Craig Hawkins’ interpretation of Chenin Blanc can divide opinion. Well, I love his wines. He always seems to somehow capture extra nerve, wound spring tension and vibrant freshness. There’s much more to it than merely explaining it as a result of earlier picking having tasted a lot of early picked versions that are hard, tart, one dimensional and lacking in texture and flavour complexity. No such problems for Craig’s wines.
I’ve never made a white wine myself, only red, but having followed Craig’s evolution as a winemaker, you can really see the subtle tricks he’s learnt along the way while making some “funky” whites with up to 2 years skin contact. As he always told me… “I wasn’t looking for any particular result with all the experimentation with skin contact, I just wanted to see how far I could push things … and learn something in the process.”
Well, Craig has certainly reined things in a little over the past few years, a clear sign that he has matured into a high quality, thoughtful, considerate winemaker. But importantly, he has never compromised his flair or his wines characterful natural purity and textural style. With his 2015 El Bandito Cortez, Craig has hit his zenith with Chenin Blanc.
Testalonga El Bandito Cortez Chenin Blanc 2015, 12.5 Abv.
This Chenin Blanc has a beautifully bright pale golden colour with aromas of baked crab apples, white bread drizzled with honey, incense, and tinned white peaches in syrup. Superbly expressive and complex. The palate is cool, taught and intense with Craig’s hallmark low pH feel and vibrant tension, but with perhaps a few extra layers thanks to the sublime 2015 vintage character. Plenty of racy freshness, white citrus, pithy river pebble minerality, waxy tangerine peel, fresh fennel and beautiful briney, salty sea breeze zest. This wine typifies low intervention winemaking at its very best. Decant before serving for best results. Drink from 2017 to 2030+.
I had a wonderful opportunity last week to drink a few glasses of this beautiful old Chenin Blanc from Domaine Huet at the fabulous Remedy Wine Bar in London. It’s old, it’s Chenin Blanc… What else could you ask for? Seriously!
Rich, caramelized yellow peaches, sweet honey combe, ripe and intense. Palate is expansive with soft sweet yellow fruits, no edges, and a profound peach confit finish. The length and complexity are beguiling, intriguing. The bubble has dissipated but the complexity is impressive. Just love the coffee bean and crisp caramel brittle intensity. A great vintage, superb depth, beautifully aged wine.
Last week I visited Eben Sadie’s new winery next to Lammershoek. What an amazingly impressive spot on the Paardeberg. Despite the water shortages and attempted sand mining, the new cellar space (combined with a beautiful homestead on the hill) should all contribute to yet more increases in focus and wine quality.
Sitting in London 2 days later, with spring time weather drawing me into the garden to dust off my BBQ, I felt I had to open one of Eben’s finest, and one of my favourites… the Iconic Skurfberg Old Vine Series.
Made from unirrigated parcels of old bush vines planted between 1940 and 1955 on decomposed sandstone in the Oliphants River Region, these knarled old vines struggle to survive with only the sparse local rainfall to rely on. But it is precisely this struggle that makes these old vines produce sumptuous grapes that perhaps some bird may eat and then propagate elsewhere… or so the natural selection idea goes.
Tasting Note: Sadie Family Old Vines Skurfberg Chenin Blanc 2013, 13.5 Abv.
Made from pure Chenin Blanc, this wine reaches levels of complexity and intensity normally only white blends from SA can hope to achieve. The nose is dusty and slatey, leaving the fruit nuances to fight through the minerality. Plenty of dry citrus peel, nectarine skins, crunchy white peaches and sweet pear blossom. The palate is taught yet textural, saline, citric and bright. The palate is laden with dusty white citrus, honey suckle, with finely balanced breadth and depth. Tantalising cassis leaf, yellow crab apple and crunchy white peaches dominate a long, vibrant, fresh finish. The 2013 is slightly more overt and fleshy than the taught 2012 I drank with Eben at the Adi Badenhorst Oesaf last week, but still boasts amazing concentration and classism that should allow this wine to age gracefully for 20+ years. An epic expression of Chenin!
There is probably never going to a better time to visit David Sadie at his leased winery on the Paardebosch Farm in the Paardeberg where he produces his David & Nadia range of Swartland Wine of Origin wines. After all, it’s not everyday one of your wines scores 98/100 points twice in close succession, in this case, his Hoe Steen Single Vineyard Old Vine Chenin Blanc 2015 grown on decomposed red soils with granite.
After smashing the scoring meters at Decanter Magazine’s blind Chenin Blanc tasting, this same wine cracked another individual 98 points and a “White Wine of the Year” title from journalist Tim Atkin MW in his 2016 South Africa Report. Despite only one barrel being produced in 2015, it highlighted what is possible with this fabulous variety in the right hands.
David’s leased cellar is snug but seems to deliver the goods. In 2017 around 86 tons were crushed, with many of these grapes coming from vineyards being managed in a more organic viticulturally orientated style. The famous Skalie Kop vineyard is only one hectare and the Hoe Steen two hectares. Expectations are of course greater than ever, but giant of a man David Sadie is up to the challenge, ably assisted by Andre Bruyns, another accomplished wine maker.
Aristagos White Blend 2014, 13.5 Abv.
Chenin Blanc / Roussanne / Clairette Blanc / Semillon. Complex spicy dusty slatey mineral nose, with green peppercorns, incense, yellow fruits, green tea, green apples and waxy peaches. Full and beautifully round, the palate is fleshy and harmoniously creamy textured with real breadth and pithy yellow stone fruit complexity, finishing with hints of stem ginger, aniseed and fennel leaf. Drinking beautifully at the moment.
(Wine Safari Score: 94+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Aristagos White Blend 2015, 13.5 Abv.
Chenin Blanc / Roussanne / Clairette Blanc / Semillon (skin contact). Dense waxy nose that’s a touch broody and tight to begin. Develops spicy notes of apple purée, incense, dried herbs, lemon grass spice and savoury baked apples. The palate tantalises with a steely determination, more tension and focus than the 2014, and massive dry extract concentration and fruit length. Yellow peaches, pineapple pastille and aromatic yellow citrus fruits leave their mark. A seductive mineral laden white that will benefit from further ageing.
(Wine Safari Score: 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Aristagos White Blend 2016, 13 Abv.
Chenin Blanc +- 50% / Roussanne / Clairette Blanc / Semillon 10-12%. Another dry vintage that saw very low yields and earlier picking to preserve acidity resulting in lower alcohols in general. This wine is already very aromatically expressive showing waxy incense, bruised red apples, yellow peaches, and pineapple pastille opulence. The 2016 incorporates the fleshy, harmonious breadth of the 2014 with the tension, intensity and linearity of the 2015, finishing with beautifully cool, stoney yellow fruits and a dry mineral expression. Immaculate balance. A great success for the vintage. Seek this wine out!
(Wine Safari Score: 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Other wines tasted…
Sadie Pinotage 2016, Siebritskloof, 12.8 Abv. From two single vineyards. Dark Broody nose, leafy, sappy black plum and black berry fruits. Partial large oak aged portion. Fine sleek polished texture, cool and elegant. Impressive focus and tension but also a beautifully precise finish with sappy sweet tannins, crunchy berry fruit concentration and a saline, briney twist.
(Wine Safari Score: 93+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Elpidios 2015 Red Blend
Carignan / Syrah / Cinsaut / Grenache / 10% Pinotage (24+ year old bush vines on granite). Very spicy, perfumed savoury black berry fruited nose. There is a real mineral dusty granitic Swartland authenticity here. Lifted and fragrant, the palate is packed with black berry, black plum, and spicy peppery black olive tapenade complexity. Again, lovely balance and harmony with impressive textural breadth and depth but also a fairly tight, linear finish. This wine, out of all David’s reds, always benefits from several years ageing before starting to show it’s true potential.
So yesterday, after a very hectic weekend of vineyard exploration and tasting in the Swartland, I headed back to Stellenbosch stopping enroute at David Sadie’s leased cellar at the Paardebosch farm in the Paardeberg area of the Swartland where decomposed granitic soils rule the roost.
I have to say this was a double appointment as I also came to taste David’s assistant, Andre Bruyns’ second vintage release of his City On A Hill 2016 from 36 year old Chenin Blanc vines. Sourced from two old vine vineyards planted 1981, the 2016 incorporates 8% of Viognier in this 92% Chenin Blanc blend, producing 2,600 bottles.
(David Sadie’s new 2016 releases will be reviewed separately.)
Tasting Note: City On A Hill 2016 Chenin Blanc, Swartland, 12.5 Abv.
This is an alluring wine with complex dried herbs, dried mint leaf, garrigue and baking spices. So much oregano and thyme beautifully melded with dry yellow stone fruits and white citrus. I just love the nuances of pithy tart yellow peaches and the rich but linear taught structure that defines this and so many other 2016 wines. The palate seems to move into a 6th gear, where the impressive 2015 only had 5. Vibrant crunchy yellow citrus fruits, peach stone, and peppery, dusty slatey granitic minerality. This wine has energy and verve, massive intensity, pithy yellow pineapple and white peach concentration and a real dusty granitic finish that is direct, nervy, tightly wound and very focused. Well done Andre, not easy to make a better wine than you did in 2015, but I believe you succeeded in doing so.
The rarest wine in the Sadie Family Old Vine Series, and the only wine Eben makes from Stellenbosch. The Late Mrs Kirsten owned a tiny 1ha block of Chenin Blanc, planted between 1905 and 1920, and is now regarded as the oldest Chenin Blanc vineyard in South Africa.
Based in the Jonkershoek Valley at the foot of the Bothamaskop Mountain, this nearly one hundred year old vineyard is slowly dying. Eben has worked with the site for 10 years and nurtures it as carefully as he can but inevitably losing some old vines each year, which are carefully replanted to ensure the rejuvenation of the overall vineyard.
Eben picks early to preserve the fine natural Chenin acidity and then gives the grapes a gentle, but unusual, carbonic maceration to extract richness and oxygen defying compounds, but then ferments the wine conventionally.
Tasting Note: Pulling the cork on a Sadie wine is a near religious affair now days. Medium straw yellow colour, the nose is effusive with rich honied, pithy orange peel, taught minerality, tangerine peel, peach skins and pithy lemon citrus. Subtle pineapple and waxy, incense laden exotism make this an expansive, complex wine. Medium to full bodied, this profound wine is so rich and textural and intensely focused with fresh acids and wonderful honey suckle, orange peel nuances, and a beautiful chalky mineral wet slate touch. The finish is so long and elegantly powerful, regal, statesmanlike. A wine that challenges your palate, provokes discussion, and inspires your senses. A truly epic once in a lifetime wine experience.
I just can’t get the ringing out my ears! The LLLLLL of Lukas. Who!? Well, I have not met Lukas van Loggerenberg in person…yet, but his wines certainly precede himself. The owner of no vines, Lukas is the producer of several whites and reds that are stirring a lot of commotion. So, with my acknowledged limited knowledge of these wines… here are my reviews.
Kameraderie Chenin Blanc 2016, 13.5 Abv
Unlike many other Chenin Blanc, this wine is unashamedly opulent and exotic. Rich, textured and jam packed with pineapple pastille, dusty chalk and green apple cream soda notes. The fruit is pure, crystalline and crisp showing plenty of green apple, honeydew melon and an elegant, dusty, sherbety finish. A thoroughly intriguing, characterful Old Vine white.
(Wine Safari Score: 94+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Geronimo Cinsaut 2016, Stellenbosch, 13 Abv.
The label cries Geronimo… and this lush, opulent red is certainly a frontal assault on your senses. The nose is rich, fleshy and ripe with sweet strawberry compote, raspberry ripple and exotic paprika spice. The subtle hint of dried mango and quince confit add plenty of extra intrigue. The palate does what most cinsaut say on the tin… Crisp, fresh fruited, crunchy bright vibrancy, with the most pure, focused, linear finish. Classy, mineral and very juicy. What not to love about this gem!???
(Wine Safari Score: 93/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Breton Cabernet Franc 2016, Stellenbosch, 12.5 Abv.
Just a fleeting look at the back label shows an Abv of 12.5. So? Yes, I want to smash this wine. The nose is intriguing and seductive with macerated strawberries, red berry coulis, red apple skins and a vibrant stalky, sappy, spice. The palate is bright, vibrant and sophisticated. I love the blueberry crispness and cherry pithe spice! A very impressive Cab Franc effort! Lovely.