Restless River Releases Two Benchmark Fine Wines – Tasting the New Release Ava Marie 2020 and the Main Road and Dignity Cabernet 2019…

Swig Wines represents one of the most exciting and dynamic set of international wine producers in the UK and recently they held their portfolio tasting in Soho, London. Of course, the South African contingent was well represented as usual with the likes of Duncan Savage, Alex Starey from Keermont and Pieter Walser from Blank Bottle. But there was one glaring omission, Craig Wessels from Restless River.

Unfortunately, Craig experienced a freak accident surfing and had broken his leg and was unable to travel with the SA brat pack and share a warm sleeping bag with Duncan Savage! 😉 So I was extra excited to hook up with him at Cape Wine 2022 in early October for a proper tasting and a good catch up. But you can imagine my surprise and joy to be contacted by Craig only a short time afterwards asking to hook up again in London to taste his new releases one-to-one. Restless River’s new offerings always represent one of the most exciting and high-demand South African fine wine releases of the calendar year and so getting a proper run down from Craig himself was an invaluable experience for me.

Craig bought the Restless River estate with 7ha planted planted in 1998 (one hectare pulled out subsequently). Plantings are now already up to 21 hectares. Craig’s first vintages released were the 2012 for the Ava Marie Chardonnay and the 2008 for the Main Road & Dignity Cabernet Sauvignon with his Wunderlust label representing an experimentational range allowing him to express his creative juices, producing one-off wines that are never usually repeated.

Restless River Ava Marie Chardonnay 2020, WO Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, 13% Abv.

The 2020 vintage has a little more apparent acidity than the 2019, combining the fruit and salinity with the fresh acids. The 2020 was all produced in 500 litre barrels followed by blending and ageing in stainless for 3 to 4 months, settling and stabilising on its fine lees before bottling for better integration. The wine already shows lovely Lemon butter and leesy aromatic complexity with hints of white toast, lemon rind, white citrus, melted wax and a mellow kiss of salted caramel. The palate is bright and fresh but also shows a generous mid-palate concentration and textural fleshy character. This is a fabulous terroir driven wine that is harvested over the period of a month allowing for individual parcels to be brought in to the winery to be blended into the perfect assemblage. Incredible balance and mid-palate weight make this a tantalising offering. Simply benchmark in terms of Chardonnay in South Africa. Very similar to the 2019 in many aspects with the same ‘inner profile’ but with a tad more acidity and minerality in the 2020. A true classic that is worthy of a place in any collector’s cellar … if you can get an allocation! (10,901 bottles produced.)

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

Restless River Main Road Dignity Cabernet Sauvignon 2019, WO Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, 14.01% Abv. 

Made from 23 year old vines, yielding 2 -2.5 tons per hectare. The 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon had a very long hang time which gave it super smooth, ripe, dry fine grained tannins on the palate. Harvested from 10th March to 7th May, an almost unheard of length of picking spread for two small 1.59 hectare and 0.71 hectare vineyards, which are vinified separately by parcel within each vineyard, with each parcel matched to a different cooperage. Aged for 23 months in barrel and then almost another 24 months in bottle, the wine certainly hits the ground running in a most spectacular fashion. Such pristine purity and precision with beautiful purple and black berry fruits, creme de cassis, blue berry and an essence of watermelon making for a deliciously exotic, hedonistic wine. So incredibly lithe and fresh in the glass with tangy acids, a sleek but supremely intense concentration of blue and black berry fruits and a pronounced maritime salinity on the finish. But it’s undoubtedly the ‘wagyu-styled’ fine tannins that are massaged to perfection with an imperceptible mineral grip and a sleek velvety texture thanks to the longer hang times. So incredibly delicious. Wow! (8,124 bottles produced.)

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

Prodigious Stellenbosch Red Wine Producer Stark-Conde Release a Block Buster Chenin Blanc 2021 from Jonkershoek Valley Fruit…

The back label of this wine says it all. It starts by proclaiming … “Chenin Blanc is a relatively rare varietal in our area of Stellenbosch, but the higher, cooler slopes and granite soils are well suited to producing an intense, mineral style.” We are of course talking about the Jonkershoek Valley, a Ward of Stellenbosch more famous for Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah than Chenin Blanc. But with some super famous Chenin Blanc wines like Mev. Kirsten from Sadie Family Wines, Ian Naude’s Old Vine Series Chenin Blanc and Chris Alheit’s Nautical Dawn all coming from various other top Wards of Stellenbosch, the potential for producing block buster Chenin Blanc wines around Stellenbosch is unquestionable.

Self-taught American cellarmaster Jose Conde (who’s married to the owner Hans Schroder’s eldest daughter) first attempted making wine in 2000, and he chose to experiment with his favourite grape, Cabernet Sauvignon. As luck would have it, his father-in-law Hans Schroder farmed arguably the best Cabernet grapes in the region. Made with basic equipment and using traditional methods, the maiden vintage yielded just 2,400 bottles, but against the odds and to everybody’s surprise the wine went on to win 5-stars in the Platters Wine Guide, rated 92/100 points in Wine Spectator, and was selected by UK wine writer Oz Clarke as one of the Top 20 Wines of the Year. I remember this wine very well as I was one of the first wine merchants in the UK to buy and sell it in the early 2000s. And a cracker it was too!

Winemaker Rüdger van Wyk

Today, the team at Stark-Conde includes the prodigiously talented winemaker Rüdger van Wyk who creates fine wines using minimal intervention in the cellar. With vineyards ranging in elevation from 150 to 600 metres above sea level, the Stark-Conde estate offers some incredibly fine red wines of distinct character and sense of place and this new 2021 Chenin Blanc is no different. The winery also produces a well known white field blend which I look forward to tasting and reviewing soon.

Monk Stone Chenin Blanc gets its name from the large boulder which punctuates the organically grown, high-altitude vineyard block at Stark-Conde. This bush-vine Chenin Blanc vineyard is planted along dramatic terraces which were sculpted to prevent rain erosion. The wave and ripple patterns formed by these terraces, together with the large boulder, recall a traditional Japanese rock garden, and hence the name “Monk Stone”.

Stark-Conde Monk Stone Chenin Blanc 2021, WO Jonkershoek Valley, Stellenbosch, 13% Abv.

7.6 g/l TA | 3.10 pH

A beautiful rendition of Stellenbosch Chenin Blanc that initially shows a youthful reserve before slowly opening up with aromatics of yellow orchard fruits, granitic minerality, dried green herbs, tangerine peel, green pear and saline oyster shell maritime hints. The minerality and salinity are front and foremost on the palate that shows all the classic 2021 vintage characteristics of purity, clarity, freshness and intensity. Loaded with electric tension, vibrantly fresh acids, the wine reveals a tart juicy green fruited melon concentration and again, an abundance of pithy minerality and rock salt salinity on the persistent finish. Deft winemaking on display here complemented by exceptional vintage quality. Drink this on release and over 8 to 10+ years.

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

The wines of Stark-Conde are available to trade and consumers from their UK importer:

https://www.museumwines.co.uk/product/stark-conde-monk-stone-chenin-blanc-south-africa-2021 for £24.99 per bottle.

Damascene’s Current 2020 Red and White Releases Reviewed and Rated…

Damascene is the super exciting South African winery partnership between top talent Jean Smit, previously the winemaker at Boekenhoutskloof, and David Curl, the former owner of Bordeaux’s Chateau Gaby. The maiden Damascene bottlings were only in 2017 but already the winery has, since then, established itself as one of the most exciting new producers on the Cape fine wine landscape.

While the new 2021 vintages have just been released to great acclaim in South Africa, the 2020 vintages are the current releases on the UK market and in May 2020, I caught up with Jean Smit in London to taste through his exciting range of whites and reds.

Tasting with Jean earlier this year in London.

As Jean explained, the idea of Damascene’s wines was to represent the different regional identities of the South African winelands with grapes being sourced from across the Cape. The wines are made in a well-equipped cellar on David Curl’s Elgin apple farm, which also supplies the Pinot Noir for the Moya Meaker label.

Damascene Semillon 2020, WO Franschhoek, 13.5% Abv.

Sourced from two old vine vineyards plss as noted in 1962 and 1942, this wine was fermented and aged on lees in 1000 litre Austrian foudre and offers up beautifully bright, fragrant, piercing aromatics of white citrus, white blossom, lemon and lime peel, a hint of sea breeze salinity (from the 1962 vineyard) and kelp nuances. Taught and concentrated with a fine glycerol texture, lemon grass, lemon butter, white citrus, tangy green apple and a hint of lanolin on the finish. Delicious and crystalline. A very impressive expression of Old Vine Semillon.

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

Damascene Chenin Blanc 2020, WO Stellenbosch, 13.5% Abv.

Sourced from three blocks on the crest of the Bottlary Hills. Granite (5% on skins), Greywacke and Shale soils which give acidity & lemon lime notes. Rich, savoury and yellow fruited, with lots of honey suckle, ginger, white blossom and dusty mineral spice. Aged 11 months in old oak barrels. The wine shows bruised yellow peach and yellow plum that follows to a palate loaded with tangerine, Seville oranges and honey on warm toast. Lovely complexity, flinty minerality, tart acids and impressive depth of flavour. Wow!

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

Moya Meaker Pinot Noir 2020, WO Elgin, 13.5% Abv.

10 barrels (300 litre light toast) using 777 & 667 Pinot Noir clones. No stems and 11 months ageing. Reveals a lovely rose petal, black cherry and bramble berry perfume with hints of pink musk. Texture is pure and sleek, beautifully polished and focused with pomegranate, blood orange, hints of cured meats and complexing wood smoke notes. Pinpoint focus and precision with really bright acids and textural elegance.

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

Damascene Cabernet Franc 2020, WO Stellenbosch, 13.5% Abv.

Aged 11 months in 1000 litre Austrian foudre. The terroir is based on poor granite soils in the Bottlary Hills. The nose shows sweet red and black berry fruit, bouquet garnier, potpourri, fennel, dusty granite, sweet cedar and grilled herbs. The palate is pure and elegant with a salivating fresh acidity supported by a fine line of tannin grip but all exceptionally well balanced. A really delicious expression of Franc!

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

Damascene Syrah 2019, WO Stellenbosch, 12.5% Abv.

75% of whole bunches used with no submerged cap. 2/3 Karibib fruit (lending pepper & perfume), 1/3 Bottlary (north facing for extra tannins). Boasts sweet dark red and black berry fruits, potpourri, musk perfume and a savoury cured meats complexity. Beautifully pure and elegant with red berry concentration, great textural finesse and soft integrated acids. Wonderful harmony and pedigree. This is something very special indeed.

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

Damascene Syrah 2020, WO Swartland, 13% Abv.

75% whole bunches used then aged in 2000 litre foudre from vines grown on brown schist soils. Aromatics are dark and broody with incense, waxy crayon, earthy black berry, black plum, lavender and wild bramble berry notes. The palate shows plenty of power, depth and concentration with focused mineral tannins, plenty of broody savoury black and blue berry fruits with a hint of black olive tapenade. Very Northern Rhone like in character and also quite individual. Another cracking wine.

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

Damascene Syrah 2020, WO Cederberg, 13.5% Abv.

Made using 45% whole bunches (on average), from one block at 940m above sea level. Shows classic Cederberg Shiraz aromatics of blue and black berry fruits, blue berry crumble, grey slate minerality and sweet vanilla pod dust. Palate is full and round with dense, sweet creamy tannins, cinamon spice, tart underlying acids and a taut linear structure. Lovely depth, fruit intensity and balance showing the true purity offered by Syrah from high elevation vineyards.

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

Damascene Cabernet Sauvignon 2019, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5% Abv.

Grapes mainly from Vlottenburg vineyards grown on koffee klip and granite soils (graphite notes) and Helderberg and Bottlary Hills (cranberry notes). Aged 12 months in 80% new 225 litre oak barriques, second year in 1000 litre Austrian foudre. Lovely sweet cedar, wet tobacco, tannery leather and a mix of red and black berry fruits and grilled herbs. Rich, plush and creamy with cassis, blueberry, musk, red cherry and creamy tannins with bright mouth-watering acids. Very impressive expression of Stellenbosch Cabernet!

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

After a Short Absence, MR de Compostella Returns With One of their Most Iconic Releases to Date – Tasting the New 2020 Vintage…

Mvemve Raats is a critically acclaimed collaboration between friends and winemakers Mzokhona Mvemve and Bruwer Raats. Bruwer is of course the owner, winemaker and mastermind behind Raats Family Wines, where he has earned a reputation for producing top notch Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc over the past 20+ years.

Mzokhona Mvemve, the first Indaba Scholarship recipient, is a graduate of Stellenbosch University and one of South Africa’s first qualified black oenologists. Together, since the 2004 maiden MR vintage, they have created one of South Africa’s most consistently high scoring premium quality icon Bordeaux blends in the Cape.

Assembling a new vintage of MR de Compostella is a massive feat of precision winemaking, organoleptic assessment and blending to create a wine whose whole is clearly greater than the sum of its parts. It is for this reason that utmost attention is paid to all blending building blocks from all varieties to ensure that the finished wine has the density, intensity, structure and finessed power to age for at least 20, 30 or 40 years in bottle. If these prerequisites cannot be met, the MR wine will not be bottled, like previously in 2010 and 2019, when the wine was declassified into the Raats Family Jasper red blend.

With the 2018 MR receiving the highest of international critical scores yet, and then no 2019 bottled, all eyes were on the 2020 to see what Bruwer and Mzokhona could create using their winemaking magic. With the international global release scheduled for late November, I recently met up with Bruwer Raats to assess the new 2020 edition of this Cape icon Red.

MR de Compostella 2020, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5% Abv. 

Never made with exactly the same blend in any two vintages, the 2020 is a classic Cape Bordeaux assemblage of 30% Cabernet Franc, 28% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Malbec, 16% Merlot and 5% Petit Verdot with a total production of only 1,000 x 6. The wine displays a real intensity in the glass with a ruby red rim and a red / black plum heart. The aromatics are vibrant and fabulously perfumed, bursting from the glass with expressive notes of red and black berry fruits, black currant, raspberry, red and black cherry, before notes of earthy blueberry emerge with suggestions of pressed violets, lavender, sweet sandalwood, star anise and graphite spice. On the palate, the vintage’s regal elegance emerges with exhilarating acids framing the plush opulent red and back berry fruits, saline cassis, tart red cherry and a blueberry confectionary generosity. Tasting the wine with Bruwer Raats, inevitable comparisons were made to the iconic 2017 MR, with both wines sharing a beautifully bright acid freshness and a weightless concentration of pure berry fruits with only the slightest suggestion of vanilla oak spice. This really is a wine with a mixed palette of colours, flavours and fruits and the most seamlessly elegant, finessed velvety tannins. Following on from the 2018 blockbuster, with no 2019 MR produced, this 2020 is a bold, enchanting, characterful wine full of precision that trumpets the return of this incredible benchmark Cape classic. A breathtaking wine on so many levels. Drink from 2024 to 2045+.

(Wine Safari Score: 98/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Vilafonte Excels with Another Impressive Wine of Harmony and Balance – Tasting the New Release Series C 2020…

After returning from a very successful Cape Wine 2022 wine fair, the tragedies and hardships of the Covid-19 pandemic almost seem a distant faded nightmare. But as I start tasting a fresh wave of exciting new 2020 red releases, the memories of this unprecedented time come flowing back especially when you consider that many producers in the Cape, at the time, feared that they would not be able to even pick their succulent grapes as harvest approached. But if there is one thing wine producers are well versed at coping with, it is extreme disruption and endless uncertainties.

The 2019/2020 growing season brought fair and favourable conditions with a return to a more traditional cold and wet winter. With Spring came warm, fair-weather conditions resulting in an even, two-week early bud-break. As is often the case in the Cape vineyards, windy conditions during flowering resulted in a variable berry set and looser clusters with small intense berries. Thankfully, temperatures during ripening remained modest without any heatwaves, leading to an even, measured pace of ripening and picking. By the time the national Covid-19 lockdown was announced by the national government on the 26th March 2020, Vilafonte had already processed all wines safely to barrel.

Looking back to February 2020, it seems crazy to think that my visit then to the Vilafonte winery at the time would be part of my last visit to South Africa for over two years due to the pandemic. While the overall harvest continued into March, I clearly remember watching multiple trucks offloading the freshly picked Malbec grapes in late February that were tiny pea berry sized, pitch black, perfectly healthy and faultlessly formed. Spirits were high for another exceptional, high-quality harvest.

Vilafonte Series C 2020, WO Paarl, 14.5% Abv.

The 2020 Vilafonte Series C is a blend of 58% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Merlot, 10% Malbec and 8% Cabernet Franc that was aged for 22 months in 68% new French oak barriques with the balance in older used French oak barrels. In the glass, the wine displays an intensely dark, alluring purple black colour and an expressive aromatics of violets, sweet macerated black cherries, blue berries, smoky cassis and touches of Christmas pudding, sweet cherry tobacco, melted liquorice, milk chocolate and ginger cake nuances. There are slight caramelised touches to the aromatics with hints of vanilla pod, clove oil, camphor and sweet cedar spice that melt seamlessly back into the rich, opulent black and blue fruited complexity. Full, rich and elegantly textured, the palate is laden with spicy black fruits, black cherry compote, black currant pastille and intriguing layers of cinnamon spice, salty liquorice and sun raisined blue berries. There in an impressive intensity and concentration on display yet the wine remains fine grained, harmonious and fresh, finishing with spicy, supple velvety tannins and yet more stony, pithy minerality. Delightfully ripe and sometimes erring on the side of hedonistic exoticism, the core essence of this wine is nevertheless built around balance, concentration, purity of fruit and brazen intensity without ever becoming overbearing. A wonderfully individual expression of the vintage, this delicious 2020 continues the Series C’s rock-solid consistency of premium form. Drink from 2024 and comfortably over the next 10 to 12+ years.

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

South Africa’s Iconic Cape Bordeaux Blend Brand Meerlust Estate Releases Their 2018 Rubicon…

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 had finally followed his own calling and decided to move on to the next chapter of his winemaking career to further grow his own Foundry Winery brand. So, while technically the 2018 vintage is still regarded as the fruits of Chris’s labours, Wim Truter has done a fine job overseeing not only the release of this new Rubicon blend but also the declassification of the 2019 Rubicon vintage into the Meerlust Red 2019 for the first time since 2011. Meerlust Red 2019 reviewed here… https://gregsherwoodmw.com/2021/10/17/the-resurrection-of-the-meerlust-red-blend-tasting-the-2019-vintage-release/

There are few premium brands in South Africa who produce the high quantity of quality wine that Meerlust Estate does, and so it was inevitable that the Covid-19 pandemic and resulting lock-down would have a disproportionately negative effect on sales of this world-famous brand that is listed by almost every leading hotel, restaurant and bar in South Africa as well as in a never-ending list of top restaurants and 5 Star hotels around the world. As a result, consumers have had a longer run of availability with the exceptional 2017 Rubicon that was rated 96+/100 on the Fine Wine Safari. But the time has finally come for the 2017 Rubicon to pass the baton over to the highly anticipated 2018 vintage. Meerlust Rubicon is undoubtedly one of South Africa’s greatest wine ambassadors. If you have not tasted it yet, you are indeed missing out on one of the great Bordeaux blends produced in the Cape.

The higher altitude and close proximity to the sea helped cool the vineyards during the hot and dry vintage of 2018.

Meerlust Estate Rubicon 2018, WO Stellenbosch, 14.3% Abv.

2.6 g/l RS | 5.54 g/l TA | 3.63 pH

The 2018 Rubicon is a classical blend of 67% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc and 4% Petit Verdot, with every parcel of each variety fermented separately before undergoing malolactic fermentation in 300 litre barrels and large foudré. After 8 months in barrel, the components were blended and given another 10 months in barrel for harmonization before bottling. Wonderfully deep in colour, the nose is splendidly expressive showing quintessential Cabernet Sauvignon notes of pressed violets, black plum, sun raisin black currants, black salty liquorice, black chai tea, sweet cedar spice and layers of graphite and spearmint. While the aromatics are dominated by rich, dark berry fruits, the palate is classically proportioned with plenty of overt elegance and textural finesse – a great feat considering the heat and drought of the 2018 vintage. The extra bottle age before release has undoubtedly been a positive for this powerful, structured blend, helping to further round out the suave creamy tannins and harmonise the earthy black berry fruit layers, making the acids polished, glassy and fresh rather than taut and crunchy like many other 2018 reds. Unexpectedly approachable in its youth, I would have no hesitancy to cellar this super smart blend for another 10 to 15+ years.

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

Wines available to the UK trade from Maisons Marques et Domaines Ltd and should retail for circa £30pb.

Brothers Pierre and JP Winshaw Honour Their Ancestors with An Accomplished Cape Bordeaux Blend – Tasting the Charles Winshaw Cuvee from Winshaw Vineyards…

I first met brothers Pierre and John Philip (JP) Winshaw in 2018 when I was asked to co-chair the incredible Whole Bunch Tasting titled ‘The Wines That Raised Us’, just before the Cape Wine 2018 trade fair. The Winshaw brothers had pulled a number of incredibly rare old South African heritage bottles out of their grandfather, Bill Winshaw’s cellar, to present to the who’s who of the world’s wine trade. It was at this prestigious tasting that I rated my first South African wine 100 points – the Chateau Libertas 1957, now a legendary wine.

Today, the Winshaws combine traditional farming with grape growing on their Stellenbosch property Klein Welmoed, selling fruit to some of Stellenbosch’s most notable producers. But the brothers not only make their own wines under the Usana label, but they have also more recently, started making a premium range of Cape Bordeaux blends under the Winshaw Vineyards label. The line-up includes a delicious straight Malbec (which I recently rated 93/100) and two super cuvees, one based around Cabernet Sauvignon and one based around Cabernet Franc. The two red blends honour their great-grandfather Dr William Charles Winshaw, founder of Stellenbosch Farmers Winery (SFW), and the second their grandfather Bill, another key figure in the history of the SFW.

Ahead of my departure for Cape Wine 2022, I decided to get into the spirit of things by tasting and reviewing the Charles Winshaw Cuvee, their Cabernet Sauvignon based blend.

Winshaw Vineyards ‘Charles Winshaw Cuvee’ 2017, WO Stellenbosch, 14% Abv.

A serious blend of 74% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Cabernet Franc, 10% Malbec and 4% Merlot, I tasted this wine over the course of three days to assess its true fine wine potential. On opening, the aromatics showed classical Stellenbosch Cabernet notes of sweet tobacco, tannery leather, black currant, black plum, chai tea and freshly tilled earth notes. The palate was full and glycerol with creamy soft sweet tannins, layers of black and blue berry fruits with the classic 2017 vintage weightless concentration. Fabulously balanced with classical poise and harmony. But on day two and day three, the wine shed some of its initial sapidity and sweet tea leaf and tobacco notes to reveal an incredible purity, depth of blue and black berry fruits and a seamlessly vibrant cherry-laden tangy intensity on the finish. I am so pleased I gave this wine the time and space to really show its blue-blooded pedigree. As the cliché goes, the first glass was delicious, but the last glass was mind blowing. Track this beauty down if you can as the R300 local price tag (£16-£18) is ridiculously cheap. Drink now and over the next 12 to 15+ years.

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

Klein Constantia’s Stellenbosch Winery Anwilka Releases Its 2018 Red Blend…

The Anwilka Winery owned by Klein Contantia Estate, is based at the southern end of Stellenbosch with close proximity to the False Bay and is planted with 40 hectares of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Petit Verdot. Its proximity to the sea provides a specific maritime microclimate that, together with the old ferricrete soils, are perfectly suited for producing rich, opulent wines with freshness, salinity and balance.

Under the guidance of internationally renowned Bordeaux wine personalities Hubert de Boüard (co-owner of Château Angélus in Saint-Emilion) and Bruno Prats (former owner of Château Cos d’Estournel in Saint-Estèphe), Anwilka has established a worldwide reputation for its flagship red blend which has in years gone by been famously described by international wine critic Robert Parker Jr. as “…the finest red wine I have ever had from South Africa”.

With Klein Constantia group winemaker Matt Day recently taking over full winemaking responsibilities at Anwilka, you can certainly expect to see the true latent potential of this well positioned estate realised in the coming years.

Anwilka 2018, WO Stellenbosch, 14.36% Abv.

3.4 g/l RS | 5.0 g/l TA | 3.70 pH

A blend of 63% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Syrah and 5% Petit Verdot which was aged for 19 months in French oak, 50% new 400 litre barrels and 50% second fill. The colour is a deep, dark, opaque black plum with a black cherry rim. The aromatics are fresh and perfumed with notes of mocha, black cherry, bramble berries, melted tar and kelp emerging on the nose. The palate too shows archetypal 2018 vintage character with nuances of poached black plums, sun dried black cherries, melted black liquorice, saline cassis and hints of cedar spice. The textural frame is slightly more foursquare with glassy crisp acids and grippy mineral tannins padded out by an ample, inky black fruit concentration. While not quite as silky, seamless and effortless as the distinguished 2017, this is nevertheless an impressive red blend that should reward 8 to 10+ years of cellaring, being kept fresh and vital by its crunchy, mouth-watering acidity.

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

Van Biljon Wines – The Undiscovered Fine Wine Gem in the Heart of the Polkadraai Hills of Stellenbosch…

This beautiful small boutique farm is situated in the famed Polkadraai Hills region of Stellenbosch, sitting alongside famous neighbours like Reyneke Wines, Raats Family Wines and De Toren. While most of these excellent wines rose to fame for originating in Stellenbosch, more recently, as collectors and connoisseurs have started to scratch a little deeper into the finer details of the individual wards and terroirs of the region, the Polkadraai has risen to new heights of fame globally. Known for its deep fertile soils and well drained decomposed granitic soils and moderating sea breezes off the False Bay lying to the South, the terroir has formed a perfect home to the classic Bordeaux varieties of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot.

As if the wonderful terroir wasn’t enough, the wines are made by one of the great winemakers of the Cape, Chris Keet, creator of the legendary Cordoba Crescendo 1995 Cape Bordeaux Red that lights up the Cape fine wine auction houses with big R8000+ prices (£400) when bottles occasionally come on the market for sale. Chris is a master with Bordeaux varieties and meticulously crafts an impressive Cape Bordeaux Blend using traditional winemaking techniques combined with modern technology to produce wines with intensity, concentration, balance and structure.

Tasting the Van Biljon 2017 and 2018 and the Keet First Verse 2018 Bordeaux blend with Chris Keet at the winery in March 2022.

I first became acquainted with the Van Biljon CINQ after tasting the 2013 vintage which I rated 93/100 back in October 2016. Subsequent vintages like the 2014 seemed to just get better and better, rating 94+/100 when tasted in October 2018. I sadly missed the epic 2015 vintage which sold out very quickly to an airline group I understand but was thrilled to taste the fabulous 2017 new release again when Julia Van Biljon was over in London recently. This is definitely a wine that flies under the fine wine radar but undoubtedly deserves to be far better know as it stands among the great Bordeaux Blends produced in the Western Cape winelands.

Van Biljon Wines CINQ 2017, WO Stellenbosch, 14.4% Abv.

2.3 g/l RS | 5.8 g/l TA | 3.5 pH

The 2017 CINQ is a blend of 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Cabernet Franc, 11% Merlot, 6% Malbec and 6% Petit Verdot and spent 18 months maturing in selected French oak barrels. This is a seductive and enticing Cape Bordeaux blend that utilises all five red Bordeaux varieties to great effect. On the nose there is initially a pronounced sweet cedar and sappy red fruited spiciness from the Cabernet Franc before notes of dried herbs, chai tea, black currant and dusty graphite come to the fore. The well-honed palate shows considerable elegance and harmony with a fine grained textural balance revealing layers of spicy red and black berry fruits, notes of cherry tobacco and a tart, tangy acidity on a long, weightlessly concentrated finish. Stony drying tannins lend a further air of seriousness, structure and age ability on the long sleek finish. An attractive offering that must rank among the finest releases from Chris Keet and the Van Biljon winery to date. Drink this from release or over the next 10 to 15+ years.

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

For stock availability, please contact Woodwinters UK for trade allocations.

The Hemel-en-Aarde Cabernet Sauvignon that Continues to Defy Expectations – Tasting the Restless River Main Road & Dignity 2018…

Cabernet Sauvignon is not supposed to be this successful in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley in the Walker Bay region. But like innovators before him, think Tim Hamilton-Russell, Craig Wessels has never been one to settle for conformity or pre-set industry parameters of quality with his wine styles. The track record is now so firmly established for the Restless River Cabernet Sauvignon that Craig certainly has no problem selling out of allocations of this exceptional expression.

Many of the 2017 reds reached heights of quality not seen for many years (2015 aside), so expectations for 2018 and the last drought vintages were understandably very high. This is a premium priced wine (circa £55 to £59pb retail) which consumers expect to reach certain quality heights every vintage. Craig Wessels has done a sterling job with the 2018 and while the main release in South Africa was already at the beginning of 2022, the wine is only now being offered seriously in the UK. If you have not tried this stunner, treat yourself. It’s a fascinatingly individual expression of Cabernet Sauvignon.

Restless River Main Road & Dignity Cabernet Sauvignon 2018, WO Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, 14.5% Abv.

A 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from two single vineyards, namely Main Road (1.59 hectares) and Dignity (0.71 hectares) in the Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley matured for 23 months in 225 litre barriques with approximately 25% new oak. Located five kilometres from the Atlantic Ocean in the heart of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir country, this exceptional Cabernet Sauvignon red continues to confound the sceptics. Coming from the last of the proper drought vintages, Craig Wessels has captured a wonderfully opulent and heady expression of Cabernet Sauvignon with plenty of exoticism and ripeness while never losing a certain feeling of classicism and elegance. Tasted over two days, the wine shows an impressive depth of black and blue berry fruits with initial notes of plum skins, pressed violets, wet leaves, sapidity and sweet cedar spice followed by tilled earth, salty black liquorice and cherry kirsch liquor nuances. On the palate the fruit depth is broad and plush with a dark cherry and black currant intensity, hints of graphite and iodine and finishing with a fine-grained mineral tannin grip and yet more salty liquorice notes. The 2018 vintage seems more Napa Valley than Stellenbosch / SA in style but certainly a very well honed, opulent expression. Drink this now and over the next 10 to 15 years. (7,765 bottles produced.)

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

Available to the trade in the UK from SWIG wines. (www.swig.co.uk)