Tasting the New Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2018 Release from Christo Le Riche…

Now established as one of South Africa’s true first growth Cabernet Sauvignons, Christo Le Riche has certainly had a jolly old time of late with an incredible run of form with the Le Riche Reserve 2015, 2016 and 2017 all rated outstanding. This new release 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon combines grapes from vineyards in Firgrove (31%), the Jonkershoek Valley (31%), Raithby (24%) and the Simonsberg (12%) which were aged for 24 months in 76% new French oak barriques to create another notable flagship red worthy of global recognition.

The hand selected grapes from older, lower yielding vines were used and fermentation was done with a selected inoculated yeast strain under controlled temperatures. Manual plunging during this period ensured optimal colour extraction. After five days the tanks were closed and allowed to macerate for a further period of around 10-14 days. Pressing followed and the wine was transferred into barrel for the secondary malolactic fermentation. On completion, a final quality check and analysis was performed and then the Reserve cuvee was prepared for barrel ageing. Bottling was followed by hand labelling and further bottle maturation before release.

Le Riche Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2018, WO Stellenbosch, 14.87% Abv.

1.4 g/l RS | 5.6 g/l TA | 3.77 pH

Another very impressive Cabernet Sauvignon, the aromatics are pure and classy, dominated by cool dark maritime saline notes of salty crème de cassis, kelp, picante black cherry and vibrant scents of crushed blackberries, star anise, cardamom, salty black liquorice and hints of creamy vanilla oak spice. The palate is super sleek, supple and lithe with a fabulously elegant texture, silky soft mineral graphite tannins, a loose knit mid-palate fleshy black fruit generosity and tons of vibrant acid freshness on the finish. This is a classical Le Riche Reserve Cabernet at its most seductive, although it is, rather amazingly, so approachable, expressive and absolutely delicious right now on release but undoubtedly capable of another good 15+ years of prime cellaring.

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

Tasting a Fine & Rare Line up of Aged South African Icon Wines…

During the past 18 months of the pandemic there has been far too little sharing of great bottles among fine wine lovers. But with many determined to make up for lost time, South African fine lover and uber SA wine supporter, Thor Gudmundsson organised a fantastic old South African wine tasting lunch at one of his two excellent wine bar / restaurants in London, the Brackenbury Wine Rooms.

With most of the bottles generously supplied by Thor, it was a bit of a challenge for me to come up with some interesting bottles to add a little extra interest and excitement. Perhaps a bit predictably, I decided to bring the fabled Kanonkop pairing of Paul Sauer 1994 and Cabernet Sauvignon 1994 to compare and contrast blind. I have done this exercise twice before and both times it has been a challenging yet thoroughly enjoyable affair. Just to add an extra level of excitement, Thor had a bottle of the iconic Meerlust Rubicon 1994 to throw into the mix with the Kanonkop 1994 pairing.

Silvervis Chenin Blanc 2015, 12.5% Abv.

Rich, honied nose like a dry botrytis Sauternes wine. Peaches and dried apricot notes, subtle hints of salinity and a mellow, evolved honied finish.

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

Silvervis Chenin Blanc 2017, 13% Abv.

Zippy and zesty with layers of sweet & sour yellow plum, dried pear and peach, tangy tangerine acidity and a vibrant fresh saline finish. Ryan Mostert at his best. 😉

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

Rust en Vrede Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 1987, 12.5% Abv.

Showing complexing evolution, this has layers of dried leather, mechanic’s diesel rag, dried tobacco and smoked cigars. Tannins are fully resolved bolstered by a sweet core of brambly fruit, savoury prune and plum pudding and a cool lean finish.

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

Lanzerac Cabernet Sauvignon 1968

Dark, savoury broody nose with aromatics of sweet, stewed strawberries, raspberry compote and hints of Christmas pudding. Retains a fresh attractive tangy sweetness dominated by red fruits with sweet silky tannins and a long mellow finish with just the slightest hint of diesel rag.

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

Kanonkop Cabernet Sauvignon 1994, 13% Abv.

Wonderfully perfumed, sleek and elegant on the nose with pressed violets, cherry tobacco and sweet red currant fruits. This wine is pure, precise and quite ethereal. Plenty of shape and structure in the mouth still. Impressive linearity and focus. Beautiful.

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

Kanonkop Paul Sauer 1994, 12.5% Abv.

Slightly evolved earthy nose, black currant coulis, tobacco, stewed red berry fruits. Palate is superbly fresh, saline, and incredibly well balanced, complex, silky and profound. Nose and palate slightly detached suggesting some bottle variation. A superb wine nevertheless, but I have tasted fresher bottles.

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

Meerlust Rubicon 1994, 12.5 Abv.

Initially very pure and tight with focused aromatics of savoury leather, black currant and violets, the nose evolves to show smokey graphite, railway yard, wood smoke and savoury berry fruit. The palate is incredibly vibrant, explosive and intense with savoury black currant, tangy acids and a mellow stewed winter berry fruit compote note on the finish. Spectacular wine.

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

Cape Winemakers Guild Cordoba 2001 Auction Reserve, 14% Abv.

Very cedary and spicy with bell pepper, green leaf, dried herbs, coffee beans and black currant fruits. A classical style that is slightly hard work now but with further evolution, could blossom into something legendary. Leave in your cellar for now is my advice. In a slightly awkward stage of evolution.

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

Taaibosch Crescendo 2018, 13.5% Abv.

This is of course the first release of the rejuvenated and replanted Cordoba estate under the watchful eye of Schalk Willem Joubert. Shows a dark dense nose of brûléed black berry fruits, coffee bean, espresso and sweet cedar spice. The palate is elegant but robust and powerful with grippy tannins, graphite spice, concentrated black currant fruit and an impressive stony mineral length. Bury this in your cellar for 10 years minimum. It will reward patience!

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

Vergelegen Cabernet Sauvignon 2003, 14.5% Abv.

Quite a classically proportioned wine with a nose of black berry fruits, saline cassis, wet tobacco, cedar wood and espresso spice. Texturally sleek and full, creamy and well balanced with just a slight leafy peppery note on the finish. A fine expression for a warm vintage and drinking exceptionally well at the moment.

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

Niepoort & Sadie Cape Tawny 2008, 21% Abv.

Rich, nutty and expressive with layers of burnt caramel, orange rind, old malmsey Madeira and salty nutty notes. The palate is very intense, rich but not overly sweet, more nutty and pithy than unctuous. Tannins are spicy and slightly raw but sufficiently balanced with the acid freshness that is perfect for the expected level of complexity and intensity. A very attractive offering with massive drinkability and certainly plenty of unicorn wow factor!

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

Beyond Bordeaux – Reviewing the New Releases at the CVBG 2021 Portfolio Tasting in London…

It is no secret that for the past decade, Bordeaux negociants have been marking out new territory and colonising a whole new array of fine wine producers outside of their usual Bordeaux remit, from Bolgheri to Napa, Constantia to Aconcagua Valley. Slowly but surely, more and more international producers have been lured in and shifted all or most of their distribution into Europe via ‘the Place’… named after the de facto En-primeur institution that is the Place de Bordeaux.

I regularly get asked about the pros and cons of moving one’s distribution solely to the Place, but I will save that discussion for another day because today the authoritative Bordeaux negociant CVBG rolled into London town and presented a pretty spectacular array of collectable new releases. With Covid protocols in practice, tastings were restricted to timed slots so my notes are short and brief.

The New Italian Releases:

Caiarossa 2018, Toscana

A blend of 30% Syrah, 28% Cabernet Franc, 16% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot, 7% Petit Verdot, 5% Sangiovese and 2% Alicante. The initial impression is one of fine-tuned richness and opulence with expressive complexity. Palate is packed with black currant fruits, dusty mocha and lovely well integrated fine grained gravelly tannins. A well-conceived Tuscan blend that performs.

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

Bibi Graetz Testamatta 2019, Toscana

This 100% Sangiovese cuvee from the famed Bibi Graetz shows impressive perfume of white lily blossom combined with a lifted, piquant spice that melts into red currants, liquorice and pink musk. In the mouth it is bright, fresh and weightlessly concentrated, bristling with tart red cherry, hints of tar, red liquorice and finishes with a long, classical gravelly mineral persistence. A very smart wine indeed.

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

Bibi Graetz Colore 2019, Toscana

Produced from three 100% Sangiovese vineyard sites with 70, 80 and 90-year-old vines, this iconic cuvee from Bibi Graetz is a monumental effort resonating with a rich deep opulent nose of extroverted blue and black berry fruit nuances that are layered and cool on the palate with an impressively creamy textured mouthfeel packed with intensity, a sleek salty complexity and a generous caramelised kiss of blueberry fruit. Delicious in every sense.

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

Marchesi Antinori Solaia 2018, Toscana

From the famously cooler 2018 growing season in Tuscany, this Solaia retains an authoritatively deep, dark, rich and bold character while simultaneously showing impressive subtlety, complex notes of cedar, lead pencil, graphite and pithy herby black currant fruits. The palate is full and robust, spicy and intense with freshness and fabulous focus. A definitively herby cool vintage character evident in this complex imposing wine.

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

Tenuta del Ornellaia Massetino 2019, Toscana

This notoriously difficult to buy, small production second wine from the Masseto estate in Bolgheri is a blend of 94% Merlot with 6% Cabernet Franc. Exceptionally well proportioned and balanced, the nose is positively brimming with dark broody black berry fruits with interwoven notes of sweet cedar spice, black plum, vanilla pod, blueberry crumble and a sleek graphite complexity with fine grained tannins on the finish. Powerful but also seductive.

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

Tenuta del Ornellaia Masseto 2018, Toscana

This 100% Merlot is wonderfully dark and opaque in colour, the aromatics are vibrant and expressive bursting with notes of violets and pink flowers, dried rose petals and white flowers melting into notes of sour plum and ripe macerated cherries. The palate is cool and fresh with focused glassy acids, an impressive taut linearity and the most engrossing and precise textural balance imaginable. There is intensity and refreshing length of dark berry fruits that combine with strikingly mineral graphite tannins that finish with great power and authority. Another benchmark Masseto.

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

Franschhoek’s La Motte Winery Continues to Strive for Vinous Excellence…

I first met CEO of La Motte, Hein Koegelenberg, in London of all places in mid-March 2018. Tasting through their impressive range of wines with their newly appointed importer, The Wine Treasury, was most enjoyable and enlightening. These were after all some of the wines I had cut my teeth on in the early 1990s when I was working as a commodity trader in Johannesburg spending my hard-earned cash filling up my newly established wine cellar in Pretoria with some of South Africa’s finest red wines. Scratch on the shelves today and you might find some of my treasured bottles of La Motte Shiraz from 1993, 1994 and 1995 or maybe even one of my last bottles of La Motte Millennium 1990 red blend. These are historic wines that hold a special place in my wine development landscape as well as for many South Africans.

With lockdown looming hard and large, we have certainly missed all our regular South African winemaking tourists passing through London to taste the new vintage releases. But as they say, if Mohammed can’t go to the mountain, well then, the mountain must come to Mohammed… and I recently had a wonderful opportunity to taste through the current releases from the stunning La Motte Franschhoek Estate and was impressed with the all-round quality as ever.

La Motte Sauvignon Blanc 2021, WO Western Cape, 12.5% Abv.

3.0 g/l RS | 7.3 g/l TA | 3.39 pH

This 2021 Sauvignon Blanc was made from a blend of grapes sourced in Franschhoek (25%), Stellenbosch (50%) and the Cape South Coast (25%). With multiple vineyards grown in different microclimates and on different terroirs, the final wine in bottle has been expertly blended to ensure ample ripeness with juicy freshness, no overt leafy pyrazine characters but certainly plenty of attractive cool climate purity. A reductive fermentation process in stainless steel was carried out with the wine being left on its fine lees to enhance the tropical flavours. To further add to the complexity, 8% of Semillon was blended into the wine before bottling on the 10th April 2021.

A deliciously vibrant, expressive style of Cape Sauvignon Blanc, this wine displays an impressive purity and crystalline cool vintage clarity of green citrus fruits, green apple, lemon and lime zest and a subtle suggestion of Cape gooseberry. There is just enough fleshy tropical complexity to make this wine very appealing to lovers of fine New Zealand style Sauvignon Blanc with a cool 12.5% alcohol supporting an electric acidity and energetic depth of fruit. There is plenty of mouth coating richness, a fleshy glycerol opulence and a long, cool, spicy green herb-tinged finish with tangy acids that keep you coming back again and again for another sip. I’m not sure what more you could want from a young, fresh, unoaked Sauvignon Blanc? Delicious! Drink now and over the next 2 to 3 years.

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

La Motte The Pierneef Collection Sauvignon Blanc 2020, WO Cape South Coast, 12.62% Abv.

1.8 g/l RS | 6.8 TA | 3.25 pH

The Pierneef Collection is a range of wines from La Motte forming a part of their more premium range as a tribute to the famous South African artist Jacob Hendrik Pierneef (1886-1957), one of South Africa’s most collectable artists, with each new bottling labelled with a different piece of his art. The 2020 Pierneef Collection Sauvignon Blanc is a blend of 94% Sauvignon Blanc from Elim, Napier and Elgin and 6% Semillon from Elim, all vineyards that now fall under the Cape South Coast region. After four drought vintages from 2015 to 2018, the 2019 season was much more moderate and saw the Cape’s vineyards build up their water reserves which boded well for the follow up 2020 crop. The grapes were afforded 16 hours of skin contact before fermentation and then another 5 months post-fermentation ageing on fine lees before blending. The wine was bottled in August 2020 and 30,000 bottles were produced.

On the nose, this wine is unmistakably cool climate Sauvignon Blanc with all the herby, pithy, spicy, saline notes you’d expect to find on cooler, Coastal Cape Sauvignon. Together with classic Thiol notes of white citrus, Cape Gooseberry and bell pepper, there is an attractive underlying dusty crushed limestone minerality, hints of green apple pastille, lime peel and lemon grass spices. Medium bodied with bright glassy acids but also a wonderfully harmonious textural balance, this is a serious offering for more serious Sauvignon Blanc connoisseurs that celebrates the diversity of premium cool climate coastal maritime styles. Drink on release or cellar for 6 to 8+ years.

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

La Motte Franschhoek Chardonnay 2019, WO Franschhoek, 13.4% Abv.

2.2 g/l RS | 6.0 g/l TA | 3.37 pH

While many of Franschhoek’s top wines are produced from grapes sourced from all over the Cape, this Chardonnay is made from fruit grown on the La Motte farm in Franschhoek from vineyards located at 200 metres above sea-level on south and southwestern facing slopes. The vineyard soils are mostly sandstone and granite in origin with the oldest blocks planted in 1997. For the 2019 Chardonnay, 100% the grapes were whole bunch pressed with 66% fermented in 300 litre French oak barrels with malo and 33% in stainless steel without malolactic fermentation. Post ferment, the wines saw regular lees stirring while ageing 12 months in 25% new French oak. After ageing, the wines were blended and bottled in May 2020.

The aromatics on this 2019 Chardonnay boast luxurious zesty notes of tangerine peel, pressed oranges and fragrant citrus blossom together with notes of vanilla pod spice, dried pistachio nuts and lemon butterscotch. The palate is round, creamy and harmonious with a fine textural balance of tangy orange and yellow citrus fruits, succulent white peach and green apple pastille. There is a lovely finesse and fine-tuned elegance to the wine that shows impressive persistence of flavour and a complex leesy, savoury lemon bon bon finish. Enjoy this ‘ready-to-go’ Chardonnay now and over the next 2 to 3+ years.

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

La Motte Cabernet Sauvignon 2018, WO Western Cape, 13% Abv.

3.2 g/l RS | 6 g/l TA | 3.39 pH

The grapes for this 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon are sourced from two regions including 67% from Stellenbosch and 33% from Franschhoek. 2018 was of course the fourth in a series of drought vintages and resulted in a small, concentrated crop of grapes -15% down on 2017 or the lowest crop in a decade and a half. The Stellenbosch portion of fruit was machine harvested before being transported to the La Motte cellar in Franschhoek while the Franschhoek grapes were hand harvested. All grape batches were fermented separately in stainless steel before being aged for 16 months in 300 litre French oak barrels, 33% new, 33% second fill and 34% older barrels. After blending, the wine was bottled in November 2019. 84,000 bottles were produced.

This Cabernet Sauvignon displays classical aromatics of saline cassis, sweet cedar spice, dried mint leaf, iodine, seashore kelp and subtle hints of graphite, iron and blood. Youthfully piquant but also lush on the palate, like a true 2018 Cabernet, this wine takes a little bit of time to open its shoulders before revealing its full potential. The palate shows an attractive opulence and a fleshy, creamy black cocoa powder complexity with notes of tart black currant, black cherry, crunchy sour plum and a long, mouth-watering finish marked by wonderfully subtle integrated oak spice characters and a delicate kiss of salty liquorice. Ample minerality and more than sufficient structure suggest you can drink this now with a short decant or else cellar for at least 5 to 8+ years.

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

La Motte Syrah 2017, WO Franschhoek, 13.69% abv.

2.3 g/l RS | 5.6 g/l TA | 3.44 pH

The Syrah grapes for this wine are all sourced from the La Motte Wine Estate in Franschhoek from vines that are between 10 and 30 years old, situated on varying sandstone and granitic soils at between 200 and 300 metres altitude. While 2017 was the third of the drought vintages in the Cape, it also managed to somehow deliver the raw materials to make some of the greatest red wines ever seen in the Cape. Following a lower than average rainfall in the preceding winter, flowering and fruit set conditions were favourable and followed by a long, dry ripening season with cool nights and a distinct lack of heat waves resulting in very healthy grapes with excellent concentration. For this Syrah, the grapes were 100% destemmed and the whole berries fermented in stainless steel tanks. The finished wine was matured in 300 litre French oak barrels for 14 months, 30% of which were new. Unusually, to add some extra colour to the wine, a 15% portion of Durif (Petit Syrah) was added to the blend. It seems the phenomenally successful 2017 vintage was equally as generous to the quality of premium Syrah wines as it was to top Cabernet Sauvignon and Cape Bordeaux Blends that have lit up critical wine ratings globally.

This is an attractive wine that reveals a wonderfully seductive, generous and elegant expression of Franschhoek Syrah. Dense, dark and opaque, though some of this might be due to a little extra Petit Syrah turbo charging, the aromatics show perfumed notes of earthy lily flowers, black plum, salty black liquorice, black olive tapenade and bruleed Christmas pudding nuances. Complex and layered, there is a sleek meaty, savoury stratum with sweet peppercorn nuances and hints of molasses spice. For all the ripeness, the palate lacks no freshness and is brimming with blue berry and black currant fruits buffered by a subtle chalky mineral tannin and a cool, long oregano and thyme-tinged dried herb finish. A serious effort for the money.

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

La Motte The Pierneef Collection Syrah 2017, WO Western Cape, 13.8% Abv.

2.8 g/l RS | 6.0 g/l TA | 3.46 pH

Though not part of the ultra-premium range from La Motte, this wine still has got to be one of the estate’s most impressive quality red offerings. The fruit for this blend originates from 90% Syrah from Elim, 5% Syrah from Walker Bay and 5% Viognier from Franschhoek. Small berries with thick skins and intense fruit flavours in 2017 made for a very serious vintage offering. Some of the Syrah batches were harvested at the same time as the Viognier, sourced in Franschhoek, in order for the grapes to be co-fermented together. After fermentation, the wine was matured for 14 months in 55% new French oak barrels after which time the components were all blended together and then returned to barrel for a further 4 months of ‘marriage’. The wine was bottled in November 2018.

Based on the classical Cote Rotie blend of red and white grapes, this really is a spectacularly well-made wine delivered with intensity, complexity and balance. The aromatics are instantaneously recognizable as being different with the extra tell-tale perfumed lift and peachy bon bon rock candy aromatics from the Viognier that melt into the dark, saline, salty liquorice and black currant fruit nuances of the intense, maritime Elim Syrah. Dark, seductive and decidedly cool and coastal in its profile, this wine sucks up the new oak portion to leave an almost imperceptible purity of tart black berry fruits with just the most subtle lick of creamy warm buttered brown toast smothered in black currant and watermelon preserve on the long finish. Cool, dense, weightlessly concentrated and texturally compact with a high degree of finesse and polish make for a real ‘wow’ wine. Drink this wine now after a good 2 hour decant or else cellar for a further 10 to 12+ years.

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

(Wines are distributed to trade in the UK by The Wine Treasury.)

Reviewing The New Release Thelema Cabernet Sauvignon 2018…

Always one of the more notable single varietal Cabernet Sauvignon releases of the year, this 2018 vintage from Thelema Mountain Vineyards is certainly a wine that is going to appeal to collectors of premium Stellenbosch Cabernet. With some of the most exceptional terroir in the Western Cape, Thelema have rightly resurrected and restored their premier league standing as one of the most sought after and age worthy wine producers in the Cape, a position they held throughout the 1990s and early 2000s.

This 100% Cabernet Sauvignon is produced from three clones of Cabernet, namely 46c, 169A and 338c which were planted at 2,000 to 2,300 vines per hectare in 2002, 2003 and 2008 on decomposed granitic Hutton soils. 2018 was a warm dry vintage with a late start resulting in a smaller crop yield of well structured, intense grapes. All fruit was destemmed, crushed and pumped into stainless steel tanks and saw two aerated pump-overs per day during fermentation before being racked into barrels for malolactic fermentation and an additional 18 months of ageing in French oak barrels, 40% of which were new.

A lot of consumers have stocked up their cellars with a good proportion of wines from the 2015 and 2017 vintages and quite rightfully so. These were probably the two greatest vintages modern-era winemaking has ever seen in South Africa. But I would caution consumers on tucking into these two great vintages too early in the same way many European consumers did with the opulent and seductive 2009 and 2010 Bordeaux reds. Indeed, they were very hard to resist such was their immediate overt appeal. My advice would be to buy into the 2018s and 2019s that are being released in South Africa at the moment to allow the more coveted 2015s and 2017s to be savoured on more special occasions in the future.

Thelema Mountain Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2018, WO Stellenbosch, 13.83% Abv.

2.1g/l RS | 3.48pH | 5.7g/l TA

On opening the 2018 Thelema Cabernet Sauvignon, it is clear to see that this is a cooler, leaner vintage style. The aromatics are about as classic as you’ll find for premium Stellenbosch Cabernet with an initially high toned exuberance of pressed violets, tilled earth, iodine, kelp, black currant together with very well integrated notes of sweet sandal wood, cedar spice with the obligatory broody baritone graphite nuances never far away. On the palate the wine begins with a steely textural sternness with plenty of tightly wound spring tension, saline cassis, black berry and bright crunchy acids. Allowed to breath for 5 to 6 hours, this serious wine starts to shed some of its linearity to gain extra palate layers of sweet fleshy black berry fruits, complex spicy tannins and a long dark chocolate and black currant finish. Cellar this classic vintage for ideally 2-3+ years more before revisiting and drink comfortably over the next 10-15 years.

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

Stark Condé’s Flagship Oude Nektar Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 Dazzles and Shines…

I recently reviewed the Three Pines Cabernet Sauvignon from the Stark-Condé Winery that was launched in Stellenbosch in 1998 by Hans and Midori Schroder with a focus on producing hand-crafted premium wines. Located in the picturesque and ever so dramatic Jonkershoek Valley in Stellenbosch, it is a site with steep changes in vineyard elevation ranging from 150 to 600 metres making for a range of terroirs with distinct characteristics.

At Stark-Condé they stick to traditional winemaking methods using open tank fermentation, meticulous sorting of grapes, hand-punch downs, basket pressing and maturation in small French oak barrels.

With a very limited availability of this superb single vineyard wine, I thought I couldn’t pass on reviewing one of the most exciting Cabernet Sauvignons I have tasted from Stellenbosch in a long time. The vineyard is situated on a south-westerly aspect on decomposed granitic soils and was replanted after tragic bush fires in 2009. The 2017 vintage is of course synonymous with weightless intensity, piercing concentration and sublime elegance and this wine is yet another flag bearer for this iconic vintage and region. The wine was aged for 20 months in 70% new French oak barrels and bottled unfiltered and unfined.

Stark Condé Oude Nektar 2017 Red Blend, WO Jonkershoek Valley, 14% Abv.

6.7g/l TA | 1.9 RS | 32.3 g/l Total Extract

This utterly seductive wine is a bottling of 95% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Petit Verdot and 2% Malbec. Despite the salt and pepper additions, this is a wonderfully pure classical Cabernet Sauvignon with archetypal aromatics of pressed violets and tilled earth, crushed gravel, graphite, freshly brewed espresso and sweet cedary spice. There is an irony, bloody, iodine and black olive complexity that lends that extra dimension to the wine making it just that little bit more special. The palate is pinpoint 2017 elegance personified with piercing fresh acids, powder puff tannins, weightless saline black currant and black cherry fruit concentration and a wonderfully long, harmonious finish of melted Belgian chocolates, salty kelp, black liquorice and warm buttered brown toast. Just quite simply spellbinding. Drink now and over the next 15+ years. (Only 4,617 bottles produced)

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

Stark – Condé’s Pedigree Shines Brightly With Their Exceptional Three Pines Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon…

Stark-Condé Wines was launched in Stellenbosch in 1998 by Hans and Midori Schroder with a focus on producing hand-crafted premium wines. Located in the picturesque and ever so dramatic Jonkershoek Valley in Stellenbosch, it is a site with steep changes in vineyard elevation ranging from 150 to 600 metres making for a range of terroirs with distinct characteristics. At Stark-Condé they stick to traditional winemaking methods using open tank fermentation, meticulous sorting of grapes, hand-punch downs, basket pressing and maturation in small French oak barrels.

The 2017 vintage was a warm and dry growing season resulting in wines that were intensely aromatic and admirably elegant and harmonious with suave velvety tannins and a weightless concentration of fruit. If the wines age as well as some people expect they will, tasting the 2017s alongside the block buster 2015s in 10, 15 or 20 years’ time will undoubtedly prove to be a very popular exercise.

Stark – Condé Three Pines Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, WO Jonkershoek Valley, Stellenbosch, 14% Abv.

The grapes for this vibrant single vineyard wine were hand-picked, sorted, basket pressed and then fermented in small batches before being matured in small French oak barrels for 20 months. The wine was bottled without fining or filtration. The aromatics are piquant, spicy and thoroughly enticing with hints of fragrant black berry confit on slightly burnt brown breakfast toast supported by emerging notes of bruleed coffee beans, inky iodine, sweet cherry tobacco, cola, salty cassis and a pronounced under vein of graphite. The palate is super elegant from start to finish, suave, supple and impressively harmonious with a fine textural breadth and depth of black and blueberry saline fruits, soft, sleek silky tannins and all the tell-tale weightless concentration that has come to define this vintage’s greatest red wines. Seamless, precise and incredibly well made, this is sultry, seductive Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon at its best. Drink now or cellar for 12+ years. (8,175 bottles produced.)

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

Taaibosch Crescendo 2018 – Recreating a Legendary Stellenbosch Wine…

It must surely be one of the most captivating stories to emerge from the Cape winelands in the past decade – the resurrection of one of South Africa’s most famous wines, the Cordoba Crescendo Cape Bordeaux Blend originally made famous by talented wine maker Chris Keet in the mid to late 1990s. For many, drinking a bottle of Crescendo 1995 ranked as one of the pinnacles of local fine wine experiences and then all of a sudden… the winery disappeared.

I started filling my cellar in South Africa in the mid to late 1990s and was fortunate enough to purchases a number of cases of the Cordoba Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and of course the Crescendo from vintages in 1995, 1996 and 1997. While I did drink and enjoy a majority of the bottles, a number of them were left to mature in my cellar. I certainly had no idea what became of the famous Helderberg estate and what the reasons were for its demise, but when the Oddo family who also have wine ventures in Sancerre, Provence, and Sicily, purchased the famous winery in 2017 and recruited cellar master Schalk-Willem Joubert of Rupert & Rothschild fame to oversee proceedings, the scene looked set for the resumption of quality winemaking.

The first new 2018 release from the estate was launched in South Africa under the Taaibosch Crescendo label earlier this year. As I understand it, the owners are not in a position to use the original Cordoba name anymore and thus moved to the Taaibosch title. All grapes on the estate were hand-picked and once received in the cellar, the grapes were gently transferred by means of gravity to both stainless steel and cement vessels for fermentation. A period of cold soaking followed which enabled a rich extraction of colour, aromas and flavours. Extended maceration followed at the conclusion of fermentation, which assists in providing the wine with a soft texture, increased colour intensity and complexity.

The soil of the Helderberg region is fertile and mostly homogenous across the region. It consists predominantly of Table Mountain sandstone resting on Cape Granite. The soil has excellent water and nutrient holding capacity and is rich in kaolinite, iron and aluminium oxides, causing the distinct red colour, associated to the region. Taaibosch is situated on a lens of withered Malmesbury shale, setting it apart from the other vineyards in the region. The Crescendo 2018 was matured in a combination of 225 litre oak barrels, 9000 litre Foudre vessels and traditional 4500 litre cement tanks for a period of three years. These different vessels each add their own personality to the finished wine, ranging from fruity characters to subtle wood influences. All these elements were then brought together selectively to form a harmonious blend.

Taaibosch Crescendo 2018, WO Stellenbosch

pH 3.57 | RS 3.7g/l | 13.5% Abv

This wine conforms to the classically defined Crescendo blend (Cheval Blanc inspired) of 65% Cabernet Franc, 30% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon harvested from vines of 20 years of age or older. On opening in the early afternoon, the Crescendo 2018 was dense, tight and grippy with mouth coating tannins drying the front and sides of the palate. Nevertheless, the over-riding sensation was one of underlying elegance, purity of fruit and intensity sitting in the clutches of a youthful fist clench. Tasting the wine over the following 4 hours started to reveal its true pedigree which admittedly could easily have been missed on the initial pop and pour prognosis. With a little time to open its shoulders, the aromatics really start to unfurl classic notes of sweet cedary briary spice, saline inky black currant fruits, buttered brown toast, rose oil, dried violets, hints of graphite and led pencil shavings. The palate is decidedly mineral and classical with stony, textured fine grained tannins that are powerful and imposing yet ripe and supple enough to allow the layers of black and red berry fruits to slowly emerge. There is fabulous density, plenty of dry extract and concentration all pointing to a power-packed wine that is built with extended ageing in mind. In many ways, the design and texture of this wine harks back to a bygone era where immediacy and complete accessibility on release were not always the winemaker’s primary objectives. This wine has wonderful gravitas, an individual character and a real palate presence and continues to tantalise the senses right up to the very last sip that is loaded with a lovely broad blood orange acidity and mouth-watering salinity. I feel confident this wine is something really special to bury in your cellar for drinking over a good 15 to 20+ years. An impressive homage to the original Crescendo blends of the late 1990s.

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

Tasting the New Leeu Passant 2021 Releases – A Project of Grand Ambition Coming of Age…

It has to be said that when Chris and Andrea Mullineux embarked on their new Leeu Passant adventure with silent partner Analjit Singh, there were many in the industry that thought that this duo would be better off focusing on their successful eponymous Swartland project at Roundstone instead of spreading themselves a bit thin across multiple wine regions. But when you are as driven and as wine curious as Chris and Andrea, holding back on their new winemaking endeavour was never an option. Since the first vintages released from the 2015 vintage, there has certainly been a high degree of evolution and even a bit of revolution as Chris and Andrea have shaken up the establishment in both Stellenbosch and Franschhoek.

But in 2021, the Leeu Passant project can finally be considered to have come of age with some of their most compelling releases yet. With a conscious effort to try and realign the vintage releases a little more after choosing to hold back the 2018 Leeu Passant Dry Red and the Basson Vineyard Old Vine Cinsault 2018, they have finally reached a point where the extra year in bottle for these extraordinary wines has allowed them to be appreciated and admired for what they truly are – exceptional winemaking creations.

I normally visit Chris and Andrea at least once a year in the Swartland and then finally fill in the remaining gaps on one of their many trips to London. I certainly miss the Swartland and walking the vineyards with Chris as he explains all the new ideas they’re perpetually putting into practice in the vineyards. But these are strange times and unfortunately I had to make do with a Zoom tasting to acquaint myself with their fabulous new wine releases.

Leeu Passant Stellenbosch Chardonnay 2019, WO Stellenbosch, 14% Abv.

Made from a single vineyard in the Helderberg where the climate probably has a bigger fingerprint than even the soils and terroir but at 400 meters plus, the maritime climate really shapes the wine with very consistent temperatures, that yield high acidities and often 9 TA – 9.5 TAs before settling at around 7 TA when all is said and done. Whole bunch pressed with oxidative must handling then to barrel for 18 months in oak without SO2. Barrels were 225L size of which around 30% were new with the rest 2/3/4/5th fill.

The 2019 Chardonnay is a very serious contender for one of the top Chardonnays produced in South Africa along with a very small handful of obsessive producers. This Stellenbosch 2019 is full of power and focus with all the hallmark purity that Andrea Mullineux prides herself in. The aromatics are reminiscent of granitic river pebbles immersed in lemon cordial with a dusting of honey, toffee apples, lemon grass and dried baking herbs. Always brilliantly pure, crystalline and electric, the palate shows tremendous tension and linearity supported by astonishing fruit concentration and intensity. The balance and harmony are spellbinding, revealing sip after sip, the true pedigree of this wonderful Helderberg vineyard site in the hands of a masterful winemaker. Undoubtedly comparable to the very best Chardonnay expressions produced by Leeu Passant to date, this 2019 seems to pack an extra level of lemon and lime intensity making it already an incredibly appealing fine wine. Give this vintage at least three years from release in your cellar and then drink over 10+.

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

Leeu Passant Wellington Old Vine Basson Cinsault 2018, WO Wellington, 13% Abv.

This treasured dry-farmed Cinsault vineyard is the oldest certified red wine vineyard in South Africa, planted in circa 1900 and farmed by the Mullineuxs since 2014. One of the original Old Vine Project “Certified Heritage Vineyards” that has been held up as a shining beacon of education and preservation, these gnarled deep rooted old Cinsault bush vines are planted on deep, weathered sandy Table Mountain sandstone alluvial soils which yield wines deceptively light in colour but also impressively structured, taut and rich. Producing as little as 600 kilograms of fruit in 2015, the plot has now been nursed back to rude health enough to yield two tons of fruit in 2019.

This vineyard always shows plenty of structure, power and focus and the 2018 vintage is considered one of the most structured yet. In its current youthful state, the aromatics are distinctively stony and mineral but also fabulously perfumed showing notes of potpourri, lavender, bramble berries, fynbos and Turkish delight. The palate is incredibly precise and foursquare with a polished structure and frame you just don’t expect from such a delicately fragrant wine. The texture is dense and tightly packed, the wine concentrated and intense but also deceptively light on its feet revealing notes of cranberry, red cherry and wild strawberries on the finish all supported by the most powdery, silky tannins imaginable. A difficult wine even for me to put accurately into words because it is so evocative on both an emotional level as well as on a sensorial level. Drink this wine from release and over the next 30+ years. (Circa 1,800 bottles produced)

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

Leeu Passant Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon 2019, WO Stellenbosch, 13.5% Abv

Chris and Andrea experimented with over 20 different vineyards around Stellenbosch before they started to focus on five specific vineyards including two in the Helderberg, two in the Polkadraai Hills and one 40-year-old parcel in Firgrove close to False Bay. Three of these five vineyards already contribute fruit that goes into their flagship Leeu Passant Dry Red Blend together with components of the Lotter Cinsault, the Wellington Basson Cinsault and a splash of Cabernet Franc. The wine sees only 30% new oak with some extended maceration that changes from site to site with the older Firgrove vineyard seeing the longest maceration. With vines grown on a mix of alluvial soils and decomposed granite soils, the grapes produce a sleek, crystalline, elegant style of Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon that many say harks back to the golden age of Bordeaux’s finest old Clarets. The wines are aged for 12 months before being moved to larger 2000 and 5000 litre upright oak vats for another year of aging before spending several months in bottle before release.

The aromatics are wonderfully lifted and perfumed showing all the intricacies of cool climate Cabernet Sauvignon fruit. There is an intriguing piquant leafy spice that melts into notes of liquid minerality, granitic dust and graphite while underneath the mineral veil is a powerful depth of fruit held on a very short rein lest it bursts out the glass. There are seductive notes of violets, sweet cedary spice, saline black currant, hints of iodine and fresh kelp brought in on the morning’s tide. On the palate there is plenty of textural precision on display for all to see, confidently boasting layer upon layer of stony minerality, sweet cherry tobacco, cassis leaf, black tea, tilled earth and creamy dense powdery tannins. Fabulously old school on so many levels, this wine will undoubtedly age well and develop into something that harks back to the great old Clarets of times gone by. Drink from 2024 until 2040+

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

Leeu Passant Dry Red 2018, WO Western Cape, 14% Abv.

The impressive wine is formed of two old vine Cinsault blocks (Basson and Lotter), three Cabernet Sauvignon parcels and Cabernet Franc from the Helderberg. The 2018 is a blend of 63% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Cabernet Franc, 16% Cinsault (in 2018 mostly Basson and lesser amounts of the opulent Lotter), with the Basson Cinsault being whole bunch fermented. Some of the Cinsault is co-fermented with the 40+ year old Cabernet Sauvignon while the Cabernet Franc, planted in the early 1990s, if vinified separately. The Dry Red traditionally sees the components aged 12 months in 500 litre oak barrels separately before being blended and aged for another 12 months in large 2000-litre old oak foudre. The wine now also spends an extra year in bottle “because when it was released earlier, the Cinsault component seemed to dominate the style. Now with the extra 12 months in bottle it is a far more harmonious wine”, according to Chris Mullineux. Almost 10,000 bottles were produced in 2018 compared to circa 4,000 bottles in 2015, the maiden vintage.

My experience of tasting this wine has sometimes been somewhat of a challenge because in its early years, the individual components often seemed to intermittently compete with one another for aromatic and flavour dominance. The extra years ageing in bottle has been a game-changer. The wine is now so incredibly lifted and perfumed with a real melange of red currant, wild strawberry, pressed violets and vanilla pod spice bursting out the glass. There is such magnificent purity, precision and a real synergy that shines through the wine. The palate is incredibly dense, textured and luxuriously opulent, packed full of fleshy red cherry and cranberry pastille fruits, Turkish delight and red currant jelly. Perhaps it’s the vintage or perhaps it’s just the extra bottle age but this wine seems so much more complete with less obvious sapidity and spice and much more harmonious fleshy layers of red fruit and creamy, savoury tannins. This is an absolute triumph of a wine and a flagship vintage Dry Red that single-handedly announces the true ‘arrival’ of the entire Leeu Passant project. Drink this phenomenal wine on release and over the next 30+ years.

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

The Famed Antinori Guado Al Tasso Estate Releases a True Benchmark Il Bruciato 2019 Blend…

The Guado al Tasso estate is located in the small but prestigious Bolgheri DOC appellation on the coast of Upper Maremma, about one hundred kilometers southwest of Florence. This appellation has a relatively recent history as it was only established in 1994 but has since gained worldwide recognition as a new reference point in the international fine wine scene.

Il Bruciato, the second wine, was first produced in 2002 in one of the most difficult vintages ever for the famous Guado al Tasso estate. The wine is now regarded as a modern interpretation of Bolgheri’s unique terroir made from carefully selected Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah grapes from all around Guado al Tasso’s vineyards.

Sunrise over the Guado Al Tasso Vineyards

The 2019 vintage’s growing season saw relatively cool weather in April and May then hot, dry conditions throughout the end of July. The slight delay in the vines’ initial growth cycle evened out as summer began. A sudden rise in temperatures caused the vines to produce lighter, loosely packed clusters, especially notable in the late ripening varieties where fruit set wasn’t yet fully completed. The months of August and September brought steady sunny weather that allowed grapes to progress to full ripeness in optimal conditions.

Harvesting operations began with Merlot at the beginning of September and were completed with Cabernet Sauvignon at the beginning of October. The other grape varieties, Syrah and smaller quantities of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, were picked during the last half of September.

Cabernet Sauvignon was blended with Merlot, Syrah and a small percentage of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot and the final blend was reintroduced into barriques where it was left to age before bottling.

Antinori Tenuta Guado Al Tasso Il Bruciato 2019, Bolgheri DOC, 14.5% Abv.

Always an exceptional wine of compelling quality, the fresher, more structured 2018 sold out very quickly after release making the 2019 even more anticipated. An exciting new vintage, the wine is decidedly more opulent and generously fruited with aromatics of black cherry tobacco, black berry, graphite, iron filings, sweet cedar and purple rock candy confectionary nuances on the finish. On the palate there is an impressive depth of fruit with a notable glycerol, mouth-filling breadth together with sweet creamy mineral tannins and a fleshy mocha-laced black berry fruit accessibility. Where the 2018 was slightly more angular, cooler and nervy, the 2019 is more seductive, opulent, luxurious and obviously riper. While this is a wine that has increased in price significantly over the past few years it remains a real must-buy for regular Bolgheri enthusiasts.

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