harry to Meghan Markle in 2018. Aged in oak for over 3 decades at Graham’s 1890 Port lodge. 6 Pipes were selected for this exclusive bottling. The nose is very restrained and subtle, with interesting lactic notes of polished oak, butterscotch, pithy red cherry and dusty gravelly minerality. A striking wine that whispers its class, glides across the palate and lingers persistently in the mouth with notes of spiced oranges, cognac spice and vanilla pod. Liquid silk, this wine is as regal the the occasion is was bottled for. Beautiful.

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

 

Dow 40 Year Old Tawny Port

Plenty of patience required in creating this expression but it rewards with massive depth and power. The bouquet has almost more in common with Madeira than Tawny Port with a sweet / sour nose of red and black berries, sour plum, brine and a pronounced salty maritime sea breeze complexity. On the palate you see the concentration and power, depth and complexity of burnished oak, polished mahogany, burnt oranges, dried orchard fruits, praline and a sleek tea leaf finish. Beautiful and round, textured and showy, this has the opulence and presence to silence the noisiest room of wine merchants and wine critics.

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

 

Graham 1972 Single Harvest Tawny Port

Only a few barrels were selected in 1972 by Peter Symington for ageing in seasoned oak casks at the Vila Nova de Gaia lodge. Quite exotic with mature notes of wood spice, chocolate caramel wafers, almonds and dried orange peel. Not the most complex aromatic profile but certainly shows incredible fleshy opulence, creamy vibrant freshness, silky soft tannins with all components of this wine in a very happy harmony. One of those wines that confirms that sometimes less is definitely more. Low volume but incredibly melodious.

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

 

Cockburn 1969 Single Harvest Tawny Port

A sample drawn straight from cask that is currently ageing at the Cockburn lodge in Gaia and is not currently available on the market. This is also the birth year of head winemaker Charles Symington so holds a special position in the sentiments of the family. The bouquet is brimming with sweet wood spice, polished mahogany, oranges macerated in cognac and a subtle nutty almond peel intensity. Full and opulent, this shows a deliciously fresh and vibrant palate that is thoroughly tantalising and alluring with salted caramel, cognac and vanilla spice, dried orange peel and salty, briney fresh acids. Fleshy and harmonious, this is a very impressive fine wine expression that the market will eagerly watch and wait for!!

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

 

Graham 1963 Single Harvest Tawny Port

This vintage produced some of the finest Tawny Ports of the 20th century. Aged for over 50 years this wine shows incredible subtlety and finesse, delicacy and elegance with notes of dried orange peel, barley sugar, dried maraschino cherries, nutty almond powder and deliciously intriguing wood spice complexity. Beautifully fresh and vibrant, this wine reveals the most regal of tannin structures, a bright crystalline purity, weightless concentration and a delicious tangerine and salted toffee finish. This is incredibly fine, thoroughly distinguished and a definite show stopper. Wow!

(Wine Safari Score: 98+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

 

Graham 90 Year Old Tawny Port

Specially bottled to commemorate the 90th birthday of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, this very fine old Tawny is an extraordinary blend of 1912, 1924 and 1935 and is one of the rarest wines in the Symington range. Each vintage seems to build on the shoulders of the next rising to an ever higher level of complexity. The blending was done to incorporate the colour and acid intensity of the 1935, the rich hedonistic honied opulence of the 1924 and the extraordinary complexity and intensity of the concentrated 1912. A dark tawny opaque brown colour, the bouquet is fiery and a touch spirity but also loaded with ample notes of salted caramel, butterscotch and nutty cognac wood spice. The palate is regal and fleshy with the most delicious concentration enlivened by bristling acids, creamy burnt sugar sweetness and finishes with the most complex dried fruit and coffee caramel finish. Beautiful power, towering elegance and nearly unrivalled hedonistic showmanship. Utterly spellbinding.

(Wine Safari Score: 98+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

 

Postscriptum: This was a truly amazing tasting of some of the greatest ports ever produced. So if any readers looking at my high scores are thinking I have succumb to a bout of score inflation, think again. This really was one of the most accomplished and remarkable line ups of mature Port that I have ever had the privilege of tasting altogether.

B Vintners Starts Pushing Terroir and Quality Boundaries With Their New Terroir Specific Range…

Founded by cousins Gavin Bruwer and Bruwer Raats, B Vintners have always had an innovative approach to winemaking while simultaneously trying keeping things simple and authentic, nurturing the grapes from vine to bottle and allowing the wines to express their sense of place. All the vineyards across the range are distinct, mostly from high-lying areas, close to the ocean and planted on ancient weathered soils with the aim of capturing the Cape’s true heritage and terroir in the bottle.

With the launch of the Terroir Specific series, this is when you really get to see Gavin and Bruwer’s philosophy at work. Quality by design, leveraged from the unique terroir sites of the Sondagskloof in the Walker Bay region and a unique old vine Cinsault site in Stellenbosch.

The estate where the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes are sourced is owned by the family of assistant winemaker at Leeu Passant, Wade Sander. Indeed the Pinot Noir vineyard is shared between Gavin and Wade and while their wines are slightly different stylistically, they definitely share a common terroir note. This really is one of the rising stars of the new South Africa and most definitely a winery worth following closely.

 

A contemplative Gavin Bruwer tasting the range with me at the Raats Family Winery.

B Vintners Fire Heath Chardonnay Terroir Specific 2017, WO Sondagskloof, Walker Bay, 12.5 Abv.

Taut steely nose shows the altitude and the rocky limestone and sandstone soils. There’s a cool, stony, lemon and lime pithy white citrus freshness, leesy biscuit depth and a subtle sweet dried herb complexity. Acids are bracing and fresh yet cushioned by a deliciously tart, zippy sweet / sour fleshy concentration that electrifies the palate. The oak is delicately integrated already from a 75% oaked portion including 25% new 500 litre barrels. Wonderfully linear and restrained in style, this fabulous 2017 signals a massive step up in Chardonnay quality for B Vintners and the region.

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

 

B Vintners Black Bream Pinot Noir Terroir Specific 2017, WO Sondagskloof, Walker Bay, 12.5 Abv.

Aged in 500 litre barrels, 15% new with a small portion in used 300 litre barrels. As is typical to the higher elevation terroir, there is a real crystalline purity and salinity to the fruit profile which shows wonderfully lifted perfumed notes of sweet fynbos, lavender, cherry blossom and cranberry cordial. There is a subtle restrained sappy, freshly cut hedge row note that adds complexity to the nose and palate while the acids remain linear and pure, the mineral tannins crisp and ever so slightly edgy. A fine wine with good structure, restrained gravelly mineral breadth and a certain kind of ‘old world’ classical austerity.

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

 

B Vintners Lone Wolf Cinsault Terroir Specific 2018, WO Stellenbosch, 12.5 Abv.

60 x 6 cases total production – About a ton of Cinsault from the bottom of a Pinotage vineyard at Bellevue in the Bottelary Hills planted in the early 1950’s on granite and schist soils. Fabulously lifted and finely perfumed, this wine screams individuality, with potpourri spice, rose petals, dried violets, Turkish delight and cranberry reduction. Suave and cool, there is lovely liquid minerality, piercing concentration and a long, restrained red currant berry fruit length. A wonderful old vine expression of Cinsault that really is noteworthy. Minute production that might just possibly have been exported all to the UK.

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

Imported and distributed in the UK by Alliance Wines.

Negociant Wine Merchant Wade Bales Capitalises on the Strength of the 2017 Vintage in Stellenbosch…

An interesting and unique project in the South African context. Wine merchant Wade Bales has managed to secure premium Cabernet Sauvignon from several icon producers to create a single blend of wines from Ernie Els, Kanonkop, Delaire-Graff, Nico vd Merwe and Stark Conde. Aged in 100% French oak, 60% new for 18 month this is a new and intriguing addition to the world of top Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon.

Wade Bales Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, WO Stellenbosch, 14.9 Abv.

This wine shows the vibrancy and intensity of the superb 2017 vintage. It is positively brimming with youthful aromas of sweet sandalwood, violets, Christmas cake, sun raisined black berries and a touch of sweet chew tobacco. The acids are crunchy and fresh, framing the sweet red and black bramble berry fruits in a confident fashion. Fabulous dusty Cabernet Sauvignon typicity that is seamlessly blended to offer up a very fine example from multiple Stellenbosch terroirs. However much I like this wine now, you just know it’s going to be so much better in 5 to 6 years time. Buy now and pop in your cellar. A really delightful wine.

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