The Emergence of Another South African Grand Cru Chardonnay – Tasting the Iona Kloof 2018…

Since the late 1990’s when Andrew Gunn bought and planted the Iona estate, the focus of production has been on Sauvignon Blanc, with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot being the first vineyards planted in 1998, followed by Chardonnay, Semillon and Pinot Noir. In these early days, no one could have known the true quality potential of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in the Elgin region.

With the new Monopole varietal releases from Iona in 2020, quality has been taken up a notch or two and when I reviewed the full range last year with Rozy Gunn in London just before lockdown 1.0, I realised these were indeed very special wines worthy of all the home market hype. I recently had a chance to taste some of the follow up releases and of course, I was intent on finding out whether the fabulous 2017 Kloof Monopole Chardonnay had just been a fluke or if this wine really was a new budding Grand Cru creation in the South African wine landscape.

Iona Monopole Kloof Chardonnay 2018 Limited Release, WO Elgin, 13% Abv.

Clones are CY95, CY96 and 227 grown on soils with large deposits of rocky quartzite silica with underlying clay with a north facing aspect and east / west row direction. The pruning style is cane double guyot.

After a block buster performance from the maiden 2017 Kloof Chardonnay and an impressive score to match, all eyes were on Andrew Gunn and the Iona team to see what they could pull out the bag in 2018. Once again, the vineyard and its terroir are the winner with a decidedly classical slant on the wine once again, boasting complex aromatics of crushed rocks and flint, gravel and white citrus with hints of green Granny Smith apples and spicy lemon grass. The palate reveals wonderful clarity and definition, precise crystalline white citrus fruits, tangy acids and a perfectly weighted, harmonious length that is so pure and detailed with a delicious finale of orange citrus zest. A very distinguished wine that’s establishing a growing quality reputation for itself. Drink from release and over 10-12+ years.

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

Craven Wines Releases Another Distinguished Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon…

Jeanine and Mick Craven are the winemaking duo behind this vibrant Cape wine brand established in 2013. While their range has pretty much been bedded in over the past few years with minor tweaks, additions and the odd cuvee trimming here and there, their Devon Valley Firs Syrah continues to retain a prime position as their most distinguished wine produced. However, ever since I tasted their maiden 2018 Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon from barrel in late 2018, I have been bewitched by the succulence, freshness, varietal purity and precision of this new addition to their range.

I recently tasted their new releases which now includes a very Chablis-like mineral 2019 Chardonnay together with their exciting second release 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon made from the same premium Polkadraai Hills Cabernet Sauvignon grapes from vines grown on decomposed granite soils. This wine has an incredibly classical old-world Bordeaux feel to its demeanour and is truly unique in terms of style compared to most other beefier Stellenbosch or Helderberg Cabernet Sauvignons produced.

The beautiful Polkadraai Hills, now it’s own ward within the Stellenbosch region.

Whether it’s those stunning Polkadraai soils, their earlier picking regime or simply the skill of Jeanine and Mick in capturing the wonderful terroir of the area with their own fingerprint, this wine remains an incredibly exciting cuvee and one all self-admitted Cabernet Sauvignon obsessives should track down and try.

Craven Wines Cabernet Sauvignon 2019, WO Stellenbosch, 12.5% Abv.

What an impressive effort. The wine making philosophy of Jeanine and Mick really seems to shine through brightest with their Cabernet Sauvignon expression. Sourced from the Karibib vineyard in the Polkadraai Hills in Stellenbosch and grown on decomposed granite soils, this taut, fresh, earthy black currant fruit laden expression is fabulously precise and pure with mesmerising aromatics of violets, creme de cassis, freshly tilled earth, raisined black plums, black cherry and a lick of sweet sappy cedar oak spice. With perhaps a little more middle palate extract and texture than the 2018, this wine really ticks so many boxes and is an absolute drinking pleasure. What a stunner! It seduced me at the very first sip and continued to do so until the last glass. Drink from 2021 until 2030+.

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

Cartology 2019 – Chris Alheit Releases Another Prodigious Edition of His Old Vine Chenin Blanc Global Brand…

After the difficulties of the 2018 harvest, the fourth drought influenced vintage in a row, that produced small quantities of very high-quality wines, 2019 arrived after a winter with better rains and beckoned a vintage with heathier yields and higher volumes. While Chris waivered briefly a few years ago on the long-term future of the Cartology brand, a subsequent broader rejigging of some of the exceptional old vineyards that used to go into this wine ultimately led to a complete shake up of the range, and most importantly, the acquisition of the Nuwedam farm in the Swartland, the Paardeberg source of the Fire By Night brand, now renamed Broom Ridge.

But the Cartology Chenin Blanc based blend luckily remains central to the Alheit Family Wines long term plans. While it’s unclear how large volumes might grow one day, this wine remains one of the greatest success stories to emerge from the “New South Africa” and its winelands.

Alheit Family Wines Cartology 2019, WO Western Cape, 13% abv.

The 2019 expression of Chris Alheit’s sought-after megabrand is a blend of 90% Chenin Blanc and 10% Semillon (from La Colline) and stands as the benchmark reference point for his whole winemaking range and philosophy. Always normally requiring a bit of extra time in bottle to show at its expressive best, this delicious 2019 already reveals a wonderful balance and precision, focus and textural attention to detail. The aromatics are loaded with the now unmistakable Chenin Blanc notes of yellow orchard fruits, white peach, tangerines, wet thatch and orange peel zest with complexing waxy, honeycomb nuances. Cool, seamless and wonderfully balanced, the palate shows a lovely vein of tangy acidity that really brings the fruit flavours to life. Plush, concentrated and impressively glycerol already, this Cartology is showy and seductive but contains all the requisite stuffing required for 15+ years of ageing.

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

The Original Swartland Maverick Adi Badenhorst Presents His New 2021 Wine Releases…

The Kalmoesfontein farm is the home of Adi Badenhorst Family Wines situated in the Heart of the Paardeberg in the Swartland. An historic old farm, it was already planted with some of the oldest Grenache blocks in the country when Adi bought the farm in the mid-2000s. One of the original Swartland mavericks, Adi Badenhorst had already carved out a formidable winemaking reputation at Rustenburg before moving to the Swartland in 2006/7.

I recently caught up with Adi over a zoom tasting to taste a lovely array of his newest releases (from small decanted sample bottles which in some instances can affect a wine’s ultimate score detrimentally.)

AA Badenhorst New Releases:

AA Badenhorst Secateurs Chenin Blanc 2020, WO Swartland, 13% Abv.

Made from up to 30 vineyards from different terroirs with the juice often being blended in tanks and 30% fermented in wooden vats. No yeasts added, no acidification, focusing on an honest, affordable, non-manipulated Chenin Blanc with a lot of the fruit from old bush vines. The 2020 is packed with peach stone fruits, yellow orchard fruits, hints of wet thatch, green melon and green apple nuances with a fine textural mouthfeel, juicy acids and a peachy, pithy length. A very versatile wine that offers great value for money.

(Wine Safari Score: 88/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

AA Badenhorst Secateurs Riviera Chenin Blanc 2020, WO Swartland, 13% Abv.

A component of the Secateurs that was bottled on its own in 2018 for the first time using layers of fruit in tank to get carbonic maceration and skin contact. Mostly Chenin Blanc with a splash of Grenache Blanc. Then they draw off components of the wine at different stages and no sulphur is added. The wine is picante and aromatic, spicy and complex with delicious notes of tangerine peel, oranges, sea breeze and kelp and crunchy peaches. Definite skin contact aromas and subtle skin contact flavours on the palate but nothing enough to scare off novices. Texturally it’s full, glycerol harmonious and round and just a lovely complex glassful of wine.

(Wine Safari Score: 89/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

AA Badenhorst Sout van die Aarde Palomino 2019, WO Swartland, 13.5% Abv.

Another unique wine from Adi. Up the west coast, so one of the only vineyards quite a distance from Kalmoesfontein. Grapes from old vines (planted 1950s & 1970s) are grown in limestone chalky sandy soils, pressed and fermented in vats. The nose is pure sea breeze and oyster shell with back notes of grapefruit, white citrus and limestone minerality. On the palate, the 2019 is soft and fleshy, textured and harmonious with a cool, glycerol density, weightless concentration and a soft, almost creamy, salty finish. No edges, fabulous balance and just a pleasure to drink. 

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

AA Badenhorst Family White Blend 2018, WO Swartland, 14% Abv.

Made from 10 to 12 different varieties, the grapes are all sourced from the Swartland and the wine tries to represent the region instead of a specific variety or style but with all grapes grown on decomposed Granite soils. The nose is pithy and spicy with hints of pear, fynbos, dry thatch and back ground hints of tangerine, naartjie, peach and green apples. The palate is crisp, crystalline, pure and bright with a lovely harmonious balance, a delicate lick of vanilla and oak, subtle savoury lees characters and a long, sweet / sour intense finish loaded with pineapple pastille and yellow rock candy. Powerful, intense and textural. A really lovely Swartland expression. 

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

AA Badenhorst Golden Slopes Chenin Blanc 2019, WO Swartland, 12.5% Abv.

Another superb single vineyard bottled by Adi, the 2019 Golden Slopes Chenin Blanc is an old vines vineyard grown on decomposed granite soils and often tends to shine as one of Adi’s most accomplished expressions of Chenin Blanc. Planted at 320m above sea level on granite, with heavier clay rich soils. The heavier soils yield a more unctuous, textural Chenin expression loaded with white peach, pithy yellow orchard fruits, granitic dust and a lovely round, rich glycerol textured palate wth fabulous intensity and superb length. What not to love about this wine?

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

AA Badenhorst Klip Kop Chenin Blanc 2019, WO Swartland, 13% Abv.

Old vine bush vines near the Golden Slopes vineyard but just a bit lower down the slope or around 120 metres lower down at 200 metres above sea level, located on a rocky outcrop with more austere soils which comes through on the more steely, mineral nature of the wine. The aromatics are austere and picante, mineral and tense, loaded with stony, granitic white citrus, white grapefruit, green apple and crushed rocks. The palate is pure and linear, with a glassy defined vein of acidity and a pure, crunchy peach stone fruit finish. I love the tension, the nervous energy married to a harmonious equilibrium. Superb.

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

AA Badenhorst Family Red Blend 2018, /WO Swartland, 13.5% Abv.

Another of Adi’s signature wines, using 5 to 6 different varieties fermented in concrete, some portions in tank and then they are transferred back into concrete with around 10,000 bottles produced. Nose shows delicious complexity with savoury, meaty, red fruited notes with hints of back currant, black olive tapenade and raw marinated meat. The palate shows a lovely balance and elegance, textural finesse and seamless mouthfeel where one variety melts into the other. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. A truly delicious wine. 

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

AA Badenhorst Family Ramnasgras Cinsault 2019, WO Swartland, 12.5% Abv.

Located next to the Raaigras Grenache vineyard, located on the farm and always shows a unique character from vines planted in the early 1960’s. The secret to quality is old vines, low cropping and well tended vineyards. The nose is jam packed full of savoury red berry fruits, sun raisined cranberry, red cherry, Turkish delight and rose petals perfume but with this Swartland expression showing another layer of earthy red currant fruit, Sous Bois and leafy sapidity. On the palate the texture is cool and creamy, fabulous textural balance and finesse with silky, chalky tannins, a soft fleshy depth and an almost Pinot Noir elegance and mouthfeel. Really impressive.

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

AA Badenhorst Family Raaigras Grenache 2019, WO Swartland, 14% Abv.

A wonderfully exotic, perfumed wine that is supposed to come from the oldest Grenache vineyard in South Africa planted in the 1950s. There is a lovely creamy, savoury, earthy red berry intensity with super polished tannins, an incredibly finessed palate texture and a long, bramble berry, cranberry and rose hip finish. This 2019 shows some of the most harmonious elegance I’ve seen on any of Adi’s reds and really is a true hommage to this ancient vineyard. Bravo!

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

South Africa’s Most Historic Wine Estate Releases Their New Vintage of The Meerlust Red 2018 For Export Markets…

It’s perhaps a global fine wine anomaly but South Africa’s most famous estate produces a second wine of it’s flagship Rubicon Bordeaux blend but it’s only sold on export markets… unless… the flagship wine Rubicon is not produced, like in 2019, and is declassified into the Meerlust Red.

It’s a lovely story, if you live overseas. But for local consumers, the release of the Meerlust Red is a true rarity with the downgrade or declassification of the Rubicon only previously occurring in the case of the the 1985, 1990, 2002 and the 2011 vintages… and now the 2019. But in the UK, we have just received the new vintage of the Meerlust Red 2018. Admittedly, the 2017 was a phenomenal wine and was tasted and rated 93/100 buy the Fine Wine Safari. So what to expect from the 2018 successor?

With European markets consuming and enjoying second wines without cannibalising the corresponding flagship first wines, the relationship between consumers and second wines is far more intricate and nuanced compared to the South African local home market.

Meerlust Red known to be age worthy in punchy Red vintages like 2004.

Meerlust Red 2018, WO Stellenbosch, 14% Abv.

Never a wine to shout about it’s pedigree, instead it prefers to whisper confidently about it’s regal heritage. This Meerlust Red 2018 is sleek, fresh and light on its feet with delicately perfumed aromatics of dried violets, smokey charcoal embers, raisined red currants and freshly cut cedar spice. The palate is light to medium bodied, cool and crisp, showing a pure, precise black berry elegance, sleek fresh acids and a cool textural linearity. The wine finishes with notes of melted black liquorice, black plum, sappy black currant and charred BBQ’ed savoury notes. Impressive accessibility and a classy harmonious balance make this a really delicious glassful now with added pleasure to be expected over 3-8+ years of ageing.

(Wine Safari Score: 91+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

New Release Review – Tasting the Exceptional Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 From Kanonkop…

The Kanonkop Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 is another classical example of this varietal grown on the prime slopes of the Simonsberg ward. Exuding a sense of compact density, balance and harmony, its coolness in character is truly impressive considering the warm, dry vintage conditions of 2016.

With the 2016, Abrie Beeslaar handles this 100% Cabernet Sauvignon wine with a masterfully deft touch drawing out every drop of prime Simonsberg terroir. These Stellenbosch vines are on average 27 years old and grown on dry land vineyards located on decomposed granite, hutton and clovelly soils. Yields in 2016 were a mere 4 tons per hectare and only 8,000 cases of 6 were produced.

Kanonkop Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, WO Stellenbosch, 14% Abv.

On opening, this 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon was initially surprisingly taut, tight and broody with reductive aromatics of oyster shell, salty creme de cassis, black currant leaf, black chai tea, iodine and maritime salinity. But as I’ve discovered repeatedly over the past 12 months, the hot dry 2016 drought vintage did produced some really excellent red wines proving that exceptional terroir handled intelligently by an accomplished winemaker can trump even difficult vintage conditions. Given ample time to breath, the nose starts to reveal a growing intensity of black cherry, salty cassis and vibrant blueberry hints with a seductive underlay of cherry kirsch liquor. On the palate, the texture is sleek and polished with multiple waves of creme de cassis and blackberry fruits rising like a tide, finishing with a tangy concentration burst of acidity and mouthwatering fruit. Tannins are understated and powdery suggesting optimal phenolic ripeness. A really beautifully constructed wine with elegance, balance and supple accessibility. Drink on release with a bit of decanting or over 10 to 12+ years.

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

The Institute of Masters of Wine Welcomes 10 New Masters to this Elite Group of Wine Professionals…

I was delighted to learn today that 10 new Masters of Wine have been announced and will join this elite group of global wine professions who operate at the pinnacle of wine achievement.

Considering the incredibly difficult and trying times we find ourselves in due to the pandemic in the 2020/21 academic year, this positive news certainly is a ray of hope and sunshine confirming that life does indeed continue, if not completely unhindered, and reminds us of a better time to come. Congratulations to my 10 new colleagues joining us at the Institute of Masters of Wine.

Based in five countries, the new IMW members – including the first MW based in Italy – are James Doidge MW (UK), Gabriele Gorelli MW (Italy), Susan Lin MW (US), Moritz Nikolaus Lueke MW (Germany), Sophie Parker-Thomson MW (New Zealand), Álvaro Ribalta Millán MW (UK), Tze Sam MW (UK), Melissa Saunders MW (US), Kryss Speegle MW (US) and Clare Tooley MW (US).

There are now 418 MWs globally – 149 women and 269 men living or working in 32 countries. Since the first exam hosted in 1953, 493 people have become a Master of Wine.

Gaja Pieve Santa Restituta Releases One of the Stand-Out Brunello di Montalcino Wines of the 2016 Vintage…

Gaja Pieve Santa Restituta is one of Angelo Gaja’s two Tuscan properties, on the site of an old church, Santa Restituta, which dates back to the 4th century. As is the family’s style, their’s is a fusion of modern and traditional winemaking. They too 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, finesse and age ability.

The best 2016 Brunellos are truly complex and captivating wines characterised by deep ruby colours, pure and vivid aromas, with many showing powerful structures but also finesse and grace with lively freshness and ripe, muscular mineral tannins.

The 2016 season started slowly, with cool temperatures and frequent rains until June. The summer was mostly warm and dry (average temperature of 35 °C), a unique heavy and refreshing rainfall occurred in August. Strong diurnal temperature exchanges during the ripening period contributed, together with appropriate agronomical techniques, to a slow and even ripening of the grapes. The harvest (with an average temperature of 30 °C) started on September 14th and finished on October 6 th.

Gaja Pieve Santa Restituta Brunello di Montalcino 2016 DOCG, 14% Abv.

The 2016 Brunello di Montalcino normale is a fabulously plush, concentrated and intense expression of Brunello and represents probably the estate’s best vintage to date. The aromatics are perfumed and detailed showing cherry blossom, violets, vanilla oak spice and ripe dark layers of red and black berries, sweet cherry tobacco, cola and subtle red liquorice notes with just the faintest spearmint menthol top note. On the palate, the tannins are ripe but powerful with broad mouth-coating grip supported by pure cherry and cranberry fruit concentration, hints of balsamic, crystalline fresh acids and a wonderfully long harmonious finish. Distinguished and refined, but showing tremendous breadth, depth and structural power making this a perfect wine for medium to long-term cellaring. Drink from 2024 to 2036+

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

Another Superb Old Vine Semillon Release to Seduce Fine Wine Lovers – Tasting the Dark Side of the Vine Semillon 2017 From Jacques Wentzel…

Semillon is a complicated grape variety that could probably be thought of as the white equivalent of Cabernet Franc – neither being easy varieties for wine novices to get their heads around, but once you fall in love with them, there is no looking back. These 116-year-old vines come from the famous Landau du Val vineyard in the Bo-Hoek area of the Franschhoek Valley, owned by Basil Landau, really do yield some very special fruit capable of making some truly profound white wines.

Harvested February 2017, the fruit was picked and chilled overnight before being destemmed without crushing and left to macerate on the skins for 24 hours before pressing. The juice was settled in tank and then transferred to old 500 litre French oak barrels for natural fermentation which lasted 6 weeks. After fermentation, bâtonnage was performed once a week to add richness and texture to the wine. The wine was bottled unfiltered and unfined after 12 months ageing in barrel.

As with many other complex wines, cuisines and works of art, it seems unreasonable to expect that every critic will taste and understand classic old vine Semillon in the same manner and see eye to eye with their critical ratings. But this is undoubtedly an impressive wine fashioned by subtlety and whispered nuances, austere liquid minerality and a slowly evolving textural passion play that eventually seduces the drinker.

Black Elephant Vintners & Co. The Dark Side of the Vine Semillon 2017, W.O. Franschhoek, 12.25% Abv.

pH 3.41 | TA 5.6 g/l | RS 2.30 g/l

Old Vine Semillon doesn’t come much more serious than this wine. Add to the equation a high quality, super taut, tightly wound vintage and you have all the building blocks for a truly special wine. This vintage requires plenty of time and breathing to release its intricacies, but after several hours, the aromatics rise to a fine classical crescendo of pithy white citrus, nectarine peel, crushed gravel and dusty chalk minerality, hints of white pepper, dried nuts and a lick of lanolin and tinned petit pois. On the palate, the structure is super taut with an iron grip that releases the underlying intensity of the old vine fruit in a slow and measured manner. There is plenty of crunchy white peach stone fruit, dried herbs, tart green pear, yellow grapefruit pith and a long, spicy, leesy finish framed by linear acids. Another complex, restrained offering that will take a little time in the cellar to show at its best. An educated palate will undoubtedly recognise and enjoy the classism and quality of this very fine Semillon expression. Drink from 2022 to 2034+.

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

The New Release Blue Lady Cabernet Sauvignon From Warwick Estate Hits the Shelves in the UK…

The first wine under the Warwick label was released in 1984, then named “La Femme Bleu” or the “Blue Lady” as it is known today. Two years later, in 1986, the Warwick Trilogy, a three varietal Bordeaux-style blend, was released and has ever since been recognised as one of South Africa’s and Stellenbosch’s top icon wines. Throughout the years, Warwick’s wines have won multiple awards as well as the hearts and minds of not only the local market but also the discerning fine wine collector market internationally, firmly establishing the brand as a true South African icon.

The resurrected Warwick Blue Lady re-emerged more recently as a non-vintage Cabernet Sauvignon made from a blend of the 2008 and 2009 vintages. The then winemaker Nic van Aarde blended the 2010 and made all subsequent vintages up until the 2018 before passing on the winemaking reins to his talented successor JD Pretorius. The Blue Lady, Nic van Aarde informs me, was normally made from Block 14, an old vine block on the Warwick estate, but in later years became a blend of three specific blocks on the farm.

Warwick’s current winemaker, JD Pretorius.

The grapes were hand harvested, de-stemmed and sorted into tanks for primary fermentation with one to three pump overs per day as well as two ‘rack and return’ over the fermentation period. After fermentation and then post-fermentation tank maceration lasting for an average of 36 days on the skins with three or four gentle pump overs per day with malolactic fermentation taking place in stainless steel tanks. After the MLF the wine was racked into French oak barrels (25% new) for a period of 27 months before a strict barrel selection process decided the final expression in the spring of 2019.

Warwick Blue Lady Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5% Abv.

The 2017 is a cool, suave, classy Stellenbosch Cabernet at its seductive best, oozing with class and pedigree. The aromatics are picture perfect with intense notes of violets, fresh cedar, lead pencil and spicy pithy black berry fruits. But no classy Cabernet Sauvignon would be complete without the signature notes of iodine and dusty graphite complexity. True to the vintage, this 2017 is rich, plush, suave and super sleek with a characterful weightless concentration of inky, earthy black plum, blueberry compote, black cherry and subtle black currant. Acids are bright and glassy but also finely harmonious on the palate with powdery, creamy, finessed tannins and a gentle but lithe textural physique. Wonderfully classical and truly Simonsberg Cabernet Sauvignon in character, this wine personifies everything great about the regions premium grape growing terroir. Drink from release and savour over 10 to 15+ years.

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