Elgin Ridge Winery Resurrects Their Impressive Biodynamic Elgin Chardonnay…

Organic and Demeter Biodynamic certified winery Elgin Ridge produced a 2010 and 2011 unwooded Chardonnay and then ceased production in 2012 when all their Chardonnay juice was redirected into their Method Cap Classique (MCC) bubbly.

However, the wine was finally resurrected in 2016 with a wooded version. The 2017 is due to hit select markets in Spring 2019. Limited to only 1,300 bottles, the wine was aged 10 months in 20% new French barrels.

Elgin Ridge 282 Chardonnay 2017, WO Elgin, 13 Abv.

True to it’s terroir, this wine has Elgin written all over it with a superb crystallinity, purity and brightness. The nose is youthful and primary but already shows lashings of white citrus, green fig, green apple pastille, lemon-lime cordial, smokey minerality and mouth watering vanilla pod spice. The palate is super intense with bracing acidity but also more than sufficient backing yellow grapefruit, pineapple and tart green apple fruit concentration to balance. Still a baby, this wine should blossom into an ultra focused, finely honed cool climate expression of Chardonnay. Really delicious already but will be worth ageing it for 3 to 6+ years.

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

Returning to Authenticity – Tasting the New Era of Biodynamic Wines from Avignonesi…

Unravelling the conundrum that is Vino Nobile di Montepulciano has been a long term goal of mine. As someone who lives and breathes Italian wines, I have never quite understood the true appeal of Sangiovese wines from Vino Nobile primarily because so much rustic fare has been produced over the years, wines with hard angular tannins, tart acidity and thin fruit.

Exit stage door left, enter Max de Zarobe and Virginie Saverys, the philanthropic-styled current owners of Avignonesi. It’s been a long time since I’ve met such candid, honest talking winery owners such as Max and Virginie, which is thoroughly refreshing in a wine world filled with plenty of smoke and mirrors.

Tasting with winemaker Matteo Giustianini and owner Virginie.

After two days of multiple vineyard visits, winery exploration and wine tastings, it quickly became apparent the amount of passion, knowhow (and money), Max and Virginie have committed to their Avignonesi winery project which they took full ownership of in 2009.

Rejuvenated 42 year old Sangiovese vines in the Avignonesi vineyards.

As successful ship owners in Antwerp, Max and Virginie are quick to point out that turning Avignonesi around from a volume orientated commercial beast into one of Europe’s largest quality focused, organic, biodynamic wineries has been akin to turning a super tanker around, a seemingly ‘simple’ task that takes an astonishing half a day… and perhaps a decade for the winery.

Tasting through the full range of wines from Avignonesi, located near Montepulciano in southern Tuscany, it becomes clear some very impressive wines have been produced in a region that has struggled to replicate the success of Chianti Classico, Brunello di Montalcino and more latterly, the Maremma.

Winemaker Matteo Giustianini and viticulturalist Alesio Gorini expertly oversee the 179 hectares of vines, planted over 9 sites, with 102 hectares of Sangiovese and some historic Merlot planted on what are effectively very recent, young geological soils. The results are indeed positive and confirm the region’s innate ability to produce truly great red wines once the right amount of application, investment and attention to detail are applied.

Avignonesi Ventisei Rosso 2017, IGT Toscana Rosso Organic, 13 Abv.

Bright and lifted, the aromatics are lush and fruity, brimming with strawberry confit, strawberry pips, sappy red bramble berries and plum sauce. The palate is equally rich and expressive with an overt illusion of sweetness, layered with strawberry coulis, red cherry and sweet red plums. Full bodied, mouth-filling but deliciously fresh and thoroughly unpretentious.

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

Avignonesi Ventisei Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG 2015, 14 Abv.

A blend of 90% Sangiovese plumped out with 10% Merlot, the nose shows complex hits of botanical herbs, black berries and pithy black cherry with a subtle hint of cinnamon and oak spice. The palate is very elegant, sleek and polished, revealing layers of black currant, mulberry confit, balsamic and sweet, pithy, vanilla pod spice. Fine balanced with lovely approachability and very sleek, tamed tannins.

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

Avignonesi Cantaloro IGT Toscana 2015, 13.5 Abv.

A blend of 38.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 36% Merlot, and 25.5% Sangiovese. The aromatics are bright and exotic with notes of sour plum, red cherry, mango skins and blood oranges. There is a lovely texture and elegance, sleek fine creamy tannins with hints of black cherry, baking herbs, vanilla pod spice and a long, cool, menthol tinged black currant finish. Seamless, cool, classy blend.

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

Avignonesi Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2014, 13.5 Abv.

100% Sangiovese from a more challenging vintage, the 2014 shows lush opulent notes of freshly cut hedge row, bramble berries, violets, forest floor, truffle oil and strawberries drizzled with balsamic reduction. There is plenty of ripe savoury fruit on the palate which shows a gentle touch of extraction, a fleshy soft red berry core and a long, red cherry and pink rock candy finish. Delicious approachability and drinkability already.

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

Avignonesi Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2015, 14Abv.

100% Sangiovese, this nose is jam packed full of perfume, fruit and opulence. This great vintage delivers ripe lifted notes of sweet strawberry, red berry, red plum and pithy, resinous sappy notes. Deliciously exotic on the palate, the tannins are sweet and ripe, powdery and silky soft, melting into the sweet red cherry and strawberry fruit melange. The finish is more structured, revealing power and intensity with an impressively long length. Big impressive vintage for sure.

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

Avignonesi Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG Grandi Annate 2013, 14 Abv.

Only produced in the best years, this 2013 is a deliciously crafted wine with a complex, more tertiary nose of bramble berry fruits, botanical herbs, summer flowers, sweet red cherries and subtle rosemary and nutmeg hints. Palate is sleek and deep, earthy and savoury with delicious wood spice and cinnamon notes, graphite minerality and soft polished tannins on a classy, noble, classical finish. Fine poise and power. A wine not to be underestimated.

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

Avignonesi Grifi 2012, IGT Toscana, 14.5 Abv.

Made from Sangiovese sourced from old vines in Montepulciano and Cabernet Sauvignon from Cortona, the 2012 was a hot, dry vintage and is evidenced in the glass with a deep, dark colour and an overtly opulent nose of sweet black cherry confit, cherry liquor, black plums, vanilla pod spice and roasted herbs. The palate shows power and depth, savoury black plum fruit, tannery leather, tobacco, chalky tannins and an opulent, earthy, foresty finish. An expressive, powerful wine.

(Wine Safari Score: 90/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Avignonesi Merlot Desiderio 2015, IGT Toscana Organic, 14.5 Abv.

Made from 100% Merlot sourced mostly from a vineyard near Cortona and a vineyard near Montepulciano called Le Badelle. There is a more international aromatic profile to this wine, with a lifted, opulent nose of black plum, sweet cherry kirsch liquor, grilled herbs, hoisin sauce and vanilla pod spice. The palate is generous and ripe, sweetly fruited and plushly textured with hints of black currant pastille, black cherry and blueberry crumble. Well proportioned, finely polished graphite tannins and a long, dense finish with a tantalising saline kiss of liquorice. Modern and intense, but beautiful execution.

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

50/50 2013 IGT Toscana, 13.5 Abv

This 50% / 50% Blend of Sangiovese from Gaiole in Chianti and Merlot was first produced in 1988 in a joint venture between Avignonesi and Capannelle in Chianti Classico. The Merlot is produced by Avignonesi from the Lodola estate located in Valiano and shows a richly embroidered aromatic display of sweet black cherry, black plums, kirsch liquor, blueberry muffins and sweet mint sauce. The palate is bold and fleshy but also very supple, finely balanced and elegant with the Sangiovese sap and spice marrying harmoniously with the overt, blueberry and vanilla pod creaminess of the Merlot. A big, bold, adventurous red expression, this wine delivers pleasure on so many levels, always remaining fresh, elegantly balanced and finely poised, making it eminently drinkable now or cellar-worthy for 10 to 15 years.

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

The amazing Vin Santo storage building, where wines are aged for up to 10 years in small oak barrels.

Reyneke Natural Chenin Blanc 2016 ~ Quite Simply One of the Best Chenin Blancs Tasted in 2017…

Natural wines do sometimes struggle to preserve purity and varietal typicity on the finished product. However, this superb Chenin Blanc from Reyneke Wines not only combines minimalist natural zero sulphur winemaking with great organic and biodynamic certified fruit but also conjures up a wine with wonderful purity, expression and energy.

The maiden 2016 Reyneke Natural Chenin Blanc comes from a vineyard parcel almost 70 years old next to Johan Reyneke’s house in Stellenbosch. Another recently acquired adjacent vineyard that also contains Chenin Blanc of around 38 years old was also used in this release.

The grapes were fermented in French barriques with no lees stirring and with a pH of approximately 2.9 and an alcohol of 12.5 Abv, no sulphur additions were required, making this a Bona Fide natural wine.

Reyneke Wines Natural Chenin Blanc 2016, Stellenbosch, 12.5 Abv.

On the nose there are complex notes of pithy yellow peach stone fruit, honey, bruleed oranges, tangerine peel and seductive salty briney notes. Positively bursting with energy and vibrancy, the palate is the near perfect portrait of mouth watering yellow citrus and pithy summer orchard fruit intensity with delicious crystalline acids, citrus peel zest, spicy ginger and a stony granitic minerality on the finish. This wine is beautifully conceived and expertly executed. Natural or not, this is one of the most enjoyable Chenin Blancs I have drunk in 2017.

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

A Dynamic South African Winemaker Moving An Historic Tuscan Icon Winery to New Heights…

Wonderful visit and tasting today with a winemaker I feel is changing, albeit slowly, the established Tuscan landscape. Asserting his influence at Querciabella since 2010, it is indisputable that the wines have jumped in quality and character since Manfred Ing took over as head of winemaking at Querciabella.


A 100% Sangiovese Cuvee, the grapes used have been biodynamic since 2000 and organic since 1988. Averaged yields are approaching 35 hl/ha and the oak use is 100% French, 5% new with the remainder consisting of 2nd and 3rd fill barrels.


Tasting through the whole estate range, it crystallises how Manfred is imposing his quality philosophy on the Querciabella character and style. With a bit of South African sweat, these are now some of the most intense, focused, biodynamic wines made in Tuscany today! And if you get bored drinking his iconic Chardonnay – Pinot Blanc Batar white Blend, there is always his own Ansonica white from the Isle of Giglio you can indulge in (and which is already reviewed in this site!)


Agricola Querciabella Chianti Classico DOCG 2014, Tuscany, 14 Abv. 

This is a deep, dark, broody wine that reveals complex aromatics of raspberry cordial, cherry liquor, cranberry zest, and sweet candied cherry sherbet fruit intensity. So seductive, very alluring, the palate is equally so mouth watering with layers of saline cassis, black berry spice, sweet cherry tobacco and buttered brown toast. Texturally the wines of Manfred are incomparable with previous expressions from the past, with his ability to elevate the concentration, fruit and acidity balance to new levels his real talent. Underlying it all is his leveraging of fruit quality and fruit purity. It resonates across the palate and reawakens your taste buds. Bravo Manfred! 

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

Exploring the Fascinating Wines and Vineyards of Biodynamic Ancre Hill Estate in Wales…

It was a real priviledge for me recently to travel down to Ancre Hill Estates in Wales with renowned wine critic Neal Martin, to visit the vineyards and winery and taste an extensive selection of their wines. Indeed, Neal Martin only just recently released the Wine Advocate’s first ever English Sparkling Wine Report, scoring a broad cross section of sparkling wines for the publication.


Since the release of their first vintage in 2008, Ancre Hill Estates has been recognised with medals in some of the top international wine competitions in the world, including Decanter, IWSC, IWC and winning the Bollicine del Mondo in 2012. 


In order to continue their ongoing development, plans for the construction of a new winery on the Estate were approved in 2012, with the winery building works finished in 2015.

The Ancre Hill Estates Winery represents an extension of their philosophy in the vineyard, namely, external inputs are minimal, with the implementation of sustainable technologies. Natural materials were used over synthetic ones wherever possible with the walls of the winery being constructed from straw bales and a living, green roof, which provides temperature and humidity regulation. Waste water is treated by a series of ecological pools and plantings which also provide many of the plants and wild flowers used in their biodynamic tea treatments for the vineyard.




The style of their wines continues to evolve, with small batch fermentations occurring almost entirely in oak barrels and concrete cuves. Fermentations are solely carried out by wild yeasts and bacteria with the avoidance of filtration and fining for the finished wines wherever possible. Their wines, as with their grapes, are fully DEMETER certified since 2014, adhering to the strictest biodynamic production criteria.



Ancre Hill Tasting:

Blanc de Blancs 2009 

5.5 years on lees, Zero dosage, 12% Abv. The first vintage from the Chardonnay Vineyard (planted in 2007). Rich buttery leesy nose with plenty of waxy yellow citrus, yellow orchard fruits, cooked fruits and a dusty minerality. Palate is crystalline and pure, with zesty acids balanced with sherbity mousse and a very long, lingering finish. Harmonious, crisp and characterful. 

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


Blanc de Blancs 2010

5.5 years on lees, 11% Abv. Slightly dusty, white citrus nose with white blossom and summer orchard fruits. Just a subtle savoury dimension combined with very fine freshness and leesy aromatic complexity. Mousse is zesty, lively and more grippy, with a cream soda spritz and a very long creamy, lemon sherbet finish. Very fine indeed. 

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


Blanc de Blancs 2011

5.5 years on lees, 11.5 % Abv. Exotic nose of black current pastille, flinty, leafy fruit notes. Quite exotic and nuanced with touches of red orchard fruits and savoury ripe citrus notes. More multi-dimensional with saline black berry fruits, creme de cassis and spearmint leaf. Full, dense and round, beautifully creamy and textural. 

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


Blanc de Blancs 2013 (not released yet)

24m on lees in bottle so far, 11-11.5%  Abv. Back to white citrus and yellow orchard fruit complexity. Dusty, limey leesy notes with hints of stem ginger, bruised apple savoury nuances. Already beautifully broad, deep and harmonious with ginger spice, alka seltzer and peppery white citrus focus. Lovely creamy mouse and a salty, tart, briney finish. 

(Wine Safari Score: 90-91/100 Greg Sherwood MW)


Rose 2011 Sparkling Wine

66% Pinot Noir – 33% Chardonnay, 11% Abv. 7g/l RS, 3.5-4 years on lees. Exotic nose of salty cassis, red orchard fruits, aniseed root, cherry skins and savoury Red Pinot Noir fruit nuances. Honeyed red fruits, savoury, red berries, cranberry, logan berries and yellow plum and licorice. Full and very complex, so textural and creamy. Impressive, stand alone fruit and weight, savoury depth and overall intensity. Beautiful wine with great potential.

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


Other Selected Still Wines:

Pinot Noir Rose 2014

Total SO2 40ppm, 10.5% Abv. Dusty savoury minerality. Super crisp, with tart red fruits, cranberry, strawberry complexity. Racy acids and a long mineral, wet chalk finish. 

(Wine Safari Score: 87/100 Greg Sherwood MW)


Chardonnay 2014

Natural MLF, 43ppm SO2, 10% Abv. Dusty, white flowers, crisp and crystalline, crunchy yellow peach, wet chalk, waxy yellow summer orchard fruits. Plenty of stuffing, very chablis’esque and mineral laden with a pithy green apple spice finish.

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


Pinot Noir 2014

100% whole bunch in oak for 14 months. 11% Abv. 60ppm SO2. Beautifully savoury, spicy, red fruit spice complexity. Cured meats and musky pink fruits. Palate is packed with heritage plums, fleshy, lush red strawberry confit, sappy, wet chalk and dusty, foresty red fruit intensity. Beautiful complex wine. 

(Wine Safari Score: 90+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)


Triomphe 2014

9.5% Abv. 8.2 TA. Spicy, rich plummy, bramble fruits. Rich, full mouthfeel, fruit forward with sour cherry. A tart vibrant wine. Plenty of saline sappy spice and an earthy, gun powdery red berry finish. 

(Wine Safari Score: 85/100 Greg Sherwood MW)