Never one to rest on his laurels, Chris Alheit is probably one of the hardest working winemakers in South Africa and, rightly so, one of the most successful too. After recovering from his mid-life crisis speed wobble a few years ago when he threatened to terminate the Cartology project, Chris has knuckled down to refocus on not only the quality of his sought-after single vineyard wines but has also continued to increase the quality of his mega-brand Cartology.
So with everything on his plate, Chris of course decided to create yet another SKU in his portfolio, this time a young bush vine Chenin Blanc at a slightly more accessible price point. Certainly not another Flotsam & Jetsam revival brand… the grapes for this new edition come from two young blocks in Stellenbosch, 70% from Polkadraai Hills and 30% from the Upper Blaauwklippen Valley. The juice was spontaneously fermented and matured in used oak barrels before bottling.
Alheit Family Wines Hereafter Here Chenin Blanc 2020, WO Western Cape, 13.5% Abv.
This is definitely an exciting Chenin Blanc and initially on opening showed some of the opulent, fruity, fleshy exuberance that I remember tasting on the very first Cartology 2011. The aromatics are loaded with ripe pear, quince, peach, apple purée and hints of melted honey on warm white toast with sweet dried herb nuances. The palate is tangy and bright with a fleshy mouthfeel, a creamy rich texture that shows an impressively savoury yellow orchard fruit concentration with deliciously fresh acids that lend structure and balance. This is an impressive debut for this new young vine cuvee from Chris Alheit. Drink now to enjoy its youthful opulence and over the next 3 to 6+ years. (9,036 bottles produced)
Cousins Danie and Hugo are 5th generation growers with prime vineyards in the Swartland, Devon Valley and the very exciting Polkadraai ward in Stellenbosch. Great wine is made in the vineyards and they supply a roll-call of exceptional producers – names like Alheit Vineyards, Crystallum, Raats Family Wines, Thorne & Daughters, Mulderbosch and LeRiche to name but a few. Embodying the drive of the new generation Hugo and Danie decided not only to sell grapes but to make some wine too. So started Carinus Family Wines using a selection of grapes from their extensive vineyard plantings to focus on producing some high quality reds and whites that offer excellent value for money.
The 2020 Polkadraai Hills Chenin Blanc is already their third release. After whole bunch pressing the juice was moved to concrete eggs for fermentation and ageing which took ten months. The granitic soils and total absence of oak has created a pure but punchy wine with an attractive “nakedness” on display with a perfect balance of pH (3.14) and acidity (6.6g/l) that should allow this wine to develop further beneficial complexity with additional ageing in bottle.
Carinus Family Wines Polkadraai Heuwels Chenin Blanc 2020, WO Polkadraai Hills
An attractive Stellenbosch Chenin Blanc that displays a wonderfully cool, sleek, mineral laden aromatics flushed with stony gravel notes, fynbos, crunchy green pear, white peach and subtle salty citrus zest nuances. On the palate, a lovely full texture marries restrained elegance with a glycerol liquid minerality, lime zest and quince nuances and a long, stony wet river pebble finish. Concrete egg Chenin Blanc has never been more sexy! Drink on release and over 6 to 8+ years.
What a whirlwind couple of years it has been for young talent Sakkie Mouton. With his maiden single barrel of Revenge of the Crayfish 2018 sold out practically before it was even released, all eyes turned to his follow up 2019 Chenin Blanc that just about managed to hit several export markets before the pandemic lockdowns descended. However, 2020 saw not only Sakkie’s third release of his Revenge of the Crayfish Chenin Blanc but also the new Full On Misfit Blanc, which, in 2020 was based mostly around a solid chunk of 56% Chenel (the Chenin Blanc x Ugni Blanc cross) and a 24% component of Colombard.
I would say that the two lost years of the pandemic have resulted in Sakkie’s wines becoming even more sought after as he has taken this opportunity to focus on fine tuning his winemaking style while experimenting with new varieties such as Colombard and Vermentino. In reality, Sakkie’s wines are almost impossible to get your hands on at the best of times, pandemic or no pandemic! So on my first trip back to South Africa’s winelands since February 2020, I caught up with Sakkie up the West Coast over lunch at Wolfgat Restaurant, recently voted the best restaurant in the world, to try some of his exciting new releases.
The Full On Misfit Blanc 2021 is a white blend of four different areas around the North Western Coast of the Western Cape. Each of these areas are located in close proximity to the cold Atlantic Ocean and the vineyards are a mix of old vines around the West Coast starting in Vredendal, Lutzville and Koekenaap. This year the Full On Misfit is made up of 55% Colombard, 21% Chenin Blanc, 19% Palomino and 5 % Chenel. All of the grapes were picked early in the morning to preserve freshness and then foot stomped in an old basket press without the addition of any additives except for a small amount of sulphur. The grapes were naturally fermented and left to age on their gross lees for eight months prior to being bottled unfiltered and unfined. The maturation took place in a blend of 228 litre and 500 litre 4th fill and older casks.
Sakkie Mouton Family Wines Full On Misfit Blanc 2021, WO Western Cape, 12% Abv.
1.9 RS | 7.6 TA | 3.24 pH
The 2021 Full On Misfit is an incredibly well assembled wine baring all the hallmarks that have made Sakkie Mouton’s previous releases so collectable. The aromatics scream West Coast terroir with layers of salinity, sea breeze and dried kelp over more linear expressions of white peach, freshly squeezed guava, pear puree and honeydew melon nuances. The ever-present crushed granite minerality adds extra complexity and character but also ensures that the wine never becomes too overtly fruity but rather errs on the side of a leaner classical textural restraint. The palate on this young wine shows fabulous crystalline purity and freshness with yet more waves of crunchy peach fruits, maritime salinity and delicate savoury notes of Japanese nori. The finish is taut, pithy and electric with a fine glycerol mid-palate balance and attractive hints of dried orange peel, lime cordial and brine. Another delicious addition to Sakkie’s line up, but more importantly, this is a wine that signals his growing confidence and expertise expressed with a certain ‘West Coast swagger’. Drink now and over the next 5 to 8+ years.
Whether you have tasted this wine with Chris and Andrea Mullineux at their Swartland estate Roundstone or somewhere else around the world, you always get the impression that the Old Vine white holds a very special place close to their hearts perhaps because it’s a wine that encapsulates their 15 year Mullineux fine wine journey to date.
Tasted with Chris and Andrea pre-release, this is a wine that quite obviously fills them both with incredible confidence and pride, as they reflect on the long journey to reach this special point in time. While Chris still waxes lyrical about the exceptional 2010 Old Vine White, which coincidentally “won” the tasters’ top vote at the 10 year white blend vertical a few years back in London, both agree the 2021 possesses characteristics and quality traits not seen before on this specific cuvée, making it a ‘must buy’ later in 2022 on release!
Mullineux and Leeu Family Wines Old Vine White Blend 2021, WO Swartland, 13.5% Abv.
Bottled after 12 months, this is a very, very pretty vintage with lower yields but also beautiful fruit purity, precision and a wonderful fruit – acid balance. The aromatics are ripe, succulent and opulent showing honeysuckle, white blossom, lemon cordial, dried herbs and lovely white peach and pineapple pastille notes. Nevertheless, the stand out feature on the palate is undoubtedly the textural sophistication, harmony and chalky minerality combined with super tangy acids bursting with lemon rock candy, white peach and crystalline citrus flavours. Simply an incredible intensity with a harmoniously weightless balance combined with a long, piercing finish. This is definitely a noticeable step up on previous vintages and an incredible achievement for the Mullineuxs! Drink now to 2034+.
The Swartland is very well-known for producing high quality Chenin Blanc grapes and Leeuwenkuil Family Vineyards are positively spoiled by the abundance of family-owned vineyards from which to source fruit from. Leeuwenkuil, or “Lion’s Lair”, was originally part of a farm founded in 1693 in the Voor-Paardeberg but in 1800, following its subdivision, the farm’s name was changed to Leeuwenkuil and in 1851, the Dreyer family became the new owners. Today, Willie and Emma Dreyer are the proud owners of Leeuwenkuil Family Vineyards and over the past 30 years, Willie and his team have together built Leeuwenkuil into what it is today – 1,250 hectares – the biggest vineyard owner in the Cape Coastal area.
Their entry level “value” Chenin Blanc is a wine I have tasted many times but as I discovered recently, the style of the 2021 Chenin Blanc is far more serious than previous vintages because a bigger portion of older bush vine vineyards were used. The Leeuwenkuil range of wines are always excellent value for money, made using natural fermentations, low sulphur levels and a general all round attention to detail.
Leeuwenkuil Chenin Blanc 2021, WO Swartland, 12.5 Abv.
Classically honied and peachy, this wine displays real depth and breadth with aromatics of honey on warm white toast, lemon pastille, wet straw and toasted apple strudel. Creamy and plush, the palate boasts luxurious notes of tangerine, pineapple and white peach together with a real textural depth and a wonderfully polished, balanced glycerol length on the finish. For the money, this is really very impressive indeed and displays everything that’s exciting about affordable ‘value’ Chenin Blanc from the Swartland. Drink now to 2028+
Most South African white wine lovers have probably heard of Ken Forrester’s excellent FMC Chenin Blanc which is widely regarded as a benchmark example nowadays. But his super premium Dirty Little Secret cuvee is a fascinating white wine made from a dry grown old bush vine Chenin Blanc vineyard planted in 1959 on decomposed granite soils situated at 650 metres above sea level facing the west coast and Elands Bay. Like the first two editions, this wine is a multi-vintage blend of older wines aged in old 400 litre French oak barrels that are then refreshed with a youthful current vintage. This third release incorporates wine from four vintages between 2017 and 2020.
Ken Forrester Vineyards Dirty Little Secret Three, WO Piekenierskloof, 13% Abv.
2.0g/l RS | 6.2g/l TA | 3.49 pH
This really is an impressive wine and on first taste reveals a balance, intensity and complexity that clearly surpasses the previous two editions bottled. The aromatics are vibrant and expressive with multidimensional hints of sweet yellow peaches, Seville oranges, tangerine peel, pineapple confit and apple purée. Both on the nose and palate, there is a bountiful mineral vein of stony granitic wet river pebble complexity that combines with electrically tart tangy acids and fleshy glycerol yellow orchard fruit nuances of peach, pineapple and tinned quince. Fabulous power and intensity together with unctuous sweet citrus fruit flavours on a honied, pithy finish. Dirty Little Secret Three is altogether more serious, more intricately assembled and more subtly restrained on the finish. Drink this classy wine on release and over 10+ years.
There cannot be many more meticulous producers in the Cape than Chris and Andrea Mullineux who, over the past decade, have established one of the most authoritative fine wine brands in South Africa. With unrelenting attention to detail, painstaking precision and ruthless selection, the Mullineux’s have stuck unerringly to their grand vision to create a Swartland first growth estate producing wines that can confidently rub shoulders with the greatest fine wine names globally.
While the Mullineux’s have triumphed year after year with their superb red wines, it has undoubtedly been the high quality of their single terroir Chenin Blancs that has helped them ride the Swartland wave over the past decade. Now established as one of South Africa’s most sought-after brands, fine wine buyers the world over are realising that these are indeed wines that they not only want to have but need to have in their extensive collections.
I recently caught up with Chris Mullineux in London to taste through their impressive Single Terroir new releases.
Mullineux Granite Chenin Blanc 2020, WO Swartland, 13.5% Abv.
RS 1.9 g/l | TA 6.0 g/l | pH 3.40
The grapes for the 2020 Granite Chenin Blanc were harvested from a 44-year-old parcel of dry farmed bush vines planted in the decomposed Granite soils of the Paardeberg. These very deep decomposed Granite soils from higher altitude vineyards tend to produce wines with great acidity and a flinty, stony aromatic profile with notes of blossom, sea salt and brine. The grapes for the 2020 were picked at 4 tons/Ha (24 Hl/Ha) and were whole bunch pressed before settling and then racked into barrel for fermentation with indigenous yeasts which lasts around 4 weeks. The wine was then left in barrels, on its lees, until spring, during which time malolactic fermentation was completed. The barrels were racked and blended just before the following vintage and bottled unfiltered. Total maturation was 11 months in 3rd and 4th fill French oak barrels.
It just seems that granitic soils and Chenin Blanc are a match made in heaven! After several years of distinctly hot, dry growing seasons, 2020 experienced cooler evenings and more moderate temperatures together with adequate water supplies for the vines. The result is a deliciously cool, tight, nervy expression of racy Chenin Blanc boasting aromatics of green fruits, citrus blossom and yellow grapefruit peel intertwined with stony, flinty mineral notes and dusty, herby fynbos and dried hay nuances. The palate is crystalline and steely and decidedly more linear and nervy than either the Schist or Iron cuvees yet lacks nothing when it comes to intensity and concentration. Sleek and fabulously textured, this classy wine bristles with green apple, green citrus and hints of tangerine and liquid minerality on the long, focused finish. Undoubtedly a wine that you’d be well advised to bury in your cellar for 5 to 8 years before drinking. (990 bottles produced.)
(Wine Safari Score: 96+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Mullineux Schist Chenin Blanc 2020, WO Swartland, 13.5% Abv.
RS 1.7 g/l | TA 6.0 g/l | pH 3.43
Grown in the brown Schist soils on Roundstone Farm, the home of Mullineux wines, these sustainably farmed Chenin Blanc bush vines produce small clusters, tiny grapes, and thicker skins, which lend to the structure of this wine. The maiden 2013 Schist single terroir Chenin Blanc was sourced from the neighbouring Goldmine farm while the Mullineux’s planted their own vineyards. Planted on a contour to conserve soil integrity and ensure erosion control, this wine exudes the exact sunshine, freshness and phenolic balance that have come to define the Schist Chenin Blanc stylistically. The young vine harvests originally went into the Kloof Street Chenin Blanc before the grapes started to show real potential in 2019 when a component was bottled individually. 2020 is the first proper commercial release of the Schist since the 2013 vintage. The grapes were hand-harvested in the early morning fresh air and were oxidatively whole-bunch pressed into barrel where natural fermentation started. The wine was naturally fermented with indigenous yeasts and then left in barrel on its lees until spring, when it was racked and blended just before the following vintage and bottled unfiltered. The 2020 was matured for 11 months in 3rd and 4th fill 500L French oak barrels.
The brown schist soils of the Kasteelberg are renowned for yielding rich, creamy, fruit forward Syrahs and similarly with Chenin Blanc, these soils impart their unique character on the wine style. Full, rich and glycerol, this expression displays impressive textural breadth and depth that is accentuated by slightly softer acids and more noticeable phenolic pithiness from the grape’s thicker skins. The aromatics are packed with yellow pear, white peach, quince and candied lemon pastille fruits with more subtle mineral undertones. The palate shows wonderful purity and ripeness with rich, glycerol layers of unctuous green and yellow orchard fruits that are enlivened by a delicious sweet and sour tangy acidity, finishing with mouth watering notes of fresh fennel and naartjie. This wine performs from the minute the cork is pulled but grows in complexity and stature the longer it is open. A simply delicious, amiable style of Chenin Blanc. (2,220 bottles produced.)
(Wine Safari Score: 95+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Mullineux Iron Chenin Blanc 2020, WO Swartland, 12.99% Abv.
RS 1.9 g/l | TA 6.3 g/l | pH 3.40
Hailing from the red rich, gravelly-clay Koffieklip soils on the rolling hills outside of Malmesbury, this dry land bush vine vineyard is always the first to ripen. In 2018 the Mullineux’s took over the whole parcel, allowing them to allocate rows that would truly show the natural texture, alluring extract and balanced acidity that these small and concentrated Chenin Blanc grapes grown on Iron soils contribute to the variety and final wine. The grapes were harvested on the 20th January 2020 with a yield of just below 3.7 tons/Ha (20 Hl/Ha). The Iron Chenin Blanc vineyard always has a low juice-to-berry ratio due to its adaptability to the soil in conjunction with its meso-climate, which is why the Mullineux’s are incredibly careful when hand-harvesting these minuscule quantities. After oxidative pressing to barrel, indigenous yeast took the must through primary fermentation and natural malolactic fermentation was not inhibited. Sulphur was only added after natural settling occurred, and the 2020 vintage was bottled after 11 months ageing in 3rd and 4th fill 500L French oak barrels.
A portion of these Chenin Blanc grapes from circa 30-year-old vines used to be blended into the Kloof Street Chenin Blanc with their lower alcohols and higher dry extract levels that are comparable to a red wine. This maiden release 2020 shows great power, freshness and vibrancy with aromatics bursting with yellow and orange citrus fruits, orange peel, tangerine and white peach with a notable struck flint, gun smoke character. The palate is equally complex and shows richness, density and power, the result of picking riper golden bunches together with some green bunches that lend notes of green citrus and a tantalisingly tangy freshness. What the Iron cuvee lacks in delicacy, racy acids and mineral bite, it more than makes up for with its concentration, foursquare savoury palate density and classic smoky Burgundian reduction. A fabulous new addition to the single terroir range that represents uncompromising fruit selection and quality. (1,560 bottles produced.)
In London for the first time in two years, Samantha O’Keefe brazenly announces that she is not yet ready to forget the trauma of her tragic winery fire on the 17th December 2019 and ‘move on’. The reflective tragedy and trauma are still just too great. She admits it will take time for the scars to heal, but if there was ever a more effect balm to help heal these deep scars, it is the support proffered from the local wine industry.
As a true testament to Sam’s tenaciousness and resilience, this maiden release Chenin Blanc has almost come to signify the new dawn at Lismore, being made from fruit donated by a neighbour in nearby Stanford. This is an outstanding benchmark cool climate expression of Chenin Blanc unlike anything produced in the Swartland or even Stellenbosch for that matter, and the 2,000 bottles deserve to be snapped up in the blink of an eye. Track this wine down if you can, if will certainly reward long term cellaring.
Lismore Chenin Blanc 2020, WO Cape South Coast, 12% Abv.
Made from grapes grown in Stanford with a small portion of skin contact, this maiden Chenin Blanc from Samantha O’Keefe is deliciously focused, pure and precise with a pronounced stony minerality of crushed gravel over lemon and tangerine peel, tart pear, white peach and flinty nuances suggesting a hint of reduction. Counter intuitively, the palate is explosive and intense, bristling with green apple pastille, crunchy pear, liquid minerality infused with fresh fennel, dried herbs and hints of fynbos. But ultimately, this wine is defined by its uniquely taut, glassy acids that are cool, linear, crystalline and electrically fresh. A lovely lean, cool climate expression of Chenin Blanc fruit! Drink from 2022 to 2034+. (Circa 2,000 bottles produced.)
Writing about and reviewing Cape White Blends has got to be one of my favourite pastimes. Why you may ask? Well, it’s all about the unique ability of the Cape producers to mix and match some truly expressive varieties to produce incredible wines that despite being a fruit salad of varieties, continue to display their own unique sense of terroir and place while producing wines of incredible quality with impressive age worthy credentials. Oh, and of course they are impossible to imitate and copy. Some countries like Chile and New Zealand have tried their hand at producing similar esoteric white blends but I think it’s safe to say none have gained an international following and quality reputation equal to any of the great brands from the Cape.
John Seccombe has been producing his unique Rocking Horse Cape White Blend since the 2013 vintage and every subsequent vintage seems to get more sophisticated and refined. As well as being one of the most exciting white blends in the Cape, it also represents incredible value for money, something that is becoming less and less common in the world of fine wine these days. This is most definitely a wine you would want in your cellar.
Thorne & Daughters Rocking Horse 2020 Cape White Blend, WO Western Cape, 13.5% Abv.
A complex blend of 35% Semillon from Franschhoek, 28% Roussanne from both Stellenbosch and the Paardeberg, 16% Chardonnay from the Ceres Plateau, 15% Chenin Blanc from the Paardeberg and 6% Clairette Blanche from the Swartland. The aromatics display a seductive melange of white peach, green pear, freshly squeezed lime, tangerine peel and delicate hints of roasted pistachio nuts. Still embryonic in its youth, the palate reveals impressive linearity and tension, a fresh acid frame and delicious lingering notes of green apple, savoury yellow orchard fruits and bees wax complexity. There is more an educated sense of intensity and concentration on the palate rather than an overt unctuousness. But everything points to a very impressive wine with a fabulous stony minerality and a classically harmonious finish. Drink now over a couple of days or bury in the cellar for 3 to 5 years minimum.
Warwick Winery is a key player in the premium South African wine landscape so when the Ratcliffe family sold the winery a few years ago, there was a lot of concern among wine lovers that the new American owners would push the brand in a more commercial direction and eventually compromise on range quality. However, one of the earliest reassuring signs of confidence was the appointment of JD Pretorius as head winemaker after the departure of the talented Nic van Aarde to Oldenburg Winery. So at least the winemaking would be in safe hands!
Roll on several years and the wines are thankfully as good as they ever were with even more premium raw material available to JD from their Simonsberg neighbour, the Uitkyk winery, which was also purchased by Warwick’s new owners. Most impressively, the new releases of the ‘classic wines’ at Warwick including the Trilogy red Cape Bordeaux blend, the Blue Lady Cabernet Sauvignon and their excellent Cabernet Franc are all superb and firing on all cylinders. But exciting new labels have also been created like the impressive Professor Black Pitch Black red blend as well as a new release Chenin Blanc made from old vines situated on the Uitkyk estate.
Made from a single vineyard Chenin Blanc planted in 1978 on the lower slopes of the Simonsberg, these lovely old bush vines yielded a small harvest of exceptionally high-quality fruit coaxed to perfection by winemaker JD Pretorius. The Grapes were handpicked in the cool early morning and then whole bunch pressed with the juice being allowed to clarify naturally before fermentation took place in 400 litre French oak barrels. After fermentation, the barrels were rolled once a month for nine months before blending in January 2020 and bottling in February 2020.
Warwick Old Vine Single Vineyard Chenin Blanc 2019, WO Simonsberg-Stellenbosch, 13.5% Abv.
1.65g/l RS | 5.73 TA | 3.38pH
This Chenin Blanc made from grapes planted in 1978 shows expressive and nuanced aromatics boasting layers of pear puree, wet straw, honied white peaches and a compelling stony minerality. On the palate, the wine reveals an explosive depth of fruit, rich glycerol layers of tangy tangerine glacé and candied yellow fruits, quince, and honied yellow plum. There is plenty of showy breadth and depth but it’s the intensity of the old vine fruit that really impresses most. This is top drawer quality and a delightful addition to a very accomplished range of Warwick Wines. Drink on release or bury in the cellar for 10 to 12+ years.