Making an Intimate Acquaintance with the Sadie Family Mev. Kirsten Chenin Blanc 2015… 

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. 

(Wine Safari Score: 97/100 Greg Sherwood MW) 

Tasting the new South African Wines from Lukas van Loggerenberg…

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.

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

Chenin Blanc ~ South Africa’s New International Calling Card…

Yesterday I attended a fascinating tasting and lunch featuring an incredible array of iconic red and white wines. But tucked into the selection was a threesome of premium South African Chenin Blancs, made by some of South Africa’s hottest, most talented, rising star winemakers.

The flight consisted of the Patatsfontein 2015 Montagu Old Vine Chenin Blanc, the David & Nadia Skaliekop 2014 Swartland Chenin Blanc and the Johan “Stompie” Meyer Mother Rock Liquid Skin 2015 Chenin Blanc. Three vastly differing expressions of Chenin Blanc from three very individual, innovative winemakers.

More importantly, the three wines illustrated both the terroir versatility of the Chenin Blanc grape as well as the stylistic winemaking versatility present in South Africa. It is now impossible to pigeon hole Chenin Blanc within a generic context. The styles, expressions, and interpretations are so varied.

Chenin Blanc is now doing for South Africa, what Chardonnay has done so clearly for Burgundy in France. There is a style to suit all palates and a price point to suit all pockets. This diversity needs to be celebrated as it’s the fuel that continues to power the whole category forward internationally.
Patatsfontein Chenin Blanc 2015, Montagu

This Chenin Blanc ferment features a 40% portion with malolactic conversion and is then aged 11 months in old oak barrels. The nose bursts with lifted sweet white blossom, rich honeycomb, white peach, yellow citrus and vanilla pod spice. The palate is beautifully layered and elegantly textured with impressive concentration that grows as the wine sits in the glass. Light on its feet, there is a fabulous vein of acidity that melts into the fruit, harmonising beautifully with dusty mineral notes on the long, focused finish. Incredible class and precision, but oh so characterful all at once. A wine that is growing in stature and quality with each subsequent release. (Wine Safari Score: 94+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

David & Nadie Skaliekop Chenin Blanc 2014, Swartland

Another standout wine from David Sadie. We all know the heights that have been reached with his 2015 single vineyard wines, but this 2014, from a vineyard planted in 1985 on shale soils yields a beautifully opulent, exotic nose of lemon oil, yellow peaches, honeysuckle, orange blossom, pithy lemon marmalade and dusty, chalky notes. This wine is full bodied, unctuous, richly textured and full flavoured with oxidative honey notes, sweet lemongrass, stem ginger and a long, leesy oak spice finish. A wine with plenty of gravitas. (Wine Safari Score: 93+/100 Greg Sherwood MW) 

Mother Rock Liquid Skin Chenin Blanc 2015, Swartland

This Chenin Blanc was sourced from an organic single vineyard on the outskirts of Malmesbury, planted with dry farmed bush vines grown on koffieklip, decomposed granite and clay soils. Grapes underwent 9 weeks of skin contact and the result is a truly impressive wine style. A deep golden orange colour, the wine has complex aromas of orange blossom, exotic fruits, apricot, old honey, barley sugar and grey slate liquid minerality. Such a vibrant, pithy acidity with plenty of freshness and depth on the palate. This wine is seriously complex and structured, but also incredibly drinkable. Not perhaps for novices, but to say this wine is some sort of acquired taste would not be doing the wine justice. Majestically executed within its style. (Wine Safari Score: 94/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Revisiting the Profound Mullineux Old Vines White Blend 2013…

The Swartland is fortunate to have a wealth of old vine Chenin Blanc, so it’s no surprise that Mullineux & Leeuw Family Wines, one of the region’s and country’s finest producers, bases their estate white blend on normally at least 60% old vine Chenin Blanc. 

The grapes come from vineyard parcels in different parts of the Swartland, including stony shale soils, schist soils of the Kasteelberg, decomposed granite soils of the Paardeberg, and iron-rich soils in the hills west of Malmesbury. Winemaking is firmly based on the classical old masters of France, with fermentation in barrel using only indigenous yeasts, then aging the wine in French oak barrels (20% new), for 11 months approximately before being bottled unfiltered and unfined with minimal sulphur additions.

Mullineux & Leeuw Family Old Vines White Blend 2013, 13.5 Abv.

Tasting Note: Mesmerising green gold colour in the glass, this wine is as seductive and expressive on the nose as the day it was bottled. It just bursts forth with complex layers of floral white peach, white honeysuckle blossom, peach skins, lemon peel and a hint of buttered white toast. There is more green apple, pear and yellow pastille fruit concentration now than when I last tasted this wine, so it is evolving, however slowly, unfurling a few extra layers to tempt the drinker. The palate too is superbly balanced and incredibly intense with such vibrant tart acidity and piercing length. The wine has lost none of its youthful wound-spring tension, suggesting this vintage will be a fine example of Swartland Chenin Blanc Blends to lie down in ones cellar for a few more years. A little extra complexity of lemon grass, stem ginger and exotic spice starts to develop on the nose once the wine sits in the glass for a few moments longer. The finish is long, precise, and texturally seamless. A benchmark of quality for the Swartland and indeed the whole of the South African wine industry. (Wine Safari Score: 93/100 Greg Sherwood MW) – Tasted 29/12/2016

Accolades from the world’s wine critics:

2010 – 5 Stars Platter, 91/100 Wine Advocate, 17.5/20 Jancis Robinson

2011 – 4.5 Stars Platter, 94/100 Tim Atkin, 92/100 Steve Tanzer

2012 – 4.5 Stars Platter, 91/100 Wine Advocate, 18/20 Jancis Robinson

2013 – 4.5 Stars Platter, 92/100 Wine Advocate, 17/20 Jancis Robinson

2014 – 5 Stars Platter, 93/100 Wine Advocate

2015 – 4.5 Stars Platter

My 10 Most Memorable South African Wines of 2016…

2016 has been a busy year in the U.K. trade. Gone are the days of defined seasonality that used to resemble something like … Mediocre to very busy in January incorporating Burgundy En-primeur, quiet “gone skiing” February and then back to work in earnest in March…normally incorporating a couple of trips to South Africa, and then back, straight into the melee of Bordeaux En-primeur and Italian Super Tuscan new releases. Non-stop until July, then a bit of wind-down over the summer months before picking up the fine wine reigns one last time for the final push to Christmas.

Nope. Doesn’t work like that anymore. While seasonality has been on the way out for some time, the Brexit vote result and subsequent depreciation of the pound against the dollar and euro, ensured the busiest sustained fine wine market action in the U.K. since 2010/11. Indeed, the past year now seems a blur, albeit a successful blur. 

After recently reading journalist Tim James’ 2016 year in reflection, I agree that I too am not a massive fan of Top 10s … or 20s etc, wines of the year lists. Like him, I prefer to contemplate my “most memorable” wines of the year… the ones that were accompanied with a “wow” moment and then firmly lodged themselves in your subconscious wine psyche. 

I’ve probably missed a couple, and have almost certainly left a few older vintages off in favour of more current releases, but all the below wines made an impact on me and my palate! So well done to the wineries! Onwards and upwards in 2017!

5 Memorable White Wines

David & Nadie Hoe Steen Chenin Blanc Swartland 2015 – 98/100
I sat on the blind Decanter Magazine panel that judged this wine top of the tree. Maybe next time David will decide to make more than one bloody barrel!! Oi vey!

I wish all Skurfberg labels could have the William Kentridge label like the 2009
Sadie Family OVS Skurfberg 2015 – 96/100

This wine from Eben Sadie is normally a slow starter, requiring a bit of time in bottle to show at its best. But with the extra 2015 vintage concentration and intensity, it’s spectacularly good from the start. Fill your cellar with this gem.

Ataraxia Chardonnay 2015 – 95/100

Tasted and rated blind recently, this is Kevin Grant at his dogged and determined best. A benchmark Chardonnay from an obliging vintage. I think I even dreamt about drinking and tasting this wine afterwards!

Naude Old Vine Chenin Blanc 2013 – 95/100

Tasted again recently at the Ian Naude Old Vine Masterclass in London, along side his 2015. Well, if Coche-Dury made Chenin Blanc, it would probably taste something like this beauty! A really profound white wine that’s also age worthy.

Thorne & Daughters Paper Kite Old Vine Semillon 2015 – 95/100

While Semillon has hit the big time again, this one just piped a few other great wines from 2015. I loved the versions from Jacques Wentzel and Chris Alheit, but the Paper Kite just seemed to be that little more seductive, earlier. 

5 Memorable Red Wines

MR de Compostella 2014 – 96/100

This is one of my favourite SA reds. While I’m yet to taste a vintage that’s even near maturity, I believe the MR will one day be revered as one of the longest lived SA reds a la GS Cabernet 66 and 68. The maiden MR 2004 is still a baby. Patience is definitely required.

Kanonkop Black Label Pinotage 2014 – 96/100

Kanonkop has always been closely aligned with Majestic Wine Warehouses in the U.K., making it difficult for independent merchants to champion one of SA’s greatest producers. In 2016 this changed and I finally shipped some of their Cabernet, Paul Sauer, and their Black Label 2014, a profoundly good wine, regardless of varietal!

Savage Follow the Line 2015 – 95/100 

Duncan Savage carved out a niche as one of SA’s best “white wine makers”. Now he is firmly engaged in convincing the wine world of his new credentials as simply… “one of SA’s very best winemakers”… period! His reds are possibly even better than his whites (dare I say that?) and I predict that in the grand wine scheme, we ain’t seen nothing yet! 

Mullineux Family Wines Schist Syrah 2014 Swartland – 95/100

I’ve never denied being more of a Bordeaux guy than a Rhone kind of guy, but when you taste such a suave, terroir driven expression like the Schist Syrah, I’m easy to convert! A wine and producer that in my opinion, is still to really receive it’s just international acclaim among connoisseurs … though Andrea Mullineux’s recent Wine Enthusiast Wine Maker of the Year title in 2016 might just help!

Newton Johnson CWG Seadragon Pinot Noir 2015 – 95/100

Tasted this at the fabulous Cape Winemakers Guild press tasting in London pre-auction. Everyone in the room was swept off their feet including big wigs Dr Jamie Goode and Tim Atkin MW. A really profound expression of South African Pinot Noir. A real WOW wine! 

So a big thank you to all my friends, be they wine makers, estate owners, wine merchants or wine journalists for making 2016 another epic year of wine friendships and fine wine experiences. 2017 can only be better.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! 

Seduction in a Glass ~ Revisiting Thorne & Daughters Rocking Horse 2014 White Blend…

The sensational Rocking Horse Cape white blend from winemaker John Seccombe, is a eclectic blend of Roussanne, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and Semillon from vineyards between 19 and 34 years old. 

All naturally fermented with wild yeasts, with whole bunch pressing, using no new oak, and bâtonnage employed once a month. The lovely name comes from a rocking horse made for John’’s oldest daughter out of old oak barrel staves.

John Seccombe in his leopard tank top explaining the production of Rocking Horse

Thorne & Daughters Rocking Horse 2014, 13.5 Abv., WO Western Cape 

Tasting Note: The 2014 vintage of this Cape white blend is a blend of 35% Chenin Blanc (Bottelary and Swartland), 28% Roussanne (Voor Paardeberg), 22% Semillon (Franschhoek), 14% Chardonnay and 1% Viognier (both Overberg) that was matured in old oak for approximately 10 months. A medium straw colour, the nose is jam packed with complex lemon biscuit, lemon creme pie, pineapple pastille fruits, red liquorice, sweet fennel and vanilla pod spice. These flavours follow to a voluptuous, fleshy palate where the flavours meld into a seductive, seamlessly balanced yellow fruit melange framed by subtle creamy oak notes and a vibrant, mouth watering acidity. Such intensity, depth and flavourful length. This is another epic rendition of a Chenin led blend that’s drinking beautifully. Will be interesting to see how this wine ages. Drink now to 2022+ (Wine Safari Score: 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW) 

Handford Wines Xmas Tasting ~ Highlighting Some of South Africa’s Finest White and Red Wines…

Last night was the Handford Wines Christmas Tasting for 150 of our best clients. I could not miss this opportunity to highlight some of the fantastic South African 2015 vintage whites and reds that have arrived over the Autumn. We are spoilt for choice in London!

Here are some of my top 2015 picks of the night with the odd sneaky 2014 also getting in on the act! We are blessed in South Africa with such diversity and quality. You’d be mad not to seek out these wines and fill your cellar with them! 

Berene Damon’s fantastic 2015 maiden release Hemel en Aarde Ridge Pinot Noir (94/100)

2016 and 2017 vintages look like being very low yielding drought vintages. All the more reason to buy the sumptuous 2015s! 

Beautiful Mother Rock pair from Stompie Meyer. What a vintage to launch his new Cuvees to the world! Both the Grenache (95/100) and the Carignan-Cinsaut (93+/100) were on fire last night.

Jocelyn Hogan’s Chenin Blanc has taken the market by storm. The 2014 was a beaut, the 2015 leaves you gasping for air it’s so good (95/100).

John Seccombe has built a towering reputation in a matter of years. He reaches new heights of greatness with his epic white Rocking Horse 2015 blend (95+/100).

We all know wizard Andre van Rensberg is capable of making incredible wines. This small “Liberated” parcel of Helderberg 2015 Semillon (with a splash of 2016 Sauvignon Blanc) illustrates his exceptional talents (93/100).

No fine wine tasting would be complete with out South Africa’s most acclaimed Bordeaux red blend. Here the MR de Compostella 2014 struts its stuff and impresses like we know it can. A beautiful Cabernet Franc driven expression (96/100). 

Can there be anyway better way to finish off a tasting than with a sweet wine made by the Wine Enthusiast’s Winemaker of The Year 2016? Andrea Mullineux, with husband Chris, have followed up their Olerasay Solera Straw Wine release (98/100) with the fantastically good 2015 Chenin Blanc Straw Wine (97/100), winner of the Platter Guide 2017 Sweet Wine of the Year. Need I say more?