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)

Another Fantastic Charitable Colaboration Between Schalk Burger, Sporting Wine Club and the My Name’5 Doddie Foundation – Tasing the Doddie’5 Cap Classique…

In 2020, during the dark days of the pandemic, ex-international rugby players Kenny Logan, Simon Halliday and Schalk Burger Snr. decided to create a wine to help in the fight against MND, in the name of MyName5Doddie Foundation. The Doddie5 was born and this amazing red blend (5 grape varieties) has been enjoyed throughout the UK, raising significant funds for the Foundation.

Then came the sad news of Rob Burrow’s MND diagnosis, and the 7&5 Gin was created reflecting his and Doddie’s rugby shirt numbers. This raised more funds and awareness of their commitment to research to combat this disease. Now Sporting Wine Club brings you the third project, the Doddie’5 Cap Classique Brut Blanc de Blancs.

Welbedacht Wine Estate may be more renowned for their bold, premium reds but it’s a slightly better kept secret that they actually produce some excellent Cap Classique or Method Champenoise-styled bottle fermented sparkling wines from the Cape. Normally produced under the Mon Rene Blanc de Blancs Brut label, Welbedacht have offered their sparkling wine expertise to produce the latest creation in the Doddie’5 charitable range. A project worthy of every sportsman’s support!

Doddie’5 Cap Classique Brut by Welbedacht Wines, Schalk Burger & Sons, WO Western Cape, 12% Abv.

An alluring pale gold colour with a vibrant energetic mousse, the aromatics are seductively complex boasting layers of dusty white citrus, green Granny Smith apples, warm buttered brioche and honey glazed pastries. Produced as a pure varietal Chardonnay, this Brut Cap Classique has all the sourdough, lemon biscuit and leesy savoury white toast nuances that make traditional bottle fermented sparkling wines so tantalisingly appealing, suitable not only for celebrations but also food and wine pairing. The palate is sophisticated and elegant with a beautifully creamy mouse, a fresh mouth watering acidity that adds extra structure to the mouthfeel, finishing with hints of chalky minerality, lemon peel and white peach bon bons. A classical expression that will seduce a lot of fizz drinkers. Drink now and over the next 2 to 3+ years.

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

Wines are available from Sporting Wine Club in the UK at £24.95 per bottle inc.

https://sportingwineclub.com/product/cap-classique/

Anthony and Olive Hamilton Russell Showcase their Exciting New Oregon Wines in Cape Town…

This is an exciting wine project I have been hearing about for the past few years from winemaker Emul Ross as well as its proprietors Anthony and Olive Hamilton Russell every time I met up with them in either Cape Town or London. But this year also marked the release of their maiden offering of their new Oregon Chardonnay 2019 produced from the Maple Grove Vineyard in the Willamette Valley AVA, joining their premium Eola-Amity Hills AVA Pinot Noir.

During a quiet moment of the Cape Wine 2022 trade fair, I met up with Anthony and Olive to taste their new Chardonnay and Pinot Noir over a quick lunch. As we sat there discussing this exciting Oregon project, photos of the new Chardonnay 2022 harvest fortuitously started popping up on Olive’s phone, sent by Emul Ross as they had just commenced picking in the Willamette Valley.

Tasting the new Oregon releases in Cape Town with Anthony and Olive Hamilton Russell in October 2022.

Sadly, these wines are not yet available in the UK or in the South African market but are available in 21 different US states through Vineyard Brands. But judging from the excellent quality, I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before some stock finds its way out of the USA!

Hamilton Russell Oregon Maple Grove Vineyard Chardonnay 2019, Willamette Valley AVA, 13.8% Abv.

1.9g/l RS | 5.70g/l TA | 3.40pH

Maiden vintage and second crop from this Jackson Family owned Maple Grove single vineyard Chardonnay. South West of Salem, from an area due to become a new AVA, just south of the Van Duzer corridor. Pure Clone 95 in 2019, this wine was fermented with the Hamilton Russell’s own indigenous yeasts and was then aged in 34% first fill and 66% third fill Francois Freres barrels. The nose displays fabulous creamy leesy lemon biscuit notes, vibrant layers of waxy yellow citrus and a saline, stony minerality. The palate shows a fabulous lemon butter opulence, a honied leesy savoury complexity and a broad, soft, harmonious, fine boned persistent finish. Very classy, nuanced and pure. Fruit from a great terroir shaped and nurtured by the winemakers hand. More porcelain than pottery. Drink now and over 5 to 8+ years.

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

286 x 6 cases produced and exclusively sold in 21 states in the USA at circa $65pb. Vegan friendly. Distributed by USA Vineyard Brands.

Hamilton Russell Oregon Zena Crown Pinot Noir 2019, Eola-Amity Hills AVA, 13.3% Abv.

1.2g/l RS | 5.30g/l TA | 3.58pH

A classically orientated style of Pinot Noir aged for 14 months in 1st fill 23%, 2nd fill 30% and 3rd fill 47% French Francois Freres oak barrels. The aromatics are very exotic and seductive boasting delicate red and black cherry fruits, cranberry, pomegranate and hints of foresty bramble berry and wild strawberry. The palate is beautifully cool and sleek, light on its feet and finely textured with a real light touch elegance, a stony volcanic minerality and delicate silky tannins with an aspirational grandeur. Just love the effortless beauty of this wine. Plenty of appeal here for Burgundy lovers. Drink now and over the next 8+ years.

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

565 x 6 cases produced and exclusively sold in 21 states in the USA at circa $85pb. Distributed by USA Vineyard Brands.

Tasting the Impressive New 2022 Creation Winery Releases With Owners JC and Carolyn Martin…

Probably one of the most important developments in the South African wine industry over the past 30 years has been the success of selecting the most suitable vineyard sites for the correct variety, leading to regions like Stellenbosch being dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon, the Swartland by Syrah and Rhone varieties, Constantia Valley by Sauvignon Blanc and of course Walker Bay and the three Hemel-en-Aarde wards by Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. You can use the best vine material and the best cellar techniques, but if the variety is not suited to its planted site, quality will inevitably be capped.

JC and Carolyn Martin, the owners of the Creation winery situated in the picturesque Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge ward, are synonymous with the production of world class Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and bought their original 22 hectares of virgin land in the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge and completed their cellar in time for their 2007 harvest. Their Walker Bay estate has grown since then and now encompasses 50 hectares planted with over 11 varieties, but focused mainly on the production of premium Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

I recently caught up with JC and Carolyn over a zoom tasting session hosted in London by Dr Winifred Bowman CWM.

White Wine Flight:

Creation Reserve Chardonnay 2020, WO Walker Bay, 13.5% Abv.

Shows an impressively complex aromatics array of vanilla pod and yellow citrus, where sea breeze and rock salt nuances mingle with hints of reduction, struck flint and tart green melon. The palate shows fabulous freshness, tension and intensity of savoury yellow citrus with hints of leesy lemon biscuits, vanilla pod and a tart apple strudel complexity. Lovely crystalline freshness and an impressive dry, mineral finish. Very difficult to fault this delicious Chardonnay. Drink now and over 10+ years.

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

Art of Chardonnay

Made from 18 year old vines in 2020, only 2,150 bottles were produced. Main soils here are bokkeveld shale with a seam of quartz. Whole berry pressed, unfiltered, straight out of the press made possible with very healthy fruit. It was then fermented in 228 litre French oak barrels with circa 30% new blonde barrels using much more solids than previously. No Battonage on the Art of Chardonnay with also 100% malolactic fermentation. Earlier picking and using the juice straight out the press represent the biggest changes in production.

Creation Art of Chardonnay 2020, WO Walker Bay, 13.5% Abv.

1.8 g/l RS | 6.9 g/l TA | 3.16 pH

Aged 10 months in 30% new, 70% second fill. 50/50 wild yeast and inoculated portions. Dense, rich creamy leesy oak profile, there is massive depth and breadth on the aromatics with lemon butter, dried herbs, tarte tatin, caramelised apples and delicious savoury biscuity notes. The palate is taut and steely with a real malic-styled tension despite the 100% malo. The massive focus and intensity of the aromatics follow to palate which shows impressive linearity, cool yellow citrus pastille and a tantalising stony minerality of limestone with a kiss of spearmint on the finish. Power packed and almost overwhelming at this youthful moment, this is good for ageing in the cellar for at least 3 to 5 years before opening. Seriously impressive world class Chardonnay expression.

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

Creation Glenn’s Chardonnay 2020, WO Walker Bay, 13.75% Abv. 

1.7 g/l RS | 7.0 g/l TA | 3.14 pH

Aged for 10 months in 50% new, 50% second fill barrels. With fruit coming from the Art of Chardonnay grape selection, this is merely the wild yeast fermentation portion. The result is a noticeably more earthy, savoury, leesy expression with subtle hints of struck flint reductive notes, limestone minerality, grilled herbs, sourdough and lemon brioche nuances. The palate is more supple and fleshy than the Art 2020 with a glycerol breadth and depth while all the while being kept in check by racy, tangy acids. Beautiful lemon and lime cordial notes lead to a long, intense, finish that has more in common with Chassagne Montrachet or Puligny Montrachet than anything from the New World. Really very impressive indeed. (600 bottles produced.)

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

Creation Art of Chardonnay 2021, WO Walker Bay, 13.5% Abv.

1.6 g/l RS | 6.3 g/l TA | 3.4 pH

Aged for 10 months in oak, 30% new and 70% second fill. A softer and more accessible expression with slightly lower earlier picked percentage as well as slightly lower acids on the Chardonnay grapes at picking. Plenty of delicious ripe lemon peel, pineapple pastille, grapefruit and a subtle lemon biscuit complexity with a kiss of herbs, vanilla pod and dusty gravel minerality. The texture is noticeably softer, riper and fleshier with lemon butter, grilled herbs and lemon rind but still retains beautifully pure, crystalline acids together with a pithy minerality. Very impressive but should be ready to drink before the 2020 Art.

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

Red Wine Flight:

Creation Art of Pinot Noir 2019, WO Walker Bay, 13.5% Abv.

3.1 g/l RS | 5.5 g/l TA | 3.50 pH

60-65% whole bunch on the wine which really shows on the aromatics with elevated notes of chalk board duster, sappy spice and a freshly cut hedge row spice before waves of black bramble berry, mulberry and black currant rise to the fore. The palate is soft and harmonious with a very relaxed feel, boasting sappy leafy black berry note, beautifully supple tannins and a deliciously integrated freshness. Sappy and savoury suggests this is ready to drink now and over the next 8 to 10 years. (3,500 bottles produced.)

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

Creation Art of Pinot Noir 2020, WO Walker Bay, 13.2% Abv. 

Already showing a pronounced leafy, grape skin aromatics with sappy sweet phenolic notes, dried herbs and layers of graphite and crushed limestone minerality. Supple and soft on the palate, there is an impressive elegance and finesse leading to impressive textural balance and harmony. Good to go now.

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

Creation Art of Pinot Noir 2021, WO Walker Bay, 13.6% Abv. 

80% whole bunch portion in the wine shows through beautiful spice on the nose intermingled with a sweet bramble berry wildness, dried herbs, crushed stone minerality and black plum intensity. The palate is texturally very attractive with a sublime balance, creamy black berry fruits, exotic wild herb nuances and harmoniously integrated acids. Benchmark premium Pinot Noir quality!

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

Tesselaarsdal Releases Their Most Impressive Chardonnay Vintage Yet…

The Tesselaarsdal wine brand was founded in 2015 by long-standing Hamilton Russell Vineyards employee Berene Sauls and was named after the historic Overberg farming hamlet of Tesselaarsdal, which lies inland from the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge wine appellation where Berene sources all her grapes.

The maiden release of the Tesselaarsdal Chardonnay was only the 2019 and already within three vintages, Berene has managed to fine tune the style of this wine to show the best of a very fine, cool vintage in 2021. Extreme care is taken to ensure that this small-production classically Old World-styled Chardonnay expresses the terroir of the cool maritime Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge fruit sourced from un-irrigated vines grown at elevation on stony clay and iron-rich soils.

Tesselaarsdal Chardonnay 2021, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, 13% Abv.

This is a supremely elegant, taut mineral expression of cool climate Chardonnay with classically restrained aromatics of green pear, Granny Smith apple, crushed gravel, dried green herbs and hints of white citrus and tangerine peel. Like the subtle aromatics, the palate shows incredible tension and vibrancy but again without overt obvious opulence. This wine is a masterclass in elegance and restraint showing a cool, lean, crystalline palate built around minerality, electric acids, and a lean old world elegance. This is undoubtedly next level quality and intensity for the Tesselaarsdal Chardonnay. Drink this taut focused effort now and over the next 8+ years. Really impressive.

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

Lokaia Wines – A Project Exploring the Exotic Side of the Franschhoek Ward: Tasting Their New Chardonnay 2020…

Clayton Reabow of Môreson and Craig McNaught of Stony Brook winery are the winemakers behind this new innovative Franschhoek-based label and the owners of the Lokaia brand. It was their belief that there was more to explore in the potential of the Franschhoek Valley with varieties like Semillon, Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc that led to a new exciting range of wines.

The name “Lokaia” is derived from Ole Lukøje, the title of a fairy tale by author Hans Christian Andersen about the God of Dreams, and I’m sure neither Clayton nor Craig could have imagined (or dreamt) the level of acclaim to which their two new whites and one red wine would be received by the market, both locally in South Africa and internationally.

Track these exciting wines down. They are very well made, offer classical fine wine drinking pleasure and are something just a little bit different to the mainstream offerings on the market. (Available in the UK through importer Museum Wines)

Lokaia The Sandman Valley Floor Amphora Chardonnay 2020, WO Franschhoek, 12% Abv.

Made from from a Chardonnay vineyard located at Môreson winery located on the Franschhoek valley floor, this is certainly a characterful and dynamic Chardonnay that is impressive on multiple levels. The aromatics are pure and stony, alluring, boasting complex notes of dried green baking herbs, white citrus zest and waxy lemon peel nuances. Considering its meagre but refreshing 12% alcohol, the wine shows impressive mouthfeel and texture, a lovely liquid minerality, hints of limestone and oyster shell, lemon pith and green pear. Despite the fermentation and subsequent maceration on its skins for two months in a 500 litre clay amphora, this wine shows clarity and poise, zippy fresh acids and a real sense of confidence, purity and harmony. Comparisons to 1er Cru Chablis will be inevitable but that is hardly a negative. A wonderfully skilful wine that breaks with tradition! Drink now to 2026+.

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

Crystallum Prepares for the Release of Two Eye-Catching Premium Chardonnays in Mid-2022…

I was lucky enough to catch up with Peter-Allan Finlayson for a lovely tasting and lunch last year on his spontaneous blink-of-an-eye visit to the UK to touch base with the wine trade (and also take in the Springboks versus Scotland rugby game at Murrayfield). So it was an extra special treat to hear that Peter-Allan would be over again in January to preview a few new vintages due to be released onto the market in May/June 2022.

Peter-Allan’s Crystallum wines are in the enviable position of being quite tightly allocated to start with and generally selling out nationally four to five months into the 12 month calendar. But his wines have earnt their quality reputation vintage after vintage and are sold at very moderate prices considering the quality and market demand. Getting an early look-in at new vintages thus becomes a very valuable exercise every year.

Crystallum Agnes Chardonnay 2021, WO Western Cape, 13% Abv.

Peter-Allan Finlayson describes the 2021 Agnes as a wine with great delicacy, elegance and a lithe light touch crystalline purity. Indeed, this wine is incredibly sleek with fabulous zesty aromatics of lemon and lime biscuits, dusty grey slate and hints of honeydew melon. On the palate, the wine is beautifully elegant and pure boasting boiled lemon bon bons candy, white peach and a subtle salty, leesy, savoury complexity on the finish. Lovely precision, light-touch intensity and concentration of flavour on the long, linear, persistent finish. An understated wine that will appeal to sophisticated drinkers. Drink on release and over 5 to 8+ years.

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

Crystallum Single Vineyard Ferrum Chardonnay 2021, WO Overberg, 13% Abv.

The grapes for the second release of Ferrum Chardonnay are sourced from a one hectare slice of 12 year old vines located within a seven hectare vineyard block on iron rich soils that lies just three kilometres beyond the Creation Winery (in the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge) at Shaw’s Mountain in the Overberg. The other six hectares were planted by Peter-Allan more recently and currently go into the Agnes Chardonnay cuvee. The original part of the vineyard was based around Sauvignon Blanc vines that were field grafted over to Chardonnay. The aromatics show seductive lactic lemony tangerine notes of yellow citrus pastille, subtle salted toffee and delicate vanilla wood spice nuances over a flinty minerality. The palate is full, crystalline and finely balanced with a plush textural glycerol mouthfeel displaying hints of caramelised lemons, lime peel, lemon biscuits and salted vanilla ice cream on the finish. Another very impressive pinpoint, seamless expression of Chardonnay from Crystallum. Production is tiny so the challenge is always to track down a few precious bottles that you can drink on release or over 10+ years.

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

Breaking the Glass Ceiling – Tasting the Impressive Restless River Ava Marie Chardonnay 2019…

The picturesque Restless River farm is situated in the cool Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley. The soils are granite based and the vineyards are positioned mid-slope at an elevation of 850ft. The cold South Atlantic Ocean is only 5km away and acts as a dominant cooling influence which contributes to fruit purity and fresh acidities. Craig and Anne Wessel’s site-specific Chardonnay bears the name of its 2.06 hectare vineyard and is registered as an official Single Vineyard site. The slopes are mostly south and east facing with shallow top soils which vary from iron rich rocks to a light, sandy gravel. Below this is decomposed granite, clay and quartz crystals which all help shape the unique minerality of the wine.

Specific parcels within the vineyard were hand-picked over a period of three weeks in February. The grapes were immediately placed, whole bunch, into an old Vaslin basket press. After a gentle four hour squeeze, the oxidised juice was settled overnight, then racked into a variety of different sized French oak barrels (10% new) and unlined terracotta amphora from Tuscany. Natural fermentation took up to 30 days, after which sulphur was added for the first time and the wine was then aged, sur lie, for 11 months. The wine was given a light fining before being racked into a stainless steel tank, where it rested for a further three months before bottling. The wine was bottle aged for 18 months before release.

Restless River Ava Marie Chardonnay 2019, WO Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, 13% Abv.

6.53 TA | 1.47 RS | 3.20 pH | 0.38 VA

The 2019 Ava Marie is a very impressive creation indeed. While many of the earlier vintages were a little more honied and resinous quite early in their evolution, the last few vintages have firmly moved in a direction that favours textural tension and a stonier minerality led by aromatics loaded with smoky, flinty, struck match reduction nuances, waxy lemon peel, wet chalk and subtle oat meal leesy notes. On the palate there is a very keen line of acidity together with an ample, fleshy, yellow citrus fruit freshness that boast layers of pithy yellow grapefruit, lemon cordial, crunchy white peaches and hints of sophisticated wet river pebble liquid minerality. One of Craig’s most Burgundian expressions to date, this wine combines fabulous tension with sublime balance. If you are a Chardonnay lover, not a liker, track this one down while you can. Drink now and over the next 8 to 10 years. (9,634 bottles produced.)

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

Samantha Suddons Hits the Big Time with Her New VineVenom Cap Classique Thriller…

The world of wine, like life itself, can be a topsy turvy world of highs and lows. Perhaps it’s simply the yin and yang of life? So, after a few tumultuous years of change, Samantha Suddons, the once partner and shareholder in the now temporarily mothballed Terracura Wines project, has finally released her very own labour of love – a Method Cap Classique sparkling wine aged for over 5 years on its lees before disgorgement.

I met up with Samantha in London recently to unpick the mystery behind her new VineVenom label that was launched recently in South Africa. Her first wine under the brand is a killer Cap Classique sparkler from the 2015 vintage that she has labelled Serenade. 2015 you may ask? Well, if you know anything about Sam, you will know she is a Champagne and sparkling wine obsessive and while some have questioned how she managed to suddenly release a six year old MCC, the answer is simply that this was a passion project that was never really meant for commercial day of light, producing a wine made from the 2015 vintage which was originally intended for home consumption and sharing with friends.

But having recently disinvested from the Terracura Wines business, and looking for a new project, the VineVenom brand seemed the obvious next step. The maiden wine, a MCC blend of 68% Chardonnay, 18% Pinot Noir and 14% Pinot Meunier from grapes bought in cool climate Elgin, the wine spent five years on its lees and received zero dosage. The wine was disgorged in November 2020, saw no malolactic fermentation and no oak treatment and was bottled with a 2.5 g/l RS.

VineVenom Serenade 2015 Cap Classique, WO Elgin, 12.3% Abv.

The wine shows a lovely creamy explosive mousse with a fine bubble, lovely bright tangy acids and a complex bouquet of green apple skins, grilled almonds, cardamom and spicy white citrus. The palate is full and expansive, tangy and fresh with sweet and sour acids, layers of citrus, yellow grapefruit, lemon cream biscuits, crunchy green apples and a long, dry, saline picante finish. Very impressive depth of fruit but also beautiful complexity, electric vibrancy and a stony cool climate minerality on the finish. A thoroughly accomplished wine that will titillate fellow Champagne and sparking wine devotees. (1,600 bottles produced.)

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

Sadly, as yet, there is no follow up Cap Classique to the 2015 maiden vintage. But fear not! Samantha has been busy at work producing an impressive dry Carignan / Touriga Nacional 2020 Rose, a rather premium tasting Swartland Flor Contact Chenin Blanc 2020 as well as a delicious, Vin de Soif styled Swartland 60% Syrah / 40% Touriga Nacional Rosado 2021. I tasted newly bottled samples of all of the above and they were seriously impressive. I look forward to reviewing them properly in due course closer to release. The empire building has begun in earnest.

Draaiboek Wines Releases Their Second Vintage of the Onskuld Chardonnay 2020 From the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge…

Draaiboek wines is a name that might be new to many. Though I did review the maiden release 2019, this is essentially a new wine company that was created by five friends who met while studying at the University of Stellenbosch in the early 2000s. The foundations of their friendship were formed during the frequent wine tastings and wine routing jollies indulged in as students. After graduating, everyone eventually headed out to write their own stories. Yet, despite different borders and time zones, they always checked in with every changing chapter of each others lives. Now, after many years of friendship, the different characters have come together once again to produce Draaiboek Wines, born out of a love for wine and the stories that it tells.

Draaiboek means script in Afrikaans, and as Pieter Lemmer, one of the London based partners tells me, “…we believe every wine has a story to tell. We released our first wine in September 2020, a 2019 Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge Chardonnay. We chose the name Onskuld (meaning innocence) for our first wine to represent our innocent naivety in starting this journey (many lessons were learned in the process!). We operate essentially as a negociant buying in fruit, and so far, we’ve sourced all our grapes from a single block of 10-year-old north-east facing Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge vines at 300 metres altitude planted on Bokkeveld shale with a high clay content”.

The Draaiboek wines are made by another good friend of theirs, Stephanie Wiid from the well know Thistle and Weed winery, who they have also known for many years. Stephanie, along with viticulturalist Etienne Terblanche, have sourced and selected the fruit from a specific single block at La Vierge in the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge although in 2021, a second block of Chardonnay has been added to increase the volume of wine produced. For the maiden 2019 vintage only 200 x 6 were produced, rising to 300 x 6 for the 2020 vintage. Watch out for their 2021 Pinot Noir also made from Ridge fruit that is still in the cellar but should be released in 2022.

I recently tasted a sample of the 2020 Onskuld Chardonnay which was aged on its fine lees for 11 months and saw 30% new oak in the final blend, aiming to give the wine more structure than the 2019 while still showing all the hallmarks of Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge minerality. Draaiboek Wines follows a philosophy of minimal intervention in the cellar, allowing the quality of the terroir to express itself. This certainly seems to be a new boutique name to watch.

Draaiboek Wines Onskuld Chardonnay 2020, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, 13.5% Abv.

2.4 g/l RS | 6.2 TA | 3.38 pH

In 2020 this Chardonnay is all still sourced from one single Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge block. Mindful of the wine’s youth, I opened my sample and tasted over two days to give the wine the full benefit of oxygen. This certainly is a very impressive wine and a considerable step up on the delicious maiden 2019. The aromatics show complex multi-dimensional layers of sea spray, white flowers, orange citrus oil, freshly baked buttered croissants and pithy lemon rind notes. Very pure and precise, the palate reveals an incredibly elegant, creamy leesy texture with no shortage of tension and minerality, all supported by an intense but seamless concentration of green and yellow fruits, pineapple pastille and lemon bon bons nuances. The length is truly striking, lingering then very slowing fading gradually on the long finish as if someone was slowing turning down the taste volume. The acids are fresh as you’d expect from Ridge fruit but also fabulously tangy and bright. Like a great work of art, this 2020 requires a measure of reflection and contemplation to fully appreciate its beautiful construction, pristine balance and superb harmony. Give the wine plenty of air, decanting if necessary, and don’t serve too cold. A wonderfully complete wine that should drink well from release and over 6 to 8+ years.

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