Restless River’s New 2020 Releases Raise the Quality Bar Yet Again…

Craig Wessels took the South African wine scene by storm with his first 2012/2013 red and white releases. Although his range has grown to include a spectacular 2019 Pinot Noir and a superb Grenache and Sauvignon Blanc, it has always been the Restless River Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon that have been the stand out wines that have helped redefine quality in the entire Hemel-en-Aarde Valley.

With the 2017 vintage yielding a blockbuster Chardonnay last year, this year it’s the moment for Craig’s spectacular Cabernet Sauvignon to take centre stage. From the moment Hemel-en-Aarde nobility Anthony Hamilton Russell shared some of his father’s early 1980’s Grand Vin Noir Bordeaux blends from the valley, I knew many producers were missing a real trick forgetting the cool climate opportunities for Bordeaux varieties in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley. The 2017 Main Road & Dignity Cabernet from Craig captures all the grandeur possible in this region renowned for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Restless River Main Road & Dignity Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, WO Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, 14% Abv.

This attractive Hemel-en-Aarde Cabernet Sauvignon is fabulously dense and textured with multiple layers of creamy tannins coating the opulent fruit concentration. Full and glycerol in the mouth with refreshing acids, bright creme de cassis, black cherry and earthy baked plum fruit nuances. This vintage shows all the classic 2017 vintage elegance, focus and intensity with impressive mouthfeel and superb balance. You know this is something very special from the very first sip and certainly could be Craig Wessel’s finest Cabernet effort to date. Drink now and over 15+ years.

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

Restless River Ava Marie Chardonnay 2018, WO Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, 13% Abv.

This is a classically structured Ava Marie 2018 with crystalline tangy acids, generous green and yellow citrus fruit flesh, intricate mineral flintiness and an intensity of lemon and green melon candy on the long, persistent, noticeably concentrated finish. Less steely, malic and severe in style than the impressively taut 2017 (96/100 GSMW), but certainly carries on the Ava Marie tradition of freshness, bright acidity and wonderfully focused purity. Drink now and over the next 10-15+ years.

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

(Tasted 27th November 2020)

Henschke Current Release Tasting with Stephen and Prue Henschke – 150 Years of Winemaking History…

Like many fine wine lovers in the UK, I probably don’t drink enough top end Australian wines these days because the best stuff is either difficult to get hold of or very expensive or both. Australia suffers from having a small number of very top end power brands that are incredibly sought after by locals and international buyers alike. So when considering the most famous quality wine brands, Henschke must be right up there with others like Penfold’s Grange, Jim Barry’s Armagh, Torbreck’s The Laird and of course the super sought after cult producer Wendouree’s Clare Valley Shiraz.

I recently got the opportunity to catch up with Stephen and Prue Henschke in Australia over Zoom to taste through an impressive array of their current releases. But it’s amazing to think that this “new world” estate first produced wine in 1868 and six generations later, the quality has never been higher.

As innovators, Henschke first adopted screwcap closures in 1996 starting with their Julius Riesling and more latterly, adopted the vinolock closure in 2004 for certain red wines. Henschke also only use organic and biodynamic viticulture and winemaking for their wines.

Henschke Croft Adelaide Hills Chardonnay 2018

Lovely yellow citrus driven aromatics with delicate notes of biscuits, leesy white toast, green apple pastille and gentle kiss of vanilla oak spice. Acids are crunchy, tangy and bright framing steely white citrus notes with stony minerality, pithy yellow grapefruit, hints of white peach and a taut, crystalline green apple finish. Lovely focus and purity.

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

Henschke Giles Lenswood Pinot Noir 2018

First produced in 1989. Ripe generous nose packed full of baking spices, sweet exotic herbs, bramble berry, sun-dried cranberries, pink musk, candied strawberry, blood orange and subtle raspberry and pomegranate. The palate shows a polished, moderately dense texture with powdery tannins, chalky grip and a round, bold plummy red forest berry fruit character.

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

Henschke Henry’s Seven Barossa Shiraz / Grenache / Mataro / Viognier 2018

Named after Henry Evans who planted the first 7 acres of vineyards in Keyneton in 1853, the nose is packed with black fruits, black berries but also lovely complex notes of sage, black pepper and spicy plum. The palate is vibrant and grippy with attractive rustic hints, sweet savoury black currant intensity, finishing with focus and persistence. Very attractive.

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

Henschke Johann’s Garden Barossa Valley Grenache / Mataro / Shiraz 2017

Made from Low yielding old vine bush vines that are dry grown and trellised on limestone soils. This wine shows rich opulent characteristics of sweet Chinese five spice mixed with notes of blueberries, black berries and raspberry coulis. Palate texture is super bright and juicy, light on its feet but with delicious concentration, powdery tannins and a succulent blueberry crumble finish with a beguiling lick of grey slate dust. Compact and very complete.

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

Henschke Keyneton Euphonium 2015

Previously called Keyneton Estate, this is a blend of 50 year old vine Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc from vineyards planted by Cyril Henschke in the Eden Valley in the 1960s. The aromatics are complex and dense, packed full of sage, baking herbs and earthy peppery spice. From the great 2015 vintage, the Cabernet Sauvignon reveals notes of sweet black tea, tannery leather, sweet cherry tobacco and bramble berry spice and combines beautifully with savoury Shiraz nuances and just a kiss of hoisin plum sauce on the finish.

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

Henschke Mount Edelstone Eden Valley Shiraz 2015

From the historic Mt Edelstone vineyard planted in 1912. Low yielding, dry-grown Shiraz vines produced a wine first bottled in 1952 and is the longest consecutively produced single vineyard Shiraz in Australia. The nose boasts layers of Chinese five spice, dried violet perfume, sage, dried mint leaf, camphor and black plum with a sprinkling of black pepper spice. The palate is generously fruited but dense and muscular while remaining texturally polished and precise with fine supporting mineral tannins. The palate is very expressive with layers of creme de cassis, savoury sweet black plum and shows a fabulous harmony and balance together with power and poise. A class act yet again.

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

Wines are available in the UK from importer Liberty Wines.

One from the Cellar – Tasting the Bouchard-Finlayson Kaaimansgat Chardonnay 2018…

The Bouchard Finlayson Crocodile’s Lair Kaaimansgat Chardonnay was fermented in a classic Burgundian fashion and allowed to age in small oak barrels in contact with its fine lees. Although not owned by the estate, Bouchard Finlayson has been linked to the Kaaimansgat or Crocodile’s Lair vineyard for almost 24 years.

The Kaaimansgat vineyard is hidden away in the Elandskloof Valley, behind the village of Villiersdorp, some 80km inland from Hermanus. The Crocodile’s Lair site is located at 700 metres above sea level and its grapes ripen almost a month later than those in other Cape Chardonnay vineyards, benefiting enormously from the cool autumn temperatures. The vines are unirrigated, producing small berries with a correspondingly high skin to juice ratio, perfect for high quality Chardonnay expressions.

Bouchard Finlayson Kaaimansgat Chardonnay 2018, WO Overberg, 13.5% Abv.

The 2018 Crocodiles Lair Chardonnay is a classic Chardonnay that delivers notes of freshly-cut green apples, lemon peel and pineapple pastille on the nutty, mineral nose together with hints of buttered white toast, vanilla pod oak spice and white blossom. The palate is medium-bodied, crystalline and pure with nuances of baked apples and tangy citrus on the long seductive finish. A cool climate Chardonnay expression that always overdelivers and offers incredible value for money. Drink now and over the next 5-6+ years.

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

Tasting the Exceptional Sumaridge Estate Chardonnay 2017 from the Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley…

Owner Simon Turner and his wife Holly Bellingham bought the fine Sumaridge Estate in 2008 after having been lucky enough to enjoy a family holiday home in Hermanus for several years before that. I met Simon in London several times through his UK importer Sporting Wine Club and enjoyed many of his winery’s fine wines alongside some great sporting personalities in the International world of cricket and rugby.

Perhaps not one of the most famous of the Hemel-en-Aarde wineries, Sumaridge has slowly but surely risen to new heights in the last few years under wine maker Walter Prestorius who has utilised the exceptional terroir of the region to make some very exciting wines.

A typical feature of the Upper Hemel en Aarde Valley in the Walker Bay region is the maritime fog that enters along the valley floor in the evening and exits in the early morning, just exactly where Chardonnay vineyards from Sumaridge are located. Along the banks of the On Rus river the soils are ancient decomposed granite loam with quartzite inclusions located on North West orientations from 180 to 196 metres above sea level approximately 8km from the cooling Atlantic Ocean.

Sumaridge Chardonnay 2017, WO Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, 13.5% Abv.

Another fantastic vintage in the Cape delivers a predictably expressive white wine. The aromatics show impressive richness of fruit and a fine focus with layers of brûléed lemon citrus, freshly baked baguette, creamy green melon confit and a hint of coconut and vanilla pod spice. Very inviting, this 2017 shows flesh and concentration, intensity and vibrant depth. The rich citrus density coats the palate and lingers long on the finish. What power, what persistence! With no shortage of ripeness, the final badge of success of this delicious wine is marked by its tangy acidity and mouthwatering freshness. A very fine, complete package that oozes Hemel-en-Aarde Valley pedigree. Drinking now but will evolve over the next 4-6 years.

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

Wines available in the UK from the Sporting Wine Club at http://www.sportingwineclub.com or from regional stockists.

Creation Wines Release Their Premium 2019 Reserve Chardonnay Packed Full of Tension and Electricity…

This excellent Reserve bottling from Carolyn and JC Martin of Creation Wines in the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge in Walker Bay is made with fruit from a beautiful south-facing 19-year-old Chardonnay block. Originally from Switzerland, owner JC Martin together with his South African wife Carolyn (nee Finlayson), 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 now encompasses 50+ hectares planted with over 11 varieties, but focusing mainly on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Grown in a single vineyard, the Creation Reserve Chardonnay now ranks amongst the very finest cool climate Chardonnays produced in South Africa and most importantly, is building up a track record of quality and critical scores that most international premium Chardonnays from around the world would be envious of. In the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, at the opposite, higher end of the valley from producers like Hamilton Russell, Creation Wines saw intermittent rainfall in 2019 that produced many more weeds and gave them some problems with downy mildew, demanding four extra spray treatments which were successful in allowing Creation to produce some excellent fruit quality. Outstanding canopies and vigorous vine growth negated the need for any irrigation and a healthy crop size was recorded.

Creation Chardonnay Reserve 2019, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, Abv. 13.4%

Lovers of fresh, electric, vibrant white wines from South Africa’s premium cool climate regions like the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge have been patiently awaiting new premium releases like this delicious Reserve Chardonnay from Creation. With an incredible quality track record over the past five years, the 2019 speaks so clearly of the vintage with crystalline zesty fresh glassy acids and a brazen liquid mineral frame. Aromatics are still restrained and taut with notes of lemon biscuits, dried herbs, incense, yellow citrus peel, green pear skins and defined mineral stony nuances. The 30% new French oak is classy and subtle acting as the complexing “salt and pepper” yin to the delicious white citrus fruit concentration yang. This is yet another beautifully crafted wine that will seduce Chardonnay drinkers around the world. Drink from 2021 to 2028+.

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

Tasting the Impressive Wines Selected for the 2020 Nedbank Cape Winemakers Guild Auction…

The 2020 Nedbank CWG Auction hosted by Bonhams London will be held online on Saturday 3rd October from 12h00 (BST). Due to Coronavirus, there were no public tastings prior to sale making the limited tastings by a select group of wine journalists even more important this year. The line-up comprises 28 wines with total cases on offer amounting to 564 cases (6 x 750ml) compared to 45 wines and 1,932 cases in 2019.

One of the eye catching wines in 2020…

In support of one of the Guild members, buyers will have the opportunity to bid on smaller lots – the funds raised by the first case of six bottles of every wine will be given as financial assistance to Samantha O’Keefe, whose Lismore property in Greyton was devastated by fire in December last year. The CWG will also be hosting a 50 – item Vinotheque Auction made up of select older wines donated by members with express objective being to raise funds to assist employees within their businesses whose livelihoods have been affected by the Coronavirus pandemic.

The 2020 CWG Selection:

CWG host and Jordan Winery owner Gary Jordan taking us through the 2020 CWG wines.

Graham Beck Cuvée 129 Extra Brut 2009, WO Western Cape

Winemaker: Pieter Ferreira. 51% Pinot Noir, 49% Chardonnay. Cuvée 129 refers to the number of months on the lees aging – 10 years and 9 months.

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

Silverthorn Big Dog VI Méthode Cap Classique 2015, WO Robertson

Winemaker: John Loubser. 70% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Noir. Chardonnay fermented and aged in old French oak, Pinot Noir in steel. 50 months on lees.

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

De Grendel Wooded Sauvignon Blanc 2019, WO Darling.

Winemaker: Charles Hopkins. Crushed, 18 hours skin contact, then settled and fermented in old oak.

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

Bartho Eksteen Vloekskoot Sauvignon Blanc 2019, WO Cape Coast

Winemaker: Bartho Eksteen. Whole bunch pressed, no settling. Naturally fermented in older, big wood.

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

Simonsig Mediterraneo 2015, WO Stellenbosch

Winemaker: Johan Malan. 66% Roussanne, 28% Grenache Blanc, 6% Verdelho. Whole bunch pressed, mix of wild and cultured yeast.

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

Miles Mossop Wines Saskia-Jo 2018, WO Swartland

Winemaker: Miles Mossop. 65% Chenin Blanc, 25% Clairette Blanche, 10% Grenache Blanc. Decomposed granite soils.

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

Rijk’s CWG Chenin Blanc 2018, WO Tulbagh

Winemaker: Pierre Wahl. 14-year-old bush vines, fermented in new and used French oak.

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

Raats Family Wines The Fountain Terroir Specific Chenin Blanc 2019, WO Stellenbosch

Winemaker: Bruwer Raats. Rich, creamy but super bright with leesy, peachy fruit complexity and incredible precision and vibrant intensity.

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

Paul Cluver The Wagon Trail Chardonnay 2018, WO Elgin

Winemaker: Andries Burger. From the oldest Chardonnay vineyard on the Estate, planted in 1987 (the oldest vines in Elgin).

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

Leeu Passant Radicales Libres Chardonnay 2015, WO Klein Karoo

Winemaker: Andrea Mullineux. 100% Chardonnay, long elevage inspired by Jura and Rioja. From the incredibly cool Barrydale Valley in the Klein Karoo, after fermentation this Chardonnay was aged in barrel for five years.

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

Ataraxia Under The Gavel Chardonnay 2019, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge

Winemaker: Kevin Grant.  Cool and Crystalline with a stony minerality, pithy peachy yellow citrus concentration and a long, pure brilliance.

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

Newton Johnson Family Vineyards Windansea Pinot Noir 2017, WO Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley

Winemaker: Gordon Newton Johnson. Stoniest, most clay-rich parts of the vineyard used for this. No sulfites in the winemaking. 11 months in barrel then six months in large oak.

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

Neil Ellis Wines Amper Bo Tempranillo 2015, WO Stellenbosch

Winemaker: Warren Ellis. Whole berry fermentation then 18 months in 60% new French oak barrels and 40% in second fill.

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

Rust en Vrede CWG Auction Estate 2017, WO Stellenbosch

Winemaker: Coenie Snyman. 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Syrah.

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

Ernie Els CWG 2017, WO Stellenbosch

Winemaker: Louis Strydom. 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Shiraz, 10% Cinsault. Fermentation in small 300 litre open top oak barrels with three weeks extended maturation.

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

Luddite The Lone Stranger Mark II 2018, WO Bot River

Winemaker: Niels Verburg. 50% Mourvèdre, 40% Shiraz, 10% Grenache Noir. Small open fermenters then pressed to barrel for two years.

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

Delaire Graff Estate Banghoek Cabernet Franc Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, WO Stellenbosch

Winemaker: Morné Very. 55% Cabernet Franc, 34% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Petit Verdot, 3% Malbec. Whole berry fermentation with limited punch downs. Four weeks post-ferment maturation on skins before being basket pressed. Matured in 40% new French 225 litre barrels for 16 months.

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

Spier Frans K Smit Auction Selection 2017, WO Stellenbosch

Winemaker: Frans K Smit. 60% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon. Organic.

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

Strydom Family Wines The Game Changer 2017, WO Stellenbosch

Winemaker: Rianie Strydom. 80% Cabernet Franc, 20% Merlot. North facing slopes on the Helderberg.

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

Kanonkop CWG Paul Sauer 2017, WO Stellenbosch

Winemaker: Abrie Beeslaar. 76% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Cabernet Franc, 7% Merlot. From Simonsberg. Fermented in open top ‘kuipe’ for six days, then malolactic fermentation in tank, and matured in new French oak for two years.

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

Groot Constantia CWG Gouverneurs Reserve 2018, WO Constantia

Winemaker: Boela Gerber. 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 45% Cabernet Franc. 75% new oak.

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

Villiera Drip Barrel Cabernet Franc 2018, WO Stellenbosch

Winemaker: Jeff Grier. 18 months in new and used French oak.

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

Edgebaston Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2017, WO Stellenbosch

Winemaker: David Finlayson. 95% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc. From the clay-heavy section of their GS vineyard, picked five days earlier than the rest of the vineyard. New French oak for two years.

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

Hartenberg CWG Auction Cabernet Sauvignon 2018, WO Stellenbosch

Winemaker: Carl Schultz. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from the Bottelary Hills. 20 days on skins, 20 months in 50% new 225 litre French oak barrels.

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

Boschkloof Epilogue Syrah 2018, WO Stellenbosch

Winemaker: Jacques Borman. Harvested in three tranches, 30% whole bunch. Some matured in concrete, some in barrel (30% new).

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

Cederberg Teen Die Hoog Shiraz 2018, WO Cederberg

Winemaker: David Nieuwoudt. Red slate soils. 85% new oak.

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

Saronsberg Die Erf Shiraz 2017, WO Tulbagh

Winemaker: Dewaldt Heyns. The best barrel of Block 27. Aged for 20 months in a new French Allier oak barrel.

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

Boplaas Cape Vintage CWG Reserve 2015, WO Western Cape

Winemaker: Carel Nel. 80% Touriga Nacional, 10% Touriga Franca, 6% Souzão, 4% Tinta Barocca. Fermented and fortified in small lagares and barrel matured in large seasoned oak barrels.

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

The CWG dinner at the River Cafe London.

An Exciting New Release From the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge – Tasting the Onskuld Chardonnay 2019…

During lockdown, I was kindly delivered this interesting wine by hand and popped it in the fridge. But as the Covid pandemic took grip, I forgot to crack this bottle until more recently.

Made from a north-east facing trellised vineyard at 300 metres altitude planted in Bokkeveld shale with a high clay content in the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, this wine piqued my interest immediately as I’d already tasted Berene Saul’s delicious 2019 Ridge Chardonnay that had reminded me so much of a steely Chablis 1er Cru expression.

Draaiboek Wines, a new premium brand to watch out for.

The Onskuld Chardonnay was whole bunch pressed with only the free run juice portion used. After settling, the must was allowed to naturally ferment in 300 litre and 225 litre French oak barrels, 30% of which were new. The wine was matured on its fine lees for 10 months prior to bottling unfiltered.

Draaiboek Wines Onskuld Chardonnay 2019, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, 13.5% Abv.

This is classic Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge cool climate Chardonnay fruit that bristles with a crystalline steeliness more reminiscent of classy cool climate Chablis. The aromatics are lean and stony, flushed with sinuous tones of white citrus, lime peel pith, dried herbs and delicate nutty, leesy, biscuit notes. The palate is linear and taut with a glassy pure acidity, wet river pebble liquid minerality and a spicy, zesty, slightly phenolic finish of green melons, crunchy Granny Smith apples and greengage plums. A fabulous old world leaning expression of Chardonnay that is sure to find an instant following. Drink now or cellar for 3 to 8 years. (1,300 bottles produced.)

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

For further trade and distribution enquiries, email:

Hello@draaiboek.wine

Fine Wine Safari New Release Tasting Notes – Champagne Dom Perignon 2010 Cuvee…

The 2010 harvest in Champagne was a big contrast to the previous two massively successful vintages in 2008 and 2009 released from most major houses in Champagne.

In 2010, big rains hit the region in mid-August leading to some swelling in the berries and even possible botrytis. The crop then ripened very rapidly with serious worries about rot spreading especially among the more susceptible Pinot varieties as damp mild conditions persisted into mid-September. But the saving grace was the change in weather halfway through the harvest with very warm days and cool nights helping to ripen the cooler vineyards as well as restrict any further spread of rot.

“It was a year of contrasts with fragile, painstakingly-sorted Pinots and triumphant Chardonnay.”

Champagne Dom Perignon 2010, 12% Abv.

This fabulous 2010 release is a super complex and intricate expression showing an immediacy and upfront appeal with delicious brioche notes you just wish you could find on every bottle of Champagne you opened. Aromatics are intense and piercing with a real citric, briney sea breeze sour dough immersion followed by a zippy, rich nuanced palate that sings with a well orchestrated performance of pear purée, brioche hints, crisp acidity and a harmonious, comforting apple strudel finish. Leave the 2008 in your cellar and embrace this lovely 2010 Champagne now and over the next 10+ years.

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

Creation Wines Shining a Light On Premium Chardonnay Production in the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge…

I think it’s indisputable that only handful of producers in South Africa have well and truly cracked the winemaking code for producing top world class quality Chardonnay. So many commentators and consumers get confused between producers making good versus great expressions.

During some lockdown drinking, I thought I’d take the opportunity to revisit one of the wines I’ve found to consistently tick all the quality boxes when it comes to premium Chardonnay made in a style that is unquestionably world class.

Some of the accolades accrued by Creation’s Art of Chardonnay premium range.

Creation Wines are certainly one of the few South African wineries producing Chardonnay expressions that can be considered “next level” when tasted along side top international benchmarks from France, New Zealand, Australia or California. Originally from Switzerland, owner JC Martin together with his South African wife Carolyn (nee Finlayson), 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 now encompasses 50 hectares planted with over 11 varieties, but focuses mainly on producing premium Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Creation Art of Chardonnay 2017, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, 13.5 Abv.

Made from an 18 year old single vineyard but also from specific vines within the site that show the most balanced growth. This wine has a more complex, creamy, deep, broody nose with delicate leesy biscuit notes, green melon preserve, grapefruit zest, crunchy green pear and lemon cordial. Incredible subtlety, freshness, and a steely 3.3 pH highlights the super taut acidity, intense piercing mid-palate and a suave, stylish finish punctuated by an attractive vanilla pod and oak spice kiss. A very ‘Grand Vin’ Chardonnay indeed that deserves recognition. 4,600 bottles produced. Drink it now and over the next 15+ years.

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

For other top examples of South African Chardonnay, look no further than Kershaw Wines, Leeu Passant, Meerlust, Hamilton Russell, Ataraxia, Restless River, Julien Schaal, Newton Johnson, Storm, Elgin Ridge, Paul Cluver, Crystallum, Bouchard Finlayson, De Morgenzon and Uva Mira. Buy all these wines with confidence.

Reimagining the Iona Elgin Wines – Tasting the Iona Monopole New Releases in London with Rosie Gunn…

I have been following Iona and their delicious cool climate wines for many years. So naturally, I was thrilled to be contacted in February 2020 by owner Andrew Gunn, who invited me to join him for an exciting new release tasting in London profiling their new single vineyard wines that have been vinified to specifically portray the unique micro climates and soil types of the Iona Elgin Highlands.

Just a few weeks before we were due to meet, I received an email from Rosie Gunn, Andrew’s wife and partner in the Iona winery, to inform me that Andrew had unfortunately had a terrible fall off a ladder on the farm and had broken a number of bones, so she would be making the trip to London in his place. On the 5th March, I met up with Rosie and Marketing Manager Brad Gold at Trivet, one of London’s most exciting new restaurant openings, to taste through their fantastic new range of wines.

Tasting with Rosie Gunn in London.

From each main red and white wine selection, Iona has teased out two single vineyard Pinot Noirs and two Chardonnays, with only 500 bottles of each wine produced. This range is also joined by the Iona Elgin Highlands range of whites and reds along with the Solace Syrah produced from the nearby Brocha farm, where Rosie used to live and which is farmed organically with its ultra rocky soils, warmer growing temperatures and a lower rainfall.

Iona Monopole Elgin Highlands Pinot Noir 2018, WO Elgin, 13.74 Abv.

10 barrels were produced from mostly younger vines. Using 115, 667, 777 Pinot Noir clones, the wine was aged 11 months in barrel with a low solids content to avoid too much racking.

Bright tart aromatic profile full of crushed cranberry and rose petals, Turkish delight and potpourri perfume. Pristine, linear and pin point in the mouth, the acids frame the palate beautifully with attractive red berry fruits, cherry and hints of pomegranate. Pure, intense but with sufficient open, accessible fruit depth and lovely complexing minerality on the finish.

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

The new single vineyard wines all come from the dry 2017 vintage. A cool winter ensured good vine dormancy and rainfall was low, similar to 2015 and 2016. Flowering took place a little earlier than usual in warm sunny conditions, with the vines cropping slightly higher than usual but producing exceptional fruit quality and concentration. Grapes were harvested from late February to mid-March and yielded exceptional quality with pristine fruit purity, high natural acidity, real intensity of fruit flavour and a signature elegance that marked all the wines of 2017.

Iona Monopole Kloof Limited Release Pinot Noir 2017, WO Elgin, 13.57 Abv.

Clones 667, 115 and 777. Around 5 to10% of whole bunches used from soils with large deposits of silica quartz with underlying clay with a North facing aspect and East / West row direction.

A more pronounced minerality of chalk board duster and crushed limestone that comes through on the aromatics as spice and complex sapidity. It melts into dried potpourri, raisined cranberry, pithy red cherry and wild strawberry notes. Cool, sleek, crystalline, this is grown up Pinot Noir that opens up in the glass to display beautiful notes of red cherry sherbet and pink musk together with struck quartz minerality. Polished texture, harmonious and super classy effort from a great vintage.

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

Iona Monopole Kroon Pinot Noir 2017, WO Elgin, 13.63 Abv.

Clones 115 and 777. Around 5 to10% of whole bunches used from soils with alluvial gravel beds, sandstone and ferrocrete (iron) with underlying clay with a South facing aspect and North / South row direction.

A slightly deeper, darker, bloodier aromatic expression with notes of pomegranate, blood orange, spiced red cherries with a fabulous mineral under vein of wet river stones. Hints of sweet and sour together with intense salinity meet your palate on the entry. This wine displays the same high pedigree polished marble tannins as the Kloof cuvee but with a touch more flesh and savoury, pithy red fruit on the finish. Another very impressive Pinot Noir expression.

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

Whites

Iona Monopole Elgin Highlands Chardonnay 2018, WO Elgin, 13.25 Abv.

Dusty, smoky, spicy yellow fruits blend into wet river stone minerality, rain on grey slate and pithy green apple and yellow grapefruit intensity. Fleshy, glycerol but fabulously concentrated, piercing and intense. The oaking is super intelligent and the integration of crystalline fruit and acidity vibrancy perfectly judged. A really delicious Chardonnay that will get a lot of drinkers very excited.

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

Iona Monopole Kloof Chardonnay 2017, WO Elgin, 13.64 Abv.

Clones CY95, CY96 and 548 from soils with large deposits of silica quartz with underlying clay with a North facing aspect and East / West row direction.

Classic complex mix of liquid minerality, struck flint and crushed gravel melt gently away into nuances of lemon citrus peel, spicy lemon grass and earthy papaya skins. Bold, brazen and super focused, this wine has wonderful lines of acidity and cool, white citrus tension backed by an enthralling chalky limestone mineral pithy complexity. Exquisite intensity and concentration make for a very serious glassful. A truly outstanding South African Chardonnay expression!

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

Iona Monopole Fynbos Chardonnay 2017, WO Elgin, 13.72 Abv.

Clones CY95, CY96 and Rustenburg from soils with alluvial gravel beds, sandstone with underlying clay with a North facing aspect and North West / South East row direction.

Made from grapes grown on a slightly heavier soil with more northerly aspect, this wine shows a bolder, richer, riper expression on the nose with lemon and lime cordial, lemon bon bons, apple pastille and green rock candy seduction. Plush and beautifully textured with more savoury, stony, green plum notes layered with lemon herbs, citrus spice and a splendidly long, concentrated green stone fruit finish. Very showy and confident.

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

Iona Solace Syrah 2017, WO Elgin, 14.1 Abv.

Saline, purple bright fruits full of black saline intensity, salty black liquorice and supple, glassy, tart savoury intensity. Classy, classical and very cool and refined packed with black cherry, black pepper corns and blueberry pie nuances. A real evolution in style that perhaps works better for Elgin’s cooler vineyards than previous bigger, more extracted styles of Solace. This wine seems perfectly judged on so many levels.

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

Iona Monopole Wild Ferment Sauvignon Blanc 2018, WO Elgin, 13.55 Abv.

A super exotic complex Sauvignon Blanc nose packed full of tangerine, grapefruit, dusty white peach, quince and a tropical papaya fruit finish. Fleshy, delicious and super distinguished, this wine ups the ante and delivers an impressively complex, serious glass of Sauvignon Blanc.

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

Iona Sauvignon Blanc 2019, WO Elgin, 13.63 Abv.

The aromatics are filled with lemon grass and tangerine peel complexity, this wine has mouth watering vigour and enthralling allure and focus. Fabulous notes of mango and papaya, yellow citrus and green apple blend imperiously, building to a vinous crescendo on the palate with delicious, bright, fresh Sauvignon Blanc grassy nuances. This is benchmark cool climate Elgin Sauvignon Blanc that really ticks all the pleasure boxes.

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

Pici pasta, Cornish crab and artichokes
Chicken with vinegar sauce
The delicious dessert – A house speciality!
Hokkaido PotatoBaked potato Mille feuille, sake and white chocolate mousse, butter and sake gelato.

The two main concerns you think about when producers shake up their range of wines in the way Iona have, is whether the new single vineyard wines will detract from the overall quality of the larger blends that came before them and whether the new single vineyard wines will be sufficiently different and interesting enough to merit the whole vineyard partitioning exercise. While I certainly had my favourites, I can confirm that the whole new range is very well conceived and the wines are truly unique in their own ways. They are also exceptionally good quality.

In London pricing, they are also not ridiculously priced, making them accessible to both restaurant buyers and Chardonnay aficionados alike. Exciting times indeed for Iona wines. By the time Andrew reads these reviews, I certainly hope he will be well on his way to recovery. Catch you in London on your next trip!