The Fairytale White Wine Variety From Galicia – Tasting the Newton Johnson Vineyards Albariño 2018…

Albariño… a vibrant Spanish/Portuguese grape variety that is undoubtedly characterised by a uniquely palate-tingling freshness, a light-bodied purity and a crystalline clarity. Saline, zingy and always zippy, where ever grown, it’s the natural partner of a raw ceviche, sushi or any classic seafood pairings. But who would have thought it would settle into South Africa so well!? Assyrtiko… ok, that seemed a no brainer, but this cool climate variety has yielded fantastic results for not only Newton Johnson but also Springfield Estate.

Albariño is a thick skinned grape variety that can thrive in moist, high-altitude vineyards by the sea – in a Spanish context that means the Galician region of Rías Baixas in the North West near Santiago de Compostela – without succumbing to mould or rot unlike some other more delicate varieties. Higher altitude vineyards generally means a cooler climate, stopping the grapes from over-ripening in the Spanish heat but instead allowing them to retain their own fresh, bright acidity that gives this grape its own characteristic mouth-watering style.

First planted in South Africa by Newton Johnson Vineyards in the Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, the first unofficial bottling was, I believe, the 2014 vintage which was served at an “alternative varieties seminar” at Cape Wine 2015, and since then, this grape has continued to impress meriting more producers to invest in plantings.

Bevan Newton Johnson in jovial mood at the 2019 New Wave Tasting in London.

Newton Johnson Vineyards Albariño 2018, Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, 13 Abv.

The 2018 Albariño was matured in 55% stainless steel together with a concrete egg portion with some also in 2,000 litre foudres. Another outstanding Albariño effort, this 2018 shows fabulous crystalline vintage purity and minerality that’s finely embellished and enhanced by notes of crunchy white peaches, lime peel, wet river pebbles and ruby grapefruit zest. The palate shows an impressive harmony and fleshy balance enlivened by beautiful saline notes of the sea shore, bitter yellow grapefruit confit and complex Riesling-like kerosene hints. Fresh but not tart and deliciously piquant. Drink now and over the next 3 to 5 years.

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

Fine Wine Safari Brunello di Montalcino 2015 Vintage Series: Part 3 – Sesti…

The 2015 vintage is a historical year for Brunello di Montalcino that nobody should miss. The wines show impressive precision of vivid fruit, fine tannins and freshness in acidity despite their ripeness and richness which makes them some of the most exciting releases since 2010.

Winemakers in Montalcino were never better prepared to produce outstanding wines in a year like 2015 with their exactness in their vineyards and cellars from fine-tuned canopy management and crop thinning to optical sorting and soft fermentations. So many wine producers in Montalcino made excellent wines in 2015.

A small handful of the wines I tasted are a little bit closed at this early stage, and these will benefit from more cellar ageing. However, the majority of the samples tasted showed softly textured, generous and accessible characteristics that make them beautiful to drink straight out of the gate or with very little aging required. Bottles from the versatile 2015 vintage can go into your cellar for safekeeping or onto your dinner table for near- to medium-term consumption. The choice is yours, and that’s one of the top selling points of 2015 Brunello reds.

Sesti – Without doubt one of the leading producers in Brunello di Montalcino: an estate of 9 hectares under vine which is run by astrologer Giuseppe Sesti and his daughter Elisa. In the vineyard, everything is kept as natural as possible with zero use of herbicides, pesticides, chemical fertiliser and even outside sourced yeasts. The study of astronomy and lunar cycles has also influenced Giuseppe’s approach in the winery – he follows the phases of the moon when it comes to winemaking techniques; only racking wines during a waning of the moon. Ageing of the wines takes place in larger Slavonian oak casks because, according to Sesti, if he is happy with the fruit, the tannins and the overall growing season, then there is no need to mask the wine, but rather preserve the inherent qualities that Sangiovese Grosso draws from these meticulously farmed vineyards.

Castello di Argiano, Sesti’s medieval castle.

Sesti Brunello di Montalcino 2015, 14 Abv.

On the nose this attractive 2015 Brunello shows wonderfully elegant, fragrant notes of wild strawberries, fresh roses and violets that mix with exotic notes of cinnamon, baking cloves and black chocolate spices. Full and generous in the mouth, there is plenty of juicy cherry and red currant fruit intensity that melts in to a complex mélange of liquorice, sweet tobacco, cola and black plum confit. Focused and persistent, this wine has all the building blocks to improve over 8 to 10 years as it mellows in bottle after 39 months ageing in big barrels.

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

Revisiting the Mind Blowing Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Gran Reserva Rosato 2009…

I recently read an interesting tweet by my good buddy Dr Jamie Goode, one of the most well known global wine journalists writing daily on his http://www.wineanorak.com website. Never one to shy away from controversy, his tweet really did get me thinking.

Inspired by his comments, I thought I’d revisit probably one of the most authentic wines on the market that also happens to be one of the rarest new releases, the Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Gran Reserva Rosato. I last tasted the 2009 vintage of this wine way back in June 2019 and also bought a couple of cases for myself. So with UK lockdown recently extended by a further three weeks, I thought it was time to crack one of these unicorns!

The controversial tweet…

The Lopez de Heredia portfolio extends over 170 hectares and four separate vineyard areas of which Tondonia is both the largest (70 Ha) and the most famous. The other three sites making up the estate are Cubillo, Bosconia and Gravonia, each with distinctive terroir characteristics, vineyard aspect and differing styles of wine. The Tondonia Rosato must surely be one of the rarest wines in their portfolio as it is aged for 10 years before release and is also not made every vintage.

Tasting the new Rosato 2009 release in June 2019 with Andrea Mullineux, Maria-Jose and husband Jose-Luis.

Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Gran Reserva Rosato 2009, Rioja, 13 Abv.

What a mind blowing Rosato wine experience. A fabulously iconic wine that offers up the expectation of greatness… and then delivers it in bucket loads! The nose is jam packed with notes of dried ginger, saline orange peel zest, star anise, red liquorice and enticing crushed pomegranate nuances. On the palate, there are seductive notes of bitter blood orange citrus, dried tangerine peel, sweet vermouth botanical spices, white peach and oodles of wet stone liquid minerality. A truly sublime palate that is supremely taut, saline, concentrated and linear while simultaneously being super elegant, slightly tertiary but beautifully pure and focused. All in all, any one lucky enough to drink this wine will experience a profound, authentic Vina Tondonia expression shaped by this iconic winery’s unique philosophy and historical cultural heritage. An incredible wine!

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

Unicorn Rose… the best of the best!

Fine Wine Safari Brunello di Montalcino 2015 Vintage Series: Part 2 – Gaja Pieve Santa Restituta…

The 2015 vintage is a historical year for Brunello di Montalcino that nobody should miss. The wines show impressive precision of vivid fruit, fine tannins and freshness in acidity despite their ripeness and richness which makes them some of the most exciting releases since 2010.

Winemakers in Montalcino were never better prepared to produce outstanding wines in a year like 2015 with their exactness in their vineyards and cellars from fine-tuned canopy management and crop thinning to optical sorting and soft fermentations. So many wine producers in Montalcino made excellent wines in 2015.

Tasting with Gaia Gaja in London.

A small handful of the wines I tasted are a little bit closed at this early stage, and these will benefit from more cellar ageing. However, the majority of the samples tasted showed softly textured, generous and accessible characteristics that make them beautiful to drink straight out of the gate or with very little aging required. Bottles from the versatile 2015 vintage can go into your cellar for safekeeping or onto your dinner table for near- to medium-term consumption. The choice is yours, and that’s one of the top selling points of 2015 Brunello reds.

Gaja Pieve Santa Restituta – One of Angelo Gaja’s two Tuscan properties, on the site of an old church, Santa Restituta, that dates back to the 4th century. As is the family’s style, theirs is a fusion of modern and traditional winemaking. They also own land on the Buonconvento Northern side of Montalcino and some prestigious lands in the South, a stone’s throw from Sesti. The Northern sites normally go into the Brunello di Montalcino with Sugarille and Rennina located around the winery on the Southern side of the town being bottled individually as Crus. These three Brunellos, from one of the finest names in Italian wine, are impeccably crafted and full of character, polished finesse and age ability.

Gaja Pieve Santa Restituta Brunello di Montalcino 2015, 14 Abv.

The 2015 Brunello di Montalcino normale is a riper and more expressive creation, quite darkly fruited but ultimately much less introverted than the bigger Brunello Crus of Rennina and Sugarille. Packed full of dark wild cherries, black plums, sweet cherry tobacco, cherry cola, liquorice, botanical spices and menthol nuances all wrapped around a substantial frame of sweet polished tannins. Ideally this wine needs another few years in bottle, but it is always difficult to resist this wine’s inviting sense of opulence, poise and harmony on release. Another fantastic release for the Gaja fine wine empire.

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

Yet Another Iconic Series M Release from Vilafonte and the High Flying Team in Search of Perfection…

It’s always a privilege to visit premium wineries and in mid-February I fortuitously managed a pre-lockdown trip to South Africa and the Cape winelands. One of the highlights and surprises was certainly dropping in to taste the new Vilafonte Series C and M releases at their cellar in Stellenbosch only to be met and hosted by Mike Ratcliffe’s co-owners, Phil Freese and Zelma Long, both of who were out visiting from California for the new harvest as well as the prestigious Cape Wine Auction charity event.

After a quick sweep around the cellar catching up on the latest 2020 vintage news with Phil and Zelma as well as winemaker Chris de Vries, we hit the 2019 barrels to get a sneak peak of what treats lie just around the corner for Vilafonte lovers.

With Phil Freese, Zelma Long and winemaker Chris de Vries.
The 2019 Series C and M maturing in barrel.

With the 2018s having just been bottled weeks earlier in January, we all gave them a respectful pass before sitting down for a thrilling masterclass with both Phil and Zelma tasting not only the 2017 Series C but also the new Series M, due for general release in South Africa in May 2020.

Always a privilege tasting with Phil & Zelma. Their insight is inspiring.

After the incredibly dry and hot 2016, the 2017 harvest presented an abundant crop of sterling quality. Yields rose by +57% despite the fourth year in a sequence of below-average rainfall for the Western Cape Province. This follows Vilafonte’s smallest per-hectare crop in 2016 and moves back closer to long-term average yields. Welcome post-harvest rains in the preceding year before leaf fall, coupled with well-timed nutrient applications, allowed the vines to build up reserves before going into winter dormancy.

Winter rains in 2016 approached normal levels, but fell below average in late winter to spring. Bud-break in the spring was very even, with rapid shoot growth which ceased well before bloom, allowing excellent fruit-set. Weather leading up to the 2017 harvest was warm and fair – perfect ripening conditions. Harvest commenced on the 6th of February with a few short pauses, and concluded on the 1st of March 2017.

The last pickings of the 2020 Malbec fruit being off loaded with the first Merlot grape arrivals.

Vilafonte Series M 2017, WO Paarl, 14 Abv.

Deliciously opulent and hedonistic, this 2017 Series M blend of 42% Merlot, 39% Malbec and 19% Cabernet Sauvignon is loaded with complex dark fruit notes of blue berries, black berry crumble, creme de cassis and a dusting of vanilla pod spice. Immaculately integrated oak is expertly applied but never overwhelms the lifted perfume notes of violets and fresh iris flowers. The palate shows all the vintage character elegance of 2017 displaying amazing weightless concentration, sleek sweet tannins and a lithe, opulent silky soft sweet fruited structure. This really is precision winemaking anchored around supreme balance and sublime harmony. Fabulously persistent and intense on the finish, this wine will seduce drinkers from release with its accessibility, generosity and finesse but is undoubtedly going to be another superb age worthy premium red for the cellar. Drink from release and for 20+ years.

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

Fine Wine Safari Brunello di Montalcino 2015 Vintage Series: Part 1 – Salicutti Sorgente 2015…

The 2015 vintage is a historical year for Brunello di Montalcino that nobody should miss. The wines show impressive precision of vivid fruit, fine tannins and freshness in acidity despite their ripeness and richness which makes them some of the most exciting in years.

Winemakers in Montalcino were never better prepared to produce outstanding wines in a year like 2015 with their exactness in their vineyards and cellars from fine-tuned canopy management and crop thinning to optical sorting and soft fermentations. So many wine producers in Montalcino made excellent wines in 2015.

A small handful of the wines I tasted are a little bit closed at this early stage, and these will benefit from more cellar ageing. However, the majority of the samples tasted showed softly textured, abundant and accessible characteristics that make them beautiful to drink straight out of the gate or with very little aging required. Bottles from the versatile 2015 vintage can go into your cellar for safekeeping or onto your dinner table for near- to medium-term consumption. The choice is yours, and that’s one of the top selling points of 2015.

Podere Salicutti – It’s been in the works for a few years now, but the ownership switch at Salicutti is now complete. Previous proprietor and founder Francesco Leanza has left his beautiful farmhouse in Montalcino and has now taken up residence in the nearby city of Siena. The new German owners Felix and Sabine Eichbauer have taken over, and their names are now listed on the back labels of the bottles.

In terms of winemaking, nothing has changed, and indeed these two vintages were completed under Francesco’s watch. His style represents purity and a non-interventionist’s approach. His simple, hands-off winemaking always works best in the great vintages and the 2015 is an absolutely terrific creation. In fact, the new releases are some of the best wines we have ever tasted from Salicutti, one of our favourite estates in the appellation. A new gravity flow winery was built and completed in June 2019 and as no 2014 Brunello di Montalcino was produced, this is the first Brunello to be released to the market since their stellar 2013.

Podere Salicutti Brunello di Montalcino Sorgente 2015, 14 Abv.

The 2015 Brunello di Montalcino displays an authentic, classically pure personality that is characterized by dark cherry fruits, botanical spices, sweet leather, cherry cola and grilled herbs. The wine has a fabulously intricate level of beguiling complexity that you often see with the best organic fruit and winemaking. This Brunello wine is classically solid in frame but also generous and precise showing a wonderfully balanced acidity and a zesty, energetic intensity. Always age worthy, this Cuvee is sure to be one of the most sought after wines of the vintage yet again.

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

Creation Wines Shining a Light On Premium Chardonnay Production in the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge…

I think it’s indisputable that only handful of producers in South Africa have well and truly cracked the winemaking code for producing top world class quality Chardonnay. So many commentators and consumers get confused between producers making good versus great expressions.

During some lockdown drinking, I thought I’d take the opportunity to revisit one of the wines I’ve found to consistently tick all the quality boxes when it comes to premium Chardonnay made in a style that is unquestionably world class.

Some of the accolades accrued by Creation’s Art of Chardonnay premium range.

Creation Wines are certainly one of the few South African wineries producing Chardonnay expressions that can be considered “next level” when tasted along side top international benchmarks from France, New Zealand, Australia or California. Originally from Switzerland, owner 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 focuses mainly on producing premium Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Creation Art of Chardonnay 2017, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, 13.5 Abv.

Made from an 18 year old single vineyard but also from specific vines within the site that show the most balanced growth. This wine has a more complex, creamy, deep, broody nose with delicate leesy biscuit notes, green melon preserve, grapefruit zest, crunchy green pear and lemon cordial. Incredible subtlety, freshness, and a steely 3.3 pH highlights the super taut acidity, intense piercing mid-palate and a suave, stylish finish punctuated by an attractive vanilla pod and oak spice kiss. A very ‘Grand Vin’ Chardonnay indeed that deserves recognition. 4,600 bottles produced. Drink it now and over the next 15+ years.

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

For other top examples of South African Chardonnay, look no further than Kershaw Wines, Leeu Passant, Meerlust, Hamilton Russell, Ataraxia, Restless River, Julien Schaal, Newton Johnson, Storm, Elgin Ridge, Paul Cluver, Crystallum, Bouchard Finlayson, De Morgenzon and Uva Mira. Buy all these wines with confidence.