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)

Tasting a Sonoma Chardonnay Classic from Three Sticks Durell Vineyard 2018…

So lockdowns and travel bans have been an absolute bore but with the UK now learning to “live with Covid” with a vaccinated population… we are seeing the American wine producers starting to return to our shores for tastings and wine promotion. Today I had my first taste of the new (to the UK at least) Three Sticks Durell Vineyard Chardonnay 2018 that originally impressed me greatly when I tasted the 2016 vintage in September 2019.

Owned by proprietor William S. Price III, the Durell Vineyard forms part of this producers flagship vineyard holdings and has been the source of some iconic Sonoma Chardonnay for several decades. Grown on rocky ancient river bed and red volcanic clay soils, this vineyard site has been recognised for its ability to produce exceptional Chardonnay grapes that show wonderful fruit intensity along with impressive harmony while simultaneously expressing the minerality inherent in this site’s terroir.

Three Sticks Durell Vineyard Chardonnay 2018, Sonoma Coast, 14.1 Abv.

A pitch perfect vintage, the 2018 Chardonnay from this prestigious vineyard shows a lot of grace and cool climate subtlety with expressive aromatics of leesy lemon cream biscuits, yellow grapefruit preserve on warm white toast and delicate brioche and vanilla pod nuances. Creamy and full in the front of the palate, this slowly delivers a vibrant refreshing acidity that lifts the toasty yellow lemon peel citrus fruits and accentuates the creamy quince and honey characters before finishing with a final flourish of caramelized roasted cashew nuts and a dusting of vanilla pod spice. Simply lovely harmony and balance. Drink now and over the next 5 to 8 years.

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

Tasting a Stunning Pair of Whites from Sutherland Vineyards…

I have always known about the exciting Sutherland Vineyards winery in Elgin owned by the Webb family of Thelema fame but it was really only when their 2015 Chardonnay was rated 95+ points in a blind Decanter Magazine panel tasting for South African Chardonnay a few years ago that I started to pay a lot more attention to both the brand and the wines.

I was of course on that Decanter panel that rated this wine so highly along with other South African greats like Ataraxia 2015, Neil Ellis Whitehall Chardonnay 2015 and Rustenburg 5 Soldiers 2015. So it was a real pleasure to taste not only their new release Chardonnay 2019 recently but also their delicious 2017 Viognier Roussanne Rhone-style white blend.

Also, another one of my guilty pleasures has always been the copious amounts of their Sutherland Grenache Rose that I drink when I visit South Africa. Great value, dry, vibrant and expressive, it too has become one of my perennial summertime favourites. Elgin is definitely not just about cool climate Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Riesling. This fiddle plays an array of fabulous tunes.

Sutherland Chardonnay 2019, WO Elgin, 13% Abv.

This is another wonderfully expressive Chardonnay from Elgin that always seems to show a really individual character. The aromatics balance enticing nervy yellow citrus nuances with seductive vanilla pod spices all underpinned by a bold stony minerality and delicate struck match reductive complexity. The palate is joyfully concentrated with sweet tangy pineapple and lemon pastille candied notes, a sweet and sour mouth-watering acidity and the pronounced hallmark Sutherland wet river pebble liquid minerality. Subtly savoury and herby but always vibrant and electrically fresh in the mouth, this is a wine that is enviably super individual but always stylistically classically orientated. Drink now or cellar 3 to 5+ years. Certainly a wine for white Burgundy lovers to try!

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

Sutherland Viognier Roussanne 2017, WO Elgin, 14.5% Abv.

3.7g/l RS | 3.29 pH | 6.10g/l TA

This is also a very attractive little white Rhone blend from a region more known for Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. A blend of 70% Viognier and 30% Roussanne, the wine was fermented and matured in 2nd and 3rd fill barrels which lends the aromatics a delicious rich savoury nuance punctuated by leesy notes of white toast, waxy lemons, bruised yellow orchard fruits and quince preserve. The palate has a full, fleshy textural feel not dissimilar to a ripe cool climate Chardonnay but also displays delicious notes of ripe peaches, lanolin, vanilla pod spice and a lovely stony, slatey minerality. This is certainly a wine that is reminiscent to some of the serious northern Rhone white expressions that cost 3 to 4 times the price. The perfect counterfoil to Chardonnay or oaked Chenin Blanc, this will put a very big smile on a lot of people’s faces. Drink now and over the next 3 to 6 years.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A New Benchmark Cap Classique from Colmant Reviewed – the Absolu Zero…

Ever since bubble wizard Paul Gerber moved over from Le Lude to Colmant, everyone knew there would be fizzy fireworks to follow with some exceptional Method Cap Classique wines planned. While the standard estate Blue Label Colmant MCC remains one of my go to sparkling wines along with Graham Beck’s Blanc de Blancs, the release of the new Colmant Absolut has certainly raised some eyebrows.

The Absolu Zero Dosage NV is made from 100% Chardonnay fruit coming from Franschhoek (65%) and Robertson (35%). A portion of the base wine (15%) is fermented in French oak barrels while a further 15% of reserve wine from previous vintages is also blended in. These techniques certainly contribute to the complexity and elegance of the finished product – as does the extended time on lees, 85 months minimum – or seven years in layman’s terms.

Colmant Absolu Cap Classique Zero Dosage NV, WO Western Cape, 12% Abv.

This is a fascinating wine with all the complexity, richness and texture you’d expect from a wine aged for a phenomenal 85 months on its lees. The nose has a wonderful briney, saline lemon brioche character supported by creamy, savoury freshly baked croissants nuances together with a dusty, leesy nutty character. The palate is wonderfully detailed, fresh and pin point with a lively creamy mousse, plenty of maritime saline zip and a lovely long, lingering toasty, leesy, broche finish with a kiss of lemon pastille. This is pure class as it takes very skilful winemaking to make a MCC base wine that can age and improve over 85 months and still show incredible energy, opulence, verve and vigour when bottled. Drink now and over the next 3 to 5+ years.

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

Recommended Retail Price £45-£49 per bottle.

Hamilton Russell Vineyards Release an Impressively Sophisticated New 2020 Chardonnay…

Hamilton Russell Vineyards run under the watchful eye of Anthony and Olive Hamilton Russell are well established as one of the most respected Chardonnay and Pinot Noir producers in South Africa. With their winery retaining an obsessive and loyal legion of drinkers and collectors only matched by the likes of fellow icon brands like Meerlust Rubicon or Kanonkop Paul Sauer, quality and consistency has always been the Hamilton Russell calling card.

With Emul Ross firmly in control of winemaking since the 2015 vintage, it is incredible to think that after 30+ years, this estate’s finest wines may lie in future vintages still to be born.

Winemaker Emul Ross and Anthony Hamilton Russell at the barrel cellar.

The 2020 vintage was a touch earlier than usual beginning in the first week of February and was also wetter than the previous few vintages. A standout feature of 2020 was however the exceptional phenolic ripeness at lower-than-normal alcohol levels which helped produce a wine that is taut, tight, minerally expressive and texturally very classical showing the usual Hemel-en-Aarde Valley cool climate length and complexity.

95% of the wine underwent malolactic fermentation in 228 litre Francois Freres French oak barrels before being aged for a total of 9 months in 24% new French oak with 5% aged in foudre.

Hamilton Russell Vineyards Chardonnay 2020, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, 12.9% Abv.

3.45pH | 6.90 TA | 2.20 RS

If 2018 produced a super taut, reductive serious expression and 2019 showed a lusher, more forward, accessible opulence, then 2020 is perhaps a marriage of these two styles. This is a wine full of confidence and composure, brimming with taut white citrus pith, green pear and lime peel, bruised green apples, white blossom and a complexing saline oyster shell minerality. On the palate there is a feel of density, dry extract, concentration and a really precise harmonious balance with layers of green melon, sweet lime jelly, melted butter and a full glycerol finish with just the faintest hint of butterscotch, lime cordial and vanilla pod spice. Seemless and sleek, the layers just melt into each other leaving a sensation of utter completeness. What a truly fabulous wine, resplendent in its mellow classical restraint, intense concentration and harmonious length. A big high five for Emul Ross!! Drink on release and over the next 10-12+ years. (51,516 bottles produced)

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

The Emergence of Another South African Grand Cru Chardonnay – Tasting the Iona Kloof 2018…

Since the late 1990’s when Andrew Gunn bought and planted the Iona estate, the focus of production has been on Sauvignon Blanc, with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot being the first vineyards planted in 1998, followed by Chardonnay, Semillon and Pinot Noir. In these early days, no one could have known the true quality potential of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in the Elgin region.

With the new Monopole varietal releases from Iona in 2020, quality has been taken up a notch or two and when I reviewed the full range last year with Rozy Gunn in London just before lockdown 1.0, I realised these were indeed very special wines worthy of all the home market hype. I recently had a chance to taste some of the follow up releases and of course, I was intent on finding out whether the fabulous 2017 Kloof Monopole Chardonnay had just been a fluke or if this wine really was a new budding Grand Cru creation in the South African wine landscape.

Iona Monopole Kloof Chardonnay 2018 Limited Release, WO Elgin, 13% Abv.

Clones are CY95, CY96 and 227 grown on soils with large deposits of rocky quartzite silica with underlying clay with a north facing aspect and east / west row direction. The pruning style is cane double guyot.

After a block buster performance from the maiden 2017 Kloof Chardonnay and an impressive score to match, all eyes were on Andrew Gunn and the Iona team to see what they could pull out the bag in 2018. Once again, the vineyard and its terroir are the winner with a decidedly classical slant on the wine once again, boasting complex aromatics of crushed rocks and flint, gravel and white citrus with hints of green Granny Smith apples and spicy lemon grass. The palate reveals wonderful clarity and definition, precise crystalline white citrus fruits, tangy acids and a perfectly weighted, harmonious length that is so pure and detailed with a delicious finale of orange citrus zest. A very distinguished wine that’s establishing a growing quality reputation for itself. Drink from release and over 10-12+ years.

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

Cantina Terlano – Tasting the Nova Domus Riserva 2017 From the Most Famous White Wine Co-operative in the World…

Founded in 1893, the Cantina Terlano winery is now regarded as one of the leading wine growers’ cooperatives in South Tyrol, Italy, with a current membership of 143 growers working a total area of 190 hectares. That is the equivalent of some 1.5 million bottles of wine a year overseen by head winemaker Rudi Kofler.

Cantina Terlano and their members have long had a strong focus on quality which has attracted praise and recognition on not only the local Italian market but also on all international fine wine markets. If there are better white wines produced by a co-operative anywhere else in the world I’d like to know about it! Indeed, many of their iconic and memorable wines from the 1950s and 1960s, which rank amongst the greatest white wines ever produced, were made at Cantina Terlaner.

The unique microclimate at the foot of Mount Tschöggel determines the potential age-worthiness and the characteristics of these wines. The soils are very rich in schists and porphyry, a rocky nature that allows for heat accumulation and excellent water drainage.

I write a lot about the fascinating white blends made in South Africa, but the Alto Adige DOC is another one of the few areas in the world that also champions premium white blends of exceptional quality. This cuvee Nova Domus Riserva is a classical regional blend of Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.

Cantina Terlano Nova Domus 2017 Terlaner Riserva, Alto Adige Terlano DOC, 14% Abv.

This is one of the most seductive and majestic Italian white wines I’ve tasted in a long time. The nose suggests great precision and restraint with focused complexity, showing subtle notes of white flowers, dried baking herbs, waxy green apples, crunchy pineapple, sea breeze and a stony minerality. The palate is taut and restrained initially but then slowly starts to reveal plenty of pineapple pastille, apple purée, green pear fruits and the most precise, structured, crystalline purity on the finish. The use of more older oak (compared to earlier vintages) is noticeable allowing the pristine fruit purity and terroir minerality to really shine. This is certainly an Italian Grand Cru white of exceptional quality. Drink now and over 10+ years.

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

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.