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)

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)