Craig Wessels took the South African wine scene by storm with his first 2012/2013 red and white releases. Although his range has grown to include a spectacular 2019 Pinot Noir and a superb Grenache and Sauvignon Blanc, it has always been the Restless River Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon that have been the stand out wines that have helped redefine quality in the entire Hemel-en-Aarde Valley.
With the 2017 vintage yielding a blockbuster Chardonnay last year, this year it’s the moment for Craig’s spectacular Cabernet Sauvignon to take centre stage. From the moment Hemel-en-Aarde nobility Anthony Hamilton Russell shared some of his father’s early 1980’s Grand Vin Noir Bordeaux blends from the valley, I knew many producers were missing a real trick forgetting the cool climate opportunities for Bordeaux varieties in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley. The 2017 Main Road & Dignity Cabernet from Craig captures all the grandeur possible in this region renowned for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
Restless River Main Road & Dignity Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, WO Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, 14% Abv.
This attractive Hemel-en-Aarde Cabernet Sauvignon is fabulously dense and textured with multiple layers of creamy tannins coating the opulent fruit concentration. Full and glycerol in the mouth with refreshing acids, bright creme de cassis, black cherry and earthy baked plum fruit nuances. This vintage shows all the classic 2017 vintage elegance, focus and intensity with impressive mouthfeel and superb balance. You know this is something very special from the very first sip and certainly could be Craig Wessel’s finest Cabernet effort to date. Drink now and over 15+ years.
(Wine Safari Score: 97/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Restless River Ava Marie Chardonnay 2018, WO Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, 13% Abv.
This is a classically structured Ava Marie 2018 with crystalline tangy acids, generous green and yellow citrus fruit flesh, intricate mineral flintiness and an intensity of lemon and green melon candy on the long, persistent, noticeably concentrated finish. Less steely, malic and severe in style than the impressively taut 2017 (96/100 GSMW), but certainly carries on the Ava Marie tradition of freshness, bright acidity and wonderfully focused purity. Drink now and over the next 10-15+ years.
Think of Hemel-en-Aarde and red wine and you automatically point to Pinot Noir. Think of Craig Wessels and Restless River and you definitely go straight to fine Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. But finally, Craig has shed his Bordeaux blazer and donned a Burgundian hemp vest, producing his first Pinot Noir from vines he planted at the winery.
The must for this wine under went spontaneous fermentation in open top fermenters using 20% whole bunches from vines only planted in 2013. It was then basket pressed into old oak barrels for 15 months ageing. The wine has a healthy total acidity of 6.1 TA and a total SO2 of 50, with 25 free. Bottled in April 2017, Craig is planning for a mid 2018 release date.
Restless River Pinot Noir 2016, Upper Hemel en Aarde, 12.8 Abv.
A very tense, taught version of Pinot Noir that harks back to Burgundy instantly. Lovely dark Cotes de Nuits berry fruits, a la Morey St Denis. Not quite the earthy nuances of a Gevrey, this wine is highly charged, spicey, black fruited with tart sour cranberry acids, sappy bramble berries, red plum and pithy cherry skin spice. Lovely definition, wound spring tension and ample energy. Texturally very sophisticated, broody and powder soft dry tannins. A very grown up version from young vines that can only get better and better as the vines establish themselves. Drink now or age for 3 to 8+ years. This is a serious effort for dedicated Burgundy lovers.
It seems consumers are being spoilt rotten at the moment with all the amazing Chardonnays from both Elgin and the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley. If you follow my blog, you might be mistaken for thinking that’s almost all I drink! Well, I’ve been following Craig Wessels’ beautiful reds and whites for the past few years starting with purchases of his unique Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 and his 2012 Chardonnay.
Craig’s latest release in the UK market, the Ava Marie Single Vineyard Chardonnay 2014 from the Upper Hemel-En-Aarde Valley, is another top notch crackerjack wine. Using 15% new oak, the grapes were harvested between the 27th of February and the 12th of March and barrel fermented after wholebunch pressing. The wine was left 8 months on its lees without battonage.
Restless River Ava Marie Chardonnay 2014 Upper Hemel-en-Aarde, South Africa, 12.9 Abv.
Exotic, fragrant nose on this expressive wine. Shows salted caramel, lemon butter, toffee apple and hazelnut complexity. Wow, super complex nose. The palate does not disappoint either with intense caramelised white citrus fruits, creme brûlée, and nutty chalky complexity. Perhaps from a more difficult vintage but this is an extremely fine effort that is showing amazingly well. Most 2014 Walker Bay Chardonnays were probably sold out and drunk up long ago, but this elegant white is singing at the moment. Well done Craig Wessels!