The Fine Wine Safari Top 10 Most Memorable White South African Wines of 2017…

What a busy year it’s been. No sooner had the smoke from the New Year’s Eve 2017 fireworks cleared then it seemed plans were being made for Christmas lunch 2018. Where did the year go?

Fortunately, I can punctuate my year with some of the exciting wines I have tasted and drunk along the way… and there have been a lot of them. My Top 10 list of whites and reds is not necessarily made up of the 10 highest scoring wines I tasted but is more focused on wines that were very memorable and enjoyable to experience. Inevitably, most of them will be among my highest rated wines of the year.

And the winners are… in no particular order… though I’m starting with Raats Family Wines as a nod of respect to Bruwer Raats for winning the Platter Wine Guide Winery of the Year 2017 Award.

Raats Family Eden High Density Single Vineyard Chenin Blanc 2015 – 96+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

I first tasted the first release 2014 with Bruwer Raats in South Africa at his winery tasting room pre-release. I thought it was knock out good. I couldn’t believe you could make a wine this profound from vines so young (4 or 5 years old back then). Tasting the 2015 merely reinforced Bruwer’s incredible achievement, making another fabulous wine of note from young high density Montpellier Clone plantings of Stellenbosch Chenin Blanc. If the vineyards remain healthy, the mind boggles at the potential quality that might be seen in 15 or 20 years time!

Alheit Family La Colline Semillon 2016 – 97+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Made from vines planted in 1936 on a southern slope at 320 metres in the Franschhoek Valley, this old vine Semillon blended with a little Semillon Gris, is a very profound offering. Such complexity with notes of peaches, beeswax, jasmine, custard pie, tangerines, and yellow citrus. But the wine also manages to remain dense and concentrated yet light on its feet, understated and restrained, classically shaped, but also showing a touch of struck match reduction. I tasted this wine several times, but it was during the Old Vine Project tasting at the South African High Commission in London that this wine really stood out in the same way a Grand Cru white Burgundy would in a tasting of village wines. An amazing winemaker using an amazing vineyard. One of South Africa’s very own Grand Cru expressions.

Sadie Family Old Vine Series ‘T Voetpad 2016 – 97/100 Greg Sherwood MW

While they are all incredible wines, there is always a stand out wine in the Old Vine Series range every year. This year the Kokerboom Semillon and Skurfburg Chenin Blanc were both very impressive but it was the extra depth and complexity of the Voetpad field blend that captivated me. This is a wine that ages incredibly well and previous vintages tasted blind at lunches have been called out as Grand Cru Burgundy before. This is the league in which this wine comfortably sits. Only small quantities are produced and allocations are always small, but it is a wine worth tracking down and spending a few bob on.

Sadie Family Palladius White Blend 2015 – 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW

While we are talking about the incredible talents of Eden Sadie, it seems appropriate to highlight one of his most outstanding achievements. As a part time hobby winemaker myself, I qualified as one of the Masters of Wine who got to cast a vote for the Institute of Masters of Wine’s Winemakers Winemaker Award 2017… which thankfully went to Eben Sadie. I have been voting to Eben for years and it is rewarding that his talents have well and truly been internationally recognised now. So it is fitting that he released what is probably his finest expression of the Palladius White blend to date this year. Tasted again most recently at his masterclass held in London, this is a wine that can hold its own against the greatest whites from around the world. Every connoisseurs’ cellar should have a few cases in it!

Reyneke Natural Chenin Blanc 2016 – 95+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

I have always loved the purity and energy of the biodynamic wines of Reyneke especially the reserve white which often appears in journalists’ top wines of the year lists. This Natural Chenin was a latecomer for me as I did not taste it earlier in the year in South Africa and stock only just arrived in the UK in December. But I reviewed this wine on the Fine Wine Safari site recently and it really blew me away. The energy, intensity, complexity and drinkability really took me by surprise and pleasingly, another Stellenbosch Old Vine Chenin Blanc squeezed its way into my top 10 wines of the year. Well done to Rudiger Gretschel and Johan Reyneke.

David & Nadie Hoe Steen Single Vineyard Chenin Blanc 2016 – 96+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

I feel intimately related to this wine having been one of the Decanter judges on the blind panel that made history and awarded the 2015 Hoe Steen 98/100 and the unofficial Chenin crown. Again, the 2016 like the 2015, was made in tiny quantities and will be sold out before most people even get to hear about it. But this is a wine and a vineyard site that is being made into something really great by the gentle giant David Sadie (no relation to Eben Sadie). Together with his wife Nadia, they are producing some of the top white and red wines in South Africa. If you can’t get your hands on the Hoe Steen or his other Single Vineyard Chenin Blanc Skaliekop, then just buy his amazing regular David & Nadia Chenin Blanc. Another successful year for this lovely couple.

Thorne & Daughters Paper Kite Semillon 2016 – 96+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Another of my favourite producers in South Africa, everything John Seccombe touches seems to turn into something magical, none more so than his Paper Kite Semillon old vine white. With all their successes, it is hard to believe John and Tasha Seccombe only started their winery in 2012. Funnily enough, I tasted this wine earlier in the year in March with John and proclaimed at the time that this wine could already be a candidate for my top 10 whites of the year. Nothing has changed since then and along with the Alheit La Colline, remains one of the most tantalising expressions of this varietal in South Africa.

Leeu Passant Stellenbosch Chardonnay 2015 – 95+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

It’s safe to say a lot of planning and hard work went into the sourcing of suitable fruit and the subsequent production of this amazing wine. But of course, Chris and Andrea Mullineux don’t do things by half measure. Released earlier this year to great acclaim, the Leeu Passant range consists of two Chardonnays and one red blend. Just in the same way I love to taste profound Chenin Blanc from Stellenbosch, after all the headline stealing wines from the Swartland, so too is it rewarding to taste a great Stellenbosch Chardonnay in the face of incredible upstarts and challengers from top wineries in Elgin and the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley. This is a delicious wine and yet another success story for this winemaking power couple based in the Swartland.

(A previous deconstructed vintage label)

Kershaw Wines Deconstructed Chardonnay Bokkeveld Shales CY548 2016 – 96+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Talking of upstarts from Elgin… Richard Kershaw MW has turned the world of New World Chardonnay on its head and succeeded in producing one of, if not the most profound examples ever seen from South Africa. His deconstructed range takes the terroir and clonal components of his main Kershaw Wines Chardonnay and bottles small amounts of them individually to illustrate the unique character and winemaking results of the soils and clones on their own. This version is spellbinding, with nuances harking back to the greatest Premier Cru vineyards of Meursault in Burgundy. Almost impossible to buy now, but if you come across this wine via the internet or on a restaurant list, pay the money and drink this profound wine. It could change your life!

Patatsfontein Old Vine Steen Montagu Chenin Blanc 2016 – 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW

2016 was the second of what looks like being four years of difficult drought vintages in South Africa… 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018. After a wet winter, the 2015 whites had plenty of water reserves to ripen wonderfully healthy fruit and the resulting wines have been every bit the expected block busters. So it was with great surprise that I tasted and rated this 2016 Chenin Blanc from Reenen Borman even more highly than the delicious 2015. A masterful, intelligent winemaker, Reenen has crafted a real gem from this Montagu vineyard. If the partnership involved in producing this wine can retain the vineyard fruit contract in Montagu, drinkers will be in for several more years of incredible Chenin Blanc treats from Patatsfontein.

So those were my Top 10 Most Memorable Whites of 2017. As it’s not based on scores, it becomes a very much more subject exercise. Wine is based on enjoyment and sharing experiences with friends. These experiences in turn hopefully become treasured memories.

Watch out for my high powered “Top 10 Most Memorable South African Reds of 2017” coming soon as well as “My Year in Wine 2017 in Pictures.”

Merry Christmas! 🎅🏼

The World’s Greatest Expression of Vineyard Terroir? Tasting Domaine Dauvissat’s 1er Cru Chablis 2015…

All Chablis lovers know that Raveneau and Dauvissat are the two most sought after quality Chablis producers in the region. 2015 was of course a warmer season with summer temperatures touching 40 degrees Celsius at times.

But all the wines I’ve tasted from Dauvissat express such great purity and sense of place and there is certainly no shortage of acidity. Other than his small amounts of Les Preuses and Les Clos, his La Forest must be one of the finest examples of this vineyard in Chablis.

Forets (alternatively titled La Forest) is a Premier Cru climat on the western side of the Serein river in Chablis. Located on a south-facing hill of high-quality Kimmeridgian soils just a few miles southwest of Chablis town, Forets produces elegant, steely wines from the Chardonnay grape variety.

The wine features the usual 10% to 15% of new oak without ever blurring the wines mineral focus. Not easy to get your hands on, but certainly worth the effort to do so!

Domaine René et Vincent Dauvissat Chablis 1er Cru la Forest 2015, Burgundy, 13 Abv.

The 2015 Chablis 1er Cru la Forest is a very sexy white wine indeed. From a warmer less steely vintage than 2014, this follow up effort is thoroughly delicious showing a overt nose of white blossom, wet stones, struck flint, wet chalk, bruised green granny smith apples, ripe quince, dried oregano herbal notes and mature yellow orchard fruits. Such complex aromatics. The palate has wonderful precision and focus and incredible purity with just enough wound spring acid tension to counter balance the waxy, peppery green apple and quince fruit notes. This is a fabulous effort from Dauvissat with impressive concentration, textural harmony and honest terroir typicity. A real beacon to high quality Chablis. Drink now to 2028+

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

Great Chablis is unbeatable with Oysters!

Julien Schaal’s Confluence Chardonnay 2016 Recognized at the Platter 5 Star Awards… 

I have been a long time follower of Julien Schaal’s amazing wines from both Alsace as well as South Africa. Always over delivering in quality terms and offering great value for money, Julien upped the ante in 2014 with the launch of three single vineyard Chardonnay whites: Evidence (Elgin), Confluence (Hemel-en-Aarde), and Renaissance (Elandskloof).


While they are all absolutely delicious terroir specific wines, the Evidence Elgin Chardonnay has always been my perennial favourite. This year however, it was Julien’s Hemel-en-Aarde Confluence Chardonnay 2016 that deservedly cracked him his first 5 Star Platter Wine Guide award. A massive achievement for this young, talented French winemaker, it can only be the beginning of new heights that will surely be reached in coming vintages. 


Julien Schaal Confluence Chardonnay 2016, Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, 13 Abv.

From another drought vintage, this beautiful 2016 shows an opulent lifted nose with real concentration and intense aromatics of sweet honeysuckle, orange blossom, mango peel, lemon and orange rind, and a complex, mineral undertone of wet slate and crushed granite, expertly embellished with brûléed vanilla oak spice, toffee apple and waxy green apple nuances. However impressive the nose is, the palate offers up threefold more. Sculptured acids frame the lush, intense, concentrated citrus fruit flavours, showing layers of lemon marmalade, caramelised oranges, barley sugar, lemongrass spice and pithy apple puree. Rich and fresh, piercing and taught, this wine seems to have it all. Intensity, balance and such mouthwatering length. Well done Julien, this is a truly accomplished Hemel-en-Aarde Chardonnay. Drink now to 2028+

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

The Crystalline Beauty of English Still Wine – Tasting the Court Garden Ditchling White 2016…

It might just be me, it might just be my palate, but I really do enjoy the light, crystalline freshness and tart acidity of well made English still wines. Often written off as an after thought in comparison to the numerous prestigious sparkling wines taking the nation by storm, I have for years been a dissenting voice, challenging the notion that English still wines are frivolous and have no real future. 


This week I was drinking another juicy effort made by Court Garden in East Sussex. In Saxon times the farm was known as the Manor of Ditchling Garden, and from the Middle Ages onwards, it was held by the monks at the priory in Lewes. After the Reformation it was owned by the crown, which is when it became known as Court Garden. 


Established in 2005, Court Garden Vineyard is a family run 6.8 hectare single-estate mainly planted with Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier. In 2008 they added Pinot Gris, Ortega, Dornfelder and Rondo. The vineyards are situated on an attractive south facing slope with the South Downs as a scenic back drop.


Court Garden Ditchling White Blend 2016, East Sussex, 11.5 Abv.

An accomplished little white from the East Sussex countryside. A blend of 75% Chardonnay, 13% Pinot Gris, and 12% Ortega. Following good summer ripening the Chardonnay was barrel fermented in French oak before being blended. First impressions are of an intense, aromatic, crisp, crunchy green fruited white full of brightness, limey zest, green Granny Smith apples, a touch of white peach and expressive, yellow grapefruit citrus depth. The longer it sits in the glass, the more it broadens and fleshes out. Beautiful clarity, crystalline purity, and impressive underlying stony, chalky minerality. Must be a perfect aperitif style or certainly a very fine seafood / shellfish wine match. Delicious, more’ish and energetically fresh, drink now and over the next 2-3 years. 

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

Extreme Passion and Precision – Exploring the Cult Wines of Paul Lato from Santa Maria, California…

From his experience of tasting the finest wines from around the world when he was a head sommelier, Paul Lato realised all the greatest wines possessed characteristics of authenticity, harmony, and of course elegance. These are the qualities he set about trying to achieve when he started making wines in California. His ultimate goal was to create wines that are seamless and textural but with enough structure and balance to complement fine cuisine.


In order to make wines of the highest calibre, Paul selected unique vineyards that are cared for by talented growers and vineyard managers committed to excellence. He sought to locate and source from not only the best vineyards but also the best blocks within each of these vineyards, a tough ask with demand outstripping supply from the very best growers. During the growing season, yields are restricted to achieve maximum concentration of flavour. Harvesting is always based on physiological ripeness, which changes depending on the vintage characteristics.

Cellar work is based on minimal intervention, cleanliness and purity of intention. Because every vintage is different, he does not believe in recipe winemaking. With due respect to science, Paul believes that “true artisanal winemaking is based on intuition, sensitivity and passion”. Keeping the lots small allows for gentle handling throughout the winemaking process.

Making only 4000 cases per year, Paul wants his wines to give pleasure and keep the drinkers palate interested until the very last drop from the bottle. Inevitably, with his high level of attention to detail and quality focus, his wines have garnered high scores from the critics and resulted in a massive cult following, with 90% of his wines produced being sold exclusively through his Paul Lato Wine Club.

Paul Lato Le Souvenir Sierra Madre Vineyard Chardonnay 2015, 13.9 Abv.

A classic Chardonnay which comes from 22 year old Wente clone vines, shows subtle creamy lemon and nutty brûléed citrus fruit lift. Lemon blossom, grapefruit confit and caramel peanut brittle and vanilla bean complexity are all there just teasing the senses. A youthful palate shows nerve, intensity, creamy barley sugar and toffee apple freshness. Intense flavours but nothing over done. Beautiful texture, deliciously vibrant acids, and a subtle minerality lurking beneath the fruit. A very serious multi-dimensional wine that’s also very finely focused. 

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

 

Paul Lato Atticus John Sebastiano Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015, Santa Rita Hills, 14.2 Abv.

Tight intense focused aromatics of black cherry, pomegranate, red tart plums, cranberry and savoury baking spice. Plenty of exotic brûléed notes, intense red fruit layers and peppery, seductive flavours. Sleek, elegant mouthfeel, mouth watering fresh acids, a sweet & sour plummy touch, blood oranges and plenty of bright salty, bramble berry fruit nuances. The ethereal Burgundian lacy texture is most impressive. Fabulous wine.

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

 

Paul Lato il Padrino Bien Nacido Vineyard Syrah 2014, Santa Rita Hills, 15.4 Abv.

Dense, opulent show stopper style immediately evident. Massive intensity, perfume and fragrance showing cherry blossom, sweet jasmine, blueberry muffin, coffee bean, sweet expensive oak spice and dusty, mineral limestone complexity. Super plush, broad and intense, the acids build a sturdy frame from which the exotic fruit finery is displayed. Big, bold, well executed expression with incredible finesse, polish and precision.

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

 

The Bizios Estate in Greece’s Nemea Region Releases Another Magical White Blend…

Elias Bizios is the owner of a wonderful estate in Asproskampos, known to the locals as “little Tuscany” in Nemea, Greece. Here Elias farmed a small patch of vineyards but always found it difficult to make a living with such a small production. So it was always his ambition to acquire additional adjoining vineyard holdings to increase his production. 


In 2016, Wimbledon Wine Cellar owned by Andrew Pavli and based in London, purchased an additional 3 hectares of prime Malagousia and Chardonnay vineyards with view to enlarging the total production at the Bizios Estate. This increased production has now come to fruition with the release of the new 2016 white blend modelled predominantly around the Malagouzia grape. With premium Greek wines once again riding high in the global wine trade, this is a super addition for enthusiasts.


Bizios Aspros Kampos Chardonnay Malagouzia Blend 2016, Nemea, Greece, 13 Abv.

An attractive white blend matured in oak barrels that opens with a fairly classical melody of summer fruits but very soon builds to a vibrant complex crescendo. The aromatics are crystalline and pure with pear drops, apple bon bons, honeydew melon and dusty, musky, citrus stick candy complexity. The flavours follow quite precisely to the palate, which shows such intensity, concentration and seductive candied apple fruit depth. Lovely melon fruit complexity, exotic caramelised green and yellow citrus fruits and delicious confectionary shop notes on a palate with harmonious integrated freshness and a lingering subtle apple sherbet persistence. 

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

Graham Beck – In Good Company with Pieter ‘bubbles’ Ferreira and Some Great Bottles of Fizz…

I had been looking forward to my lunch tasting date with Pieter ‘Bubbles’ Ferreira for many weeks. The opportunity to discuss Method Cap Classique (MCC) and Champagne intricacies with one of South Africa’s best winemakers is always a privilege … and of course MCC was my topic of choice for my Master of Wine dissertation completed back in 2007. 

New 2011 Cuvee Clive MCC release
On this trip, Pieter and Graham Beck Export Manager Kobie were on their well rehearsed mission to share the diversity and opportunities that great MCC offers with fine cuisine food matching. 


Expertly conceived and delivered, I can’t think of a better way to promote super premium sparkling wines than this. Well done chaps! Great wines and a wonderful occasion.

Graham Beck Cuvee Clive 2011 Brut, 12.5 Abv. 

This excellent 76% Chardonnay / 24% Pinot Noir prestige cuvee blend spent 6 years on its lees and was created from 120 micro-vinified parcels of fruit from Robertson and Graham Beck’s Firgrove farm in Stellenbosch. This new release shows fantastic lemon cream biscuit and seductive brioche notes, lemon rind, salty briney intensity and subtle wet chalk and savoury lemony sourdough complexity. Such subtlety, interwoven, nuanced blossom fruit and limestone minerality. The palate breadth and depth is tantalising, with tingling acids dancing across the tongue but tempered by rich creamy brioche, and leesy, dusty mineral restraint. Beautiful pin point focus, delicate maritime salty kelp and salt marsh umami notes, and a very long, intense, focused finished. This is a benchmark sparkling wine in every possible way and a phenomenal follow-up to both the 2009 and 2010 Cuvee Clive vintages. Pieter Bubbles Ferreira is a veritable genius! 

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

Burrata, caviar, confit lemon, fennel

Prawn pain perdu, cucumber relish, tarragon with Graham Beck Brut Zero 2011
Ayrshire beef chateaubriand, truffled potato with Graham Beck Vintage Rose 2012

Gooseberry posset, Gin sorbet and Graham Beck Brut NV

Great to be joined by Gary and Cathy Jordan from Jordan Winery in SA