When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going – Tasting the Phenomenal New Release Savage Wines 2019 Vintages…

Thankfully I managed to visit South Africa just before lockdown in February 2020. While I had limited access to Duncan Savage who was deeply ensconced in his Salt River urban cellar busy pressing his 2020 grapes coming in, I did get sufficient opportunity to drill down on the phenomenal new 2019 vintage releases and the conditions that shaped Duncan’s newest and possibly greatest wines.

With allocations imminent, and after a lengthy 3 month lockdown in the UK, these wines are undoubtedly one of the most exciting releases of the calendar year along with Eben Sadie and Chris Alheit’s sought after old vine single vineyard wines. If you are lucky enough to get offered an allocation, the signal is BUY BUY BUY!

Savage White Blend 2019, WO Western Cape, 14% Abv.

In 2019 the Savage White Blend is made up of 64% Sauvignon Blanc, 20% Semillon and 16% Chenin Blanc with the Sauvignon portion increasing +10% on the 2018 due to the yields from the individual component blocks. Fruit was sourced from Kaaimansgat, Villiersdorp, Piekenierskloof and Stellenbosch. After being whole bunch pressed, the fermentations for various batches lasted from between 1 and 6 months with all components finishing secondary malolactic fermentation. The wine was aged for 10 months in old 500 litre French oak barrels along with a portion in concrete eggs. But certainly the 2019 whites are turning out to be as distinctive and expressive as Duncan’s 2018 wines were in their own characterful way but perhaps having more in common stylistically with the 2017 vintage. The 2019’s taut, smoky bouquet shows a slightly reductive liquid minerality that is utterly captivating, slowly unfurling layer upon layer in the glass. The initial petrichor notes of wet slate give way to crushed granite and dusty gravel nuances underpinned by aromatics of waxy green apples, dried fynbos, peach stone fruits and pithy white citrus. Initially dominated by the Sauvignon Blanc and creamy grapefruit notes of the Semillon, a little time in the glass eventually sees the Chenin Blanc component assert itself with hints of bruised yellow orchard fruits and a soft, pineapple pastille kiss. On the palate, the unmistakable Duncan Savage hallmark brilliance again shines with an outstanding balance and harmony, highlighting his masterful blending of these three white varieties. At once fresh, bright and supremely pure fruited, the 2019 Savage white is all about textural finesse, seamless equilibrium and pinpoint precision. The finish is long, persistent and intensely concentrated throwing out yet more teasing notes of passion fruit, white peach and candied pineapple. A very, very smart white blend in anyone’s language. Drink from release and over 10-12+ years. (9,900 bottles produced.)

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

Savage Follow the Line 2019, 13% Abv.

I always joke that this wine from Duncan has one of the biggest cult followings globally only because no one can ever buy any Girl Next Door Syrah! But seriously, this wine has joined a very elite group of Cinsault dominant wines produced in the Cape that speak authoritatively year after year. In 2019, the blend is made up of 89% Cinsault from 39 year old dry farmed Darling bush vines together with 11% Syrah, a percentage that would easily allow Duncan to bottle this wine as a mono-varietal. It spent 3 to 5 weeks on its skins with 50% whole bunches employed. Ageing took place over 10 months in an oval foudre of 1,500-2000 litre capacity. True to form, this wine is ultra perfumed and incredibly pretty with soft seductive aromatics of crushed rose petals, spring cherry blossoms, dried lavender, a melange of red summer berry fruits and an exotic Turkish delight twist. The palate shows a fabulously self assured, compact core of bright red fruits, intense zippy red cherry Kool Aid, candied red berry notes and a super dense yet supple core of purity rarely seen on modest Cinsault. The tannins are fleshy, silky soft and almost imperceptible with the harmonious finesse of the sublime palate texture grabbing all the drinker’s attention. Superbly balanced, subtly piquant and saline, this wine has such a dreamy, creamy finish, breath taking purity of fruit and the most well honed, elegant Grand Cru poise to suggest that this could be one of Duncan’s finest expressions of Cinsault to date. A truly profound wine. Wow! Drink this from release and over the next 10 to 15+ years. (8,000 bottles produced.)

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

Thief in the Night 2019, 13% Abv.

Only three years into this grandiose “Grenache project” and the quantity of the old, dry land Grenache in this blend has already grown to 61%, supported by 26% Cinsault and 13% Syrah. The wine spent 2 weeks on its skins employing only 20% of whole bunches this year to maximise the fruit’s true terroir expression. All components were picked on the same day and co-fermented from the same property in Piekenierskloof before spending 11 months in 3,400 litre conical foudre. Every vintage I have tasted of this wine has been a step up on the previous year’s effort and of course I wondered whether this would be possible again in 2019. Having a fabulously crystalline, translucent ruby red colour, this wine is sassy and confident from the get go, showing a rich, deep, savoury spicy aromatic depth of autumnal leaves, freshly cut hedge row, sappy earthy black cherry fruits and a subtle peppery broody depth. Yet again, the compact, signature 2019 palate texture density and harmony is unambiguous, with a seamless fruit – acid balance and a savoury earthy red currant and bramble berry spice complexity asserting itself on the long, plush, polished finish. I don’t know if Duncan is just simply mastering his Grenache fine tuning evermore or if 2019 was just an incredible vintage for this style of blend? But needless to say, this is his most confident and accomplished expression of the Thief in the Night cuvee produced to date. Drink from release and over 8 to 10+ years. (4,400 bottles produced.)

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

Are We There Yet 2019, WO Malgas, 13% Abv.

Last year I noted early on that the 2018 Are We There Yet cuvee had really found another quality gear on previous vintages. Looking back, this was genuinely born out in the real world as this slightly quirky Malgas red blend ended up selling out in the UK market even faster than many of the other more prestigious Savage red cuvees with only the exception of the Girl Next Door Syrah. But results like this are to be expected as Duncan strives to fine tune the winemaking of this wine year on year to match the style of this wine to its unique river pebble on shale terroir and its unique blend of varieties. The 2019 is again a blend of 14 year old bush vines from 50% Touriga Nacional and 50% Syrah, which spent 2 weeks on their skins before being aged 11 months in neutral oak foudre. A lot of the work done to fine tune this cuvee, like the 100% destemming, has resulted in one of the most plush, opulent and seamlessly harmonious reds in Duncan’s entire range. The aromatics retain their underlying dark, plumy, black fruit complexity with intriguing nuances of blueberry pie, black currant confit and sweet melted black liquorice candy. The palate incredibly shows a level of refinement that is more reminiscent of a Grand Vin from Cote Rotie, with tangy acids, sweet savoury velvet tannins, a fleshy luxurious core of black currant and blue berry fruits and a finish with the most suave, fine grained mineral texture possible. All in all, the 2019 shows a little more refinement, a pinch more plushness and a polished finesse that marks this wine as a very smart effort once again. Drink from release as you won’t be able to resist its overt charms, and then over the next 10+ years. (2,100 bottles produced.)

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

Girl Next Door Syrah 2019, WO Cape Town, 13.5% Abv.

Unless you are completely new to Duncan Savage’s range of wines, this incredible cuvee will need no introduction at all. Made in miniscule quantities from the most salty, wind swept and battered 0.38 hectare Syrah vineyard plot near Fishhoek, these gnarled 14 year old trellised vines planted on sandy gravel soils for ornamental value originally, have latterly provided some of the finest Syrah grapes in the entire Western Cape. This labour of love for Duncan sees 50% whole bunches employed in fermentation followed by two weeks maceration on skins, malolactic fermentation in 600 litre neutral French oak barrels and finally a further 11 months maturation in barrels. The aromatics are suggestive but initially offer up a shy, retiring bouquet of dark damson plums, Kalamata olives, sweet savoury cured meats, Tuscan wild bore sausage nuances, sweet green peppercorns, dried coriander and a lovely subtle waft of lavender blossom perfume. The front and sides of the palate bristle with mouth watering crystalline pure fresh acids, a seamlessly plump fleshy opulence and the most suave, sophisticated, lithe concentration and fruit density. While many high quality premium wines become sought after purely based on scarcity, I would suggest that the overriding factor for the Girl Next Door’s cult following is the undeniable knowledge that if Duncan is going to bother making this wine in such small quantities, he has to believe heart and soul that this vineyard has something very, very special to offer in the context of world class Syrah. Mouth coating and utterly entrancing, this is next level Syrah indeed. Drink from release and over the next 12+ years. (1,500 bottles produced.)

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

Savage Red 2018, WO Stellenbosch, 13.5% Abv. 

Duncan Savage is unquestionably proudest of both his eponymous signature white blend and of course his Savage red, and rightly so. These wines represent the true essence of the Savage brand however many new labels may be added to the range now or in years to come. Since 2017, this flagship wine has been made exclusively from 100% pure Syrah, and from 2018, 100% pure Stellenbosch Syrah! Produced from fruit grown on the famous Polkadraai Hills decomposed granite soils of Southern Stellenbosch, these organically farmed grapes spent three weeks on their skins with 50% whole bunches employed in fermentation. After secondary malolactic fermentation, the wine spent 13 months in 500 litre French oak barrels and then a further 9 months in 3,200 litre conical foudres. The aromatics chime a different tune to those of the meaty Swartland Syrahs. More base than treble, this wine’s aromatics show an impressively deep, compact red berry fruit concentration, a savoury, brambly, damson plum palate breadth that’s delicately massaged by a soft, pure granitic acidity. There is a real translucent, weightless, purity of flavour to the fruits, a true crystalline 2018 elegance and a supple, fleshy, seamless talcum powder fine tannin texture on the finish. True to the vintage, this wine will give immense drinking pleasure from release and probably hit its quality zenith at 8 to 10+ years of age. (11,400 bottles produced.)

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

The Leeu Passant New Releases – Part 2: Tasting the Wellington Old Vines Basson Cinsault 2017…

I recently caught up with Chris and Andrea Mullineux over Zoom for an intimate tasting of their new Leeu Passant releases. Instead of running through all the wines in one foul swoop, I thought I would afford each wine the time and respect they deserve by profiling each new release in three separate reviews. So following on from Part 1 profiling the delicious Franschhoek Old Vine Lotter Cinsault, it’s time for the Basson Old Vine Cinsault to get its moment in the spotlight.

This lauded dry farmed Cinsault vineyard is the oldest certified red wine vineyard in South Africa, planted in 1900 and farmed by the Mullineuxs since 2014. One of the original Old Vine Project “Certified Heritage Vineyards” that has been held up as a shining beacon of education and preservation, these gnarled deep rooted old Cinsault bush vines are planted on deep, weathered sandy Table Mountain sandstone alluvial soils which yield wines deceptively light in colour but also impressively structured, taut and rich boasting almost Cabernet-like minerally spicy tannin structures.

The famous Old Vine Basson Cinsault vineyard next to the Wellington highway. A true national treasure.

Regardless of the natural structure from the terroir, Andrea Mullineux also makes very precise wines that will age a long time and as such, she always recommends giving the wines plenty of air or decanting before drinking, especially for new releases like this.

Indeed, the Basson vineyard is another very important component of their flagship Leeu Passant Dry Red Blend which the Mullineuxs have started to age longer in bottle before release. The Basson Old Vine Cinsault will also be released a year later than their Lotter Cinsault.

Leeu Passant Wellington Old Vines Basson Cinsault 2017, WO Wellington, 13.5 Abv.

The grapes for the Basson Cinsault were crushed and destemmed into tanks with fermentation starting spontaneously with indigenous yeasts with pigeage twice a day. After 11 days of fermentation, the wine was given a further three weeks of skin maceration before being drained and pressed to barrel where it matured for 20 months in 500 litre French oak barrels. The aromatics are distinctively spicy and complex showing top notes of potpourri, dried rose petals, freshly trimmed hedge row spice and wild herb notes of fynbos and thyme. Imposing yet silky textured with beautifully polished dry tannins, there is plenty of broody depth and power lurking behind the bright red fruits of pithy cherry, raisined cranberries, blood oranges and sweet lingering peppercorn spice. The fabulously dense, focused, tight knit texture finishes with an impressively pure, dry, mineral tannic restraint reinforcing the stature of these grand old 120 year old Cinsault vines.

Andrea encouraged me to have a secondary taste of the Basson on day two (and day three if possible!) and I am glad she did. While the structure and sappy spice remained resolute, multiple extra layers of juicy red fruits enlivened with bright cherry acids had surfaced to make the wine a little less broody and stern. Certainly one of the most serious and breathtaking renditions of premium Cinsault produced in South Africa without a doubt.

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

The Leeu Passant New Releases – Part 1: Tasting the Franschhoek Old Vines Lotter Cinsault 2018…

I recently caught up with Chris and Andrea Mullineux over Zoom for an intimate tasting of their new Leeu Passant releases. South African wineries were once again allowed to send out samples as of the 1st of May as lockdown started to be eased, and after tasting through their new releases, it is clear and evident that fine wine lovers are in for a considerable treat with these new single varietal reds.

Instead of running through all the wines in one foul swoop, I thought I would afford each wine the time and respect they deserve by profiling each new release in three separate reviews. Starting with the seductive Old Vine Lotter vineyard Cinsault from Franschhoek, this is a vineyard Andrea has gotten to know more and more intimately after producing a 2015 and 2016 mono-varietal wine from this site for her Cape Winemakers Guild submission. The Lotter vineyard also forms a key part of the Leeu Passant flagship Dry Red Blend.

For many years, Franschhoek got a bum rap for producing wines that supposedly just weren’t up to the high levels of Stellenbosch, Paarl and the Swartland. Substandard terroir or lazy winemaking? Of course, nothing could be further from the truth, a fact highlighted by the production of exceptional white wines like those incredible Semillons from the La Colline old vine vineyard and of course reds like this Old Vine Lotter Cinsault sourced from a vineyard planted in 1932 but farmed by the Mullineux duo since 2015.

As Andrea points out, it is fascinating to walk through the wonky rows of the Lotter vineyard which have only ever been farmed by hand and horse, with the deep rich brown clay soils adding gravitas and density to the Cinsault grapes harvested from this 2 hectare vineyard. The plot was originally 4 hectares but by the time the Mullineuxs had managed to contract the fruit, over half the vines had already been grubbed up to make way for fruit trees. Andrea works with whole bunch clusters and only natural yeast fermentations for grapes from these eastern slopes of this south west facing vineyard planted with an ancient field blend of 90% Cinsault, 2% Cinsault Blanc, 6% Cinsault Gris and 2% Palomino. The grapes are harvested and fermented all together.

Leeu Passant Franschhoek Old Vines Lotter Cinsault 2018, WO Franschhoek, 14 Abv.

The large Cinsault berries in the Lotter vineyard develop thick dark skins and yield a skin to juice ratio not dissimilar to small Cabernet Sauvignon berries. This wine was matured for 20 months in 500 litre French oak barrels and shows a fascinatingly different expression to their Basson Old Vine Cinsault from Wellington. Fabulously red fruited, the bouquet shines with crushed rose petals, sweet red plums, sun ripened red currants, macerated cherries and exotic Turkish delight nuances. Fuller, rounder and more opulently fleshy on the palate, the generosity of fruit belies a density, depth and concentration supported by a plump, textured mouth feel enlivened with hints of sapidity, hedgerow herbaceousness and mulled wine Christmas spices. Beautifully sweet, well honed tannins leave a lasting impression on the long plush finish. A wine still playing its cards close to its chest, but suggests great rewards lie in store for those willing to cellar their bottles for a further 5 to 8+ years before revisiting.

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

Carinus Family Vineyards Release Some of Their Most Exciting Wines Yet…

I first met Danie Carinus back in 2018 when I popped over to taste Lukas van Loggerenberg’s 2017 releases. It soon became evident that the fruit from cousins Danie and Hugo Carinus, the 5th generation growers with prime vineyards in the Swartland, Devon Valley and the Polkadraai Hills ward in Stellenbosch, were supplying some of the most sought after grapes to some of the top producers in the country.

Great wine is of course made in the vineyards and for many years, the Carinus family have been supplying a veritable who’s who of top producers including names like Alheit Vineyards, Crystallum, Raats Family Wines, Thorne & Daughters and Mulderbosch to name but a few.

Tasting with Danie Carinus in February.

Embodying the drive of the new generation Hugo and Danie decided not only to sell grapes and have other people make great wines from them but to make some wine too. So started Carinus Family Vineyards using a selection of grapes from their 100s of hectares to focus on what works in each area. The winemaking of the Carinus Family Vineyards has until now, been overseen by the rock star winemaking talent, Lukas van Loggerenberg, who has helped capture the very best quality from the wide array of fruit available.

I caught up with Lukas and Danie recently in South Africa to taste through their exceptional range of new wines.

Carinus Family Vineyards Chenin Blanc 2019, WO Swartland, 13 Abv.

From cousin Hugo Carinus’ vineyards in the Swartland from a 7 hectare block that is split between this wine and the Rooidraai Chenin Blanc. It spends 10 months in old French oak barrels with the more forward, accessible barrels going into this blend. Again, multiple pickings were employed to ensure a fine fresh acidity and lower pHs. The nose has all the hallmark dusty granitic notes with a parallel complexity of richer, earthy yellow orchard fruit notes from the richer Clovelly and Hutton soils at 300 metres altitude. Plush, fleshy and opulent with a creamy glycerol mouthfeel, this wine is finely textured and boasts attractive juicy yellow stone fruit concentration, pear purée nuances and a stony spicy fynbos finish. Lovely length and purity. Excellent value for money!

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

Carinus Family Vineyards Rooidraai Chenin Blanc 2019, WO Swartland, 13 Abv.

If the Carinus Chenin Blanc is from the “premier cru” rows, this wine is from the “grand cru” rows as Danie Carinus describes them. Generally a different portion of the vineyard as well as a partial barrel selection of wines showing more intensity, minerality and tension. Aromatics show lemon herbs, lime peel, wet granite and white citrus. The palate follows with lemon and lime cordial, earthy pithy yellow orchard fruits and grilled herbs. Fabulous rasping tension, pithy, grippy phenolics and an overall intensity and serious Chenin Blanc austerity with mouth watering freshness. Very classy.

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

Carinus Family Vineyards Polkadraai Chenin Blanc 2018, WO Polkadraai Hills, 13 Abv.

A naturally fermented Chenin Blanc that was matured in concrete egg… well, of course it was! What else would you expect from Chenin maestro and guest winemaker Chris Alheit?! The aromatics are unsurprisingly taut, mineral and relatively austere coming from Chenin grapes grown on decomposed granite soils. But a little coaxing starts to reveal complex notes of crunchy white peaches, tangerine peel, wet straw and sweet honeysuckle. A wine that was apparently quite reductive on release, it has now shed its struck match veil to show beautiful pithy yellow stone fruit nuances, stony liquid minerality, masses of textural linearity and a fabulously sleek, steely, tart white citrus finish. Pleasantly piquant with a slightly bitter bite, this wine is seductively austere yet refreshingly mouthwatering. Fabulous! A convergence of great fruit and a great winemaking! Drink now and over the next 15+ years.

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

Carinus Family Vineyards Polkadraai Chenin Blanc 2019, WO Polkadraai Hills, 13 Abv.

The second vintage of this wine made by Butch Alheit from one of the smallest wards in Stellenbosch. Quite different to the Swartland Rooidraai, this wine boasts a tart, bright, lifted freshness and a beautiful expressive mineral tension. Constructed again from one concrete egg and one old barrel to produce 1800 bottles, this wine is punchy and pure, steely and focused with notes of lime cordial, crunchy white peach, tart green apple and taut white citrus and sea breeze salinity. Fabulous energy, vivacity and focus. Really very impressive indeed.

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

Carinus Family Vineyards Syrah 2019, WO Polkadraai Hills, 12.5 Abv.

Pure Syrah grown on sandy decomposed granite soils from 26 year old vines. Originally planted for mechanical harvesting but is now carefully nurtured and cared for allowing grapes that yield incredible perfumed fragrance, cherry blossom, graphite and incense nuances, wet slate and granitic minerality. Beautifully old world in style boasting freshness and minerality, restraint and brightness of fruit. Lovely red berry intensity, purity and olive tapenade complexity, this really is a fabulous wine with plenty of energy and appeal. If you like your Syrahs fresher and purer but less savoury and meaty, you will absolutely love this expression.

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

Hogan’s Chateau Musar Inspired Red Blend Shows the Wonderful Diversity Available to Winemakers in the Cape…

Hogan Wines is a small, family-run business that launched its first wines in South Africa with the 2014 vintage. After seven years of working with various wineries in the Cape and overseas, Jocelyn Hogan teamed up with her parents, Dunstan and Trish Hogan to produce initially a pair of innovative wines at their cellar in the Banhoek Valley.

The maiden release Hogan Chenin Blanc 2014 was harvested from 38 year old, south-east facing bush vines planted on decomposed granite from Joubertskloof in the Swartland. This wine immediately garnered 4.5 Stars in the Platter Guide and 92/100 points from Winemag.co.za.

The maiden Divergent red blend comprises of 34% Carignan, 33% Cinsault and 33% Cabernet Sauvignon. The Carignan was picked from 12 year old bush vines from Wellington and the Cinsault from a vineyard of 40 year old unirrigated bush vines in the Helderberg. Finally, the Cabernet Sauvignon was picked from 16 year old trellised and irrigated vines from the Polkadraai area of Stellenbosch. All components were crushed and destemmed except for the Cinsault which retained 30% of whole bunches.

The Divergent red blend was of course inspired by the very sad premature death of the late great Serge Hochar of Chateau Musar on the 31st December 2014, only weeks before the 2015 Cape harvest and of course not long after his first visit to South Africa to speak at the famous Swartland Revolution gathering. Having met Serge many times, I am certain he would have been a big fan of Jocelyn’s red blend.

Hogan Divergent 2015 Red Blend, WO Coastal Origin, 13.5 Abv.

I have not tasted this wine for a few years, but considering it was made from a highly revered vintage, I thought it was time to revisit this Musar inspired blend. The nose is intriguingly exotic, at first showing earthy red berries, red liquorice, savoury notes of red orchard fruits, sundried red cherries, red plums, wet hay, grilled herbs and a finely interwoven granitic, stony mineral nuance. The palate is soft, sleek and ultra harmonious combining a density of palate weight and mineral tannins with an incredibly subtle intensity of fruit concentration. Certainly quite light on its feet, the Cabernet Sauvignon almost certainly lends some extra depth, frame and mass while the Carignan adds a garriguey complexity of dried herbs, rosemary and mint choc spice. The Cinsault is undoubtedly the glue that seamlessly combines these varietal partners all together in the most sumptuous, elegant, red berry fruited mouthful of deliciousness. This wine is settling down nicely at 5 years old and is certainly approachable now. However, the time it takes to evolve in the glass suggests that you might want to leave your bottles for another year or three before revisiting… if you have a will power of steel!

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

Naude Family Wines Launches the New Oupa Willem Old Vine Cinsault / Cabernet Sauvignon Heritage Blend 2018…

Fully appreciating a wine region’s heritage is one of the most important building blocks for long term future success. This premium Old Vine red from Naude Family Wines draws on the unique South African expression of Darling bush vine Cinsault blended with prime Cabernet Sauvignon from Durbanville to create something quite magical in the context of cool, classical, linear styles of premium South African red wine. 

Fermented dry naturally to 12% Abv. using 40% whole bunches, this elegant red wine displays a fabulous brightness and a weightless concentration of red and black berry fruits that are embroidered with classical fragrant notes of red cherry, rose petals, violets and marzipan underpinned by a mouth watering acidity.

Indeed all the amazing old historical South African red wines of the 1950s and 1960s exploited this incredible synergy between the elegance, finesse and lithe supple purity of Cinsault and the plushness, power, flesh and textural concentration of the Cabernet Sauvignon. Once these varieties join hands in union, the whole is immediately incrementally greater than the sum of its individual parts. Having tasted and reviewed every wine Ian has ever made, this incredible Oupa Willem 2018 release represents a new pinnacle of quality in the next chapter of Naude Family Wines. Drink now or cellar for 20+ years.

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

Duncan Savage Releases His Most Sophisticated Range of Wines Yet – Tasting the Savage 2018 Vintage Wines…

I have been very fortunate to have tasted and reviewed every single vintage of red and white Savage Wines since the maiden 2011 red and 2012 white. Duncan Savage is certainly now well bedded into his new urban winery in Salt River and the 2018 range of new releases represents probably Duncan’s finest, most self assured range of wines produced to date. While certain individual back vintages may have recorded higher critical scores for wines in his range, this year’s releases are not only his most consistent quality wise but also the most confident and well honed wines produced.

With many of the Savage cuvees selling out on release, followers of Duncan’s exceptional wines are encouraged to get in quickly to avoid disappointment. As for Duncan himself, he is of the firm opinion that the Savage Red 2017 and Savage White 2018 are probably two of the best wines he has ever produced and more specifically, were made in a style that he is striving to perfect.

Tasting with Duncan Savage at his winery in Salt River, Cape Town in April 2019.

Savage Follow the Line Cinsault 2018, 13% Abv.

While only in its 5th vintage, if there was a race to create a cult wine in South Africa in the shortest time possible, this wine would stand a very good chance of winning. But with instant fame comes increased pressure and expectation and the 2018 vintage was not one of the easiest in South Africa due to drought conditions. But these 38 year old south-east facing Darling origin bush vines once again showed their true pedigree. Labelled as Cinsault, the 2018 includes 85.4% Cinsault and a slightly elevated 14.6% of Syrah, which were aged five weeks on their skins with the use of 50% of whole-bunches. The wine was aged 10 months in oval foudre (1500-2000 litre capacity). Always sublimely perfumed and fragrant, the nose boasts lifted layers of dried lavender, violets, rose petals, red crystallised cherries and hints of Turkish delight. But it is on the palate that the wine reveals a classy weightless streamlined concentration, fabulously sleek polished mineral tannins and an all round sense of finesse and harmony. A terrifically serious effort from Duncan. Pressure? What pressure! Drink from release but do cellar a few bottles for 5 to 8+ years. 

(95/100 Greg Sherwood MW )

 

Savage Thief in the Night 2018, 13% Abv.

The maiden 2017 vintage of this wine was released to rave critical reviews last year despite this cuvee still being a work in progress. The 2018 blend retains a punchy slug of 54% Grenache, a slightly elevated 24% Syrah and a fine supporting 22% Cinsault from the Piekenierskloof. Components were fermented separately unlike 2017, with the grapes spending 10 days on their skins using 20% whole-bunches. After 10 months of ageing in 3,200 litre conical foudre and one new 225 litre barrel, the wine was bottled unfiltered off its fine lees. When I tasted this wine from barrel, I instantly remarked what a step up I thought it was even on the excellent 2017. In bottle, the aromatics display a wonderfully crisp, pure delineated red cherry scented top note with plenty of granitic minerality and graphite in support. Subtle notes of sweet sappy red currant and red plum confit allow the nose to retain an element of broodiness but there is no holding back the palate however, which bristles with delicious vibrancy, wild strawberry, a bright pin point acidity and again an opulent, glycerol weightless intensity and concentration. This really is a genuinely thrilling wine!

(94+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

 

Savage Are We There Yet 2018, Malgas, 13% Abv.

Where the 2016 was perhaps a little later picked, the 2017 certainly turned heads and found and extra gear. In 2018, the blend is a 50/50 split between Touriga Nacional and Syrah, with the Syrah using 50% whole-bunches with two weeks skin contact. The wine was aged 15 months in old 500 litre barrels before bottling. This wine certainly has its own bold vinous personality and reveals a dark, deep damson plum colour and an equally deep, dark broody aromatic profile. Loaded with blue and black berry fruits, you can almost smell the sea as layers of saline black currant, kelp and piquant salty black liquorice are underpinned by a pronounced dusty, granitic, rocky minerality. With a mindful focus on freshness, Duncan manages to retain plenty of pithy mineral spice framed by dusty graphite tannins that flex a bit more muscle than either the Follow the Line or Thief in the Night blends. This is a really stellar vintage for this cuvee and perhaps the 13 year old bush vines show why Touriga and Syrah are so well suited to drought conditions. Very pure and super classy with a fine saline cassis density, this wine shows the same impressive gravitas and complexity seen on the previous 2017 vintage. A wine that looks set to impress the critics.

(94/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

 

Savage Girl Next Door 2018 Syrah, 13.5 Abv.

If Follow the Line has grown into a Savage cult wine, this tiny production Syrah single vineyard of 0.38 hectares grown on sandy gravel soils overlooking the Atlantic Ocean near Fishhoek, is most certainly the more serious icon wine of the range. The knarled wind battered and salt affected 13 year old trellised vines are made to struggle and normally yield little more fruit than a meagre 200 cases in a good year. 100% Syrah using 70% whole-bunches spends two weeks on its skins followed by malolatic and 10 months ageing in old neutral 600 litre barrels. South Africa has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to great Syrah wines, yet for me this wine, along with perhaps only one or two others, consistently represents the pinnacle of classical, restrained, old world character that I often envisage could have come from a grand old appellation vineyard of the northern Rhone. Always beautifully deep, rich and textured, the nose has a beguiling complexity of earthy black currants, sweet black peppercorns, black olive tapenade and cured meats. The mind and senses start wondering to foreign shores long before you even put the first sip in your mouth. Fabulously tight knit, creamy, mineral and restrained, blueberry nuances slowly give way to tart black cherry and sour raspberry coulis on the long, lingering finish. Peppery mineral tannins guide this wine confidently and elegantly like a firm hand on a boats rudder. A truly special creation, this is one wine worth hunting down and duelling for!

(95+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

 

Savage Red Blend 2017, 13.5% Abv.

After a bit of vintage shuffling, last years 2015 blockbuster was the last Savage Red blend to be bottled, reverting in 2017 to a pure 100% Syrah wine made from vines grown exclusively on granitic soils in both Stellenbosch and the Swartland. Farmed biodynamically, the Stellenbosch vineyard fruit makes up the lion’s share of this wine and indeed will comprise 100% of the Savage Red in 2018.The grapes spend two weeks on their skins with 50% whole-bunches used before spending 13 months in 500 litre barrels and a further 9 months in 3,200 litre conical foudre, or just under two years elevage in the cellar. A super smart and super concentrated expression, this later release allows one to revisit the fabulously complex aromatics and balance of the exceptional 2017 vintage. Loaded with piquant blueberries, saline cassis and blackberry opulence, the nose shows strikingly complex notes of pink musk, sweet grilled herbs, black peppercorn spice and is embellished with an intoxicating exotic sweet white lily blossom fragrance. The palate intensity is also tremendously impressive with a harmonious crystalline purity and classical elegance in abundance. Showing a slightly more overt, opulent personality to the broody foursquare 2015, this wine represents an evolution and growing maturity in the red winemaking of Duncan Savage. One of his best efforts to date no doubt.

(96+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

 

Savage White Blend 2018, 13.5% Abv.

As Duncan’s flagship white, the blend might sometimes evolve and alter depending on vintage conditions, but quality, freshness and balance is never compromised. From another warm, dry vintage, the vines have gotten seemingly more used to the drought conditions and winemakers have also tweaked their picking dates to focus on freshness and purity of fruit. The 2018 is an impressive blend of 54% Sauvignon Blanc, 28% Semillon and a slightly larger than usual 18% Chenin Blanc. Grapes were all whole bunch pressed and fermented with approximate 80% of the wine undergoing malolactic fermentation before being aged 10 months in old 500 litre oak barrels. A magnificently intelligent blend of Kaaimansgat, Villiersdorp and Piekenierskloof fruit, it displays a fresh, cool, crystalline vibrancy, fragrant pithy white citrus and green apple zest and a subtle waxy, fleshy, bruised pear savoury hint. On the palate, the message of clarity, purity and precision is clear to see with sherbety acids spritzing up the fringes and adding extra frame and linearity to the exotic tart tangerine, grapefruit, kumquat and pineapple pastille concentration. A very distinguished winemaking display yet again to produce a wine that is lithe and elegant, finely balanced yet intense and surely among the most sophisticated Savage white blend vintages produced to date. Drink on release and over the next 4 to 8+ years.

(95/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

 

Savage Never Been Asked To Dance Chenin Blanc 2018, 13.5 Abv.

Duncan’s knowledge of old vine Paarl vineyards is well known and this 100% Chenin Blanc from 64 year old dry land grown bush vines on granite soils is a fabulous expression of what is possible in this region. Whole bunch pressed and fermented and aged in neutral Stockinger 600 litre barrels for 10 months, this second vintage rises to new heights after a very solid 2017 effort. The 2018 is altogether less pithy and herbal than the last vintage, instead conveying more classical notes of dusty granitic minerality, white citrus, creamy pineapple pastille fruits and sweet lemon biscuit notes. Top quality old vine Paarl Chenin Blanc has a pronounced signature and this wine has it written all over it thanks to Duncan’s minimal intervention and focus on terroir and site. Elegant and harmonious across the palate, this wine is deliciously fleshy and glycerol, ultra pure and cool but also sophisticated and seamlessly light on its feet. You could not ask for more purity or varietal typicity. Duncan has really nailed it in 2018 with this fabulous old vine Chenin fruit.

(94/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Not Tonight Josephine Straw Wine 2018, 11% Abv.

As a category, Chenin Blanc straw wine can probably be regarded as one of the most successful and critically acclaimed in South Africa if international journalists’ scores are to be followed. But having tasted a lot of straw wine globally, the purity, richness, balance and intensity that Duncan has achieved on this maiden 2018 is certainly quite impressive. 100% Chenin Blanc grown on rocky sandstone from the Pienenierskloof farm of Tierhoek was dried for three weeks and then left for five days on its skins as whole-bunches followed by foot treading. Resulting grapes were basket pressed into small barrels for the remainder of fermentation and for a further 10 months of ageing. At 294 g/l residual sugar, a 9.5g/l TA and with only 850 x 37.5cl bottles produced, you can expect the scramble to begin swiftly for this little rarity. Dark yellow golden in colour, the nose exhibits fabulously exotic notes of granadilla, sun dried yellow peaches, dried straw spice, orange marmalade, creamy yellow fruit pastries with custard and classic dried apricot roll. Super supple, elegant and fleshy in the mouth, at no point does it become clawing or over bearing. Fabulously balanced with finesse and well honed winemaking, this wine will appeal to a whole new cross section of Savage consumers. Eminently ageworthy of course, you can drink this sweet gem over the next 20+ years.

(95/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

B Vintners Starts Pushing Terroir and Quality Boundaries With Their New Terroir Specific Range…

Founded by cousins Gavin Bruwer and Bruwer Raats, B Vintners have always had an innovative approach to winemaking while simultaneously trying keeping things simple and authentic, nurturing the grapes from vine to bottle and allowing the wines to express their sense of place. All the vineyards across the range are distinct, mostly from high-lying areas, close to the ocean and planted on ancient weathered soils with the aim of capturing the Cape’s true heritage and terroir in the bottle.

With the launch of the Terroir Specific series, this is when you really get to see Gavin and Bruwer’s philosophy at work. Quality by design, leveraged from the unique terroir sites of the Sondagskloof in the Walker Bay region and a unique old vine Cinsault site in Stellenbosch.

The estate where the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes are sourced is owned by the family of assistant winemaker at Leeu Passant, Wade Sander. Indeed the Pinot Noir vineyard is shared between Gavin and Wade and while their wines are slightly different stylistically, they definitely share a common terroir note. This really is one of the rising stars of the new South Africa and most definitely a winery worth following closely.

 

A contemplative Gavin Bruwer tasting the range with me at the Raats Family Winery.

B Vintners Fire Heath Chardonnay Terroir Specific 2017, WO Sondagskloof, Walker Bay, 12.5 Abv.

Taut steely nose shows the altitude and the rocky limestone and sandstone soils. There’s a cool, stony, lemon and lime pithy white citrus freshness, leesy biscuit depth and a subtle sweet dried herb complexity. Acids are bracing and fresh yet cushioned by a deliciously tart, zippy sweet / sour fleshy concentration that electrifies the palate. The oak is delicately integrated already from a 75% oaked portion including 25% new 500 litre barrels. Wonderfully linear and restrained in style, this fabulous 2017 signals a massive step up in Chardonnay quality for B Vintners and the region.

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

 

B Vintners Black Bream Pinot Noir Terroir Specific 2017, WO Sondagskloof, Walker Bay, 12.5 Abv.

Aged in 500 litre barrels, 15% new with a small portion in used 300 litre barrels. As is typical to the higher elevation terroir, there is a real crystalline purity and salinity to the fruit profile which shows wonderfully lifted perfumed notes of sweet fynbos, lavender, cherry blossom and cranberry cordial. There is a subtle restrained sappy, freshly cut hedge row note that adds complexity to the nose and palate while the acids remain linear and pure, the mineral tannins crisp and ever so slightly edgy. A fine wine with good structure, restrained gravelly mineral breadth and a certain kind of ‘old world’ classical austerity.

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

 

B Vintners Lone Wolf Cinsault Terroir Specific 2018, WO Stellenbosch, 12.5 Abv.

60 x 6 cases total production – About a ton of Cinsault from the bottom of a Pinotage vineyard at Bellevue in the Bottelary Hills planted in the early 1950’s on granite and schist soils. Fabulously lifted and finely perfumed, this wine screams individuality, with potpourri spice, rose petals, dried violets, Turkish delight and cranberry reduction. Suave and cool, there is lovely liquid minerality, piercing concentration and a long, restrained red currant berry fruit length. A wonderful old vine expression of Cinsault that really is noteworthy. Minute production that might just possibly have been exported all to the UK.

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

Imported and distributed in the UK by Alliance Wines.

Andrea Mullineux Reveals the New Leeu Passant Wine Releases at Roundstone Farm in the Swartland…

With the Mullineux brand more than a decade old now, it has firmly been established as one of South Africa’s top fine wine labels with every new release highly anticipated. Their Leeu Passant brand on the other hand is only three vintages down but also seems to have garnered its own more individual, eclectic wine following among old vine collectors and connoisseurs.

I recently visited the Mullineux’s Leeu Passant winery in Franschhoek where Chris Mullineux showed me the ropes and I also got to meet Wade Sander, Andrea Mullineux’s assistant winemaker who works solely on the Leeu Passant wines.

The Leeu Passant winery in Franschhoek with assistant winemaker Wade Sander (below).

With the 2015 vintage certainly very famous now, the 2017 releases from all of South Africa’s top producers, look set to once again take local and international markets by storm and fill the cellars of a new thirsty generation of South African fine wine lovers.

Leeu Passant Stellenbosch 2017, 13.5 Abv.

Single vineyard on the maritime slopes of the Helderberg where temperatures seldom rise above 28 degrees C. One of the rare sites that the Mullineux’s actually have to wait for the acidity to drop before picking. The aromatics are pure and lifted expressing the usual crystallinity of the style and site. Bottled in October 2018, the wine is still super youthful, taut and fresh but with a touch of creamy malo to take the edge off the electric acidity. Beautifully intense and citrus driven, the wine has a wonderful textural balance and freshness with incredible poise and focus. Long and pin point, superb harmony and purity, this wine has impressive salinity and tart lemon / lime brilliance and brightness to invigorate the palate. A great effort.

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

Leeu Passant Dry Red 2017, 14.5 Abv.

This red blend of 56% Cabernet Suavignon, 26% Cinsautl and 18% Cabernet Franc spent 12 months in 500 litre barrels and around 10 months in neutral foudre. Explosive and expressive, this wine literally leaps out the glass to greet you. Hugely aromatic, it unfurls with intense black berry, red currant, bramble berry and raspberry jam nuances. Such opulence and freshness, on the palate there is an incredible balance and harmony. Fabulous layers of red and black berry, strawberry confit, sweet tobacco, leafy spice and the most alluring foresty bramble berry seduction. A truly beautiful, complex and expressive red blend that changes in the glass continuously. What a super classy red wine that really is worthy of its collectible fine wine status.

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

Mullineux Old Vines White 2018, 14 Abv.

A blend of 69% Chenin Blanc, 12% Clarette Blanche, 9% Grenache Blanc, 7% Viognier and 3% Semillon. Rich and opulent, the nose is broad and ultra aromatic with complex notes of dry grass, wet thatch, soap stone, lemon rind and apple skins. Deliciously ripe and intense, the palate is sleek but fleshy, crystalline and super pure… a feature emerging as a characteristic of the 2018 vintage. The last of the drought vintages, this wine really shows beautiful minerality and dry extract, concentration and intense yellow fruit focus. Really impressive, broad and powerful, this is going to be another super classical white blend for medium to long term ageing.

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

Mullineux Chenin Blanc Straw Wine 2018, 9% Abv.

Liquid gold, this has the classical nose of sweet caramelised orchard fruits, quince preserve, dried guava and a savoury, sweet peach brightness. Glycerol and rich, powerful and intense, it is more in the marmalade and citrus rind character than the tropical passionfruit style. Textural and finely balanced this is an incredibly well honed and focused sweet wine style that is certainly a benchmark for this genre.

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

Kaapzicht Winery in Safe Hands with the Next Generation – Tasting with Winemaker Danie Steytler Junior…

Kaapzicht has been a family owned estate since 1946 producing high quality wines from their Bottelary Hills fruit. With the winemaking reins now firmly handed over from patriarch Danie Steytler Snr to next generation Danie Steytler Jnr, some incredibly exciting new wines are already being produced.

I recently caught up with Danie Steytler Jnr in London to talk wine, Stellenbosch politics, old vines, the future of Kaapzicht and also taste some of his exciting current releases.

Kaapzicht Estate Skuinsberg Bush Vine Cinsault 2017, WO Stellenbosch, 12.5 Abv.

80 to 380 metres aspect vineyard. All 1991 dry land bush vine on 3.3 hectares. Lovely dense earthy savoury sun dried strawberry and bramble berry fruit nose. Full and fleshy, this is showy, bright and mouth watering, displaying a crunchy edge, saline acidity and a fine sweet macerated red currant finish. Delicious.

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

Kaapzicht Estate The 1952 Bush Vine Cinsault 2016, WO Stellenbosch, 12.5 Abv.

This wine was made by Danie using grapes sourced from a 1952 block planted on Bellevue. One ton with 30% whole bunch in two 500 litre barrels for fermentation. A much more fragrant, lifted perfumed nose with sweet cherry, sun dried cranberry, rose petals and Turkish delight. Very pretty and deliciously complex with a tantalising sappy, stalk spice character. Palate speaks confidently but softly and is beautifully nuanced, vibrant and premium in feel. Another wine that shows the great potential of Cinsault.

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

Tasting with the talented winemaker Danie Steytler Junior.

Kaapzicht Estate Pinotage 2016, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5 Abv.

Dark deep depth of black plum with an opulent, slightly reductive nose of black cherry, mulberry and stewed plum. The oak is very subtle and integrated playing to the strengths of the fruit purity and precision emphasising the wines wild edge. Texturally there is impressive focus, balanced finesse and a classy, cool, elegant mouthfeel punctuated with soft supple black fruits and oak spice. This is an impressive expression of this uniquely South African variety.

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

Kaapzicht Estate Kliprug Chenin Blanc 2016, WO Stellenbosch, 14 Abv.

Grapes from Bottelary, Stellenbosch. 6000 bottles produced, 60% in 500 litre oak, 20% in concrete egg and 20% stainless steel tank. Rich, deep, complex nose of bruised yellow fruits, white peach, creamy and plush, showing honied pineapples, leesy yellow fruits. Plenty of gravitas, fruit weight, focus and textural complexity.

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

Kaapzicht Estate The 1947 Chenin Blanc, WO Stellenbosch, 14 Abv.

From 70 year old vines, the aromatics are super complex and spicy with lovely nuances of wet straw, dusty white citrus, honied yellow peaches, fynbos and sweet pineapple confit. There is such focused depth, full bodied plump texture and complexity with fabulous nuances of tangerine peel, naartjie pulp, lychee concentrate and a honied bon bon intensity. A super impressive wine with power, breadth and weight but a balancing harmonious acidity. The true personification of delicious old vine Chenin Blanc statesmanship. World class from every angle. Drink now and over the next 25 years.

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