Thierry Germain Releases Another Benchmark Loire Cabernet Franc…

Owner and winemaker Thierry Germain is one of the most respected producers in the Loire Valley and is an avowed practitioner of biodynamic viticulture where from his estate near the town of Saumur he makes some of the most highly regared red and white wines in the region. This Saumur Champigny red is his domaine cuvée and represents incredible quality and value for money, retailing in the UK for only circa £20 per bottle.

Harvesting at the domaine is all manual and vinification is done in small batches with optimally ripe grapes which leads to wines with plump and generous Cabernet Franc fruit flavours. Wines are bottled unfiltered and unfined. His painstaking attention to detail and quality has earned Thierry an enviable reputation around the world especially with Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc obsessives.

Thierry Germain Domaine des Roches Neuves Saumur Champigny 2019, 13.5% Abv.

The 2019 Saumur Champigny from Thierry Germain is such an exciting, beguiling wine. While I tasted this new release knowing relatively little about the Loire vintage conditions in that year, the wine has succeeded in bowling me over like a full length yorker pitched on middle stump. A beautifully dark dense purple colour, the 2019 offers up expressive notes of pure crushed black berry fruits, a most elegantly refreshing and fragrant bouquet of black cherries, black tea, charcoal embers, boxwood, blue berries and a subtle leafy sweet Chinese five spice complexity. On the palate the wine is moderately dense, medium bodied but supremely cool and creamy with a fleshy texture, tart black currant fruits, generous mouth watering acids and a long, slightly stony mineral finish that has just the right amount of leafy, brambly, herbal sappy spice to combine with the suave graphite tannins. A wine with a lot of personality that will undoubtedly leave a lasting impression on the drinker. Drink now and over the next 6-8+ years.

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

Tasting the Impressive Wines Selected for the 2020 Nedbank Cape Winemakers Guild Auction…

The 2020 Nedbank CWG Auction hosted by Bonhams London will be held online on Saturday 3rd October from 12h00 (BST). Due to Coronavirus, there were no public tastings prior to sale making the limited tastings by a select group of wine journalists even more important this year. The line-up comprises 28 wines with total cases on offer amounting to 564 cases (6 x 750ml) compared to 45 wines and 1,932 cases in 2019.

One of the eye catching wines in 2020…

In support of one of the Guild members, buyers will have the opportunity to bid on smaller lots – the funds raised by the first case of six bottles of every wine will be given as financial assistance to Samantha O’Keefe, whose Lismore property in Greyton was devastated by fire in December last year. The CWG will also be hosting a 50 – item Vinotheque Auction made up of select older wines donated by members with express objective being to raise funds to assist employees within their businesses whose livelihoods have been affected by the Coronavirus pandemic.

The 2020 CWG Selection:

CWG host and Jordan Winery owner Gary Jordan taking us through the 2020 CWG wines.

Graham Beck Cuvée 129 Extra Brut 2009, WO Western Cape

Winemaker: Pieter Ferreira. 51% Pinot Noir, 49% Chardonnay. Cuvée 129 refers to the number of months on the lees aging – 10 years and 9 months.

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

Silverthorn Big Dog VI Méthode Cap Classique 2015, WO Robertson

Winemaker: John Loubser. 70% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Noir. Chardonnay fermented and aged in old French oak, Pinot Noir in steel. 50 months on lees.

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

De Grendel Wooded Sauvignon Blanc 2019, WO Darling.

Winemaker: Charles Hopkins. Crushed, 18 hours skin contact, then settled and fermented in old oak.

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

Bartho Eksteen Vloekskoot Sauvignon Blanc 2019, WO Cape Coast

Winemaker: Bartho Eksteen. Whole bunch pressed, no settling. Naturally fermented in older, big wood.

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

Simonsig Mediterraneo 2015, WO Stellenbosch

Winemaker: Johan Malan. 66% Roussanne, 28% Grenache Blanc, 6% Verdelho. Whole bunch pressed, mix of wild and cultured yeast.

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

Miles Mossop Wines Saskia-Jo 2018, WO Swartland

Winemaker: Miles Mossop. 65% Chenin Blanc, 25% Clairette Blanche, 10% Grenache Blanc. Decomposed granite soils.

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

Rijk’s CWG Chenin Blanc 2018, WO Tulbagh

Winemaker: Pierre Wahl. 14-year-old bush vines, fermented in new and used French oak.

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

Raats Family Wines The Fountain Terroir Specific Chenin Blanc 2019, WO Stellenbosch

Winemaker: Bruwer Raats. Rich, creamy but super bright with leesy, peachy fruit complexity and incredible precision and vibrant intensity.

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

Paul Cluver The Wagon Trail Chardonnay 2018, WO Elgin

Winemaker: Andries Burger. From the oldest Chardonnay vineyard on the Estate, planted in 1987 (the oldest vines in Elgin).

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

Leeu Passant Radicales Libres Chardonnay 2015, WO Klein Karoo

Winemaker: Andrea Mullineux. 100% Chardonnay, long elevage inspired by Jura and Rioja. From the incredibly cool Barrydale Valley in the Klein Karoo, after fermentation this Chardonnay was aged in barrel for five years.

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

Ataraxia Under The Gavel Chardonnay 2019, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge

Winemaker: Kevin Grant.  Cool and Crystalline with a stony minerality, pithy peachy yellow citrus concentration and a long, pure brilliance.

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

Newton Johnson Family Vineyards Windansea Pinot Noir 2017, WO Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley

Winemaker: Gordon Newton Johnson. Stoniest, most clay-rich parts of the vineyard used for this. No sulfites in the winemaking. 11 months in barrel then six months in large oak.

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

Neil Ellis Wines Amper Bo Tempranillo 2015, WO Stellenbosch

Winemaker: Warren Ellis. Whole berry fermentation then 18 months in 60% new French oak barrels and 40% in second fill.

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

Rust en Vrede CWG Auction Estate 2017, WO Stellenbosch

Winemaker: Coenie Snyman. 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Syrah.

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

Ernie Els CWG 2017, WO Stellenbosch

Winemaker: Louis Strydom. 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Shiraz, 10% Cinsault. Fermentation in small 300 litre open top oak barrels with three weeks extended maturation.

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

Luddite The Lone Stranger Mark II 2018, WO Bot River

Winemaker: Niels Verburg. 50% Mourvèdre, 40% Shiraz, 10% Grenache Noir. Small open fermenters then pressed to barrel for two years.

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

Delaire Graff Estate Banghoek Cabernet Franc Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, WO Stellenbosch

Winemaker: Morné Very. 55% Cabernet Franc, 34% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Petit Verdot, 3% Malbec. Whole berry fermentation with limited punch downs. Four weeks post-ferment maturation on skins before being basket pressed. Matured in 40% new French 225 litre barrels for 16 months.

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

Spier Frans K Smit Auction Selection 2017, WO Stellenbosch

Winemaker: Frans K Smit. 60% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon. Organic.

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

Strydom Family Wines The Game Changer 2017, WO Stellenbosch

Winemaker: Rianie Strydom. 80% Cabernet Franc, 20% Merlot. North facing slopes on the Helderberg.

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

Kanonkop CWG Paul Sauer 2017, WO Stellenbosch

Winemaker: Abrie Beeslaar. 76% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Cabernet Franc, 7% Merlot. From Simonsberg. Fermented in open top ‘kuipe’ for six days, then malolactic fermentation in tank, and matured in new French oak for two years.

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

Groot Constantia CWG Gouverneurs Reserve 2018, WO Constantia

Winemaker: Boela Gerber. 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 45% Cabernet Franc. 75% new oak.

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

Villiera Drip Barrel Cabernet Franc 2018, WO Stellenbosch

Winemaker: Jeff Grier. 18 months in new and used French oak.

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

Edgebaston Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2017, WO Stellenbosch

Winemaker: David Finlayson. 95% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc. From the clay-heavy section of their GS vineyard, picked five days earlier than the rest of the vineyard. New French oak for two years.

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

Hartenberg CWG Auction Cabernet Sauvignon 2018, WO Stellenbosch

Winemaker: Carl Schultz. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from the Bottelary Hills. 20 days on skins, 20 months in 50% new 225 litre French oak barrels.

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

Boschkloof Epilogue Syrah 2018, WO Stellenbosch

Winemaker: Jacques Borman. Harvested in three tranches, 30% whole bunch. Some matured in concrete, some in barrel (30% new).

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

Cederberg Teen Die Hoog Shiraz 2018, WO Cederberg

Winemaker: David Nieuwoudt. Red slate soils. 85% new oak.

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

Saronsberg Die Erf Shiraz 2017, WO Tulbagh

Winemaker: Dewaldt Heyns. The best barrel of Block 27. Aged for 20 months in a new French Allier oak barrel.

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

Boplaas Cape Vintage CWG Reserve 2015, WO Western Cape

Winemaker: Carel Nel. 80% Touriga Nacional, 10% Touriga Franca, 6% Souzão, 4% Tinta Barocca. Fermented and fortified in small lagares and barrel matured in large seasoned oak barrels.

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

The CWG dinner at the River Cafe London.

The Meerlust Estate Prepares For Another Momentous New Release – Tasting the Meerlust Rubicon 2017 Red Blend…

The 2017 release of the Meerlust Rubicon represents another classical expression of this fabulous Cape Icon wine. The high critical praise heaped upon the 2015 vintage helped it to become the fastest selling Rubicon release on record. Indeed, one cannot even begin to imagine a South African fine wine landscape that does not feature this wine prominently. Great expectations are placed on every new release and year after year, this Cape heritage estate delivers.

The 2017 vintage was surprising in that from the very beginning, the estate felt that the wines were very similar to the excellent 2015 reds. A cold winter in 2016 followed by a warm spring ensured early and even bud break. Although comparatively dry, as the Cape was still experiencing a drought, the 2017 crop was greatly enhanced by the estate’s ability to irrigate strategically, ensuring steady ripening and eventual phenolic ripeness across all varieties.

Tasting at Meerlust in March 2018 with Hannes Myburgh, Chris Williams and viticulturalist Roelie Joubert who sadly passed away in April 2020 from a sudden heart attack.

The 2017 is again a Cabernet Sauvignon dominated four grape blend with each of the varieties fermented separately before being aged in 300 litre French Nevers oak barrels, 60% new and 40% second fill. After 8 months in barrel, the components were blended and given another 10 months in barrel for harmonization before bottling. I first tasted this wine in its component parts back in March 2018 with the then winemaker, Chris Williams. I knew instantly that we were in for another exceptional release of Rubicon. Then in January 2020, I met up with owner Hannes Myburgh in London and got my first taste of the Meerlust Red 2017, the second wine made up of components not used in the Rubicon blend. I was bowled over by the beauty of this wine and while it is only really sold in export markets, it served to raise my quality expectations for the Rubicon 2017 even higher.

In November 2019, winemaker Wim Truter joined Meerlust, taking over from Chris Williams to become only the third winemaker to take the reins at this historic estate. Chris finally followed his calling and agonisingly decided to move on to the next chapter of his winemaking career, to pursue his own Foundry wine project full time.

The old Meerlust farmstead with some of Hannes’s beloved dogs.

Meerlust Estate Rubicon 2017, WO Stellenbosch, 13.6% Abv.

The 2017 Rubicon is a classical blend of 68% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc and 4% Petit Verdot, each vinified separately before undergoing malolactic fermentation in 300 litre French Nevers oak barrels, 60% new and 40% second fill. Deep purple-black in colour, the intensity and gravitas of this vintage is highlighted by the tight, dense, dark broody aromatics that require more than a little coaxing out the glass before revealing a very focused, slightly introverted bouquet of complex, tightly interwoven notes of violets, black currant preserve, black plum, Black Forest gateaux and hoisin sauce with backing notes of dried fennel, salty black liquorice, spicy cedar and an exotic Asian 5 spice nuance. While 2017 certainly stands out as another classical year of exceptional quality, the vintage will surely be remembered for its stand-out elegance, seamless palate textures and its signature weightless intensity and concentration. This Rubicon does of course possess plenty of stuffing and dazzles with gentle waves of blackberry crumble, crème de cassis, macerated black cherries, freshly tilled earth, unsmoked smoked cigars and a finely textured, powdery tannin frame that dries the palate on the finish and reminds the drinker that this wine, however enjoyable in its youth, is also built for extended ageing. This really is another exquisite vintage with charm and poise, Grand Vin potency and an overt, unbridled determination to deliver long-term drinking pleasure. Drink from 2022 to 2040+

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

Vilafonte Prepare to Release Their New Seriously Old Dirt Red Blend – Tasting the 2018 Vintage of the Most Desirable Second Wine On the South African Market…

It seems an age ago now, visiting with Phil Freese and Zelma Long at the Vilafonte Winery on the 13th February in Stellenbosch. Who could possibly have known what lay just around the corner! Nevertheless, my brief visit to South Africa was very productive with one of the highlights being able to visit the Vilafonte Winery again together with the iconic duo of Phil and Zelma, the US partners in crime with Mike Ratcliffe at one of the most exciting premium quality wineries in South Africa.

Right from the very beginning with the 2012 Seriously Old Dirt vintage, I championed the vision of a truly special super premium second wine that over delivers in bucket loads. When I tasted the Seriously Old Dirt way back then, I knew that this ‘Members Only’ blend was a wine I needed to push on behalf of consumers and indirectly encourage owner Mike Ratcliffe to do the right thing and unleash this fabulous blend onto the wider wine world.

Seven vintages in to the project and Seriously Old Dirt is surely the number one premium selling second wine in South Africa. The consumer uptake and affinity has been exceptional both in South Africa and internationally. The new 2018 release was marked by the worst drought on record and the challenges that accompany such a vintage. After a drought spell from 2015 to 2018, water resources were at an all time low and rationing was put in place in the Western Cape.

Tasting with Phil Freese, Zelma Long and Chris de Vries.

Low moisture in spring and limited water availability led to a reduced vigour and canopy size. Some unseasonable rains and low temperatures in October and November disrupted fruit set and reduced the number and size of berries on each cluster. Harvest time proceeded on schedule, commencing February 2nd and continuing uninterrupted through to February 27th. In 2018, yields were down -24% following a generous 2017 crop. (However, production was increased as parcels of premium fruit were bought in to up the production and meet demand. This in all likelihood will be the practice going forward.)

The Seriously Old Dirt was matured for 21 months in older French oak barriques and 135 barrels were produced or approximately 40,000 bottles which is indeed a big jump up in quantity from the previous vintages of 8 to 10,000 bottles. But as always, quality is at the forefront of the Vilafonte operation and this is another exceptional release of Seriously Old Dirt. Due for earlier than planned release on the 25th June 2020.

Vilafonte Seriously Old Dirt 2018, 13.5 Abv. (Bottled Dec 2019)

89% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Malbec, 4% Merlot and 2% Cabernet Franc. A Cabernet Sauvignon driven blend this vintage, the 2018 sees a pronounced spicy aromatic lift of sweet black berry fruits, leafy cassis, sweet sandalwood and spicy damson black plums. Cool, focused and fairly linear at this youthful stage, the tannins are satin smooth and the texture generous yet structured. Finely layered and fresh, attractive black cherry, blue berry and black currant notes melt into mineral nuances of graphite and wet granite. Wonderfully polished and sophisticated as you’d expect from Vilafonte, this wine will be ready to drink on release but will undoubtedly benefit from a few years extra cellaring to allow the large Cabernet Sauvignon component to mellow and reveal further tertiary treats for the drinker. Seriously Old Dirt is on a seriously good run of form!

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

A Petit Chateau Bordeaux That Impresses – Tasting Château Tayet’s Cuvée Amiral de Cadiot 2011 Bordeaux Superieur…

Amiral de Cadiot is produced by Château Tayet which has been owned by the de Schepper family since 1994, the former owner, Mr. Marc Raymond, was director at de Schepper’s Chateau Haut-Breton-Larigaudière until 1993, selling his own estate to his previous employer when he retired. Tayet has an excellent terroir in Macau, very close to the AOC Margaux, which has grown by the acquisition of further high quality plots with a high plant density and today consists of 10 hectares of vines.

Chateau Tayet located near Soussans where the wines are bottled – Chateau Tayet, 3 Rue des Anciens Combattants, 33460 Soussans.

The “Amiral de Cadiot” by Château Tayet is considered to be one of the best Bordeaux Superieur and is one of the few wines of this class that ages 12 months in 20% new and 50% second fill barriques. The vines for this particular selection are at least 25 years old.

Chateau Tayet and De Mour Group winemaker Jean-Michel Garcion.

The Château Tayet Cuvée Amiral de Cadiot offers a whole lot of red Bordeaux magic at a truly excellent price point, something often sorely missing in these days of over ambitious, stratospherically priced icon Cru Classe wines. Wines like this in many ways represent the true heart and soul of authentic, consumer orientated classical Bordeaux. In the post Covid-19 lockdown era, wines like this are going to take on a much greater significance in the market place.

Château Tayet Cuvée Amiral de Cadiot 2011, Bordeaux Superieur, 14 Abv.

A wonderfully classical blend of 60% Merlot, 37% Cabernet Sauvignon and 3% Petit Verdot, this wine has the most intricate textured layers of blueberry and cassis fruit, mocha, brown toast, vanilla pod spice and a supple, plush, sweet fruited core with bright refreshing acids, ripe fine grained tannins and complexing peripheral notes of tannery leather, cigar box and graphite spice. A whole lot of wine that will impress the staunchest of discerning wine connoisseurs. Drink now to 2024+

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

De Mour Group owned by the de Schepper family.

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)

Damascene Wines – New Kid on the Block Rocking the Cape Wine Scene…

I first heard about Damascene Wines last year when a few big scores in the local South African home market hit the headlines including a mammoth 97/100 from Winemag.co.za editor Christian Eedes. The young blood behind the venture focusing on producing high quality vinous expressions from unique Cape vineyards is Jean Smit, also known for his work at Boekenhoutskloof as well as a brief spell at Iona some years back.

Damascene Wines is now in the process of securing distribution in several key global markets including the UK for their limited volumes of fine wine, but as Jean was very quick to point out to me, “it is really important that global distribution partners share our attitude and philosophy that is the driving force behind the whole Damascene project.”

With a sell-out Semillon 2018 already in the bag, this white is joined in the range by a fine Pinot Noir, an accomplished Cabernet Franc and an exceptional benchmark Stellenbosch Syrah. Damascene is undoubtedly one of the most exciting new producers to come onto the South African wine seen for some time.

Damascene Semillon 2018, WO Franschhoek, 14 Abv.

The fruit for this vintage was picked from a venerable old vineyard in the Franschhoek valley. Planted in 1942 on alluvial soils of decomposed Table Mountain sandstone, a portion – roughly 15 percent – of the bush vines have naturally mutated into Semillon Gris. Both variants were harvested and co-fermented to add further complexity to the wine. Approximately one-third of the way through fermentation the grape must was transferred to second- and third-fill French oak barriques, for 11 months of sur lie barrel maturation. No lees stirring took place, and the prevention of malolactic fermentation ensured the wine retains its excellent natural acidity. Total production: 707 x 750ml | Bottling date: 8 February 2019 Alc: 14.06%Vol | pH: 3.32 | TA: 5.5 g/L | RS: 3.2 g/L | VA: 0.51 g/L.

Such beautiful subtle aromatics of white citrus, wet chalk and dusty grey slate lead to a fabulously sleek, creamy textured Semillon palate full of glycerol lanolin mouthfeel layered with pithy orange peel zest and tangerine oil complexity. The acids are supple and well integrated with spicy, piquant, mellow yellow fruits. Full, broad, super stony and mineral, this wine is beautifully harmonious, textural and focused! Keep it for 2-3 years before opening and then drink over 5 to 10.

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

Damascene Pinot Noir 2018, WO Elgin, 14.1 Abv.

When David and Genevieve Curl purchased an apple farm in the Elgin valley in 2010, they immediately planted a 3.12-hectare parcel of Pinot Noir on a ridge with ancient of clay-rich Bokkeveld shale. Clones 667 and 777 on rootstock 101-14 were chosen to capitalise on Elgin’s cool climate terroir. Focused on the ultimate goal of crafting small quantities of premium Pinot Noir, the vineyard’s planting density of 6250 vines per hectare encourages stiff competition between the vines, resulting in better flavour and concentration in the fruit. Low disease pressure in the vineyards assisted the desired spontaneous fermentation in the cellar, with only two batches inoculated with a locally isolated yeast strain to fully express the character of the two Pinot Noir clones. To capture the elegance of the fruit, and avoid excessive extraction, the wine spent just 10 days on the skins, with a combination of short pump-overs and punch-downs twice per day. Malolactic fermentation occurred spontaneously in 300- litre French oak barrels, 30% of which were new. The oak barrels were carefully selected from five leading Burgundian coopers, with a range of toasting levels – mostly Light and Blonde. Total production: 3600 x 750ml | Bottling date: 8 February 2019 Alc: 14.1 %Vol| pH: 3.39 | TA: 5.4 g/L | RS: 1.5 g/L | VA: 0.53 g/L.

Rich, character filled nose with plenty of promise. Opening in the glass, the wine reveals hints of mocha and chocolate, cherry liquor, black berries, savoury cured meats, forest floor, freshly tilled earth, black bramble berries with positive green aromatic complexing notes. Warming luxurious inviting style, the palate is obvious and generous with a fine plush glycerol texture, spicy pin point tannins, seductive wild strawberry, kirsch liquor and baking spices, before darker berry fruit nuances take over to carry this wine over the finishing line. 

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

Damascene Cabernet Franc 2018, WO Stellenbosch, 12.87 Abv.

Situated on the cooler east-facing slopes of the Bottelary Hills, this trellised vineyard was planted in 2004 with the CF1 clone of Cabernet Franc. On soils of decomposed granite, and at an altitude of 260-metres above sea level, this lowyielding vineyard produces smaller bunches that offer incredible concentration, structure and ripeness at lower sugar levels. Bunches were de-stemmed directly into stainless steel tanks where whole berries were coldsoaked for three days before being inoculated with a carefully selected yeast strain. For optimum extraction pump-overs took place up to three times per day, with fermentation temperatures peaking at 28˚C. Spontaneous malolactic fermentation took place during the 11 months of maturation in a single 1000-litre oak foudre. The wine was racked just once, two weeks prior to bottling. Total production: 1175 x 750ml | Bottling date: 8 February 2019 Alc: 12.87 %Vol| pH: 3.32 | TA: 4.9 g/L | RS: 1.5 g/L | VA: 0.46 g/L.

An inviting aromatic offering shows classic varietal Cabernet Franc perfume, spice and lift. The nose suggests delicious notes of black currant pastille, crushed black cherry, graphite and lead pencil complexity. The palate has a very focused black currant wine gums intensity with subtle vegetal, stemmy cedar spice notes. Despite the impressively low alcohol level, this wine has a beautiful texture and mouthfeel with a lithe elegance, bright acids and a superbly harmonious finish. Incredibly well designed, this wine shows a lot of appeal and will seduce a lot of Cabernet Franc lovers. 

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

Damascene Syrah 2018, WO Stellenbosch, 13.4 Abv. 

100% Syrah from Polkadraai and Bottelary Hills, Stellenbosch. While both vineyards are situated higher than 300-metres above sea level, planted with SH9 and SH22B Syrah clones, and with soils dominated by decomposed granite, they each bring their own nuance and complexity to the wine. The vineyard on the Polkadraai Hills was planted on a south-east slope in 1996, and contributes most of the perfume and spice. Structure and fruit intensity comes from a vineyard of low-yielding granitic soils in the Bottelary Hills, a ‘mother unit’ planted on a north-west aspect in 2001. To showcase the impact of site in Stellenbosch Syrah, the harvested fruit was separated into numerous smaller fermentation batches, with whole-cluster fraction of each batch ranging from nil to 100 percent per vessel. Open top fermenters and two 1000-litre oak foudres received a combination of pump-overs and pigéage (punch-downs) two or three times per day. The remaining two 1000-litre oak foudres were treated with the ‘submerged cap’ technique to enhance the body and fruit concentration of the wine.

A unique element in the final blend came from a portion kept as 100% intact whole clusters, that underwent carefully-controlled carbonic fermentation. These were sealed in a stainless steel tank and stored under pressure for 30 days before pressing. Without pump-overs or pigéage during fermentation, this carbonic macerated component contributes enormous purity of fruit and silky tannins to the final blend. All fermentations took place spontaneously with naturally occurring yeast. Malolactic fermentation also occurred spontaneously, with maturation in 1000-litre oak foudres for 11 months. The wine was bottled without fining, to ensure a more complex and authentic expression of Syrah. Total production: 2728 x 750ml | Bottling date: 8 February 2019 Alc: 13.4 %Vol| pH: 3.8 | TA: 5.4 g/L | RS: 1.5 g/L | VA: 0.65 g/L.

Beautiful intensity and perfume, the nose screams classism and aromatic complexity with an open inviting modern allure. This wine turns the volume up but there is no distortion, only purity and then more purity. Herbal and Rhoney, there are wonderful savoury earthy meaty notes loaded with black berry and blue berry fruits, olive tapenade and hints of German-deli smokey, meaty brilliance. The texture is incredibly fine and focused and personifies the ‘Jean Smit’ wine making style that shines right through his entire range of wines. This Syrah hits a special zenith of quality and brilliance that only a select few South Africa wineries manage to achieve. 

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

Glenelly Estate Starting to Reach Its True Noble Stellenbosch Potential…

The Glenelly Estate is a beautiful winery buried in a little corner of the Idas Valley in Stellenbosch. I have been meaning to visit for many years to understand the essence of the winery and their philosophy but somehow always seemed to cross paths with CEO Nicholas Bureau or else their long time winemaker Luke O’Cuinneagain at tastings in London.

The property was famously bought in 2003 by Madame May de Lencquesaing of Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande fame in Pauillac, Bordeaux, with a vision to transform the property into one of the preeminent fine wine producers in Stellenbosch.

With vineyards planted on near virgin granitic rich soils, Glenelly Estate had the opportunity to map out a varietal path that completely suited the style of wines they were looking to make. There would certainly be none of the red tape and restrictions Madame May had become so use to in Bordeaux. With sizable plantings of Chardonnay, Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, Glenelly have all the building blocks for making some impressive wines.

In February 2020, I finally visited the estate for a lengthy tutored tasting with Cellar Master Luke O’Cuinneagain. Nicholas and Luke generously opened an impressive array of older wines to illustrate not only the development of the wines in bottle but also the evolution of the Estate’s winemaking and their ongoing quality improvements. Undoubtedly these are wines made in a more classical, restrained style and the French heritage is undeniable, radiating out of every glass and making all the wines in the range excellent gastronomic friendly expressions.

My conclusions after my tasting remain firmly that the hard yards have been completed and that the best years still lie ahead for this estate and its high quality wines. Glenelly Estate is definitely one to keep a very close eye on in the future.

White Wine Flights:

Glenelly Estate Unwooded Chardonnay 2011, WO Stellenbosch, 13 Abv.

Super complex notes of terpenes, bruised yellow citrus and earthy root veg. Bright crunchy tangy acids make for a delicious mouthful that’s evolving beautifully. Very pleasurable glassful.

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

Glenelly Estate Unwooded Chardonnay 2012, WO Stellenbosch, 12.5 Abv.

Dusty wet chalk aromatics melt into struck match, bruised peach, papaya and ripe lemon peel. Lush and layered, plenty of leesy quince, honeysuckle, ripe pear purée and a smokey, glycerol finish. Showing a lovely harmony.

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

Glenelly Estate Unwooded Chardonnay 2019, WO Stellenbosch, 13 Abv.

Youthful and bright, this shows vibrant notes of cream soda, dusty green honeydew melon and dusty crushed limestone. Lovely texture and fleshy mouthfeel, finishing with notes of melon, green apple and subtle minerality. Lovely gourmet wine.

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

Glenelly Estate Reserve Chardonnay 2012, WO Stellenbosch, 13 Abv.

Like its unoaked sibling, this shows a hit of reduction, dried mint leaf, peppermint and lemongrass. Equally plush and textural, this has a broad glycerol mouthfeel, savoury lemon peel fruit, subtle oak spice and a hint of peppermint crisp on the finish.

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

Glenelly Estate Chardonnay Grand Vin 2013, WO Stellenbosch, 13 Abv.

Taut and restrained aromatics, this shows plenty of minerality, wet chalk, white citrus and limestone nuances. But the palate blossoms to show abundantly sweet textured flesh, lemon herbs and a vibrant energetic finish with impressive persistence.

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

Glenelly Estate Chardonnay Reserve 2014, WO Stellenbosch, 12.5 Abv.

Cool and restrained, this displays plenty of stony minerality layered with lemon and herbs, lemon cordial and dried mint leaf. Palate is savoury and fleshy with bruised yellow orchard fruits, ripe papaya and dry fynbos. Concentrated, mouth filling and impressively persistent.

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

Glenelly Estate Chardonnay Reserve 2015, WO Stellenbosch, 13 Abv.

This nose is expressive and exotic with savoury bruised yellow fruits, melted wax and incense notes. The palate shows sweet herby glycerol weight in a more oxidative frame. The texture is sleek and the balance finely poised with plenty of concentration and tangy acids on the finish.

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

Glenelly Estate Chardonnay Reserve 2016, WO Stellenbosch, 13 Abv.

This vintage shows hints of ripe lemon and herbs, dry fynbos, honey on white toast and subtle mint leaf complexity. Super focused concentration, bright tangy acids and impressive length, you can see the pedigree potential of this wine. The aromatics are a little reticent but the quality is clearly apparent. Impressive for a hot, dry vintage.

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

Glenelly Estate Chardonnay Reserve 2017, WO Stellenbosch, 13 Abv.

A more steely expression with purity and clarity. Fine notes of lime peel, lemon cordial and wet limestone and lemongrass herbs make for a fresh, vibrant aromatic profile. The hallmark concentration is there with glycerol, textured intensity of lime cordial, green apple and cedar spice on the finish. A lovely mouthful from a good vintage.

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

Glenelly Estate Chardonnay Reserve 2018, WO Stellenbosch, 13 Abv.

Lifted and expressive with dried fynbos, peppermint tea and herbal spice mixed with bruised white peaches, lemon iced tea and lemongrass herbs. Bright and zippy, this wine shows plenty of overt energy, crystalline citrus pastille fruits and a seamless creamy balance. Delicious expression.

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

Red Wine Flights:

Cabernet Sauvignon driven wines with supporting components of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot laced with a small percentage Syrah a la Claret in the good old days of Bordeaux.

Glenelly Estate Reserve 2013, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5 Abv. 15%

Syrah in the mix, this smells and tastes of classic old school Bordeaux with sweet tobacco leaves, herbal spice, tannery leather, cigar box and sweet savoury black currant and black berry intensity with a clear vein of graphite. Creamy and cool fruited, this is plush and textured with earthy black orchard fruits, lead pencil, graphite and a sweet piquant cedary finish. Drink now or cellar for a few more years.

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

Glenelly Estate Reserve 2014, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5 Abv.

Dark and broody, this wine shows plush opulence with aromatics of coffee beans, black plum, cedar spice and pronounced graphite intensity. Soft and sumptuous, this has plenty of overt early drinking generosity laced with black chocolate and piquant spicy tobacco notes. Ready to go now, but certainly no rush.

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

Glenelly Estate Lady May 2010, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5 Abv.

90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Petit Verdot, 5% Merlot

Rasping dusty chalky aromatics of classic Cabernet Sauvignon, crushed gravel, graphite, tannery leather and grilled herb spice. Super youthful at 10 years old, this wine speaks of pedigree. Polished and finely balanced, this has oodles of old world classicism, spicy cedar, piquant black berry and silky suave focus. Very impressive but will certainly get better with further ageing.

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

Glenelly Estate Lady May 2013, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5 Abv.

85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Cabernet Franc, 4% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot

Again, plenty of classicism and mineral driven tension, but this lovely wine shows more energy, greater linearity and superb focus. Saline cassis, tart black cherry confit and earthy damson plum complexity shows this is a serious fine wine. Sleek, pure and generous but retaining elegance and restraint, seamless blissful harmony and pin point focus. Beautifully complex and integrated, this is definite Grand Cru Classe quality!

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

Glenelly Estate Lady May 2014, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5 Abv.

74% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 12% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot

Intricate yet generous, this youthful expression shows creme de cassis, violets, peppermint crisp milk chocolate and dark spicy plum. Plush and sweet fruited, the 2014 is forward and showy, revealing the plushness achieved at Glenelly in all of their reds. With its sweet tannins, fleshy glycerol mouthfeel, fruit concentration and bruleed earthy coffee bean finish, this fine wine is ready to go now however, extra tertiary development will only elevate this wine further.

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

Tasting the Suave and Sophisticated Sassicaia 2017 – A Triumph of Terroir and Winemaking Over Vintage Conditions…

It’s become a bit of a tradition to launch the new vintages of the Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia estate in London. This year’s launch took on even greater significance being the highly anticipated successor vintage to the universally praised 100 point Sassicaia 2016. So no pressure then!

These special vineyards that go into the making of Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia cover only around 97 hectares of the total 2.500 hectare DOCG Sassicaia Bolgheri estate. Far from an easy vintage, 2017 has the structure and character to emphasise how incredibly special Tenuta San Guido’s terroir is and also how skilled their winemaking team have become.

Tasting with Priscilla Incisa della Rocchetta in London at the Sassicaia launch.

Despite the sustained higher temperatures throughout the growing season and summer together with very little rainfall, the Sassicaia 2017 has retained a remarkable purity, elegance and precision in bottle.

Tenuta San Guido Le Difese 2018, IGT Toscana, 14 Abv.

A fabulous entry level expression that is the only wine in the Sassicaia range that incorporates some indigenous Sangiovese. This year the blend is 70% Cabernet Sauvignon with 30% Sangiovese. The nose shows a wonderful, forward, overt fragrance with alluring notes of violets, crushed red cherries, black currant pastille, and salty black damson plums with just the gentlest dusting of vanilla pod spice and bruleed coffee beans. The palate is deliciously mouth watering and fresh, displaying vibrant crunchy acids, intense cranberry, tart red cherry and an all round electric brightness. The palate is medium weight but seamlessly smooth and silky and carries on the tradition of Le Difese’s accessibility twinned with generosity. This is the consummate allrounder that will accompany fine cuisine or suffice as a leisurely evening glass of red on the sofa. Drinking from release, you can expect this wine to show well for 5 to 8 years. 

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

Tenuta San Guido Guidalberto 2018, IGT Toscana, 13.5 Abv.

A wine first created in 2000, this IGT blend has always stuck to a blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon blended with 40% Merlot. Initially a little bit reticent on the nose, reminds one that this wine is a serous creation in its own right. Often said to show at its peak after around 10 years, there are many examples that drink well after 15 or 20 years such is its pedigree. The aromatics show less overt fruit intensity but a greater array of dark, broody black berry, sweet dusty tobacco and mineral graphite notes. On the palate there is superb attention to detail, impressive focus and a seamless, elegant finesse. The acids are well integrated and the fruit opulence plush but classically balanced. Light on its feet, this sleek, silky Guidalberto caresses the mouth gently and finishes with beautifully textured elegance and powder fine tannin grip. A very harmonious creation with plenty of star quality. Drink now and over the next 8 to 10+ years.

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

Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia 2017, DOCG Bolgheri Sassicaia, 14 Abv. 

Bottle in January 2020, this 2017 blend is made up of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and also 15% Cabernet Franc from vines of which 60% to 70% are 20 years or older on the same site up the mountain near the Castello where the original plantings where made in 1942. Using around 33% new French oak again, the 2017 vintage yielded around 200,000 bottles or around -15% less than the 2016 vintage. On the nose, the aromatics speak of a warmer, riper vintage with pronounced notes of black currants, spiced black plums and black orchard fruits. The palate is plush and opulent with all the telltale Sassicaia finesse and elegance coming to the fore. If anything, the tannins are sweeter, softer and flesher than the more masculine 2016 expression. Suave and sophisticated, this 2017 imposes its own character from the start and leads with plenty of dried rosemary and thyme herb complexity, silky cassis intensity and a soft, winter fruit compote finish with a dusting of botanical herbs. But textural harmony, seamless balance and fruit purity remain at the core of this wine’s essence. Another stunning wine delivered. Drink this from release and comfortably over the next 15 to 20 years.

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

Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia is distributed to the UK trade by Armit Wines.

Release price for the 2017 is circa +35% up on the 2016 at around £850-£875 IB per 6.

The Fine Wine Safari’s Top 10 Most Memorable South African Red Wines of 2019…

What a great year of fine wine it has been yet again. I am in such a fortunate position to be able to no only taste the greatest wines of the world in a regular basis here in London and on my travels, but also taste the finest wines produced in South Africa on a regular basis while retaining a very measured, objective outlook in terms of where they really fit in the pecking order of international fine wine.

For my red top 10 selection, I have not merely selected my highest scoring wines of the year as that would be a little bit predictable, but I have selected wines that I found not only outstanding in quality terms but also memorable and thrilling to drink.

Also, I’d like to offer a special thanks to all the producers, many of them who are very good friends, that have offered me their time for my regular visits, tastings and importantly, lots of joyous eating and drinking together. Your hospitality is never taken for granted and greatly appreciated!

Happy New Year 2019. I believe 2020 is going to be an exceptional year of success.

Top 10 Reds (in no particular order):

Naude Family Wines Old Vine Series Oupa Willem 2018 – 96/100 GSMW

MR de Compostella Red Blend 2017- 98/100 GSMW

Vilafonte Series C Red Blend 2017 – 96+/100 GSMW

Mullineux and Leeu Family Wines Iron Syrah 2017 – 97/100 GSMW

Raats Family Eden Single Vineyard High Density Cabernet Franc 2017 – 98/100 GSMW

Thelema Rabelais Red Blend 2015 – 96+/100 GSMW

Savage Red Blend 2017 – 96/100 GSMW

Kanonkop Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – 97/100 GSMW

Porseleinberg Syrah 2017 – 97/100 GSMW

Creation Emma Pinot Noir 2018 – 96/100 GSMW