The great thing about the wine trade is that whatever side of the fence you work, whether producing, buying or selling, everyday beckons new discoveries and new experiences. Clayton Reabow and Craig McNaught are the winemakers behind this new innovative Franschhoek-based label and for the owners of the Lokaia brand, it was exactly this driving force that led them to believe that there was more to explore in the potential of the Franschhoek Valley with varieties like Semillon, Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc at the forefront of their endeavours.
Clayton has been behind the wheel of Franschhoek’s Moreson winery for fourteen years and counts both the Diner’s Club Young Winemaker of the Year and Winemaker of the Year awards among his many accolades. Craig on the other hand is the second-generation winemaker and co-owner of Stony Brook Vineyards in Franschhoek’s Bo-Hoek region and his focus for many years has been on producing traditional, old-world influenced wines with the Lokaia project affording him the opportunity “to delve in to the postmodern.”
The Lokaia range includes a Semillon from Franschhoek’s Bo-Hoek, a Chardonnay from the Franschhoek Valley Floor and a Cabernet Franc from the Dutoitskop Peak grown on sandstone and clay soils. All three wines are vinified with a strong emphasis on the use of Terracotta amphora that allow the wines to breath and evolve slowly with out any oak influence. Each wine also has a varying degree of skin contact during and post fermentation.
Lokaia Call of the Void Dutoitskop Peak Amphora Cabernet Franc 2020, WO Franschhoek, 11.98% Abv.
1.1 g/l RS | 5.9 g/l TA | 3.24 pH
This unique Cabernet Franc expression was fermented and matured on its skins for four months in amphora yielding a meagre production of a mere 530 bottles. Produced in a more natural leaning style that is unfined and unfiltered, the aromatics yield an intriguing expression of crushed leaves, grey slate, green coffee beans, black tea, spicy green peppercorns, sweet cedar and a freshly cut hedgerow spice. On the palate, the theme of cool sapidity and minerality continues with notes of wet river pebble minerality, tart black currants, sweet and sour black berries, crunchy bright acids and a long, tangy fresh finish that is deliciously mouth-watering. The energetic freshness makes this an attractively easy to drink red, yet beneath the wine’s slightly obvious, linear, fruity veneer lie multiple layers that genuinely challenge the senses. Despite the super low alcohol, the wine possesses an impressively fleshy, glycerol texture, soft powdery stony tannins and a long glassy, crystalline finish. Drink on release and over the next 3 to 5+ years.
I first met CEO of La Motte, Hein Koegelenberg, in London of all places in mid-March 2018. Tasting through their impressive range of wines with their newly appointed importer, The Wine Treasury, was most enjoyable and enlightening. These were after all some of the wines I had cut my teeth on in the early 1990s when I was working as a commodity trader in Johannesburg spending my hard-earned cash filling up my newly established wine cellar in Pretoria with some of South Africa’s finest red wines. Scratch on the shelves today and you might find some of my treasured bottles of La Motte Shiraz from 1993, 1994 and 1995 or maybe even one of my last bottles of La Motte Millennium 1990 red blend. These are historic wines that hold a special place in my wine development landscape as well as for many South Africans.
With lockdown looming hard and large, we have certainly missed all our regular South African winemaking tourists passing through London to taste the new vintage releases. But as they say, if Mohammed can’t go to the mountain, well then, the mountain must come to Mohammed… and I recently had a wonderful opportunity to taste through the current releases from the stunning La Motte Franschhoek Estate and was impressed with the all-round quality as ever.
La Motte Sauvignon Blanc 2021, WO Western Cape, 12.5% Abv.
3.0 g/l RS | 7.3 g/l TA | 3.39 pH
This 2021 Sauvignon Blanc was made from a blend of grapes sourced in Franschhoek (25%), Stellenbosch (50%) and the Cape South Coast (25%). With multiple vineyards grown in different microclimates and on different terroirs, the final wine in bottle has been expertly blended to ensure ample ripeness with juicy freshness, no overt leafy pyrazine characters but certainly plenty of attractive cool climate purity. A reductive fermentation process in stainless steel was carried out with the wine being left on its fine lees to enhance the tropical flavours. To further add to the complexity, 8% of Semillon was blended into the wine before bottling on the 10th April 2021.
A deliciously vibrant, expressive style of Cape Sauvignon Blanc, this wine displays an impressive purity and crystalline cool vintage clarity of green citrus fruits, green apple, lemon and lime zest and a subtle suggestion of Cape gooseberry. There is just enough fleshy tropical complexity to make this wine very appealing to lovers of fine New Zealand style Sauvignon Blanc with a cool 12.5% alcohol supporting an electric acidity and energetic depth of fruit. There is plenty of mouth coating richness, a fleshy glycerol opulence and a long, cool, spicy green herb-tinged finish with tangy acids that keep you coming back again and again for another sip. I’m not sure what more you could want from a young, fresh, unoaked Sauvignon Blanc? Delicious! Drink now and over the next 2 to 3 years.
(Wine Safari Score: 90+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
La Motte The Pierneef Collection Sauvignon Blanc 2020, WO Cape South Coast, 12.62% Abv.
1.8 g/l RS | 6.8 TA | 3.25 pH
The Pierneef Collection is a range of wines from La Motte forming a part of their more premium range as a tribute to the famous South African artist Jacob Hendrik Pierneef (1886-1957), one of South Africa’s most collectable artists, with each new bottling labelled with a different piece of his art. The 2020 Pierneef Collection Sauvignon Blanc is a blend of 94% Sauvignon Blanc from Elim, Napier and Elgin and 6% Semillon from Elim, all vineyards that now fall under the Cape South Coast region. After four drought vintages from 2015 to 2018, the 2019 season was much more moderate and saw the Cape’s vineyards build up their water reserves which boded well for the follow up 2020 crop. The grapes were afforded 16 hours of skin contact before fermentation and then another 5 months post-fermentation ageing on fine lees before blending. The wine was bottled in August 2020 and 30,000 bottles were produced.
On the nose, this wine is unmistakably cool climate Sauvignon Blanc with all the herby, pithy, spicy, saline notes you’d expect to find on cooler, Coastal Cape Sauvignon. Together with classic Thiol notes of white citrus, Cape Gooseberry and bell pepper, there is an attractive underlying dusty crushed limestone minerality, hints of green apple pastille, lime peel and lemon grass spices. Medium bodied with bright glassy acids but also a wonderfully harmonious textural balance, this is a serious offering for more serious Sauvignon Blanc connoisseurs that celebrates the diversity of premium cool climate coastal maritime styles. Drink on release or cellar for 6 to 8+ years.
(Wine Safari Score: 93+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
La Motte Franschhoek Chardonnay 2019, WO Franschhoek, 13.4% Abv.
2.2 g/l RS | 6.0 g/l TA | 3.37 pH
While many of Franschhoek’s top wines are produced from grapes sourced from all over the Cape, this Chardonnay is made from fruit grown on the La Motte farm in Franschhoek from vineyards located at 200 metres above sea-level on south and southwestern facing slopes. The vineyard soils are mostly sandstone and granite in origin with the oldest blocks planted in 1997. For the 2019 Chardonnay, 100% the grapes were whole bunch pressed with 66% fermented in 300 litre French oak barrels with malo and 33% in stainless steel without malolactic fermentation. Post ferment, the wines saw regular lees stirring while ageing 12 months in 25% new French oak. After ageing, the wines were blended and bottled in May 2020.
The aromatics on this 2019 Chardonnay boast luxurious zesty notes of tangerine peel, pressed oranges and fragrant citrus blossom together with notes of vanilla pod spice, dried pistachio nuts and lemon butterscotch. The palate is round, creamy and harmonious with a fine textural balance of tangy orange and yellow citrus fruits, succulent white peach and green apple pastille. There is a lovely finesse and fine-tuned elegance to the wine that shows impressive persistence of flavour and a complex leesy, savoury lemon bon bon finish. Enjoy this ‘ready-to-go’ Chardonnay now and over the next 2 to 3+ years.
(Wine Safari Score: 91/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
La Motte Cabernet Sauvignon 2018, WO Western Cape, 13% Abv.
3.2 g/l RS | 6 g/l TA | 3.39 pH
The grapes for this 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon are sourced from two regions including 67% from Stellenbosch and 33% from Franschhoek. 2018 was of course the fourth in a series of drought vintages and resulted in a small, concentrated crop of grapes -15% down on 2017 or the lowest crop in a decade and a half. The Stellenbosch portion of fruit was machine harvested before being transported to the La Motte cellar in Franschhoek while the Franschhoek grapes were hand harvested. All grape batches were fermented separately in stainless steel before being aged for 16 months in 300 litre French oak barrels, 33% new, 33% second fill and 34% older barrels. After blending, the wine was bottled in November 2019. 84,000 bottles were produced.
This Cabernet Sauvignon displays classical aromatics of saline cassis, sweet cedar spice, dried mint leaf, iodine, seashore kelp and subtle hints of graphite, iron and blood. Youthfully piquant but also lush on the palate, like a true 2018 Cabernet, this wine takes a little bit of time to open its shoulders before revealing its full potential. The palate shows an attractive opulence and a fleshy, creamy black cocoa powder complexity with notes of tart black currant, black cherry, crunchy sour plum and a long, mouth-watering finish marked by wonderfully subtle integrated oak spice characters and a delicate kiss of salty liquorice. Ample minerality and more than sufficient structure suggest you can drink this now with a short decant or else cellar for at least 5 to 8+ years.
(Wine Safari Score: 91/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
La Motte Syrah 2017, WO Franschhoek, 13.69% abv.
2.3 g/l RS | 5.6 g/l TA | 3.44 pH
The Syrah grapes for this wine are all sourced from the La Motte Wine Estate in Franschhoek from vines that are between 10 and 30 years old, situated on varying sandstone and granitic soils at between 200 and 300 metres altitude. While 2017 was the third of the drought vintages in the Cape, it also managed to somehow deliver the raw materials to make some of the greatest red wines ever seen in the Cape. Following a lower than average rainfall in the preceding winter, flowering and fruit set conditions were favourable and followed by a long, dry ripening season with cool nights and a distinct lack of heat waves resulting in very healthy grapes with excellent concentration. For this Syrah, the grapes were 100% destemmed and the whole berries fermented in stainless steel tanks. The finished wine was matured in 300 litre French oak barrels for 14 months, 30% of which were new. Unusually, to add some extra colour to the wine, a 15% portion of Durif (Petit Syrah) was added to the blend. It seems the phenomenally successful 2017 vintage was equally as generous to the quality of premium Syrah wines as it was to top Cabernet Sauvignon and Cape Bordeaux Blends that have lit up critical wine ratings globally.
This is an attractive wine that reveals a wonderfully seductive, generous and elegant expression of Franschhoek Syrah. Dense, dark and opaque, though some of this might be due to a little extra Petit Syrah turbo charging, the aromatics show perfumed notes of earthy lily flowers, black plum, salty black liquorice, black olive tapenade and bruleed Christmas pudding nuances. Complex and layered, there is a sleek meaty, savoury stratum with sweet peppercorn nuances and hints of molasses spice. For all the ripeness, the palate lacks no freshness and is brimming with blue berry and black currant fruits buffered by a subtle chalky mineral tannin and a cool, long oregano and thyme-tinged dried herb finish. A serious effort for the money.
(Wine Safari Score: 92+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
La Motte The Pierneef Collection Syrah 2017, WO Western Cape, 13.8% Abv.
2.8 g/l RS | 6.0 g/l TA | 3.46 pH
Though not part of the ultra-premium range from La Motte, this wine still has got to be one of the estate’s most impressive quality red offerings. The fruit for this blend originates from 90% Syrah from Elim, 5% Syrah from Walker Bay and 5% Viognier from Franschhoek. Small berries with thick skins and intense fruit flavours in 2017 made for a very serious vintage offering. Some of the Syrah batches were harvested at the same time as the Viognier, sourced in Franschhoek, in order for the grapes to be co-fermented together. After fermentation, the wine was matured for 14 months in 55% new French oak barrels after which time the components were all blended together and then returned to barrel for a further 4 months of ‘marriage’. The wine was bottled in November 2018.
Based on the classical Cote Rotie blend of red and white grapes, this really is a spectacularly well-made wine delivered with intensity, complexity and balance. The aromatics are instantaneously recognizable as being different with the extra tell-tale perfumed lift and peachy bon bon rock candy aromatics from the Viognier that melt into the dark, saline, salty liquorice and black currant fruit nuances of the intense, maritime Elim Syrah. Dark, seductive and decidedly cool and coastal in its profile, this wine sucks up the new oak portion to leave an almost imperceptible purity of tart black berry fruits with just the most subtle lick of creamy warm buttered brown toast smothered in black currant and watermelon preserve on the long finish. Cool, dense, weightlessly concentrated and texturally compact with a high degree of finesse and polish make for a real ‘wow’ wine. Drink this wine now after a good 2 hour decant or else cellar for a further 10 to 12+ years.
(Wine Safari Score: 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
(Wines are distributed to trade in the UK by The Wine Treasury.)
It has to be said that when Chris and Andrea Mullineux embarked on their new Leeu Passant adventure with silent partner Analjit Singh, there were many in the industry that thought that this duo would be better off focusing on their successful eponymous Swartland project at Roundstone instead of spreading themselves a bit thin across multiple wine regions. But when you are as driven and as wine curious as Chris and Andrea, holding back on their new winemaking endeavour was never an option. Since the first vintages released from the 2015 vintage, there has certainly been a high degree of evolution and even a bit of revolution as Chris and Andrea have shaken up the establishment in both Stellenbosch and Franschhoek.
But in 2021, the Leeu Passant project can finally be considered to have come of age with some of their most compelling releases yet. With a conscious effort to try and realign the vintage releases a little more after choosing to hold back the 2018 Leeu Passant Dry Red and the Basson Vineyard Old Vine Cinsault 2018, they have finally reached a point where the extra year in bottle for these extraordinary wines has allowed them to be appreciated and admired for what they truly are – exceptional winemaking creations.
I normally visit Chris and Andrea at least once a year in the Swartland and then finally fill in the remaining gaps on one of their many trips to London. I certainly miss the Swartland and walking the vineyards with Chris as he explains all the new ideas they’re perpetually putting into practice in the vineyards. But these are strange times and unfortunately I had to make do with a Zoom tasting to acquaint myself with their fabulous new wine releases.
Leeu Passant Stellenbosch Chardonnay 2019, WO Stellenbosch, 14% Abv.
Made from a single vineyard in the Helderberg where the climate probably has a bigger fingerprint than even the soils and terroir but at 400 meters plus, the maritime climate really shapes the wine with very consistent temperatures, that yield high acidities and often 9 TA – 9.5 TAs before settling at around 7 TA when all is said and done. Whole bunch pressed with oxidative must handling then to barrel for 18 months in oak without SO2. Barrels were 225L size of which around 30% were new with the rest 2/3/4/5th fill.
The 2019 Chardonnay is a very serious contender for one of the top Chardonnays produced in South Africa along with a very small handful of obsessive producers. This Stellenbosch 2019 is full of power and focus with all the hallmark purity that Andrea Mullineux prides herself in. The aromatics are reminiscent of granitic river pebbles immersed in lemon cordial with a dusting of honey, toffee apples, lemon grass and dried baking herbs. Always brilliantly pure, crystalline and electric, the palate shows tremendous tension and linearity supported by astonishing fruit concentration and intensity. The balance and harmony are spellbinding, revealing sip after sip, the true pedigree of this wonderful Helderberg vineyard site in the hands of a masterful winemaker. Undoubtedly comparable to the very best Chardonnay expressions produced by Leeu Passant to date, this 2019 seems to pack an extra level of lemon and lime intensity making it already an incredibly appealing fine wine. Give this vintage at least three years from release in your cellar and then drink over 10+.
(Wine Safari Score: 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Leeu Passant Wellington Old Vine Basson Cinsault 2018, WO Wellington, 13% Abv.
This treasured dry-farmed Cinsault vineyard is the oldest certified red wine vineyard in South Africa, planted in circa 1900 and farmed by the Mullineuxs since 2014. One of the original Old Vine Project “Certified Heritage Vineyards” that has been held up as a shining beacon of education and preservation, these gnarled deep rooted old Cinsault bush vines are planted on deep, weathered sandy Table Mountain sandstone alluvial soils which yield wines deceptively light in colour but also impressively structured, taut and rich. Producing as little as 600 kilograms of fruit in 2015, the plot has now been nursed back to rude health enough to yield two tons of fruit in 2019.
This vineyard always shows plenty of structure, power and focus and the 2018 vintage is considered one of the most structured yet. In its current youthful state, the aromatics are distinctively stony and mineral but also fabulously perfumed showing notes of potpourri, lavender, bramble berries, fynbos and Turkish delight. The palate is incredibly precise and foursquare with a polished structure and frame you just don’t expect from such a delicately fragrant wine. The texture is dense and tightly packed, the wine concentrated and intense but also deceptively light on its feet revealing notes of cranberry, red cherry and wild strawberries on the finish all supported by the most powdery, silky tannins imaginable. A difficult wine even for me to put accurately into words because it is so evocative on both an emotional level as well as on a sensorial level. Drink this wine from release and over the next 30+ years. (Circa 1,800 bottles produced)
(Wine Safari Score: 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Leeu Passant Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon 2019, WO Stellenbosch, 13.5% Abv
Chris and Andrea experimented with over 20 different vineyards around Stellenbosch before they started to focus on five specific vineyards including two in the Helderberg, two in the Polkadraai Hills and one 40-year-old parcel in Firgrove close to False Bay. Three of these five vineyards already contribute fruit that goes into their flagship Leeu Passant Dry Red Blend together with components of the Lotter Cinsault, the Wellington Basson Cinsault and a splash of Cabernet Franc. The wine sees only 30% new oak with some extended maceration that changes from site to site with the older Firgrove vineyard seeing the longest maceration. With vines grown on a mix of alluvial soils and decomposed granite soils, the grapes produce a sleek, crystalline, elegant style of Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon that many say harks back to the golden age of Bordeaux’s finest old Clarets. The wines are aged for 12 months before being moved to larger 2000 and 5000 litre upright oak vats for another year of aging before spending several months in bottle before release.
The aromatics are wonderfully lifted and perfumed showing all the intricacies of cool climate Cabernet Sauvignon fruit. There is an intriguing piquant leafy spice that melts into notes of liquid minerality, granitic dust and graphite while underneath the mineral veil is a powerful depth of fruit held on a very short rein lest it bursts out the glass. There are seductive notes of violets, sweet cedary spice, saline black currant, hints of iodine and fresh kelp brought in on the morning’s tide. On the palate there is plenty of textural precision on display for all to see, confidently boasting layer upon layer of stony minerality, sweet cherry tobacco, cassis leaf, black tea, tilled earth and creamy dense powdery tannins. Fabulously old school on so many levels, this wine will undoubtedly age well and develop into something that harks back to the great old Clarets of times gone by. Drink from 2024 until 2040+
(Wine Safari Score: 94/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Leeu Passant Dry Red 2018, WO Western Cape, 14% Abv.
The impressive wine is formed of two old vine Cinsault blocks (Basson and Lotter), three Cabernet Sauvignon parcels and Cabernet Franc from the Helderberg. The 2018 is a blend of 63% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Cabernet Franc, 16% Cinsault (in 2018 mostly Basson and lesser amounts of the opulent Lotter), with the Basson Cinsault being whole bunch fermented. Some of the Cinsault is co-fermented with the 40+ year old Cabernet Sauvignon while the Cabernet Franc, planted in the early 1990s, if vinified separately. The Dry Red traditionally sees the components aged 12 months in 500 litre oak barrels separately before being blended and aged for another 12 months in large 2000-litre old oak foudre. The wine now also spends an extra year in bottle “because when it was released earlier, the Cinsault component seemed to dominate the style. Now with the extra 12 months in bottle it is a far more harmonious wine”, according to Chris Mullineux. Almost 10,000 bottles were produced in 2018 compared to circa 4,000 bottles in 2015, the maiden vintage.
My experience of tasting this wine has sometimes been somewhat of a challenge because in its early years, the individual components often seemed to intermittently compete with one another for aromatic and flavour dominance. The extra years ageing in bottle has been a game-changer. The wine is now so incredibly lifted and perfumed with a real melange of red currant, wild strawberry, pressed violets and vanilla pod spice bursting out the glass. There is such magnificent purity, precision and a real synergy that shines through the wine. The palate is incredibly dense, textured and luxuriously opulent, packed full of fleshy red cherry and cranberry pastille fruits, Turkish delight and red currant jelly. Perhaps it’s the vintage or perhaps it’s just the extra bottle age but this wine seems so much more complete with less obvious sapidity and spice and much more harmonious fleshy layers of red fruit and creamy, savoury tannins. This is an absolute triumph of a wine and a flagship vintage Dry Red that single-handedly announces the true ‘arrival’ of the entire Leeu Passant project. Drink this phenomenal wine on release and over the next 30+ years.
Semillon is a complicated grape variety that could probably be thought of as the white equivalent of Cabernet Franc – neither being easy varieties for wine novices to get their heads around, but once you fall in love with them, there is no looking back. These 116-year-old vines come from the famous Landau du Val vineyard in the Bo-Hoek area of the Franschhoek Valley, owned by Basil Landau, really do yield some very special fruit capable of making some truly profound white wines.
Harvested February 2017, the fruit was picked and chilled overnight before being destemmed without crushing and left to macerate on the skins for 24 hours before pressing. The juice was settled in tank and then transferred to old 500 litre French oak barrels for natural fermentation which lasted 6 weeks. After fermentation, bâtonnage was performed once a week to add richness and texture to the wine. The wine was bottled unfiltered and unfined after 12 months ageing in barrel.
As with many other complex wines, cuisines and works of art, it seems unreasonable to expect that every critic will taste and understand classic old vine Semillon in the same manner and see eye to eye with their critical ratings. But this is undoubtedly an impressive wine fashioned by subtlety and whispered nuances, austere liquid minerality and a slowly evolving textural passion play that eventually seduces the drinker.
Black Elephant Vintners & Co. The Dark Side of the Vine Semillon 2017, W.O. Franschhoek, 12.25% Abv.
pH 3.41 | TA 5.6 g/l | RS 2.30 g/l
Old Vine Semillon doesn’t come much more serious than this wine. Add to the equation a high quality, super taut, tightly wound vintage and you have all the building blocks for a truly special wine. This vintage requires plenty of time and breathing to release its intricacies, but after several hours, the aromatics rise to a fine classical crescendo of pithy white citrus, nectarine peel, crushed gravel and dusty chalk minerality, hints of white pepper, dried nuts and a lick of lanolin and tinned petit pois. On the palate, the structure is super taut with an iron grip that releases the underlying intensity of the old vine fruit in a slow and measured manner. There is plenty of crunchy white peach stone fruit, dried herbs, tart green pear, yellow grapefruit pith and a long, spicy, leesy finish framed by linear acids. Another complex, restrained offering that will take a little time in the cellar to show at its best. An educated palate will undoubtedly recognise and enjoy the classism and quality of this very fine Semillon expression. Drink from 2022 to 2034+.
There are few places more beautiful than an ancient old vine vineyard perched high in the mountains above a beautiful hamlet like Franschhoek. But that’s where you’ll find the magical 84 year old vines that have produced the fruit that made the new release Naudé Family Old Vine Semillon Gris 2019 bottled exclusively in magnum. In fact that’s actually a godsend as the wine is so delicious, at 12% Abv, one regular 75cl bottle will hardly touch sides!
This famous vineyard has over the years supplied fruit to such iconic producers as Alheit Family Wines, Boekenhoutskloof, John Seccombe of Thorne & Daughters and Adam Mason of Raised By Wolves. Now Naudé Family Wines joins this elite club. When chatting to Ian Naudé, he requested that I taste and review the wine over several days. Having done exactly that with incredible results for some of the Leeu Passant old vine reds recently, I had no objections what so ever in doing so. Also, tasting from magnum surely demands it!?
My impressions of this profound wine are captured below over three days of tasting.
Naude Family Wines La Colline Groendruif Semillon Gris 2020, WO Franschhoek, 12% Abv. (Bottled in Magnum)
Rich and fleshy with a broad glycerol weight and textural harmony. Lots of white peach and yellow orchard stone fruits with a spicy, grassy, herby peppery finish. There’s a lot going on here. Certainly a contemplative wine.
The wine seems to have really tightened up to show nervy white citrus, white pepper, liquid minerality, pithy peach stone, lemon iced tea with textural spice, phenolic grip, grape skin tannins and a dry bitter lemon persistence. Lovely wound spring tension with a stony pure focus on the finish.
Super excited to taste this again on day three and see what direction the wine has travelled. The nose is now full of pithy citrus and hints of crunchy green fruits with exotic notes of unripe tangerines and naartjies. The palate remains steely and crisp, bright and super taut with tart green apple, white peach and complexing layers of dried herbs and crushed granite minerality. Piercing and super focused, this is a very serious fine wine expression of majestic old vine Semillon bottled exclusively in magnums. Drink now and over the next 10-15+ years.
I recently caught up with Chris and Andrea Mullineux over Zoom for an intimate tasting of their new Leeu Passant releases. South African wineries were once again allowed to send out samples as of the 1st of May as lockdown started to be eased, and after tasting through their new releases, it is clear and evident that fine wine lovers are in for a considerable treat with these new single varietal reds.
Instead of running through all the wines in one foul swoop, I thought I would afford each wine the time and respect they deserve by profiling each new release in three separate reviews. Starting with the seductive Old Vine Lotter vineyard Cinsault from Franschhoek, this is a vineyard Andrea has gotten to know more and more intimately after producing a 2015 and 2016 mono-varietal wine from this site for her Cape Winemakers Guild submission. The Lotter vineyard also forms a key part of the Leeu Passant flagship Dry Red Blend.
For many years, Franschhoek got a bum rap for producing wines that supposedly just weren’t up to the high levels of Stellenbosch, Paarl and the Swartland. Substandard terroir or lazy winemaking? Of course, nothing could be further from the truth, a fact highlighted by the production of exceptional white wines like those incredible Semillons from the La Colline old vine vineyard and of course reds like this Old Vine Lotter Cinsault sourced from a vineyard planted in 1932 but farmed by the Mullineux duo since 2015.
As Andrea points out, it is fascinating to walk through the wonky rows of the Lotter vineyard which have only ever been farmed by hand and horse, with the deep rich brown clay soils adding gravitas and density to the Cinsault grapes harvested from this 2 hectare vineyard. The plot was originally 4 hectares but by the time the Mullineuxs had managed to contract the fruit, over half the vines had already been grubbed up to make way for fruit trees. Andrea works with whole bunch clusters and only natural yeast fermentations for grapes from these eastern slopes of this south west facing vineyard planted with an ancient field blend of 90% Cinsault, 2% Cinsault Blanc, 6% Cinsault Gris and 2% Palomino. The grapes are harvested and fermented all together.
Leeu Passant Franschhoek Old Vines Lotter Cinsault 2018, WO Franschhoek, 14 Abv.
The large Cinsault berries in the Lotter vineyard develop thick dark skins and yield a skin to juice ratio not dissimilar to small Cabernet Sauvignon berries. This wine was matured for 20 months in 500 litre French oak barrels and shows a fascinatingly different expression to their Basson Old Vine Cinsault from Wellington. Fabulously red fruited, the bouquet shines with crushed rose petals, sweet red plums, sun ripened red currants, macerated cherries and exotic Turkish delight nuances. Fuller, rounder and more opulently fleshy on the palate, the generosity of fruit belies a density, depth and concentration supported by a plump, textured mouth feel enlivened with hints of sapidity, hedgerow herbaceousness and mulled wine Christmas spices. Beautifully sweet, well honed tannins leave a lasting impression on the long plush finish. A wine still playing its cards close to its chest, but suggests great rewards lie in store for those willing to cellar their bottles for a further 5 to 8+ years before revisiting.
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.
One of the original goals of the Cape Winemakers Guild was to allow an elite group of producers in South Africa an opportunity to push boundaries and experiment in order to produce the most profound quality wines on the market. Some of the specially selected winemakers at the CWG have made a little more effort than most to take this opportunity to make and profile wines that leave you speechless and that command instant respect.
Few have done this more effectively than Andrea Mullineux, one half of the wunderkind duo at Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines. The other half of this duo, Chris Mullineux was recently in London for the New Wave Tasting 2019 and I caught up with him over lunch at the iconic Chez Bruce restaurant to taste not only these two new CWG releases, but also the full line up of their white and red single terroir new releases.
The CWG wines are only available to buy at the auction in Cape Town but if you can’t make it, speak to Roland Peens at Wine Cellar who can bid on behalf of consumers and private clients. Contact him at: Roland@winecellar.co.za
Cape Winemakers Guild Leeu Passant ‘The Gris’ Semillon Old Vines 2018, WO Paardeberg, 13.5 Abv.
Super fragrant and lifted with aromatics dominated by an incredible saline, mineral spicy note underpinned by stalk spice, tangerine peel and white citrus. Creamy and glycerol on the palate, the concentration is clearly marked and the white blossom, green apple and briney pithiness is effortless and magically long. Outstanding effort once again.
Grapes from Bokkeveld Shale soils on the Tradauw-Joubert estate in Barrydale but produced and aged in the Leeu Passant cellars in Franschhoek. The aromatic profile screams ‘Jura meets Tondonia’ with plush saline, spicy, peppery white citrus fruits with top notes of dusty, stony minerality. The palate is big and bold but very expressive with density, breadth and incredible concentration. Of course the wine is defined by superb balance, piercing acidity which is padded out by sensual fleshy savoury fruit gravitas. The finish shows fabulous crystallised lemons, white peach pastilles and an exotic candied persistence. Really something very special.
With the Mullineux brand more than a decade old now, it has firmly been established as one of South Africa’s top fine wine labels with every new release highly anticipated. Their Leeu Passant brand on the other hand is only three vintages down but also seems to have garnered its own more individual, eclectic wine following among old vine collectors and connoisseurs.
I recently visited the Mullineux’s Leeu Passant winery in Franschhoek where Chris Mullineux showed me the ropes and I also got to meet Wade Sander, Andrea Mullineux’s assistant winemaker who works solely on the Leeu Passant wines.
The Leeu Passant winery in Franschhoek with assistant winemaker Wade Sander (below).
With the 2015 vintage certainly very famous now, the 2017 releases from all of South Africa’s top producers, look set to once again take local and international markets by storm and fill the cellars of a new thirsty generation of South African fine wine lovers.
Leeu Passant Stellenbosch 2017, 13.5 Abv.
Single vineyard on the maritime slopes of the Helderberg where temperatures seldom rise above 28 degrees C. One of the rare sites that the Mullineux’s actually have to wait for the acidity to drop before picking. The aromatics are pure and lifted expressing the usual crystallinity of the style and site. Bottled in October 2018, the wine is still super youthful, taut and fresh but with a touch of creamy malo to take the edge off the electric acidity. Beautifully intense and citrus driven, the wine has a wonderful textural balance and freshness with incredible poise and focus. Long and pin point, superb harmony and purity, this wine has impressive salinity and tart lemon / lime brilliance and brightness to invigorate the palate. A great effort.
(Wine Safari Score: 95+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Leeu Passant Dry Red 2017, 14.5 Abv.
This red blend of 56% Cabernet Suavignon, 26% Cinsautl and 18% Cabernet Franc spent 12 months in 500 litre barrels and around 10 months in neutral foudre. Explosive and expressive, this wine literally leaps out the glass to greet you. Hugely aromatic, it unfurls with intense black berry, red currant, bramble berry and raspberry jam nuances. Such opulence and freshness, on the palate there is an incredible balance and harmony. Fabulous layers of red and black berry, strawberry confit, sweet tobacco, leafy spice and the most alluring foresty bramble berry seduction. A truly beautiful, complex and expressive red blend that changes in the glass continuously. What a super classy red wine that really is worthy of its collectible fine wine status.
(Wine Safari Score: 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Mullineux Old Vines White 2018, 14 Abv.
A blend of 69% Chenin Blanc, 12% Clarette Blanche, 9% Grenache Blanc, 7% Viognier and 3% Semillon. Rich and opulent, the nose is broad and ultra aromatic with complex notes of dry grass, wet thatch, soap stone, lemon rind and apple skins. Deliciously ripe and intense, the palate is sleek but fleshy, crystalline and super pure… a feature emerging as a characteristic of the 2018 vintage. The last of the drought vintages, this wine really shows beautiful minerality and dry extract, concentration and intense yellow fruit focus. Really impressive, broad and powerful, this is going to be another super classical white blend for medium to long term ageing.
(Wine Safari Score: 94/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Mullineux Chenin Blanc Straw Wine 2018, 9% Abv.
Liquid gold, this has the classical nose of sweet caramelised orchard fruits, quince preserve, dried guava and a savoury, sweet peach brightness. Glycerol and rich, powerful and intense, it is more in the marmalade and citrus rind character than the tropical passionfruit style. Textural and finely balanced this is an incredibly well honed and focused sweet wine style that is certainly a benchmark for this genre.
Semillon has always been a grape that has struggled to resonate with the consumer. Yes, fabulous dry versions from Tyrrells and other Hunter Valley producers in Australia have made the headlines globally, but in South Africa, I think it is fair to say that this variety has historically not been very popular.
However, things are changing. A new generation of winemakers has cracked the Semillon code and worked out how to produce styles that show great appeal. What all the top producers’ expressions have in common, from Chris Alheit to John Seccombe, Marc Kent to Eben Sadie, is exceptional fruit from historic old vine vineyards.
Jacques Wentzel from Black Elephant Vintners is another producer accessing fruit from one such vineyard for his Dark Side of the Vine cuvee. Basil Landau’s old vine Semillon block in the Bo-Hoek area of the Franschhoek Ward was planted in 1905 and is one of the oldest white wine vineyards in South Africa. The grapes see around 24 hours of skin contact before being fermented with natural indigenous yeasts followed by 12 months ageing in 500 litre French oak barrels. The results are exceptional and this wine now joins the ranks as one of South Africa’s very finest expressions of dry Semillon.
Black Elephant Vintners The Dark Side of the Vine 2016 Semillon, WO Franschhoek, 13 Abv.
The 2016 Semillon leans more towards fruit and flesh and less towards spice and herbal complexity like the 2015 vintage. The wine displays a wonderfully intense aromatic nose with sensational lemon and lime zest and perfume. It unfurls wave upon wave of lemon confit, fresh peach juice, dried herbs, crushed walnut, nutmeg, tangerine peel, wet stones and dry thatch nuances. The palate is beautifully full and fleshy, almost unctuous but framed with the most delicious piercing, mouth-watering acidity. Super concentrated and broad but profoundly sensual and textural, the wine finishes with pure white citrus, black currant leaf and yellow tropical fruit candy notes. A joy to taste a wine that really does full justice to these centenary old vines from this famous vineyard in Franschhoek. Drink now or age for 8 to 10+ years.
(Wine Safari Score: 97/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Wines are distributed in the UK by Red Squirrel Wines. Approximate retail price £55.99 per bottle.