What Future For South African Second Wines? Tasting Top Super Premium Vilafonte’s Seriously Old Dirt Cuvee…

South Africa is currently enjoying a very buoyant year for red wine releases at a time when the onslaught of big white wine reviews seems almost relentless. Much of this new found red success is undoubtedly down to the incredible “once in a generation” 2015 vintage that has produced some of the most lauded and iconic red wines in the modern era of the South African wine industry.

One of the questions that this new found success raises for me as prices push to new super premium levels is the potential role second wines currently play or could play in the future development of the South African fine wine market. They are not a new phenomenon. After all, anyone who loves top South African Bordeaux blends will remember the declassified Meerlust Rubicon 2011 blended away into the delicious Meerlust Red 2011, or the MR de Compostella 2010 that was “declassified” to create the new Red Jasper 2010, now an established brand on the market. Or even the De Toren Z, which started off life as an “off-cut” blend of Fusion V but which has now also established itself as a popular fine wine in its own right regularly scoring as high if not higher than the Fusion V from international wine critics.

On this blog, I have already been running a series of reviews on second wines from top Bordeaux Chateaux as I look to identify the over performers, the dark horses and the unexpectedly great second wines worthy of consumer attention. These wines after all serve an important role in the market, giving fine wine consumers a glimpse of the greatness they might encounter with the more expensive, more premium first wines. With a lower price tag comes an abundance of powerful premium branding, desirability but also affordability and of course a greater degree of earlier drinking accessibility.

In this vein, I cracked a bottle of premium brand Vilafonte’s Seriously Old Dirt 2014, a wine produced from unique ancient soils with quality assured for current enjoyment in a true second wine model. Made with a 6-7 day cold soak, partial natural fermentation with an extended fermentation period, the wine was aged in French oak barrels for 22 months. Vine age varies between 4 and 20 years old and the 2014 vintage surpasses both the 2012 and 2013 vintages that were released almost exclusively to the Vilafonte Wine Club and is a blend of Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.

Vilafonte Seriously Old Dirt 2014, WO Paarl, 13.5 Abv.

Lovely rich, opulent nuanced nose of cedar, vanilla pod, polished teak, creamy choc spice, mocha, black berry, black plum and crushed rose petals. The palate is medium-bodied with a truly plush, succulent mouthfeel, infused with brown sugar, cassis and leafy plum. Tannins are very fine grained and classical, sweet but retaining ample mineral, stony graphite grip. A seductive, enticing wine that definitely shows its aspiring pedigree and noble parentage. Drink now to 2028+

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

Another Eye-Catching Paardeberg Chenin Blanc From the Swartland – Tasting the Fire By Night 2017 from Chris Alheit…

Another new addition to the Alheit Family portfolio as Chris Alheit increasingly starts to focus on his premium range of single site and single terroir Chenin Blancs. This new cuvee is made from grapes sourced from three parcels on grape grower Christa von La Chevallerie’s Paardeberg farm planted between 1974 and 1980 and was tasted in London with Rosa Kruger and Andre Morgenthal at their fantastic Old Vine Project Masterclass.

Fire by Night Chenin Blanc 2017, WO Swartland, 13 Abv.

Old vine Chenin Blanc vines aged 38, 40, and 44 years old are conjured into an intense, complex white offering a bright crystalline purity, wonderful textural tension and intensity, loaded with liquid granite minerality, limestone, crunchy green gauge, apple, white peach and white pears. Pithy with slight phenolic nuances, the palate shows a spicy pear purée expression and such clarity and focus. Mouth watering acidity and subtle maritime salinity, this wine tells an amazing story of top old vine Chenin Blanc from decomposed granite soils made with incredible attention to detail. Another impressive addition to the Alheit range, this wine will drink well on release but also age beautifully for 10-15+ years.

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

The Gaja Barbaresco 2015 – Quite Simply the Most Impressive New Release Gaja Barbaresco Expression Tasted in Over a Decade….

Gaja’s Barbaresco is a truly magnificent wine and needs no introduction. A firm favourite amongst collectors, it is produced from fourteen unique vineyard sites in the commune of Barbaresco and offers an incredible insight into the brilliance of Gaja’s Nebbiolo wines. Extremely complex and refined, it is aged in barrels for twelve months before being blended together and matured for a further twelve months in large oak casks. A wine which is normally approachable relatively young, the 2015 will definitely improve for 10+ years and age well over two decades.

Antonio Galloni says that the “warm growing season yielded supple, radiant Barbarescos.” Following a mild winter and a protracted and damp spring, which replenished the water tables, temperatures rose steadily in July and August. The vines responded well, a result in part of the many innovations introduced in the vineyards in recent years by the Gaja family. Ideal weather conditions before the harvest allowed the grapes to ripen quickly and evenly producing perfectly ripe fruit with exceptionally regular bunches.

Widely regarded as an outstanding vintage with great promise, 2015 has broader shoulders with richer flavours than the previous vintage combined with “intense aromas and lovely energetic fruit” according to Gaia Gaja.

Gaja Barbaresco DOP 2015, 14 Abv.

This has always been one of Gaja’s greatest wines as well as greatest value wines. But dispensing with commercial intricacies, this wine has also always been the perennial over performer out punching many Crus (even from Gaja) in blind tastings. The aromatics suggest something grand and complex, something more profound than your average year, and in 2015, that is exactly what this wine delivers. Elegantly perfumed, very precise and pure, with a beautifully perfumed bouquet of crunchy red cherry, freshly plucked rose petals, violets and exotic spices. Quite reticent and restrained, more in the mould of knowing it is great without having to shout about it. On the palate, there is power and depth, concentration and density of fruit, with layers of red cherry, blueberry, sour red plum and piquant, grippy chalky natural grape tannins. There is plenty of energy here, power and intensity, all as you’d expect from a warm powerful vintage in Piedmont. This is an a impressive addition to the Gaja Barbaresco archive and one you should probably look to start drinking in 3 to 5 years and cellar for 20+. A very impressive wine indeed.

(Greg Sherwood MW –  95+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Tasting with the great Angelo Gaia at the winery.

A Towering South Africa Chenin Blanc Good Enough to Bring Tears to Your Eyes – Tasting the Huilkrans 2017 from Alheit Family Wines…

This is the first vintage that Chris Alheit has bottled something from the Oudam farm as a stand-alone wine.  Chris has been working with the Visser family since 2011 and has been planning this wine since 2015.  They chose the name Huilkrans, the name of a cliff on the farm that weeps when it rains.  Since the untimely passing of the owner’s son Kallie last year in 2017, the name now has an unintended double meaning. Even so, they’ve elected to keep it unchanged.

Chris Believes this wine is absolutely thrilling. Despite the excellent form of Magnetic North, Huilkrans might well be his best wine of the 2017 vintage? This is benchmark Skurfberg Chenin Blanc loaded with pithy minerality, charged with electric energy and is drenched with citrus and vibrant acidity. You can expect this to be impossibly rare and collectable from the moment it is released. So act quick!

Alheit Family Wines Huilkrans Chenin Blanc 2017, Citrusdal, 14.2 Abv.

Made from a vineyard on the Skurfberg from 42 and 32 year old Chenin Blanc plantings owned by the Visser family. This young nervy Chenin shows a wonderful melange of pure minerality, a granitic heart, wet hay, grated apple, yellow citrus, white peach and crunchy green pear with subtle hints of orange blossom, tangerine and dried herb spice adding extra backing complexity. Incredible harmony and balance, this wine has a very precise, polished textural focus but piercing concentration, crystalline acids and a profound liquid mineral depth. A thought provoking wine in so many ways, expertly delivered by Chris Alheit. This is Grand Cru in all but name and certainly ranks among the top Chenin Blancs ever produced in South Africa. Drink now until 2035+

(Wine Safari Score: 97+/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)

Julien Schaal Releases His 2017 Flagship Grand Cru – Tasting the Schaal Riesling Rangen de Thann Volcanique…

I recently review Julien Schaal’s new Riesling Rosacker Grand Cru 2017 – a very impressive wine in its own right. There is no doubting the pedigree of the Rosacker vineyard which is home to one of Alsace’s greatest wines, Trimbach’s Clos st Hune. But when you want extra muscle power and frame, mineral austerity, age-ability and intensity in your Riesling, you can do no better than the Rangen de Thann Grand Cru vineyard.

Often regarded as the grandest of all the Grands Crus, this is the only Cru vineyard located on volcanic rocks. This volcanic soil, combined with a 60 degree slope results in tiny yields of hard-won fruit – but the results are worth the struggle and the concentration and depth of the Riesling wines produced can be extraordinary. This exceptional 2017 is a vintage not to miss!

Julien Schaal Riesling Rangen de Thann Grand Cru Volcanique 2017, Alsace, 13 Abv.

It may be auto-suggestion but when you first nose the Rangen Volcanique 2017 Riesling you can’t help but notice the incredible dusty, flinty basalt minerality that pervades the wine. Like it’s attractive sibling, the Rosacker, this wine is taut, restrained and initially very tightly wound with shy dusty stony aromatics and subtle hints of lime peel, grated Granny Smith apples and fresh fennel. The palate too is powerful, intense, compact and flinty but also shows off the grand pedigree of Rangen with incredible piercing lime cordial concentration, lemon bon bons and tart crunchy pineapple zest interspersed with pithy, phenolic tannin grip and a flinty, stony, saline, wet river pebble finish. Another fantastic vintage expression for Julien, this wine is built to impress and delivers on so many levels. Drink on release or cellar for 10 to 15+ years.

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

Julien Schaal Masters Grand Cru Rieslings – Tasting His New Release Rosacker 2017…

Not only does Julien & Sophie Schaal produce some fantastic Chardonnays from South Africa, but for the past few years, Julien has been making an array of Grand Cru Alsace dry Rieslings under his own name separate to his partnership with Olivier Biechler and the Biechler & Schaal wines. When it comes to Alsace vineyard pedigree, they don’t come more illustrious than the Rosacker Grand Cru vineyard in the village of Hunawihr that is also the source of Domaine Trimbach’s Clos Ste Hune Riesling, probably Alsace’s most famous white wine.

The official Rosacker Grand Cru classification covers over 26 hectares on predominantly limestone soils at between 260 and 330 metres above sea level, facing east and south east. Permitted varieties include Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer and of course Riesling, which forms 65% of the Rosacker Cru.

Julien Schaal Rosacker Grand Cru Calcaire 2017, Alsace, 12.5 Abv.

Vibrant and youthful, this delicious dry Riesling made from 41 year old vines bristles with dusty limestone mineral lift, lemon rind, spicy citrus, crushed gravel, fresh fennel and dried baking herbs. Initially quite restrained and tight, the nose slowly starts to reveal notes of waxy green apples and wet slate petrichor notes with time in the glass. The medium bodied palate shows fine intensity and a wonderful harmonious balance between sweet lemon pastille fruits, dried herbs, boiled apple bon bons and bright linear acids. A mouth watering example that has ample glycerol palate weight and a lovely dry mineral finish. Drink this beauty now and over the next 5-8+ years.

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