South Africa’s Carsten Migliarina has made some superb Chardonnays in the past, so it was with great excitement that I tasted his new single vineyard expression from Elgin. His wine making reputation is growing by the day and so are his awards. He also works masterfully with cool climate terroirs as evidenced in the precision of his Elgin Chenin Blancs, Riesling and of course Chardonnay.
Migliarina Single Vineyard Chardonnay 2015, W.O. Elgin
At 14 Abv, you’d expect this wine to show some depth and power… and of course it does. The nose is beautifully complex with green apple skins, tart crunchy green pears and dusty minerality. But the oaking is also perfectly judged for the weight of the fruit concentration. On the nose it’s very subtle with bruleed creme caramel hints and lemon pie brightness. The oaking on the palate, at this stage, is a little more obvious, but definitely very high quality. Even with the multiple layers of pithy lemon confit, honeydew melon and caramelised fig notes, Carsten’s signature minerality prevails, dominating the finish with a real classical restraint and dusty, gravelly, Schweppes bitter lemon intensity. A fantastic expression with all the old world minerality of a top Umbrian or Friuli cool climate Chardonnay. Drink from 2018 to 2025.
It must be a strange feeling to see your name on the label of a wine and know that in many respects, the “ownership” of that very name has almost passed to the nation as a whole as a cultural heritage icon. Hamilton Russell as a fine wine brand is so deeply integrated into the psyche of the South African nation it is almost impossible to imagine a local wine industry without it.
I, like almost every other South African wine trade professional, has grown up tasting, drinking and cellaring these wines for as long as I can remember. Visiting the Walker Bay estate above Hermanus to see Anthony and Olive is now more like a pilgrimage than a mere winery stop over. The wines are special, the personalities of the owners more so, and the beauty of the estate unsurpassed.
In March 2017 I paid another flying visit to taste the last of the lovely 2015s, the newly bottled 2016s, and a snapshot of barrels from the 2017 harvest. Within 30 minutes of arriving, knowing that I am a keen horse rider, Olive had me jodhpur’ed and booted up and on the back of Amstel, Anthony’s trusty steed, to do a quick hour long hack around the vineyards before obligatory sundowners of Bollinger Champagne, smoked salmon bellinis and Beluga caviar on the weathered sandstone cliffs overlooking Hermanus.
After a decade of heading up winemaking at HRV, in 2014 Hannes Storm decided to move on to his own Pinot Noir and Chardonnay projects and was replaced by Gottfried Mocke’s ex-assistant at Chamonix, Emul Ross. What a revelation this move has been and no one can deny the exciting new era of quality that Emul’s arrival has heralded, especially with regards to the HRV red wines.
Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir 2016, Hemel-en-Aarde, Walker Bay, 13.5 Abv.
With the 2016 vintage came the lower yields wrought by the third year of intense drought in the Western Cape. But the grapes that were harvested yielded pristine musts and fermentation and aging proceeded as normal with the use of 5% whole bunch. The wine is very rich and intense on the nose, brimming with dried rose petals, lavender, cherry blossom and dried thyme and oregano herbs. The palate is super concentrated with sweet black cherry, graphite spice and grey slatey gravelly minerality. While this wine has more concentration than previous vintages, it also has restraint and dusty structured tannins that add a beautiful frame from which to hang the complex fruit adornments. There is a real gravitas, complexity and textured layers to this very ‘grown up’ wine. The finish is long and precise and just when you think the last word will be left on a mineral note, a burst of pithy juicy stony red cherry fruit kicks in to tantalise the palate. This is a great effort from winemaker Emul Ross and a killer wine that should age gracefully for 15+ years.
(Wine Safari Score: 95+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Ashbourne Pinotage 2015, Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, Walker Bay, 14.1 Abv.
There are a growing number of varietal Pinotage wines that are starting to turn heads. This is certainly one of them. With its roots and pedigree lying in a Pinot Noir psyche, this 14.1 Abv. expression is packed full of sweet dark black fruits and has multiple layers of complex licorice, sweet oak spice and star anise. This 21 year old vineyard was recently replanted but was the first Pinotage vineyard to be planted in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley. There is real opulence interwoven with graphite, gravelly minerality on a palate that finishes with dry grippy tannins. This is a very impressive expression of Pinotage and takes the grape to a new level of quality.
(Wine Safari Score: 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Other notable wines tasted…
Ashbourne Pinotage – Cinsaut 2017 ~ Bright rose petal perfume and marzipan. Very pure and fine with lush fruits, wonderful intensity and an elegant, red fruited, peppery potpourri finish. Great potential here! (91-93/100)
Ashbourne 2016 Pinotage, Walker Bay, 13.6 Abv. ~ Dusty black plums and spicy black berry fruits waft from the glass. Seamless and round, mineral and tense. Complex notes of creme brûlée, cassis, blueberry and pithy cherries. Full, round, glycerol texture. Lovely mineral, graphite and cherry stone finish. Great expression, showing all the potential to equal the 2015. To be bottled mid-2017. (93-94+/100)
Ashbourne Sandstone 2010, 12 Abv. ~ 76% Sauvignon, 12% Chardonnay, 12% Semillon. Green pea, white chalk spice, yellow grapefruit nuances. Very complex, fleshy texture with attractive cassis leaf and boxwood notes on the finish. (92/100)
Ashbourne Sandstone 2015 ~ Rich, creamy, opulent expression. Round fleshy white citrus fruit concentration with fine freshness and a complex sake-like finish. So much umami! Lovely. (93+/100)
The Capensis Chardonnay is made at a new South African winery owned by Barbara Banke of Jackson Family Wines in USA and South African Anthony Beck, and is produced from vineyards expertly sourced by renowned viticulturalist Rosa Kruger. The wine is produced by Graham Weerts, from vineyards located in Stellenbosch, the Overberg, and the Robertson region.
The maiden vintage 2013 was reviewed several times on this blog…
So I was intrigued to taste a pre-European release sample of the follow-up 2014. But then of course I realised I had already tasted the 2014 in November 2016 as part of the extensive Decanter Magazine’s blind Chardonnay tasting review. Reading my November review and noting the three judges scores, one can really see how this wine has evolved and improved with extra time in bottle over the past 5 months.
Vineyards Used in Capensis…
The Stellenbosch estate of Fijnbosch sits at 1,719 feet in elevation on clay soils with fynbos surrounding the vines, contributing to the Chardonnay’s exceptional natural acidity and complexity.
The Kaaimansgat vineyards in the Overberg, lie at an elevation of 2,484 feet. Impressively remote and resting up in the mountains of the Overberg, the Kaaimansgat vineyard literally translates to “crocodile’s lair” and has long been used in world class examples of Chardonnay from producers like Bouchard Finlayson and more latterly, Leeu Passant.
The final components are sourced from the E. Bruwer vineyard in Robertson, which lies at an elevation of 571 feet in a limestone rich terroir long renowned for producing top Chardonnay grapes.
Capensis Chardonnay 2014, W.O. Western Cape, 14.5 Abv.
This Chardonnay has an alluring lime green tinged lemon yellow glow. Still very youthful, there are initially intensely bold notes of vanilla bean, creme brûlée, and pannacotta cream. In 2014, 50% of the Cuvee was fermented in small French oak barrels (compared to 100% in 2013), with the balance fermented in stainless steel, and the wine is better for it. All the components were aged on their lees, being hand-stirred monthly for 10 months. Once in the glass, more complex aromas of lemon zest, yellow grapefruit and bergamot develop with subtle truffle oil and shiitaki mushroom notes. On the palate, there is certainly creamy breadth from the partial Malo (30 to 50%) which is beautifully balanced by crisp, pithy, crunchy green fruit acids. The fairground toffee apple nuances are still pronounced but should recede into the background as the wine ages, with the saline yellow citrus, lime cordial and dusty minerality becoming more pronounced. Stylistically a very bold, opulent wine that will appeal more to new world Chardonnay connoisseurs than perhaps Burgundy lovers. But I think that’s kind of the point? Nevertheless, in its youth, this wine is classy, seductive and very well made and should impress the fussiest of global Chardonnay drinkers.
Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines have always been all about bottling the great vineyard expressions of site and soils of the Swartland. This week saw the first new vinous additions to the growing Mullineux legacy in the form of Leeu Passant.
The new range consists of two terroir specific Chardonnays and a dry red blend, which is a deconstruction and reconstruction of the venerable Cape wines of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s with almost equal portions of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault and a “modern” twist of Cabernet Franc.With the European Launch of Leeu Passant set to take place in London on the 5th April, when I’ll be in Bordeaux tasting En-primeur 2016 wines, it was fortuitous that I was staying with Chris and Andrea in the Swartland at just the right moment to experience these wines pre-release.
Below are my initial impressions and ratings of this profound new threesome of whites and reds…
Leeu Passant Elandskloof Chardonnay 2015, 14 Abv.
Very rich intense opulent nose, layers of pineapple pastille fruits, green apple and green citrus crunch. All natural ferment with indigenous yeasts, and all natural malolactics. Complex sweet green fruits, subtle creamy oak from 12 months ageing and another 10 months in bottle. The palate is taught, fresh and crunchy, some waxy white peach notes, flinty minerality and a noticeably cool, restrained dry finish. Plenty of power with animated subtlety.
This is a blockbuster wine. Sweet green quince, crunchy pears and pineapple pastille fruits, Bon Bon green apple crunch and subtle hints of struck match reductive complexity and gravelly, saline pithy fruit. Incredible acidity showing real power and drive, and incredible precision. High acid, bottled at 8 TA. Also such subtle, considerate oak use, fine integration of fruit and acids and again, like the Elandskloof version, finishes bone dry and elegantly restrained. A very impressive, complex Meursault’esque Stellenbosch Chardonnay illustrating the grandeur and terroir of this premium SA region. Superb… A must buy for Chardonnay obsessives!
The Wellington Cinsault at 117 years old is the oldest recorded Cinsault vineyard in SA, blended with a more youthful 91 year old vineyard from Franschhoek. The Helderberg Cabernet Sauvignon is 36 years old and the Cabernet Franc 18 to 20 years old. Lovely peppery, spicy leafy nose of plum, peppercorns, sweet bramble berries, hedgerow, bergamot and sappy cherry spice. There’s a real opulent confit fruit character, impressive ripeness, fragrant but simultaneously mineral and restrained. There is also a real dusty granitic vein, a chalky, spicy texture and sweet red currant and raspberry sappy fruit. Punchy, intense, really focused but with real mouthwatering drinkability. Beautifully fine harmonious texture, and tight polished tannins. A true testament to South Africa’s red winemaking heritage. A very classy wine.
(Wine Safari Score: 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Volumes PER wine: Elandskloof Chardonnay ~ 2000 bottles, Stellenbosch Chardonnay ~ 3000 bottles, and 4,000 bottles of Leeu Passant Dry Red.
I drank a beautiful bottle of Pierre Yves Colin Morey Chassagne Montrachet Les Maltroie 2014 on Sunday night, and this beautiful Kistler Les Noisetiers just reminded me of PYCM’s taught, steely, determined Chardonnay style.
I admit an unusual comparison, but these 2013 California Chardonnays, of which I have drunk a few over the past few days, have such cut and tension twinned with pithy lemon and lime intensity and pure limestone minerality. Complete palate austerity… (a good thing!) with so much energy, freshness, and restraint. There is plenty of nervy textural palate richness with a touch of new oak vanilla spice, but I’ve not had a Kistler Chardy this mineral since 2010! Rasping, pithy, mineral and dry… this is so, so classy.
A very interesting first visit in Carneros en route to Sonoma. Ram’s Gate Winery was built in 2011 but have been making wine since 2008. Using a dynamic fruit growing and sourcing philosophy, Ram’s Gate grow approximately 20% of their production and buy in contracted fruit for the remaining 80%.
Ram’s Gate have embraced a fairly unique sales and marketing approach, selling almost all their wines to their “members” and a handful of restaurants in 7 states. None is sold to retailers. There is a very inventive marketing policy as the winery engages with its consumers and doesn’t “sell” wine but prefers to look at their sales policy as “placing wines.” Easy to do when demand outstrips supply.
Wine maker Luke Stanko, runs the show and sincerely expounds his belief in minimalist intervention, terroir focused winemaking. With 12000 cases produced annually, Ram’s Gate is a winery that is rarely quoted by critics and almost never scored, but is most definitely a must visit spot on your way out of San Francisco to Napa. By appointment only, ring ahead to book one of their amazing food and wine matching tastings.
2013 Carneros Chardonnay
13.3 Abv. Only 510 cases of this wine is produced from Clone 4 and Clone 96.
Aged 11 months in one-third new French oak. Real lemon and lime sherbet nose with a subtle lick of butterscotch oak spice. Cool, plush soft textured, showing beautiful harmony, plump lemon fleshiness and cool crisp framing acids. Beautiful elegance with full malo breadth.
(Wine Safari Score: 92+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
2014 Sangiacomo Green Acres Vineyard Carneros Chardonnay
14.6 Abv. 263 cases, Aged 11 months in French oak, 40% new. Made from virused Wente Clone, the aromatics are dominated by green apple Bon bons and liquid grey slate dustiness. Plenty of classical restraint. The palate is where the peacock fans its tail. Rich, intense and ripe, there is textured depth and spicy intensity. Weight and power, with a lemon and green apple pie finish with subtle vanilla pod charisma.
(Wine Safari Score: 93+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
2014 Hyde Vineyard Carneros Chardonnay
15.1 Abv. 793 Cases. Aged 11 months in 40% new French oak. A grand vineyard that shows fine complex aromatic finesse and notes of honey dew melon, cream soda, white peach, honeysuckle, green apple purée and leesy biscuit richness. Broad and powerful concentration, but rich, juicy acids and fine nuanced minerality. Real pedigree evident here.
(Wine Safari Score: 94+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
2013 Carneros Pinot Noir
14.5 Abv. 2,122 cases, Aged 11 months in French oak, 45% new, only one parcel used stems. Very expressive nose bursts with cranberry, pomegranate, red cherry, blood orange and boxwood spice. Also lovely spicy, peppery notes, hedgerow and cinnamon spice. Such plush, seductive textural harmony, potpourri spice infused cherry confit and black berry compote. Very alluring, and inviting.
(Wine Safari Score: 92/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
2014 Gap’s Crown Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.9 Abv. 512 cases, Aged 11 months in 66% new French oak from Clone 777. Very lifted fragrant nose that’s thoroughly graceful and feminine. Intensely perfumed, there is rose water, violets, jasmine and and a complex earthy, forest berry note. Very reminiscent of Marlborough Pinot Noir, the seductive smokey nuances meld with blood orange, macerated cherries, and milk chocolate complexity. Very elegant, powdery tannins that are finely composed, and a real pleasure to drink.
(Wine Safari Score: 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
2014 Bush Crispo Vineyard Russian River Pinot Noir (Sole purchaser of this vineyard)
14.7 Abv. 513 cases, Aged 11 months in 50% new French oak from 115 and Pommard Clones. A more exotic, rich, expression with black berry and plum, mint chocolate and eucalyptus notes. Full, plump and generous, this is beautifully round, harmonious and textural. Plenty of spicy stewed plums, soft sweet tannins, and an opulent, harmonious bramble fruited finish. A real class act.
There are several famous premium “commodity” wines produced in France, none more so than the wines from appellation Chablis. Few other regions other than Savennieres, Jura and perhaps Sancerre and Pouilly Fume, can offer such intense, terroir focused, style specific wines as Chablis. After all, there are many regions in the world that can make great Chardonnay, but none that can make a worthy Chablis lookalike.
But Chablis is in the midst of challenging times, along with many other Burgundy regions. Vintage after vintage of small or reduced crop yields have placed massive pressure on continuity of supply and strained the appellation’s means to sustain listings in all segments of the trade. In 2016 alone, some growers like Simonnet – Febvre saw yields reduced by up to -60% by up to 6 different “plagues” through the season, according to winemaker Jean-Philippe Archambaud, including hail, frost, floods, etc.
So today I was rather appreciative to spend time with Jean-Philippe to taste through his latest vintages from Simonnet-Febvre. Of particular interest to me were a pair of Grand Crus – The Les Clos 2012 fermented 50% in tank and 50% in barrel, and a Blanchot 2011 fermented 100% in oak and also aged 20 months in barrels.
The Les Clos was laden with wet chalk, liquid minerals, dusty limestone, dry bitter lemon, white citrus and dried herbal pineapple nuances. The palate was super elegant, richly concentrated but thoroughly harmonious with bright acids, broad fleshy green tart fruits, salty green apples, steely minerality and a long, classical, classy finish at 13 Abv. (Wine Safari Score: 93/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
The Blanchots 2011 was seductive and fleshy, with an expressive nose of caramelised tinned pineapples, subtle green toffee apple richness, pear purée, and a melange of bruised yellow stone fruits. There was profound intensity and a beautifully expressive, fleshy texture that resonated with chalky calcareous green apple spice, a familiar liquid minerality, bright crunchy green fruits and a real Cotes de Beaune Burgundian weight and complexity. The oak did alter the profile of this wine but it remained so juicy and complex that one could only see it as an attractive component. I could certainly drink a lot of this! (Wine Safari Score: 94/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
The 2015 Chablis wines in general are going to be a slightly lacklustre, pleasant, “restaurant” vintage. If you can find 2014s or indeed some exciting 2012s and 2011s like these Simonnet-Febvre wines, they are worth the time and money. 2016 is going to be almost non-existent and who knows what 2017 holds in store. There are meagre pickings ahead for Chablis.