Upfront and Showy – Tasting the New Release Hamilton Russell Vineyards Chardonnay 2019…

It seems almost every year one corner of the Cape winelands or another is touched by bush fires. As a hangover of the long regional drought, wildfires have taken their toll in the Western Cape just as they have in California. Sadly, 2019 was no different and during this harvest, fires managed to wreak havoc across the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley.

The large wildfires which burnt along the borders of the Hamilton Russell Vineyards estate on January 11th 2019, necessitated the rejecting of almost all the 2019 Pinot Noir grown on site as a result of minor but noticeable smoke taint to the fruit. However, Hamilton Russell were luckily able to harvest their full Chardonnay crop before any smoke damage occurred and produced another very impressive expression.

Extremely warm, hot weather in May, June and July 2019 lead to uneven bud break and resulted in a -44% reduction in yields. Overall the vintage temperature averages were cooler than in both 2017 and 2018 and final quality was high amongst harvested grapes.

Hamilton Russell Vineyards Chardonnay 2019, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, 13.2 Abv.

This wine shows the true pretty, overt appeal of the 2019 vintage without any of the usual youthful reduction and broody mineral austerity. The aromatics are bright, pure and lifted, ultra expressive, offering up seductive notes of Spring flowers, lemon cordial, green apple, yellow grapefruit confit and honeydew melon pastille sweets. The palate mirrors the aromatic succulence and generous fruit forward concentration boasting hallmark notes of sweet citrus fruit intensity, crystalline purity, tangy acids and a fleshy, glycerol harmonious persistence. A little more showy fruit immediacy will surely see this vintage race off the shelves with new and old Hamilton Russell collectors alike. Total production 2812 x 12.

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

Glenelly Estate Starting to Reach Its True Noble Stellenbosch Potential…

The Glenelly Estate is a beautiful winery buried in a little corner of the Idas Valley in Stellenbosch. I have been meaning to visit for many years to understand the essence of the winery and their philosophy but somehow always seemed to cross paths with CEO Nicholas Bureau or else their long time winemaker Luke O’Cuinneagain at tastings in London.

The property was famously bought in 2003 by Madame May de Lencquesaing of Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande fame in Pauillac, Bordeaux, with a vision to transform the property into one of the preeminent fine wine producers in Stellenbosch.

With vineyards planted on near virgin granitic rich soils, Glenelly Estate had the opportunity to map out a varietal path that completely suited the style of wines they were looking to make. There would certainly be none of the red tape and restrictions Madame May had become so use to in Bordeaux. With sizable plantings of Chardonnay, Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, Glenelly have all the building blocks for making some impressive wines.

In February 2020, I finally visited the estate for a lengthy tutored tasting with Cellar Master Luke O’Cuinneagain. Nicholas and Luke generously opened an impressive array of older wines to illustrate not only the development of the wines in bottle but also the evolution of the Estate’s winemaking and their ongoing quality improvements. Undoubtedly these are wines made in a more classical, restrained style and the French heritage is undeniable, radiating out of every glass and making all the wines in the range excellent gastronomic friendly expressions.

My conclusions after my tasting remain firmly that the hard yards have been completed and that the best years still lie ahead for this estate and its high quality wines. Glenelly Estate is definitely one to keep a very close eye on in the future.

White Wine Flights:

Glenelly Estate Unwooded Chardonnay 2011, WO Stellenbosch, 13 Abv.

Super complex notes of terpenes, bruised yellow citrus and earthy root veg. Bright crunchy tangy acids make for a delicious mouthful that’s evolving beautifully. Very pleasurable glassful.

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

Glenelly Estate Unwooded Chardonnay 2012, WO Stellenbosch, 12.5 Abv.

Dusty wet chalk aromatics melt into struck match, bruised peach, papaya and ripe lemon peel. Lush and layered, plenty of leesy quince, honeysuckle, ripe pear purée and a smokey, glycerol finish. Showing a lovely harmony.

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

Glenelly Estate Unwooded Chardonnay 2019, WO Stellenbosch, 13 Abv.

Youthful and bright, this shows vibrant notes of cream soda, dusty green honeydew melon and dusty crushed limestone. Lovely texture and fleshy mouthfeel, finishing with notes of melon, green apple and subtle minerality. Lovely gourmet wine.

(Wine Safari Score: 89/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Glenelly Estate Reserve Chardonnay 2012, WO Stellenbosch, 13 Abv.

Like its unoaked sibling, this shows a hit of reduction, dried mint leaf, peppermint and lemongrass. Equally plush and textural, this has a broad glycerol mouthfeel, savoury lemon peel fruit, subtle oak spice and a hint of peppermint crisp on the finish.

(Wine Safari Score: 90/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Glenelly Estate Chardonnay Grand Vin 2013, WO Stellenbosch, 13 Abv.

Taut and restrained aromatics, this shows plenty of minerality, wet chalk, white citrus and limestone nuances. But the palate blossoms to show abundantly sweet textured flesh, lemon herbs and a vibrant energetic finish with impressive persistence.

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

Glenelly Estate Chardonnay Reserve 2014, WO Stellenbosch, 12.5 Abv.

Cool and restrained, this displays plenty of stony minerality layered with lemon and herbs, lemon cordial and dried mint leaf. Palate is savoury and fleshy with bruised yellow orchard fruits, ripe papaya and dry fynbos. Concentrated, mouth filling and impressively persistent.

(Wine Safari Score: 90+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Glenelly Estate Chardonnay Reserve 2015, WO Stellenbosch, 13 Abv.

This nose is expressive and exotic with savoury bruised yellow fruits, melted wax and incense notes. The palate shows sweet herby glycerol weight in a more oxidative frame. The texture is sleek and the balance finely poised with plenty of concentration and tangy acids on the finish.

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

Glenelly Estate Chardonnay Reserve 2016, WO Stellenbosch, 13 Abv.

This vintage shows hints of ripe lemon and herbs, dry fynbos, honey on white toast and subtle mint leaf complexity. Super focused concentration, bright tangy acids and impressive length, you can see the pedigree potential of this wine. The aromatics are a little reticent but the quality is clearly apparent. Impressive for a hot, dry vintage.

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

Glenelly Estate Chardonnay Reserve 2017, WO Stellenbosch, 13 Abv.

A more steely expression with purity and clarity. Fine notes of lime peel, lemon cordial and wet limestone and lemongrass herbs make for a fresh, vibrant aromatic profile. The hallmark concentration is there with glycerol, textured intensity of lime cordial, green apple and cedar spice on the finish. A lovely mouthful from a good vintage.

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

Glenelly Estate Chardonnay Reserve 2018, WO Stellenbosch, 13 Abv.

Lifted and expressive with dried fynbos, peppermint tea and herbal spice mixed with bruised white peaches, lemon iced tea and lemongrass herbs. Bright and zippy, this wine shows plenty of overt energy, crystalline citrus pastille fruits and a seamless creamy balance. Delicious expression.

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

Red Wine Flights:

Cabernet Sauvignon driven wines with supporting components of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot laced with a small percentage Syrah a la Claret in the good old days of Bordeaux.

Glenelly Estate Reserve 2013, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5 Abv. 15%

Syrah in the mix, this smells and tastes of classic old school Bordeaux with sweet tobacco leaves, herbal spice, tannery leather, cigar box and sweet savoury black currant and black berry intensity with a clear vein of graphite. Creamy and cool fruited, this is plush and textured with earthy black orchard fruits, lead pencil, graphite and a sweet piquant cedary finish. Drink now or cellar for a few more years.

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

Glenelly Estate Reserve 2014, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5 Abv.

Dark and broody, this wine shows plush opulence with aromatics of coffee beans, black plum, cedar spice and pronounced graphite intensity. Soft and sumptuous, this has plenty of overt early drinking generosity laced with black chocolate and piquant spicy tobacco notes. Ready to go now, but certainly no rush.

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

Glenelly Estate Lady May 2010, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5 Abv.

90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Petit Verdot, 5% Merlot

Rasping dusty chalky aromatics of classic Cabernet Sauvignon, crushed gravel, graphite, tannery leather and grilled herb spice. Super youthful at 10 years old, this wine speaks of pedigree. Polished and finely balanced, this has oodles of old world classicism, spicy cedar, piquant black berry and silky suave focus. Very impressive but will certainly get better with further ageing.

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

Glenelly Estate Lady May 2013, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5 Abv.

85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Cabernet Franc, 4% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot

Again, plenty of classicism and mineral driven tension, but this lovely wine shows more energy, greater linearity and superb focus. Saline cassis, tart black cherry confit and earthy damson plum complexity shows this is a serious fine wine. Sleek, pure and generous but retaining elegance and restraint, seamless blissful harmony and pin point focus. Beautifully complex and integrated, this is definite Grand Cru Classe quality!

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

Glenelly Estate Lady May 2014, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5 Abv.

74% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 12% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot

Intricate yet generous, this youthful expression shows creme de cassis, violets, peppermint crisp milk chocolate and dark spicy plum. Plush and sweet fruited, the 2014 is forward and showy, revealing the plushness achieved at Glenelly in all of their reds. With its sweet tannins, fleshy glycerol mouthfeel, fruit concentration and bruleed earthy coffee bean finish, this fine wine is ready to go now however, extra tertiary development will only elevate this wine further.

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

Creation Wines Reserve Chardonnay 2018 Knocks It Out The Park In Spectacular Style…

The impressive Creation Winery in the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge region of Walker Bay has established itself in a relatively short period of time as one of the quality benchmark producers for both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in South Africa. 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.

This new release 2018 comes from a vintage for which many producers held only modest hopes of producing top quality wines. The fourth drought vintage in a row had really started to take its toll on the Cape and its vineyards. However, the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley to a great extent, was spared the worst of the heat and drought conditions experienced around the other wine regions.

Creation Wines Reserve Chardonnay 2018, 13.5 Abv.

Made from a 19 year old single vineyard and aged 10 months in 40% new French oak barrels before being blended together to spend another 6 months in stainless steel before bottling. The aromatics show subtle wood spice, crushed limestone minerality, boxwood, grilled nuts, biscuity lees and fabulous lemon peel zest notes. Such beautiful salinity adds to the linear tension in the mouth, accompanied by pithy orange citrus nuances, crystalline acids and a very precise nervy length. This really is a fabulously accomplished wine for the vintage!

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

Tasting a Mixed Meerlust Vintage Line Up in London With Hannes Myburgh…

After the 2015 vintage, which Meerlust maintains was its fastest selling Rubicon release in the history of the brand, 2016 was always going to be up against it in outright quality terms. But this warm hot and dry drought vintage was tough on everyone but in the end, yielded soft, plush, forward, earlier drinking reds of excellent quality.

I reviewed the Rubicon 2016 recently but was certainly pleased to taste the entire Meerlust range again in London with owner Hannes Myburgh. What really struck me was the uniformity of quality and style and an overall opulence and accessibility that makes this a vintage ready to start cracking open now.

Tasting in London with Hannes Myburgh

I’ll be in the Cape again soon and look forward to getting a sneak peek at the already bottled 2017 Meerlust Rubicon who’s component parts I last tasted with Chris Williams in early 2019. Since then, Chris has of course decided to move on to his Foundry Winery project full time while still lending a stylistic ‘guiding hand’ to new wine maker Wim Truter while he settles in and learns the ins and outs of this historic Stellenbosch estate.

Meerlust Chardonnay 2018, WO Stellenbosch, 13 Abv

Classic youthful Chardonnay nose of lemon cream biscuits, puppy’s breath, vanilla pod and hints of oatmeal cookies. Fabulously cool, restrained and balanced, this has an incredible smokey Puligny meats Chassagne Montrachet nuttiness and minerality. Lovely freshness, definition and purity. Wow! This has Burgundy written all over it!!

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

Meerlust Pinot Noir 2017, WO Stellenbosch, 12.5 Abv

Spicy and intense with delicious foresty bramble berry notes, earthy sappy piquant red cherry and wild strawberry with hints of cedar and sappy spice. Palate is cool, sleek and light footed in a style built to accompany fine dining.

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

Meerlust Red 2017, WO Stellenbosch, 14 Abv.

Heavily orientated towards Cabernet Franc in this vintage with 55% supported by 33% Merlot and 12% Cabernet Sauvignon to lend extra back bone. As expected this wine embraces the aromatic cedar and clove spices of Franc together with red berry fruited elegance, wild bramble berries and a saline Cabernet cassis intensity that carries the finish and turbo charges the concentration. Fabulous value for money! Fill your cellar!!

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

Meerlust Merlot 2015, WO Stellenbosch, 14 Abv.

Dark, broody, exotic nose of brûléed coffee beans, black currant, earthy black plum and sandalwood spice. Texturally this is spot on with fabulous freshness, textural elegance and sleek creamy sweet tannins. One of the finer single varietal Merlots produced in SA.

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

Meerlust Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, WO Stellenbosch, 14 Abv.

Dark and richly black fruited Cabernet with nuances of graphite, sweet tobacco, violets and earthy black currant fruits. Tannins are sweet and sappy and the palate weight creamy and fleshly with a really friendly accessibility. A fine earlier drinking effort in this drought vintage.

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

Meerlust Rubicon 2016, WO Stellenbosch, 14 Abv.

Revisiting this classic wine after extra time in bottle helps it shine ever so brighter. There is sleek textural elegance, plush sweet polished tannins and earthy red and black currant fruit notes. Seamlessly assembled, this is a triumph for the vintage and shows a very agreeable early drinking opulence combined with palate breadth and depth. The cream always rises to the top. Ready to enjoy now!

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

Peter-Allan Finlayson Unveils Some of His New Releases from Crystallum and Gabrielskloof in London…

Maybe it’s because Peter-Allan is the third generation of wine farmers in the Cape or maybe it’s just because he is just very intelligent, but few wine brands have been managed as professionally as Crystallum in global markets since the first Sauvignon Blanc was bottled in 2007.

Now focusing solely on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, Peter-Allan was recently in London to unveil some of his new creations. But the secret of Crystallum’s massive success in London can be attributed to a combination of factors that aspiring brand owners should take note of. Firstly, he has a committed and highly professional distributor in the UK with Liberty Wines; the quality of the entire range has remained impressively high from day one; the pricing has been very constant and conservative, rising only very modestly over the past 12-13 years; this price stability and quality has built the brand a strong on-trade restaurant / sommelier following in the fine dining establishments of London.

Add this all up and you have a brand that sells out within a few months of arriving adding further to the all round collectability of the entire range.

 

Gabrielskloof Elodie 2018 Chenin Blanc, WO Swartland

Fermented and aged in old oak barrels, this is just classic intense old bush vine Chenin Blanc from two vineyards of 43 and 45 years old made in a minimalist hands off style. Oozes class and character with aromatics of fynbos, crunchy yellow orchard fruits and wet straw with an intense palate of white peach, granitic mineral spice, toasted almonds and pithy dried orange peel. Lovely definition and length. This is up there with some of the best old vine Chenin Blancs in South Africa.

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

 

Crystallum Clayshales Chardonnay 2019, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, 13.5 Abv.

Another superb rendition of this single vineyard wine from Ridge fruit that perfectly captures the cool, crystalline lemon and lime pastille fruit characters of Chardonnay grown at higher altitude. There are lovely white blossom and honey suckle notes with the most subtle kiss of white toast, vanilla pod spice and white peach. Still very youthful, but already the 2019s have a very impressive fruit/acid balance and a wonderfully integrated, harmonious honeyed leesy finish.

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

 

Crystallum The Agnes Chardonnay 2019, WO Western Cape, 13.5 Abv.

A beautiful expressive blend of Hemel-en-Aarde and Overberg Chardonnay fruit. The nose displays a wonderful saline, briney, taut mineral expression with notes of lime peel, lemon rind, honeydew melon and white peach. Restrained and focused on the palate entry, this is a very grown up, classy, serious Agnes that shows incredible restraint, minerality and mouth watering green apple crunch on the finish. Wow! This is so, so delicious. Crystalline pure Crystallum at its best! Bravo Peter-Allan!

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

 

Crystallum Peter Max 2019, WO Western Cape, 14 Abv.

A blend of four vineyards, three from the Hemel-en-Aarde and one high altitude Elandskloof vineyard. The nose speaks of old world Pinot Noir with classical mineral restraint, black bramble berries and earthy black currant with sweet, freshly cut straw aromatics. The palate is wonderfully crystalline and pure underpinned by a mouth watering acidity, fabulous varietal intensity, crunchy red berry energy and the most harmonious silky sleek texture. Hard to imagine how you could make a better Pinot Noir at this price point.

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

Other wines tasted:

Crystallum Mabalel 2018 Pinot Noir – 94+/100 GSMW

Crystallum Whole Bunch 2018 Pinot Noir – 95/100 GSMW

Gabrielskloof Landscape Series Syrah On Sandstone 2017 – 96/100 GSMW

The wines were presented alongside an incredible tasting menu at newly opened Sam’s Riverside Restaurant, the new venue for the famous Sam’s Brasserie that used to be in Chiswick, West London. The food was truly outstanding and helped cap off a superb evening of fine dining and wine.

Peter-Allan with host and restaurant owner Sam Harrison.

Sam’s Riverside

1 Crisp Walk

Hammersmith

London

W6 9DN

Crystallum and Gabrielskloof are distributed in the UK by Liberty Wines.

DeMorgenzon Enters the Race Early Doors for Best Chardonnay Release of Vintage 2018…

DeMorgenzon, or ‘the morning sun,’ was so named as it is the first part of the Stellenboschkloof valley to see the sun because of its high altitude and aspects which cover the top southern and eastern slopes of Ribbokkop, overlooking the famous pinnacle of Kanonkop from where a cannon used to be fired to alert the farms in the region that a ship had arrived into Table Bay. The first road from Cape Town to Stellenbosch ran through the Stellenbosch Kloof.

DeMorgenzon farm has a very long history and was originally a section of Uiterwyk, one of the oldest farms in South Africa. In 1682 Uiterwyk, the ‘outer ward,’ was let to Dirk Cauchet before finally being granted to him by Governor Willem Adriaan van der Stel in 1699. Fast forward 300 years to 2003 when Wendy and Hylton Appelbaum bought DeMorgenzon and have since transformed it into a 90 hectare wine farm.

Under the expert winemaking guidance of Carl van der Merwe, DeMorgenzon has re-emerged as one of the top wineries in South Africa producing a wide range of white and red wines which is spearheaded by their Reserve Range of wines which includes a Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay and Syrah together with the wineries iconic Divas Chenin Blanc.

DeMorgenzon Chardonnay Reserve 2018, WO Stellenbosch, 13.5 Abv.

The super expressive 2018 Reserve Chardonnay was hand-picked and whole-bunch-pressed before being matured in French oak barrels, 30% of which were new with the rest second passage and older. The nose hooks you from the very start, beginning an inescapable sensorial seduction. Fabulous layers of bitter lemon, orange peel zest, grapefruit marmalade, green apple and subtle cream soda lift are impressively tightly knit together with the most gentle, mineral suggestion of struck match reduction. The palate displays a notable clarity and purity together with harmony, finesse and a crystalline texture. Waves of orange zest, smokey lemon pastille, ruby grapefruit and yellow plum notes mix with a dusting of vanilla pod spice on a long, dreamy, lingering finish. This is benchmark premium Chardonnay from one of South Africa’s most talented winemakers. Drink now and over 5-8+ years.

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

The Fine Wine Safari’s Top 10 Most Memorable South African White Wines of 2019…  

What a great year of fine wine it has been yet again. I am so fortunate to be in a position allowing me to taste not only the greatest wines of the world on a regular basis here in London as well as on my extensive travels, but also taste the finest wines produced in South Africa on a regular basis while always trying to retain a very measured, objective outlook in terms of where South Africa’s greatest wines really fit into the pecking order of international fine wine.

For my white top 10 selection, I have not merely selected my highest scoring wines of the year as that would be far too predictable, but I have instead chosen wines that I found not only outstanding in quality terms but also memorable, characterful and thrilling to drink.

I’d also like to offer a special thanks to all the producers, many of them close friends, that have offered me their time for my regular visits, tastings and importantly, lots of joyous eating and drinking together. Your hospitality and friendship is never taken for granted and greatly appreciated and treasured.

Happy New Year 2019. I truly believe 2020 is going to be another exceptional year of success for South African wine.

 

Top 10 Whites (in no particular order):

Restless River Ava Marie Chardonnay 2017 – 96+/100 GSMW

Sakkie Mouton Revenge of the Crayfish Chenin Blanc 2018 – 96/100 GSMW

Alheit Family Huilkrans Chenin Blanc 2018 – 97/100 GSMW

Cape Winemakers Guild Leeu Passant Radicales Libres Chardonnay 2014 – 97+/100 GSMW

David & Nadia Plat’Bos Single Vineyard Chenin Blanc 2018 – 96/100 GSMW

Sadie Family OVS ‘T Voetpad White Blend 2018 – 97/100 GSMW

Sadie Family OVS Skurfberg Chenin Blanc 2018 – 97+/100 GSMW

Catherine Marshall Chenin Blanc Fermented in Clay 2017 – 95/100 GSMW

Kershaw Deconstructed Bokkeveld Shales Chardonnay 2017 CY548 – 96+/100 GSMW

(Picture courtesy of Keith Prothero)

Lismore Estate Reserve Viognier  2017 – 96+/100 GSMW

The Top 10 South African Reds of 2019 will follow soon!