In September, Chris “Butch” Alheit returned to the United Kingdom to present his new 2021 vintages at his importer’s portfolio tasting. With over 120+ wines from South Africa being poured, most with their producers in attendance, I decided to write up a series of “snap-shot” tastings for drinkers and collectors to use as a quick and easily accessible reference for a whole series of new releases. I fortuitously had another opportunity only a few weeks later to retaste the entire Alheit range again with Chris in Cape Town at the Cape Wine 2022 wine show in October. So my below scores are an aggregate of the two tastings.
Chris explained that in general, his vineyards ripened around 10 days later in 2021 than the previous year, with low yields but very high quality across the board. In 2021, no Huilkrans Chenin Blanc was made as the crop from this Skurfberg “lieu dit” vineyard was simply too small. Then there was the Magnetic North catastrophy which saw the entire tank of Chenin Blanc from this famous vineyard ruined by a faulty tank gasket seal that imparted an unpleasant bitterness to the wine. As if Alheit demand and supply is not strained enough in a regular vintage, 2021 with its exceptional white wine quality will create even more severe headaches for collectors and drinkers looking for allocations of these incredible wines. But I recommend you persevere as the wines are once again truly outstanding.
Alheit Vineyards Hereafter Here 2021, WO Western Cape, 13% Abv.
Made from young vine Chenin Blanc vineyards from Upper Blaauwklippen, Polkadraai and the Swartland, the idea is that some of these grapes will eventually be channelled into Cartology in years to come as the vines age. Deliciously cool, silky and taut with green fruits, white flowers, white citrus, green apple and crunchy peach nuances. Acids are mouth-wateringly tangy and the fruits crystalline and pure with impressive clarity and balance. A clear step up in quality and intensity on the maiden 2020 release.
(Wine Safari Score: 94/100 Greg Sherwood MW) RRP £28
Alheit Vineyards Cartology 2021, WO Western Cape, 13% Abv.
A blend of 90% Chenin Blanc and 10% Semillon from circa nine dryland bush vine parcels around the Cape with a minimum age of 35 years but with most between 40 to 80 years old. The entry shows a massive vibrant concentration of white citrus, peach and tangerine with complexing notes of wet thatch, fynbos and struck flint reduction. The palate is rich and textured, plush and fleshy, showing the true class and pedigree of the 2021 vintage. This must be among the finest Cartology releases produced to date. Do not miss it!
(Wine Safari Score: 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW) RRP £37
Alheit Vineyards Fire By Night Chenin Blanc 2021, WO Swartland, 13% Abv.
Previously known as Broom Ridge, this wine has reverted back to its original name and label due to popular demand. From vineyards on the property Chris bought in the Swartland, the vines were planted between 1971 and 1985 on decomposed granitic soils. The aromatics are predictably stony, dusty and pithy with white peach, crunchy pear, green tea, fynbos and tangerine undertones. The palate shows its usual tell-tale reductive flinty hints together with an incredible liquid minerality that is supported by crystalline pure fruits and pinpoint fresh acids. Once again, a very impressive showing from this Paardeberg vineyard.
(Wine Safari Score: 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW) RRP £50
Alheit Vineyards Nautical Dawn Chenin Blanc 2021, WO Helderberg, Stellenbosch, 13% Abv.
Grapes for this single vineyard wine come from a beautiful higher altitude site in the Helderberg planted in 1978 that overlooks False Bay. The soils are weathered decomposed granite that look like caster sugar in texture. True to this vineyard’s terroir, there is an incredibly pronounced rock salt salinity on the wine with an overt maritime sea breeze complexity that combines with notes of peach, pear, lime peel, tangerine and a savoury liquid minerality on the finish. Intense, complex and certainly quite profound. Wow!
(Wine Safari Score: 97+/100 Greg Sherwood MW) RRP £42
Alheit Vineyards Monument Semillon 2021, WO Franschhoek, 13% Abv. (Ex-La Colline)
The grapes from this famous La Colline vineyard were planted in 1936 and offer up complex notes of melted bee’s wax, incense, sweet baking herbs, black currant, lemon rind and tangerine. There is a generous, concentrated fleshy savoury fruit core all held in perfect equilibrium by fresh taut acids. Still showing a complexing hint of smoky reduction, this is undoubtedly a profound Semillon offering from one of the most famous vineyards in the country. Pop this in your cellar for 3 to 5 years and then drink over 8 to 10+ years.
(Wine Safari Score: 96+/100 Greg Sherwood MW) RRP £68
Alheit Vineyards Hemelrand Vine Garden 2021, WO Hemel-en-Aarde, 13.5% Abv.
A blend of 36% Chardonnay, 27% Roussanne, 18% Chenin Blanc, 16% Verdelho and 3% Muscat. This field blend offers up rich earthy, peachy fruit notes with yellow orchard fruits, white flowers, citrus oil and lychee with subtle baking spice nuances. The palate is fresh and full fruited with a fruit salad melange enlivened by juicy, tangy acids and a delicately savoury, mineral finish. Plenty of intensity on display here but also a fine purity and a harmonious balance. One of the best Hemelrand Vine Garden releases to date.
(Wine Safari Score: 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW) RRP £32
Alheit Vineyards Lost and Found Hanepoot Straw Wine 2019, WO Breedekloof, 7% Abv.
Looking at this rich, unctuous wine in the glass is akin to gazing through an ancient piece of Jurassic fossilized amber – ripe, captivating and most definitely warmly inviting. But this is no normal sweet wine and one sniff of the rich, ripe, potent aromatics reveals an enchanting bouquet of freshly boiled marmalade jam, green mango preserve, barley sugar, sweet herbs, wet straw and dried apricots. Give the dense, glycerol wine another slow swirl in a big Zalto Bordeaux bowl and it shifts gears again to offer yet more pithy orange peel nuances and seductive notes of quince jelly, pressed grapes and burnt caramel. Like some of South Africa’s other truly great sweet wines, the aromatics are so complex and seductive that you almost forget to sip the wine! Incredibly viscous and fleshy on the palate with a round glycerol opulence, there is no suggestion at any point that this wine is going to be overly sweet and clawing with its 450 g/l RS. In fact the sweetness is kept smartly in check by a searing acidity that scythes through the caramel and barley sugar laden fruit layers with samurai sword precision. The finish is gloriously mouth coating, hedonistic and persistent with just the most subtle sappy, pithy, bitter orange peel vermouth twang.
(Wine Safari Score: 98+/100 Greg Sherwood MW) RRP £75 per 37.5cl
Trade allocations available in the UK through their exclusive importer Dreyfus Ashby or retail from South African fine wine specialist Museum Wines.