Tasting the Impressive Wines Selected for the 2020 Nedbank Cape Winemakers Guild Auction…

The 2020 Nedbank CWG Auction hosted by Bonhams London will be held online on Saturday 3rd October from 12h00 (BST). Due to Coronavirus, there were no public tastings prior to sale making the limited tastings by a select group of wine journalists even more important this year. The line-up comprises 28 wines with total cases on offer amounting to 564 cases (6 x 750ml) compared to 45 wines and 1,932 cases in 2019.

One of the eye catching wines in 2020…

In support of one of the Guild members, buyers will have the opportunity to bid on smaller lots – the funds raised by the first case of six bottles of every wine will be given as financial assistance to Samantha O’Keefe, whose Lismore property in Greyton was devastated by fire in December last year. The CWG will also be hosting a 50 – item Vinotheque Auction made up of select older wines donated by members with express objective being to raise funds to assist employees within their businesses whose livelihoods have been affected by the Coronavirus pandemic.

The 2020 CWG Selection:

CWG host and Jordan Winery owner Gary Jordan taking us through the 2020 CWG wines.

Graham Beck Cuvée 129 Extra Brut 2009, WO Western Cape

Winemaker: Pieter Ferreira. 51% Pinot Noir, 49% Chardonnay. Cuvée 129 refers to the number of months on the lees aging – 10 years and 9 months.

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

Silverthorn Big Dog VI Méthode Cap Classique 2015, WO Robertson

Winemaker: John Loubser. 70% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Noir. Chardonnay fermented and aged in old French oak, Pinot Noir in steel. 50 months on lees.

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

De Grendel Wooded Sauvignon Blanc 2019, WO Darling.

Winemaker: Charles Hopkins. Crushed, 18 hours skin contact, then settled and fermented in old oak.

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

Bartho Eksteen Vloekskoot Sauvignon Blanc 2019, WO Cape Coast

Winemaker: Bartho Eksteen. Whole bunch pressed, no settling. Naturally fermented in older, big wood.

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

Simonsig Mediterraneo 2015, WO Stellenbosch

Winemaker: Johan Malan. 66% Roussanne, 28% Grenache Blanc, 6% Verdelho. Whole bunch pressed, mix of wild and cultured yeast.

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

Miles Mossop Wines Saskia-Jo 2018, WO Swartland

Winemaker: Miles Mossop. 65% Chenin Blanc, 25% Clairette Blanche, 10% Grenache Blanc. Decomposed granite soils.

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

Rijk’s CWG Chenin Blanc 2018, WO Tulbagh

Winemaker: Pierre Wahl. 14-year-old bush vines, fermented in new and used French oak.

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

Raats Family Wines The Fountain Terroir Specific Chenin Blanc 2019, WO Stellenbosch

Winemaker: Bruwer Raats. Rich, creamy but super bright with leesy, peachy fruit complexity and incredible precision and vibrant intensity.

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

Paul Cluver The Wagon Trail Chardonnay 2018, WO Elgin

Winemaker: Andries Burger. From the oldest Chardonnay vineyard on the Estate, planted in 1987 (the oldest vines in Elgin).

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

Leeu Passant Radicales Libres Chardonnay 2015, WO Klein Karoo

Winemaker: Andrea Mullineux. 100% Chardonnay, long elevage inspired by Jura and Rioja. From the incredibly cool Barrydale Valley in the Klein Karoo, after fermentation this Chardonnay was aged in barrel for five years.

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

Ataraxia Under The Gavel Chardonnay 2019, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge

Winemaker: Kevin Grant.  Cool and Crystalline with a stony minerality, pithy peachy yellow citrus concentration and a long, pure brilliance.

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

Newton Johnson Family Vineyards Windansea Pinot Noir 2017, WO Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley

Winemaker: Gordon Newton Johnson. Stoniest, most clay-rich parts of the vineyard used for this. No sulfites in the winemaking. 11 months in barrel then six months in large oak.

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

Neil Ellis Wines Amper Bo Tempranillo 2015, WO Stellenbosch

Winemaker: Warren Ellis. Whole berry fermentation then 18 months in 60% new French oak barrels and 40% in second fill.

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

Rust en Vrede CWG Auction Estate 2017, WO Stellenbosch

Winemaker: Coenie Snyman. 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Syrah.

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

Ernie Els CWG 2017, WO Stellenbosch

Winemaker: Louis Strydom. 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Shiraz, 10% Cinsault. Fermentation in small 300 litre open top oak barrels with three weeks extended maturation.

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

Luddite The Lone Stranger Mark II 2018, WO Bot River

Winemaker: Niels Verburg. 50% Mourvèdre, 40% Shiraz, 10% Grenache Noir. Small open fermenters then pressed to barrel for two years.

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

Delaire Graff Estate Banghoek Cabernet Franc Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, WO Stellenbosch

Winemaker: Morné Very. 55% Cabernet Franc, 34% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Petit Verdot, 3% Malbec. Whole berry fermentation with limited punch downs. Four weeks post-ferment maturation on skins before being basket pressed. Matured in 40% new French 225 litre barrels for 16 months.

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

Spier Frans K Smit Auction Selection 2017, WO Stellenbosch

Winemaker: Frans K Smit. 60% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon. Organic.

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

Strydom Family Wines The Game Changer 2017, WO Stellenbosch

Winemaker: Rianie Strydom. 80% Cabernet Franc, 20% Merlot. North facing slopes on the Helderberg.

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

Kanonkop CWG Paul Sauer 2017, WO Stellenbosch

Winemaker: Abrie Beeslaar. 76% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Cabernet Franc, 7% Merlot. From Simonsberg. Fermented in open top ‘kuipe’ for six days, then malolactic fermentation in tank, and matured in new French oak for two years.

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

Groot Constantia CWG Gouverneurs Reserve 2018, WO Constantia

Winemaker: Boela Gerber. 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 45% Cabernet Franc. 75% new oak.

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

Villiera Drip Barrel Cabernet Franc 2018, WO Stellenbosch

Winemaker: Jeff Grier. 18 months in new and used French oak.

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

Edgebaston Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2017, WO Stellenbosch

Winemaker: David Finlayson. 95% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc. From the clay-heavy section of their GS vineyard, picked five days earlier than the rest of the vineyard. New French oak for two years.

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

Hartenberg CWG Auction Cabernet Sauvignon 2018, WO Stellenbosch

Winemaker: Carl Schultz. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from the Bottelary Hills. 20 days on skins, 20 months in 50% new 225 litre French oak barrels.

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

Boschkloof Epilogue Syrah 2018, WO Stellenbosch

Winemaker: Jacques Borman. Harvested in three tranches, 30% whole bunch. Some matured in concrete, some in barrel (30% new).

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

Cederberg Teen Die Hoog Shiraz 2018, WO Cederberg

Winemaker: David Nieuwoudt. Red slate soils. 85% new oak.

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

Saronsberg Die Erf Shiraz 2017, WO Tulbagh

Winemaker: Dewaldt Heyns. The best barrel of Block 27. Aged for 20 months in a new French Allier oak barrel.

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

Boplaas Cape Vintage CWG Reserve 2015, WO Western Cape

Winemaker: Carel Nel. 80% Touriga Nacional, 10% Touriga Franca, 6% Souzão, 4% Tinta Barocca. Fermented and fortified in small lagares and barrel matured in large seasoned oak barrels.

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

The CWG dinner at the River Cafe London.

Fine Wine Safari New Release Review – Tasting the Catherine Marshall Fermented in Clay Chenin Blanc 2019…

I first came across Catherine Marshall’s Fermented in Clay Amphorae Chenin Blanc a couple years back with the 2017 example that really impressed me and if I am not mistaken, was one of my favourite whites of the year. I love the expression of authenticity that wines take on when fermented in clay amphorae vessels and Cathy has done a fabulous job on this wine year after year.

The 2019 vintage in the Cape is another exceptional year and for all the wines I have already tasted, not one has not lived up to my high expectations. This specific Chenin Blanc was made from Elgin fruit grown on a combination of deep clay soils and old bush vines on Laterite soils. Once fermentation was completed in the clay amphorae, 500 litres was decanted to oak casks for further maturation.

The wine in the French coopered barrels was partially allowed to go through malolactic fermentation and further matured for 11 months. The clay amphorae portion had no malolactic fermentation so that the fresher flinty characters would be maintained. After 11 months, the two components were blended and lightly filtered before bottling.

Catherine Marshall Chenin Blanc Fermented in Clay 2019, WO Western Cape, 13% Abv.

(2.6 RS g/l, 3.32 pH, 5.8 g/l Acidity)

This beautiful Chenin Blanc really is a gorgeous wine. I loved the 2017 and 2018 but this 2019 seems to reach an even higher, more honed level of quality and purity. The aromatics combine intense notes of crushed gravel, dusty baked granite, dried straw and hints of fynbos and white lilies with nuances of dried pineapple slices, fresh yellow orchard fruits and a delicate pinch of fresh lemon peel. The palate is fabulously broad, glycerol and mouth coating with multi-layers of tart bright pineapple pastille, crunchy green pears, lemon cordial and a subtle hint of tart juicy tangerine fruit. Lovely stone fruit characters resonate on the palate with an incredible intensity, a piercing line of acidity and the most agreeable, integrated liquid minerality on the finish. Undoubtedly a great vintage handle expertly by Cathy with just that extra little je ne said pas added by the fermentation in the clay amphorae. I’m utterly smitten by this delicious, soulful wine. Drink from 2020 to 2030+.

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

Reimagining the Iona Elgin Wines – Tasting the Iona Monopole New Releases in London with Rosie Gunn…

I have been following Iona and their delicious cool climate wines for many years. So naturally, I was thrilled to be contacted in February 2020 by owner Andrew Gunn, who invited me to join him for an exciting new release tasting in London profiling their new single vineyard wines that have been vinified to specifically portray the unique micro climates and soil types of the Iona Elgin Highlands.

Just a few weeks before we were due to meet, I received an email from Rosie Gunn, Andrew’s wife and partner in the Iona winery, to inform me that Andrew had unfortunately had a terrible fall off a ladder on the farm and had broken a number of bones, so she would be making the trip to London in his place. On the 5th March, I met up with Rosie and Marketing Manager Brad Gold at Trivet, one of London’s most exciting new restaurant openings, to taste through their fantastic new range of wines.

Tasting with Rosie Gunn in London.

From each main red and white wine selection, Iona has teased out two single vineyard Pinot Noirs and two Chardonnays, with only 500 bottles of each wine produced. This range is also joined by the Iona Elgin Highlands range of whites and reds along with the Solace Syrah produced from the nearby Brocha farm, where Rosie used to live and which is farmed organically with its ultra rocky soils, warmer growing temperatures and a lower rainfall.

Iona Monopole Elgin Highlands Pinot Noir 2018, WO Elgin, 13.74 Abv.

10 barrels were produced from mostly younger vines. Using 115, 667, 777 Pinot Noir clones, the wine was aged 11 months in barrel with a low solids content to avoid too much racking.

Bright tart aromatic profile full of crushed cranberry and rose petals, Turkish delight and potpourri perfume. Pristine, linear and pin point in the mouth, the acids frame the palate beautifully with attractive red berry fruits, cherry and hints of pomegranate. Pure, intense but with sufficient open, accessible fruit depth and lovely complexing minerality on the finish.

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

The new single vineyard wines all come from the dry 2017 vintage. A cool winter ensured good vine dormancy and rainfall was low, similar to 2015 and 2016. Flowering took place a little earlier than usual in warm sunny conditions, with the vines cropping slightly higher than usual but producing exceptional fruit quality and concentration. Grapes were harvested from late February to mid-March and yielded exceptional quality with pristine fruit purity, high natural acidity, real intensity of fruit flavour and a signature elegance that marked all the wines of 2017.

Iona Monopole Kloof Limited Release Pinot Noir 2017, WO Elgin, 13.57 Abv.

Clones 667, 115 and 777. Around 5 to10% of whole bunches used from soils with large deposits of silica quartz with underlying clay with a North facing aspect and East / West row direction.

A more pronounced minerality of chalk board duster and crushed limestone that comes through on the aromatics as spice and complex sapidity. It melts into dried potpourri, raisined cranberry, pithy red cherry and wild strawberry notes. Cool, sleek, crystalline, this is grown up Pinot Noir that opens up in the glass to display beautiful notes of red cherry sherbet and pink musk together with struck quartz minerality. Polished texture, harmonious and super classy effort from a great vintage.

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

Iona Monopole Kroon Pinot Noir 2017, WO Elgin, 13.63 Abv.

Clones 115 and 777. Around 5 to10% of whole bunches used from soils with alluvial gravel beds, sandstone and ferrocrete (iron) with underlying clay with a South facing aspect and North / South row direction.

A slightly deeper, darker, bloodier aromatic expression with notes of pomegranate, blood orange, spiced red cherries with a fabulous mineral under vein of wet river stones. Hints of sweet and sour together with intense salinity meet your palate on the entry. This wine displays the same high pedigree polished marble tannins as the Kloof cuvee but with a touch more flesh and savoury, pithy red fruit on the finish. Another very impressive Pinot Noir expression.

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

Whites

Iona Monopole Elgin Highlands Chardonnay 2018, WO Elgin, 13.25 Abv.

Dusty, smoky, spicy yellow fruits blend into wet river stone minerality, rain on grey slate and pithy green apple and yellow grapefruit intensity. Fleshy, glycerol but fabulously concentrated, piercing and intense. The oaking is super intelligent and the integration of crystalline fruit and acidity vibrancy perfectly judged. A really delicious Chardonnay that will get a lot of drinkers very excited.

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

Iona Monopole Kloof Chardonnay 2017, WO Elgin, 13.64 Abv.

Clones CY95, CY96 and 548 from soils with large deposits of silica quartz with underlying clay with a North facing aspect and East / West row direction.

Classic complex mix of liquid minerality, struck flint and crushed gravel melt gently away into nuances of lemon citrus peel, spicy lemon grass and earthy papaya skins. Bold, brazen and super focused, this wine has wonderful lines of acidity and cool, white citrus tension backed by an enthralling chalky limestone mineral pithy complexity. Exquisite intensity and concentration make for a very serious glassful. A truly outstanding South African Chardonnay expression!

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

Iona Monopole Fynbos Chardonnay 2017, WO Elgin, 13.72 Abv.

Clones CY95, CY96 and Rustenburg from soils with alluvial gravel beds, sandstone with underlying clay with a North facing aspect and North West / South East row direction.

Made from grapes grown on a slightly heavier soil with more northerly aspect, this wine shows a bolder, richer, riper expression on the nose with lemon and lime cordial, lemon bon bons, apple pastille and green rock candy seduction. Plush and beautifully textured with more savoury, stony, green plum notes layered with lemon herbs, citrus spice and a splendidly long, concentrated green stone fruit finish. Very showy and confident.

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

Iona Solace Syrah 2017, WO Elgin, 14.1 Abv.

Saline, purple bright fruits full of black saline intensity, salty black liquorice and supple, glassy, tart savoury intensity. Classy, classical and very cool and refined packed with black cherry, black pepper corns and blueberry pie nuances. A real evolution in style that perhaps works better for Elgin’s cooler vineyards than previous bigger, more extracted styles of Solace. This wine seems perfectly judged on so many levels.

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

Iona Monopole Wild Ferment Sauvignon Blanc 2018, WO Elgin, 13.55 Abv.

A super exotic complex Sauvignon Blanc nose packed full of tangerine, grapefruit, dusty white peach, quince and a tropical papaya fruit finish. Fleshy, delicious and super distinguished, this wine ups the ante and delivers an impressively complex, serious glass of Sauvignon Blanc.

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

Iona Sauvignon Blanc 2019, WO Elgin, 13.63 Abv.

The aromatics are filled with lemon grass and tangerine peel complexity, this wine has mouth watering vigour and enthralling allure and focus. Fabulous notes of mango and papaya, yellow citrus and green apple blend imperiously, building to a vinous crescendo on the palate with delicious, bright, fresh Sauvignon Blanc grassy nuances. This is benchmark cool climate Elgin Sauvignon Blanc that really ticks all the pleasure boxes.

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

Pici pasta, Cornish crab and artichokes
Chicken with vinegar sauce
The delicious dessert – A house speciality!
Hokkaido PotatoBaked potato Mille feuille, sake and white chocolate mousse, butter and sake gelato.

The two main concerns you think about when producers shake up their range of wines in the way Iona have, is whether the new single vineyard wines will detract from the overall quality of the larger blends that came before them and whether the new single vineyard wines will be sufficiently different and interesting enough to merit the whole vineyard partitioning exercise. While I certainly had my favourites, I can confirm that the whole new range is very well conceived and the wines are truly unique in their own ways. They are also exceptionally good quality.

In London pricing, they are also not ridiculously priced, making them accessible to both restaurant buyers and Chardonnay aficionados alike. Exciting times indeed for Iona wines. By the time Andrew reads these reviews, I certainly hope he will be well on his way to recovery. Catch you in London on your next trip!

Damascene Wines – New Kid on the Block Rocking the Cape Wine Scene…

I first heard about Damascene Wines last year when a few big scores in the local South African home market hit the headlines including a mammoth 97/100 from Winemag.co.za editor Christian Eedes. The young blood behind the venture focusing on producing high quality vinous expressions from unique Cape vineyards is Jean Smit, also known for his work at Boekenhoutskloof as well as a brief spell at Iona some years back.

Damascene Wines is now in the process of securing distribution in several key global markets including the UK for their limited volumes of fine wine, but as Jean was very quick to point out to me, “it is really important that global distribution partners share our attitude and philosophy that is the driving force behind the whole Damascene project.”

With a sell-out Semillon 2018 already in the bag, this white is joined in the range by a fine Pinot Noir, an accomplished Cabernet Franc and an exceptional benchmark Stellenbosch Syrah. Damascene is undoubtedly one of the most exciting new producers to come onto the South African wine seen for some time.

Damascene Semillon 2018, WO Franschhoek, 14 Abv.

The fruit for this vintage was picked from a venerable old vineyard in the Franschhoek valley. Planted in 1942 on alluvial soils of decomposed Table Mountain sandstone, a portion – roughly 15 percent – of the bush vines have naturally mutated into Semillon Gris. Both variants were harvested and co-fermented to add further complexity to the wine. Approximately one-third of the way through fermentation the grape must was transferred to second- and third-fill French oak barriques, for 11 months of sur lie barrel maturation. No lees stirring took place, and the prevention of malolactic fermentation ensured the wine retains its excellent natural acidity. Total production: 707 x 750ml | Bottling date: 8 February 2019 Alc: 14.06%Vol | pH: 3.32 | TA: 5.5 g/L | RS: 3.2 g/L | VA: 0.51 g/L.

Such beautiful subtle aromatics of white citrus, wet chalk and dusty grey slate lead to a fabulously sleek, creamy textured Semillon palate full of glycerol lanolin mouthfeel layered with pithy orange peel zest and tangerine oil complexity. The acids are supple and well integrated with spicy, piquant, mellow yellow fruits. Full, broad, super stony and mineral, this wine is beautifully harmonious, textural and focused! Keep it for 2-3 years before opening and then drink over 5 to 10.

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

Damascene Pinot Noir 2018, WO Elgin, 14.1 Abv.

When David and Genevieve Curl purchased an apple farm in the Elgin valley in 2010, they immediately planted a 3.12-hectare parcel of Pinot Noir on a ridge with ancient of clay-rich Bokkeveld shale. Clones 667 and 777 on rootstock 101-14 were chosen to capitalise on Elgin’s cool climate terroir. Focused on the ultimate goal of crafting small quantities of premium Pinot Noir, the vineyard’s planting density of 6250 vines per hectare encourages stiff competition between the vines, resulting in better flavour and concentration in the fruit. Low disease pressure in the vineyards assisted the desired spontaneous fermentation in the cellar, with only two batches inoculated with a locally isolated yeast strain to fully express the character of the two Pinot Noir clones. To capture the elegance of the fruit, and avoid excessive extraction, the wine spent just 10 days on the skins, with a combination of short pump-overs and punch-downs twice per day. Malolactic fermentation occurred spontaneously in 300- litre French oak barrels, 30% of which were new. The oak barrels were carefully selected from five leading Burgundian coopers, with a range of toasting levels – mostly Light and Blonde. Total production: 3600 x 750ml | Bottling date: 8 February 2019 Alc: 14.1 %Vol| pH: 3.39 | TA: 5.4 g/L | RS: 1.5 g/L | VA: 0.53 g/L.

Rich, character filled nose with plenty of promise. Opening in the glass, the wine reveals hints of mocha and chocolate, cherry liquor, black berries, savoury cured meats, forest floor, freshly tilled earth, black bramble berries with positive green aromatic complexing notes. Warming luxurious inviting style, the palate is obvious and generous with a fine plush glycerol texture, spicy pin point tannins, seductive wild strawberry, kirsch liquor and baking spices, before darker berry fruit nuances take over to carry this wine over the finishing line. 

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

Damascene Cabernet Franc 2018, WO Stellenbosch, 12.87 Abv.

Situated on the cooler east-facing slopes of the Bottelary Hills, this trellised vineyard was planted in 2004 with the CF1 clone of Cabernet Franc. On soils of decomposed granite, and at an altitude of 260-metres above sea level, this lowyielding vineyard produces smaller bunches that offer incredible concentration, structure and ripeness at lower sugar levels. Bunches were de-stemmed directly into stainless steel tanks where whole berries were coldsoaked for three days before being inoculated with a carefully selected yeast strain. For optimum extraction pump-overs took place up to three times per day, with fermentation temperatures peaking at 28˚C. Spontaneous malolactic fermentation took place during the 11 months of maturation in a single 1000-litre oak foudre. The wine was racked just once, two weeks prior to bottling. Total production: 1175 x 750ml | Bottling date: 8 February 2019 Alc: 12.87 %Vol| pH: 3.32 | TA: 4.9 g/L | RS: 1.5 g/L | VA: 0.46 g/L.

An inviting aromatic offering shows classic varietal Cabernet Franc perfume, spice and lift. The nose suggests delicious notes of black currant pastille, crushed black cherry, graphite and lead pencil complexity. The palate has a very focused black currant wine gums intensity with subtle vegetal, stemmy cedar spice notes. Despite the impressively low alcohol level, this wine has a beautiful texture and mouthfeel with a lithe elegance, bright acids and a superbly harmonious finish. Incredibly well designed, this wine shows a lot of appeal and will seduce a lot of Cabernet Franc lovers. 

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

Damascene Syrah 2018, WO Stellenbosch, 13.4 Abv. 

100% Syrah from Polkadraai and Bottelary Hills, Stellenbosch. While both vineyards are situated higher than 300-metres above sea level, planted with SH9 and SH22B Syrah clones, and with soils dominated by decomposed granite, they each bring their own nuance and complexity to the wine. The vineyard on the Polkadraai Hills was planted on a south-east slope in 1996, and contributes most of the perfume and spice. Structure and fruit intensity comes from a vineyard of low-yielding granitic soils in the Bottelary Hills, a ‘mother unit’ planted on a north-west aspect in 2001. To showcase the impact of site in Stellenbosch Syrah, the harvested fruit was separated into numerous smaller fermentation batches, with whole-cluster fraction of each batch ranging from nil to 100 percent per vessel. Open top fermenters and two 1000-litre oak foudres received a combination of pump-overs and pigéage (punch-downs) two or three times per day. The remaining two 1000-litre oak foudres were treated with the ‘submerged cap’ technique to enhance the body and fruit concentration of the wine.

A unique element in the final blend came from a portion kept as 100% intact whole clusters, that underwent carefully-controlled carbonic fermentation. These were sealed in a stainless steel tank and stored under pressure for 30 days before pressing. Without pump-overs or pigéage during fermentation, this carbonic macerated component contributes enormous purity of fruit and silky tannins to the final blend. All fermentations took place spontaneously with naturally occurring yeast. Malolactic fermentation also occurred spontaneously, with maturation in 1000-litre oak foudres for 11 months. The wine was bottled without fining, to ensure a more complex and authentic expression of Syrah. Total production: 2728 x 750ml | Bottling date: 8 February 2019 Alc: 13.4 %Vol| pH: 3.8 | TA: 5.4 g/L | RS: 1.5 g/L | VA: 0.65 g/L.

Beautiful intensity and perfume, the nose screams classism and aromatic complexity with an open inviting modern allure. This wine turns the volume up but there is no distortion, only purity and then more purity. Herbal and Rhoney, there are wonderful savoury earthy meaty notes loaded with black berry and blue berry fruits, olive tapenade and hints of German-deli smokey, meaty brilliance. The texture is incredibly fine and focused and personifies the ‘Jean Smit’ wine making style that shines right through his entire range of wines. This Syrah hits a special zenith of quality and brilliance that only a select few South Africa wineries manage to achieve. 

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

Another Cooler Climate Wonderland – Tasting the Sophisticated Sutherland Reserve Chardonnay 2016…

The Sutherland Reserve Range consists of three premium wines, a Reserve Grenache and a Reserve Petit Verdot, both cultivars not normally associated with Elgin, as well as the Reserve Chardonnay, a variety for which this region has become known as one of South Africa’s leading areas.

“Selecting the Chardonnay for the Reserve Range was a bit of a no-brainer. The cool climate, Tukulu soils and the proximity to the ocean that lies nine kilometres away makes for about as ideal a South African Chardonnay site as one could wish for,” says Gyles Webb.

The grapes for the Sutherland Reserve Range are hand-picked in Elgin and transported to the Thelema winery in Banhoek, Stellenbosch for vinification.

Sutherland Elgin Reserve Chardonnay 2016, 13 Abv.

Aged for 10 months in French oak, there is a mouth wateringly complex bouquet of spicy macerated lemons, boxwood, sweet bergamot zest, brioche and crushed gravel with high toned notes of lime peel and citrus blossom. The palate is super linear and taut with a pronounced steely acidity and serious verve and vigour. A supremely Old World proportioned wine that has masses of classical cool climate restraint and complex nuances of flinty struck match reduction that intermingle with lemon grass, dried thyme and sour green apple bon bons on a racy mineral finish. This is a wonderfully impressive Reserve Chardonnay from Elgin that will appeal to drinkers looking for a more sophisticated, restrained expression of Chardonnay. Drink now or cellar for 3 to 5+ years.

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

Elgin Ridge Winery Resurrects Their Impressive Biodynamic Elgin Chardonnay…

Organic and Demeter Biodynamic certified winery Elgin Ridge produced a 2010 and 2011 unwooded Chardonnay and then ceased production in 2012 when all their Chardonnay juice was redirected into their Method Cap Classique (MCC) bubbly.

However, the wine was finally resurrected in 2016 with a wooded version. The 2017 is due to hit select markets in Spring 2019. Limited to only 1,300 bottles, the wine was aged 10 months in 20% new French barrels.

Elgin Ridge 282 Chardonnay 2017, WO Elgin, 13 Abv.

True to it’s terroir, this wine has Elgin written all over it with a superb crystallinity, purity and brightness. The nose is youthful and primary but already shows lashings of white citrus, green fig, green apple pastille, lemon-lime cordial, smokey minerality and mouth watering vanilla pod spice. The palate is super intense with bracing acidity but also more than sufficient backing yellow grapefruit, pineapple and tart green apple fruit concentration to balance. Still a baby, this wine should blossom into an ultra focused, finely honed cool climate expression of Chardonnay. Really delicious already but will be worth ageing it for 3 to 6+ years.

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

Pinot Passion and Precision Personified – Tasting the New Release Elgin Ridge Biodynamic Pinot Noir 2016…

Organic and biodynamic wine practices have become big business for the wine trade globally over the past few years. But what I really admire about Brian and Marion Smith’s focus at Elgin Ridge in South Africa is not only their unreserved commitment to the philosophy of organic and biodynamic winemaking but also the way they strive to genuinely be respectable and sustainable wine growers, wine makers and wine sellers. It’s certainly not done just in the name of marketing.

Elgin Ridge has had great success with their wines in the UK but latterly even more so in Scandinavia and especially Japan. Tasting their new release Pinot Noir 2016 points straight to varietal purity and precision, two key factors so important when trying to crack complicated connoisseur markets like the UK and Japan.

They may not be the poster boy of Pinot Noir production in South Africa, but rest assured this is one of the most honest, varietally pure and best value Pinot Noir reds you can buy on the market.

Elgin Ridge Pinot Noir 2016, WO Elgin, 13.5 Abv.

This organic naturally fermented Pinot Noir was produced in a very limited 3,440 bottles and was aged for 10 months in French oak barrels. The wine is structured and broody sticking to a serious old world stylistic framework for Pinot Noir. The aromatics are deep and dark with a really savoury baritone black bramble berry expression with a nose loaded with blood and iron, cranberry, incense and waxy red forest berry fruits. The palate shows delicious red fruited Cote de Beaune purity, piquant foresty spice and a dusty, bramble berry complexity. The textural precision and incredible winemaking polish does perhaps mask some of the wines earthy, artisanal charm, but in the end, this wine delivers an astonishing amount of Pinot Noir pleasure at a fantastic price point. So yes Brian and Marion, the biodynamic commitment is rewarding. Drink now to 2026+

Wine Safari Score: 93/100 Greg Sherwood MW

South African Chardonnay On the Cusp of Greatness – Tasting the New Paul Cluver Seven Flags Releases From Elgin…

After the recent Blind Chardonnay Challenge 2018 Results were revealed (Read the write up here… https://gregsherwoodmw.com/2018/06/18/the-great-blind-chardonnay-challenge-2018-new-world-chardonnay-giving-burgundy-a-run-for-its-money/), many questioned why no South African Chardonnay’s made the final line-up. I replied that none scored high enough from the multiple judges in the several preliminary blind selection tasting rounds. But of course, this was not to imply that South Africa does not make exceptional Chardonnay. They do, and in many ways, South African Chardonnay currently sits on the cusp of greatness, just needing to take the final upward quality steps to Valhalla.

Indeed, this belief was reinforced again recently when Andries Burger from Paul Cluver Winery came to visit and show me his latest releases of Paul Cluver’s premium Seven Flags Chardonnay and Pinot Noir range. Some exceptional wines that twinned with an exceptional vintage, really show the potential of these varieties in cooler climate regions of South Africa. Is the work over? Of course not, but the results from the 2017 vintage are very encouraging.

Andries Burger from Paul Cluver

Paul Cluver Seven Flags Chardonnay 2016, Elgin, 13.5 Abv.

Rich opulent toasty lemon nose made from two 31 year old clones of Chardonnay using 100% whole bunch pressing before going straight to barrel for wild yeast fermentation. Around 30% new French oak, there are multiple layers of brûléed lemon peel, lemon pastille, honeydew melon and vanilla pod spice. With only 5-10% malolactic, the wine shows a wonderfully bright, crisp, taut texture with very impressive piquant lemongrass spice, waxy green apple, yellow citrus concentration and a fine generosity and pinpoint salinity on the finish.

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

Paul Cluver Seven Flags Chardonnay 2017, Elgin, 13 Abv.

With slightly more new oak on the 2017 at 35%, this young wine shows a surprising primary fruit driven style with crystalline white citrus, honeydew melon, green apple and white peach purity. But there is also a fine dusty, gravelly minerality emphasising the wines greater restraint, freshness and salinity. A fine core of taut yellow fruits is still very tightly wound. The intense concentration raises its head one more time on the long, complex, linear finish. Very classy and certainly a wine that is more flamboyant in youth but will certainly reward cellaring.

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

Paul Cluver Seven Flags Pinot Noir 2015, Elgin, 13.5 Abv.

A very attractive nose of raspberry confit, red cherry, bramble berry spice with hints of milk chocolate and savoury cured meats. There is great palate power, intensity and fruit focus with earthy meaty red and black fruits, salinity, and piquant foresty brambly wood spice finish. Lovely restrained oak just adding a bit of salt and pepper complexity.

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

Paul Cluver Seven Flags Pinot Noir 2016, Elgin, 13.5 Abv.

Still young and primary, the 2016 initially shows some flinty, spicy reduction, red plum, crushed blackberries and bramble berry hedgerow spice. Includes around 30% whole bunch in the ferment adding sappy, brambly foresty fruit nuances. There is a lot of energy, a super bright acidity and a long, vivacious, dark fruited, linear finish.

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

The Alternative Face of Elgin – Tasting the Shannon Vineyards Wines with Co-Owner Stuart Downes…

Elgin is famous for cool climate expressions of both red and white wines. While most producers are focusing on Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, Shannon Vineyards have spent a lot of time and effort fine tuning their Semillon and Merlot, two varieties that have arguably had variable single varietal bottling success in South Africa until more recently. But I think it’s fair to say times have changed and consumers and wine merchants are more sympathetic to these varieties in their different guises.

Brothers Stuart and James Downes are the current owners and their focus has been on producing exceptional fruit from cool mountain hillside vineyards combined with minimal intervention winemaking. Stuart recently passed through London on the way back from the USA and presented his current releases.

Shannon Vineyards Semillon 2015, Elgin, 13.5 Abv.

0.5 Hectares of GD1 Australian Semillon clone with 15 years vine age. Shows real lift, dusty, spicy complexity with cut grass, lemon spice, crushed gravel, rain on dry grey slate petrichor characteristics. Definite herbaceous pyrazine hint but deliciously balanced by bright, creamy, ultra fresh yellow fruits, white citrus and a mouth watering grassy, piquant finish.

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

Shannon Vineyards Sanctuary Peak Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Elgin, 13 Abv

Bright fragrant notes of cut grass, stable straw, pithy yellow citrus, white pepper and crushed gooseberries. Acids are tart, crystalline and bright with spicy green apple, crunchy tart peach and lemon grass notes. Fresh, laser like focus and tension. Great example of cool climate Sauvignon.

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

Shannon Vineyards Rockview Ridge Pinot Noir 2014, Elgin, 13 Abv.

Using 667 & 777 clones, also 115 & 113. Dusty, sappy, spicy, cedary aromatic profile with notes of crushed gravel and subtle smokey charcoal embers. Palate is sleek, elegant, light weight but retains a fleshy red cherry and sappy bramble berry concentration with hints of Asian spices. Quite a subtle feminine style with a complexing white truffle earthiness on the finish.

(Wine Safari Score: 88+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Shannon Vineyards Merlot 2015, Elgin, 14 Abv.

Dark, warming, enticing nose of black damson plums, cut grass, black berry and baking spice herbaceousness with a dusting of milk chocolate gloss. Palate is soft and fruit driven with hints of mint leaf, supple creamy black brambly fruits, cedar spice and an overlay of graphite minerality. Fleshy and plummy, accessible and supple style.

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

Shannon Vineyards Mount Bullet Merlot 2013, Elgin, 14 Abv.

On average 22 months in barrel with a low 3.2 pH. Rich complex blend of 5 Merlot clones, 2 French and 3 Italian. Plush, restrained and very classical profile with black cherry, creamy black plum, cinnamon biscuits and an attractive sappy spice. Beautifully fleshy and sleek textured with incredibly bright cherry acids, black cherry spice, liquorice and a real Italian Tuscan feel. Fine precision, some tension and tautness, finishing with an alluring red cranberry and dusty graphite complexity. A rare distinguished example of one of the Cape’s most difficult grapes to master.

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

Lismore Pinot Noir Growing in Stature ~ Tasting the 2017 Vintage Pre-Release with Samantha O’Keefe…

It was almost a year ago that I tasted Samantha O’Keefe’s first vintage of Pinot Noir. Today I got a sneak preview of the follow up 2017 vintage. For someone who is only two vintages in with this heartbreak grape, the 2017 is a significant step up in both precision, quality and overall construction on the 2016.

Made from a blend of Elgin and Walker Bay fruit, the grapes were fermented in 5000 litre wooden fermenters with gentle pump overs twice a day. The wine was then aged in a mix of older 225L barriques and new 500L barrels for almost 12 months.

Lismore Pinot Noir 2017, WO Western Cape, 13.5 Abv.

Pale translucent ruby red, this new Pinot Noir was bottled in early January 2018 and already shows a nuanced complexity of red bramble berries, strawberry herbal tea, bright crystalline cranberry and cherry stone fruit. Moving from 15% to 30% whole bunch for the 2017, the palate instantly shows a more multi-textural, layered depth, resinous sappy grip, cherry skin spice, red berry flesh and a delicious mouth watering fresh acidity on the finish. The wine already possesses an attractive savoury strata and a beautiful red fruit intensity, suggesting this Pinot is a definite step up on the 2016 at this early point in its development. More confident and self assured in style, the Lismore Pinot Noir is certainly becoming a wine worth following with closer interest over the coming vintages. Drink from 2018 to 2028+.

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