Leeu Passant ~ The Most Exciting New Releases From South Africa in Years…

Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines have always been all about bottling the great vineyard expressions of site and soils of the Swartland. This week saw the first new vinous additions to the growing Mullineux legacy in the form of Leeu Passant. 


The new range consists of two terroir specific Chardonnays and a dry red blend, which is a deconstruction and reconstruction of the venerable Cape wines of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s with almost equal portions of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault and a “modern” twist of Cabernet Franc.With the European Launch of Leeu Passant set to take place in London on the 5th April, when I’ll be in Bordeaux tasting En-primeur 2016 wines, it was fortuitous that I was staying with Chris and Andrea in the Swartland at just the right moment to experience these wines pre-release.


Below are my initial impressions and ratings of this profound new threesome of whites and reds…


Leeu Passant Elandskloof Chardonnay 2015, 14 Abv.

Very rich intense opulent nose, layers of pineapple pastille fruits, green apple and green citrus crunch. All natural ferment with indigenous yeasts, and all natural malolactics. Complex sweet green fruits, subtle creamy oak from 12 months ageing and another 10 months in bottle. The palate is taught, fresh and crunchy, some waxy white peach notes, flinty minerality and a noticeably cool, restrained dry finish. Plenty of power with animated subtlety. 

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


Leeu Passant Stellenbosch Chardonnay 2015, 14 Abv.

This is a blockbuster wine. Sweet green quince, crunchy pears and pineapple pastille fruits, Bon Bon green apple crunch and subtle hints of struck match reductive complexity and gravelly, saline pithy fruit. Incredible acidity showing real power and drive, and incredible precision. High acid, bottled at 8 TA. Also such subtle, considerate oak use, fine integration of fruit and acids and again, like the Elandskloof version, finishes bone dry and elegantly restrained. A very impressive, complex Meursault’esque Stellenbosch Chardonnay illustrating the grandeur and terroir of this premium SA region. Superb… A must buy for Chardonnay obsessives! 

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


Leeu Passant Dry Red Blend 2015, 13.5 Abv.

36% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Cabernet Franc, 31% Cinsaut. 

The Wellington Cinsault at 117 years old is the oldest recorded Cinsault vineyard in SA, blended with a more youthful 91 year old vineyard from Franschhoek. The Helderberg Cabernet Sauvignon is 36 years old and the Cabernet Franc 18 to 20 years old. Lovely peppery, spicy leafy nose of plum, peppercorns, sweet bramble berries, hedgerow, bergamot and sappy cherry spice. There’s a real opulent confit fruit character, impressive ripeness, fragrant but simultaneously mineral and restrained. There is also a real dusty granitic vein, a chalky, spicy texture and sweet red currant and raspberry sappy fruit. Punchy, intense, really focused but with real mouthwatering drinkability. Beautifully fine harmonious texture, and tight polished tannins. A true testament to South Africa’s red winemaking heritage. A very classy wine.

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

Volumes PER wine: Elandskloof  Chardonnay ~ 2000 bottles, Stellenbosch Chardonnay ~ 3000 bottles, and 4,000 bottles of Leeu Passant Dry Red. 

 (UK RRP IS £72 – £75 pb Inc.)

Tasting Kistler Les Noisetiers 2013, Sonoma Coast, 14.1 Abv…

I drank a beautiful bottle of Pierre Yves Colin Morey Chassagne Montrachet Les Maltroie 2014 on Sunday night, and this beautiful Kistler Les Noisetiers just reminded me of PYCM’s taught, steely, determined Chardonnay style. 


I admit an unusual comparison, but these 2013 California Chardonnays, of which I have drunk a few over the past few days, have such cut and tension twinned with pithy lemon and lime intensity and pure limestone minerality. Complete palate austerity… (a good thing!) with so much energy, freshness, and restraint. There is plenty of nervy textural palate richness with a touch of new oak vanilla spice, but I’ve not had a Kistler Chardy this mineral since 2010! Rasping, pithy, mineral and dry… this is so, so classy.

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

California Day 2 – En Route to Sonoma – Tasting the Exclusive Range of Ram’s Gate Winery, Carneros…

A very interesting first visit in Carneros en route to Sonoma. Ram’s Gate Winery was built in 2011 but have been making wine since 2008. Using a dynamic fruit growing and sourcing philosophy, Ram’s Gate grow approximately 20% of their production and buy in contracted fruit for the remaining 80%. 


Ram’s Gate have embraced a fairly unique sales and marketing approach, selling almost all their wines to their “members” and a handful of restaurants in 7 states. None is sold to retailers. There is a very inventive marketing policy as the winery engages with its consumers and doesn’t “sell” wine but prefers to look at their sales policy as “placing wines.” Easy to do when demand outstrips supply.

Wine maker Luke Stanko trained in Canada but originally from Michigan

Wine maker Luke Stanko, runs the show and sincerely expounds his belief in minimalist intervention, terroir focused winemaking. With 12000 cases produced annually, Ram’s Gate is a winery that is rarely quoted by critics and almost never scored, but is most definitely a must visit spot on your way out of San Francisco to Napa. By appointment only, ring ahead to book one of their amazing food and wine matching tastings.

Amazing food and wine pairings

2013 Carneros Chardonnay
13.3 Abv. Only 510 cases of this wine is produced from Clone 4 and Clone 96.

Aged 11 months in one-third new French oak. Real lemon and lime sherbet nose with a subtle lick of butterscotch oak spice. Cool, plush soft textured, showing beautiful harmony, plump lemon fleshiness and cool crisp framing acids. Beautiful elegance with full malo breadth. 

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

The first winery heading out of San Francisco.

2014 Sangiacomo Green Acres Vineyard Carneros Chardonnay

14.6 Abv. 263 cases, Aged 11 months in French oak, 40% new. Made from virused Wente Clone, the aromatics are dominated by green apple Bon bons and liquid grey slate dustiness. Plenty of classical restraint. The palate is where the peacock fans its tail. Rich, intense and ripe, there is textured depth and spicy intensity. Weight and power, with a lemon and green apple pie finish with subtle vanilla pod charisma. 

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

Looking South East to San Pablo Bay

2014 Hyde Vineyard Carneros Chardonnay

15.1 Abv. 793 Cases. Aged 11 months in 40% new French oak. A grand vineyard that shows fine complex aromatic finesse and notes of honey dew melon, cream soda, white peach, honeysuckle, green apple purée and leesy biscuit richness. Broad and powerful concentration, but rich, juicy acids and fine nuanced minerality. Real pedigree evident here.

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


2013 Carneros Pinot Noir

14.5 Abv. 2,122 cases, Aged 11 months in French oak, 45% new, only one parcel used stems. Very expressive nose bursts with cranberry, pomegranate, red cherry, blood orange and boxwood spice. Also lovely spicy, peppery notes, hedgerow and cinnamon spice. Such plush, seductive textural harmony, potpourri spice infused cherry confit and black berry compote. Very alluring, and inviting. 

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


2014 Gap’s Crown Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 

14.9 Abv. 512 cases, Aged 11 months in 66% new French oak from Clone 777. Very lifted fragrant nose that’s thoroughly graceful and feminine. Intensely perfumed, there is rose water, violets, jasmine and and a complex earthy, forest berry note. Very reminiscent of Marlborough Pinot Noir, the seductive smokey nuances meld with blood orange, macerated cherries, and milk chocolate complexity. Very elegant, powdery tannins that are finely composed, and a real pleasure to drink. 

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


2014 Bush Crispo Vineyard Russian River Pinot Noir (Sole purchaser of this vineyard)

14.7 Abv. 513 cases, Aged 11 months in 50% new French oak from 115 and Pommard Clones. A more exotic, rich, expression with black berry and plum, mint chocolate and eucalyptus notes. Full, plump and generous, this is beautifully round, harmonious and textural. Plenty of spicy stewed plums, soft sweet tannins, and an opulent, harmonious bramble fruited finish. A real class act. 

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

Luke Stanko, Commercial Director and Proprietor



Tasting a Pair of Grand Cru Chablis Beauties from Domaine Simmonet -Febvre…

There are several famous premium “commodity” wines produced in France, none more so than the wines from appellation Chablis. Few other regions other than Savennieres, Jura and perhaps Sancerre and Pouilly Fume, can offer such intense, terroir focused, style specific wines as Chablis. After all, there are many regions in the world that can make great Chardonnay, but none that can make a worthy Chablis lookalike. 


But Chablis is in the midst of challenging times, along with many other Burgundy regions. Vintage after vintage of small or reduced crop yields have placed massive pressure on continuity of supply and strained the appellation’s means to sustain listings in all segments of the trade. In 2016 alone, some growers like Simonnet – Febvre saw yields reduced by up to -60% by up to 6 different “plagues” through the season, according to winemaker Jean-Philippe Archambaud, including hail, frost, floods, etc.


So today I was rather appreciative to spend time with Jean-Philippe to taste through his latest vintages from Simonnet-Febvre. Of particular interest to me were a pair of Grand Crus – The Les Clos 2012 fermented 50% in tank and 50% in barrel, and a Blanchot 2011 fermented 100% in oak and also aged 20 months in barrels. 


The Les Clos was laden with wet chalk, liquid minerals, dusty limestone, dry bitter lemon, white citrus and dried herbal pineapple nuances. The palate was super elegant, richly concentrated but thoroughly harmonious with bright acids, broad fleshy green tart fruits, salty green apples, steely minerality and a long, classical, classy finish at 13 Abv. (Wine Safari Score: 93/100 Greg Sherwood MW)


The Blanchots 2011 was seductive and fleshy, with an expressive nose of caramelised tinned pineapples, subtle green toffee apple richness, pear purée, and a melange of bruised yellow stone fruits. There was profound intensity and a beautifully expressive, fleshy texture that resonated with chalky calcareous green apple spice, a familiar liquid minerality, bright crunchy green fruits and a real Cotes de Beaune Burgundian weight and complexity. The oak did alter the profile of this wine but it remained so juicy and complex that one could only see it as an attractive component. I could certainly drink a lot of this! (Wine Safari Score: 94/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

The 2015 Chablis wines in general are going to be a slightly lacklustre, pleasant, “restaurant” vintage. If you can find 2014s or indeed some exciting 2012s and 2011s like these Simonnet-Febvre wines, they are worth the time and money. 2016 is going to be almost non-existent and who knows what 2017 holds in store. There are meagre pickings ahead for Chablis. 

Navigating Off-Piste in Austria ~ Weingut Karl Schnabel Morillon 2014, Steirerland… 

Weingut Schnabel is a new one for me. A wine estate located in southern Styria on Sausal, a mountainous “island terroir” consisting of primary rock, free of limestone, resulting in especially mineral wines. 


Made from 100% Morillon, the local name for Chardonnay, from vines grown at 550 meters, this wine was fermented in open vats with indigenous yeasts for ten days, prior to ageing for one year in used Burgundy barrels.  No fining or filtration was employed and also zero sulphur was added during the vinification process. Coming in at a fresh 11.5 Abv, this biodynamic certified wine represents an intriguing, complex glassful of natural, minimalist wine making.


Tasting Note: The colour of honey and dried apricots, this is a more funky version of Chardonnay and a total style departure from anything found in Burgundy. The nose is loaded with white pepper, orange citrus, hints of dried herbs, oregano, thyme, and herbal infused vermouth. Palate is cool, fresh but elegantly textured with a pithy bite of grape skins, almond and hazelnuts bitterness, dried yellow stone fruits and a long, pithy, energetic finish laced with dried peaches and wild herb garrigue spice. This is a lovely food orientated wine with a real authenticity and eccentric character. Very unique but perhaps not for novices. 

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

Hamilton Russell Vineyards Chardonnay 2016 – Reviewing a South African Benchmark…

This time last year, I was sitting alongside my favourite Cape wine land royalty couple, Anthony and Olive Hamilton Russell at the Cape Wine Auction 2016 hosted at Klein Constantia. Roll on another year and I’m pleased to hear that the Cape Wine Auction 2017 netted over R22 million rand to bring the running auction total to over R55 million raised to date, all destined to be spent on valuable wine land charities. 


So to toast this amazing success and remember my lovely friends Anthony and Olive, who’s Cape Wine Auction lots have themselves helped raise millions over the past years, I decided to crack my first bottle of Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2016 that has just hit the shores of the UK.


Chardonnay is rightly flying high again in the repertoire of global fine wine consumers. Unaffordable white Burgundy prices have forced consumers to look for substitutes further afield and South Africa’s finest examples from the likes of Hamilton Russell, Ataraxia, Storm, Restless River, Kershaw, Meerlust, Newton Johnson, Julien Schaal, Warwick and Jordan have made a lot of friends around the world.

Having recently enjoyed the thrilling 2016 Meerlust Chardonnay with Hannes Myburgh in London, I was startled at the high quality and comparable style with the highly regarded 2015 vintage wines. What would the 2016 Hamilton Russell Chardonnay hold in store?


Tasting Note: Coming from fruit grown on Low-vigour, stony, clay-rich, shale-derived soils, this 13.2 Abv Chardonnay has a beautiful lemon curd yellow colour and an opulent, fragrant nose of green honeydew melon, apple pastille sweets, pear purée, chalky limestone and subtle wood spice and dried mint leaf. There is a youthful confidence to the palate that is at once both broad, lush and textural, but also fresh, intense and focused with pithy lemon confit and grapefruit marmalade richness. The 35% new Francois Freres oaking melts seamlessly into the fruit’s purity and concentration. Classy, complex and thoroughly delicious, it could be the wine’s youthfulness or perhaps vintage character nuances, but the 2016 shows slightly more New World opulence and sweet Bon Bon / pastille fruited concentration than the more Burgundian 2015. Perhaps a sign of the 2016’s unusually early and short harvest? Though Anthony is quick to point out that the harvest cycle was very similar to 2015 and the wine is perhaps “more typical of the Hamilton Russell style”. Either way, the 2015 and 2016 will go down in the records as one of the winery’s most successful pair of quality Chardonnay vintages. 

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

Another Fantastic Preview – Tasting the Impressive Meerlust Chardonnay 2016 with Owner Hannes Myburgh…

I was so pleased to catch up with Hannes Myburgh several times during his short trip to the UK recently to hear all about the great progress being made at the estate and also taste probably the best full range of wines I’ve ever tasted from one South African producer.


So many highlights, but tasting the 2015 Meerlust Pinot Noir again was very special and the Chardonnay 2015, wow, beautiful. If you bought the 2015, you are going to want to tuck into the 2016 with equal enthusiasm.


Tasting Notes: Bright clear brilliant straw yellow, this Chardonnay has a beautifully dusty fragrant nose of fresh straw, lemon peel, lees contact, biscuits and savoury wet chalk. Tasted along side the 2015, a 5 Star Platter award winner, you have the perfect benchmark to really compare and contrast the absolute quality of the 2016. This wine is every bit as impressive, with incredible concentration, seamless textured layers of cantaloupe melon, yellow citrus, waxy lemons, pineapple pastille and the most subtle, integrated oak notes. While the 2015 leans towards Meursault, the 2016 is slightly more Puligny Montrachet in character with nuanced nuttiness and vital, fresh acids. It’s certainly a wine that carries real presence, projects massive intensity of flavour and does not put a foot wrong. If this does not get another 5 stars, I’ll eat my hat! (Wine Safari Score: 94+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)