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+.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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)
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!
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.
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.
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.
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+
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.
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.
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.
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.
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+.
What a busy year it’s been. No sooner had the smoke from the New Year’s Eve 2017 fireworks cleared then it seemed plans were being made for Christmas lunch 2018. Where did the year go?
Fortunately, I can punctuate my year with some of the exciting wines I have tasted and drunk along the way… and there have been a lot of them. My Top 10 list of whites and reds is not necessarily made up of the 10 highest scoring wines I tasted but is more focused on wines that were very memorable and enjoyable to experience. Inevitably, most of them will be among my highest rated wines of the year.
And the winners are… in no particular order… though I’m starting with Raats Family Wines as a nod of respect to Bruwer Raats for winning the Platter Wine Guide Winery of the Year 2017 Award.
Raats Family Eden High Density Single Vineyard Chenin Blanc 2015 – 96+/100 Greg Sherwood MW
I first tasted the first release 2014 with Bruwer Raats in South Africa at his winery tasting room pre-release. I thought it was knock out good. I couldn’t believe you could make a wine this profound from vines so young (4 or 5 years old back then). Tasting the 2015 merely reinforced Bruwer’s incredible achievement, making another fabulous wine of note from young high density Montpellier Clone plantings of Stellenbosch Chenin Blanc. If the vineyards remain healthy, the mind boggles at the potential quality that might be seen in 15 or 20 years time!
Alheit Family La Colline Semillon 2016 – 97+/100 Greg Sherwood MW
Made from vines planted in 1936 on a southern slope at 320 metres in the Franschhoek Valley, this old vine Semillon blended with a little Semillon Gris, is a very profound offering. Such complexity with notes of peaches, beeswax, jasmine, custard pie, tangerines, and yellow citrus. But the wine also manages to remain dense and concentrated yet light on its feet, understated and restrained, classically shaped, but also showing a touch of struck match reduction. I tasted this wine several times, but it was during the Old Vine Project tasting at the South African High Commission in London that this wine really stood out in the same way a Grand Cru white Burgundy would in a tasting of village wines. An amazing winemaker using an amazing vineyard. One of South Africa’s very own Grand Cru expressions.
Sadie Family Old Vine Series ‘T Voetpad 2016 – 97/100 Greg Sherwood MW
While they are all incredible wines, there is always a stand out wine in the Old Vine Series range every year. This year the Kokerboom Semillon and Skurfburg Chenin Blanc were both very impressive but it was the extra depth and complexity of the Voetpad field blend that captivated me. This is a wine that ages incredibly well and previous vintages tasted blind at lunches have been called out as Grand Cru Burgundy before. This is the league in which this wine comfortably sits. Only small quantities are produced and allocations are always small, but it is a wine worth tracking down and spending a few bob on.
Sadie Family Palladius White Blend 2015 – 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW
While we are talking about the incredible talents of Eden Sadie, it seems appropriate to highlight one of his most outstanding achievements. As a part time hobby winemaker myself, I qualified as one of the Masters of Wine who got to cast a vote for the Institute of Masters of Wine’s Winemakers Winemaker Award 2017… which thankfully went to Eben Sadie. I have been voting to Eben for years and it is rewarding that his talents have well and truly been internationally recognised now. So it is fitting that he released what is probably his finest expression of the Palladius White blend to date this year. Tasted again most recently at his masterclass held in London, this is a wine that can hold its own against the greatest whites from around the world. Every connoisseurs’ cellar should have a few cases in it!
I have always loved the purity and energy of the biodynamic wines of Reyneke especially the reserve white which often appears in journalists’ top wines of the year lists. This Natural Chenin was a latecomer for me as I did not taste it earlier in the year in South Africa and stock only just arrived in the UK in December. But I reviewed this wine on the Fine Wine Safari site recently and it really blew me away. The energy, intensity, complexity and drinkability really took me by surprise and pleasingly, another Stellenbosch Old Vine Chenin Blanc squeezed its way into my top 10 wines of the year. Well done to Rudiger Gretschel and Johan Reyneke.
David & Nadie Hoe Steen Single Vineyard Chenin Blanc 2016 – 96+/100 Greg Sherwood MW
I feel intimately related to this wine having been one of the Decanter judges on the blind panel that made history and awarded the 2015 Hoe Steen 98/100 and the unofficial Chenin crown. Again, the 2016 like the 2015, was made in tiny quantities and will be sold out before most people even get to hear about it. But this is a wine and a vineyard site that is being made into something really great by the gentle giant David Sadie (no relation to Eben Sadie). Together with his wife Nadia, they are producing some of the top white and red wines in South Africa. If you can’t get your hands on the Hoe Steen or his other Single Vineyard Chenin Blanc Skaliekop, then just buy his amazing regular David & Nadia Chenin Blanc. Another successful year for this lovely couple.
Another of my favourite producers in South Africa, everything John Seccombe touches seems to turn into something magical, none more so than his Paper Kite Semillon old vine white. With all their successes, it is hard to believe John and Tasha Seccombe only started their winery in 2012. Funnily enough, I tasted this wine earlier in the year in March with John and proclaimed at the time that this wine could already be a candidate for my top 10 whites of the year. Nothing has changed since then and along with the Alheit La Colline, remains one of the most tantalising expressions of this varietal in South Africa.
It’s safe to say a lot of planning and hard work went into the sourcing of suitable fruit and the subsequent production of this amazing wine. But of course, Chris and Andrea Mullineux don’t do things by half measure. Released earlier this year to great acclaim, the Leeu Passant range consists of two Chardonnays and one red blend. Just in the same way I love to taste profound Chenin Blanc from Stellenbosch, after all the headline stealing wines from the Swartland, so too is it rewarding to taste a great Stellenbosch Chardonnay in the face of incredible upstarts and challengers from top wineries in Elgin and the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley. This is a delicious wine and yet another success story for this winemaking power couple based in the Swartland.
Talking of upstarts from Elgin… Richard Kershaw MW has turned the world of New World Chardonnay on its head and succeeded in producing one of, if not the most profound examples ever seen from South Africa. His deconstructed range takes the terroir and clonal components of his main Kershaw Wines Chardonnay and bottles small amounts of them individually to illustrate the unique character and winemaking results of the soils and clones on their own. This version is spellbinding, with nuances harking back to the greatest Premier Cru vineyards of Meursault in Burgundy. Almost impossible to buy now, but if you come across this wine via the internet or on a restaurant list, pay the money and drink this profound wine. It could change your life!
2016 was the second of what looks like being four years of difficult drought vintages in South Africa… 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018. After a wet winter, the 2015 whites had plenty of water reserves to ripen wonderfully healthy fruit and the resulting wines have been every bit the expected block busters. So it was with great surprise that I tasted and rated this 2016 Chenin Blanc from Reenen Borman even more highly than the delicious 2015. A masterful, intelligent winemaker, Reenen has crafted a real gem from this Montagu vineyard. If the partnership involved in producing this wine can retain the vineyard fruit contract in Montagu, drinkers will be in for several more years of incredible Chenin Blanc treats from Patatsfontein.
So those were my Top 10 Most Memorable Whites of 2017. As it’s not based on scores, it becomes a very much more subject exercise. Wine is based on enjoyment and sharing experiences with friends. These experiences in turn hopefully become treasured memories.
Watch out for my high powered “Top 10 Most Memorable South African Reds of 2017” coming soon as well as “My Year in Wine 2017 in Pictures.”