The Tesselaarsdal wine brand was founded in 2015 by long-standing Hamilton Russell Vineyards employee Berene Sauls and was named after the historic Overberg farming hamlet of Tesselaarsdal, which lies inland from the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge wine appellation where Berene sources all her grapes.
The maiden release of the Tesselaarsdal Chardonnay was only the 2019 and already within three vintages, Berene has managed to fine tune the style of this wine to show the best of a very fine, cool vintage in 2021. Extreme care is taken to ensure that this small-production classically Old World-styled Chardonnay expresses the terroir of the cool maritime Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge fruit sourced from un-irrigated vines grown at elevation on stony clay and iron-rich soils.
Tesselaarsdal Chardonnay 2021, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, 13% Abv.
This is a supremely elegant, taut mineral expression of cool climate Chardonnay with classically restrained aromatics of green pear, Granny Smith apple, crushed gravel, dried green herbs and hints of white citrus and tangerine peel. Like the subtle aromatics, the palate shows incredible tension and vibrancy but again without overt obvious opulence. This wine is a masterclass in elegance and restraint showing a cool, lean, crystalline palate built around minerality, electric acids, and a lean old world elegance. This is undoubtedly next level quality and intensity for the Tesselaarsdal Chardonnay. Drink this taut focused effort now and over the next 8+ years. Really impressive.
In a recent review of some of my top wine trends of 2020/21, I happily identified the onward rise of classic Cape Chardonnay and Pinot Noir quality. While exceptional wines made from Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah are actually now quite plentiful, Pinot Noir had hit somewhat of a glass ceiling of late with many skilful producers at a bit of a loss as to how exactly they could increase the quality, tension and intensity of the wines without compromising elegance, finesse and purity.
Thankfully, 2020 was a fruitful year for the premium Pinot Noir producers with new and old talent up and down the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley releasing some excellent examples. For Berene Sauls, her unique and inspiring journey continues unabated with her eye catching 2020 Pinot Noir release. If you are not yet acquainted with her delicious expressions from the higher altitude Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, then her small production 2020 Pinot Noir is the perfect wine to start with.
Tesselaarsdal Pinot Noir 2020, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, 13% Abv.
Already the sixth vintage release from talented Berene Sauls, her new 2020 Pinot Noir displays an elegant mid-weighted palate texture and exhibits attractive lifted aromatics of raspberries and rose petal potpourri, orange peel, bramble berries and hints of pomegranates and blood orange. The palate is cool, sleek and texturally very polished with impressively fine-grained sappy tannins, soft harmonious acids and a layered finish boasting succulent smoky wild berry fruits, hints of stewed strawberries and exotic Christmas spices. Simply put, this is another very promising offering from Berene. Drink now and over the next 5 to 8+ years.
Draaiboek wines is a name that might be new to many. Though I did review the maiden release 2019, this is essentially a new wine company that was created by five friends who met while studying at the University of Stellenbosch in the early 2000s. The foundations of their friendship were formed during the frequent wine tastings and wine routing jollies indulged in as students. After graduating, everyone eventually headed out to write their own stories. Yet, despite different borders and time zones, they always checked in with every changing chapter of each others lives. Now, after many years of friendship, the different characters have come together once again to produce Draaiboek Wines, born out of a love for wine and the stories that it tells.
Draaiboek means script in Afrikaans, and as Pieter Lemmer, one of the London based partners tells me, “…we believe every wine has a story to tell. We released our first wine in September 2020, a 2019 Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge Chardonnay. We chose the name Onskuld (meaning innocence) for our first wine to represent our innocent naivety in starting this journey (many lessons were learned in the process!). We operate essentially as a negociant buying in fruit, and so far, we’ve sourced all our grapes from a single block of 10-year-old north-east facing Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge vines at 300 metres altitude planted on Bokkeveld shale with a high clay content”.
The Draaiboek wines are made by another good friend of theirs, Stephanie Wiid from the well know Thistle and Weed winery, who they have also known for many years. Stephanie, along with viticulturalist Etienne Terblanche, have sourced and selected the fruit from a specific single block at La Vierge in the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge although in 2021, a second block of Chardonnay has been added to increase the volume of wine produced. For the maiden 2019 vintage only 200 x 6 were produced, rising to 300 x 6 for the 2020 vintage. Watch out for their 2021 Pinot Noir also made from Ridge fruit that is still in the cellar but should be released in 2022.
I recently tasted a sample of the 2020 Onskuld Chardonnay which was aged on its fine lees for 11 months and saw 30% new oak in the final blend, aiming to give the wine more structure than the 2019 while still showing all the hallmarks of Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge minerality. Draaiboek Wines follows a philosophy of minimal intervention in the cellar, allowing the quality of the terroir to express itself. This certainly seems to be a new boutique name to watch.
Draaiboek Wines Onskuld Chardonnay 2020, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, 13.5% Abv.
2.4 g/l RS | 6.2 TA | 3.38 pH
In 2020 this Chardonnay is all still sourced from one single Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge block. Mindful of the wine’s youth, I opened my sample and tasted over two days to give the wine the full benefit of oxygen. This certainly is a very impressive wine and a considerable step up on the delicious maiden 2019. The aromatics show complex multi-dimensional layers of sea spray, white flowers, orange citrus oil, freshly baked buttered croissants and pithy lemon rind notes. Very pure and precise, the palate reveals an incredibly elegant, creamy leesy texture with no shortage of tension and minerality, all supported by an intense but seamless concentration of green and yellow fruits, pineapple pastille and lemon bon bons nuances. The length is truly striking, lingering then very slowing fading gradually on the long finish as if someone was slowing turning down the taste volume. The acids are fresh as you’d expect from Ridge fruit but also fabulously tangy and bright. Like a great work of art, this 2020 requires a measure of reflection and contemplation to fully appreciate its beautiful construction, pristine balance and superb harmony. Give the wine plenty of air, decanting if necessary, and don’t serve too cold. A wonderfully complete wine that should drink well from release and over 6 to 8+ years.
The third wine in Jessica Saurwein’s impressive range after her Elgin Chi Riesling and Nom Pinot Noir from WO Elandskloof is her Om Pinot Noir made from fruit grown in the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge in Walker Bay, Hermanus.
Sourced from a dryland grown vineyard situated just 12 kilometres from the sea which lies at 300 metres above sea-level, the soils are granitic in origin with a significant portion of clay. The Burgundian Pinot Noir clones planted in 2006 are 115 and 667.
The grapes were hand-picked and cold soaked prior to fermentation which began spontaneously with natural yeasts. Post fermentation, the wine spent 10 months in a combination of new and older 228 litre French oak barrels.
The new home of Saurwein Wines at Waterval farm in Stanford, Walker Bay.
As if two new stellar Pinot Noir releases wasn’t enough, Saurwein Wines has now found a exciting new home at Waterval farm in Stanford. Jessica and family recently moved to the farm and will embark on a regenerative agricultural farming venture including the establishment of a small vineyard over the next year or two.
Saurwein Om Pinot Noir 2020, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, 13.5% Abv.
While the Saurwein Nom and Om cuvees exhibit similar youthful foresty aromatics of savoury red and black berry fruits, bramble berry spice and a roasted cashew nut complexity, it’s on the palate that the real brilliance of the Om cuvee is revealed. Utterly vivacious and vibrant, refreshingly tart and fresh, boasting notes of cranberry, red cherries, pomegranates and blood oranges with a beguiling stony mineral tannin seam running through the wine. The wine finishes with hints of espresso, exotic sweet baking spices and a supremely sleek harmonious length. This is a class act, both sophisticated and seamlessly balanced. A new benchmark for Jessica. Bravo! Drink now and over 10-15 years.
We all know Peter-Allan and Andrew Finlayson make some of the prettiest and accomplished Pinot Noirs in South Africa. With their family heritage and know how engendered in them by their father Peter Finlayson, top Pinot and Chardonnay has always been part of their DNA.
But when it comes to their Whole Bunch Pinot Noir cuvee, this small production endeavour has always been a vehicle for experimentation. Some drinkers, like myself, have certainly become besotted with previous vintages like the 2016 and 2018, but equally, I do realise it can be quite a divisive wine stylistically. In my mind, it probably comes down to how much French Burgundy one drinks and also from which domaines, which will decide your proclivity.
The 2019 was fermented using only native yeasts in small open top vessels. 100% whole bunches were employed. The wine spent a total of six weeks on the skins after which it went into French and Hungarian oak barrels (25% new) for 11 months ageing.
pH 3.52 | TA 5.3 g/l | Total SO2 46 mg/l | RS 2.5 g/l | Only 1219 bottles
What a complex and intricate wine with aromatics that combine the best of the local terroir with fabulous whole bunch sapidity and minerality. Combine these notes with wild strawberry, cranberry, sun-dried cherry, bramble berry and sappy wood spice and you have the makings of a wonderful Pinot. The palate starts off a little raw, grippy and tight but with a little air quickly shows round supple notes of delicious black cherry, hoisin plum sauce, fresh fennel and spicy bramble berry fruits. The Whole Bunch has always been a bit of an outlier but wow, what an incredibly characterful wine. All the Whole Bunch wines normally need a bit of extra time to come around but in 2019, yet again, Peter-Allan knocks it out the park! Drink from 2022 to 2032+
(Wine Safari Score: 93+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
The Crystallum wines are distributed in the UK by Liberty Wines.
The beautiful Creation Winery in the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge region of Walker Bay has established itself in a relatively short period of time as one of the quality benchmark producers for both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in South Africa. Originally from Switzerland, owner JC Martin together with his South African wife Carolyn (nee Finlayson), bought their original 22 hectares of virgin land in the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge and completed their cellar in time for their 2007 harvest. Their Walker Bay estate now encompasses 50 hectares planted with over 11 varieties, but focusing mainly on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
Every year there is a mega battle of wills and palates (and maybe egos?) as JC Martin fights it out with his daughter Emma to see who will take the spoils with the international critics for the best rated Creation Pinot Noir between the Emma Cuvee and the Art of Pinot Noir Cuvee from their Creation estate. I love the competitiveness and the resulting quality realised every vintage. Last year the 2018 Emma excelled and was clearly a more intense, complex, mesmerising expression on release. But 2019 was a different beast of a vintage offering up a lot more structure, tension, minerality and sapidity. So it was all to play for!
Game on! I recently tasted these two exceptional wines over two days and the results were as follows…
Creation Emma Pinot Noir 2019, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge
A barrel selection by Emma – JC and Caroline’s 18+ year old daughter from the Art of Pinot Noir vineyard barrels. This is certainly a very serious glassful of premium Pinot Noir. Opened on Boxing Day 2020, it was taut and spicy showing some overt oak notes over savoury bramble berry fruits and hints of black plum and sous bois. But tasting this wine over two days really does it justice as not only is it super youthful, but it’s one of the most serious and luxurious expressions of Pinot Noir in South Africa. Day two and this wine blossoms with true Pinot Noir grandeur, unfurling layers of strawberry, cranberry, dusty limestone chalk, sappy stalky spice, red cherry pastille and an underlying structure of crunchy acids, graphite minerality and spicy polished tannins. This is definitely a keeper and will require a few years in the cellar to do it justice. Very impressive yet again.
(Wine Safari Score: 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Creation Art of Pinot Noir 2019, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge
Like the Emma, the aromatics of this young wine are a little disjointed straight after pulling the cork but allowed a bit of air and time, this wine also comes together impressively. The aromatics are markedly different with more sappy red berry, sour cranberry, sour plum and a savoury, earthy red berry core. There are complexing notes of crushed leaves, sous bois and sour cherry but on the palate the density and concentration is harmonious and polished, pithy and chalky merging with an irony, bloody, red berry tartness and a long, stony, brambly finish. Intense, captivating and thoroughly delicious. Give this 3-5 years before enjoying.
(Wine Safari Score: 93+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
So the final verdict sees the Emma, the defending champion, retain the title of Best Creation Pinot with punch! But of course, they do say anything a man can do, a woman can do better!
Berene Sauls is a testament to hard work, belief, faith, and a simmering vision for greatness. I feel so utterly privileged to be one of the wine trade professionals who tasted her early vintages and identified her passion and vision.
But making a top Pinot Noir was never going to be enough for her so roll on the challenge of making a premium Chardonnay. The maiden 2019 was pretty impressive with its steely tension and crystalline purity. But of course it’s always the second release, the second album, that is always the hardest challenge. I recently tasted the second release from Berene and was suitably impressed!
Tesselaarsdal Chardonnay 2020, WO Hemel en Aarde Ridge
This is another accomplished Chardonnay from Tesselaarsdal that boasts a breath and depth of textural opulence making the maiden 2019 vintage look more like a chiselled Premier Cru Chablis in comparison. The 2020 nose boasts classic notes of spicy yellow citrus, green honeydew melon, white peach and a bold limestone mineral vein. The wine coats your mouth with a fine glycerol weight and delicious mouth-watering green apple pastille notes enlivened with pronounced tangy acids. Seamless and harmonious, Berene Sauls has created another attractive expression of premium Chardonnay that is ready to drink on release.
JC and Carolyn Martin, the owners of the Creation winery situated in the picturesque Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge region, are synonymous with the production of world class Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. But slightly less well known is that they also produce a deliciously seductive Grenache red that is made from grapes harvested from mature, virus-free vines which allows them the opportunity to create a wine with greater fruit purity, focus and precision.
I recently sampled the wonderful new 2019 expression of this impressive wine and can confirm that there is definitely a new Rhone ranger in town. The traditional skin fermentation was followed by malolactic fermentation in barrels with around 2-3 rackings over circa 14 months maturation with just a rough filtration before bottling.
This bright and lively Grenache comes from another exceptional vintage across the country for both reds and whites, delivering impressively expressive aromatics, a surfeit structural tension, delicious fruit purity and the classic 2019 mineral backbone. Still youthful and full of vigour, the nose boasts hints of crushed rose petals, Chinese five spice, black currant liquor, juniper, black cherry and savoury black bramble berry nuances. The melted black liquorice and crème de cassis complexity mingles with notes of roasted earth, bruleed oak, black olive tapenade and freshly cracked black peppercorns. The palate shows an impressively fleshy weight, an intensity of salty black fruits, sleek fine grained tannins and finishes with a slightly raw, mineral youthfulness. While the mid-palate remains quite tightly wound and a little shy, this wine should grow into its skin with another 6 to 12 months of bottle ageing. Yet another cracking red wine from this leading light producer in the Walker Bay. Oh, and a better braai / barbeque red wine you’ll struggle to find!
This excellent Reserve bottling from Carolyn and JC Martin of Creation Wines in the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge in Walker Bay is made with fruit from a beautiful south-facing 19-year-old Chardonnay block. Originally from Switzerland, owner JC Martin together with his South African wife Carolyn (nee Finlayson), bought their original 22 hectares of virgin land in the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge and completed their cellar in time for their 2007 harvest. Their Walker Bay estate now encompasses 50+ hectares planted with over 11 varieties, but focusing mainly on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
Grown in a single vineyard, the Creation Reserve Chardonnay now ranks amongst the very finest cool climate Chardonnays produced in South Africa and most importantly, is building up a track record of quality and critical scores that most international premium Chardonnays from around the world would be envious of. In the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, at the opposite, higher end of the valley from producers like Hamilton Russell, Creation Wines saw intermittent rainfall in 2019 that produced many more weeds and gave them some problems with downy mildew, demanding four extra spray treatments which were successful in allowing Creation to produce some excellent fruit quality. Outstanding canopies and vigorous vine growth negated the need for any irrigation and a healthy crop size was recorded.
Creation Chardonnay Reserve 2019, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, Abv. 13.4%
Lovers of fresh, electric, vibrant white wines from South Africa’s premium cool climate regions like the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge have been patiently awaiting new premium releases like this delicious Reserve Chardonnay from Creation. With an incredible quality track record over the past five years, the 2019 speaks so clearly of the vintage with crystalline zesty fresh glassy acids and a brazen liquid mineral frame. Aromatics are still restrained and taut with notes of lemon biscuits, dried herbs, incense, yellow citrus peel, green pear skins and defined mineral stony nuances. The 30% new French oak is classy and subtle acting as the complexing “salt and pepper” yin to the delicious white citrus fruit concentration yang. This is yet another beautifully crafted wine that will seduce Chardonnay drinkers around the world. Drink from 2021 to 2028+.
I recently hosted a dinner with a couple of good friends where the theme was top Burgundy. Wines were tasted blind while we gave our assessment before revealing the labels and drinking the rest of the bottles with some lovely steaks. One of my clients sneaked the 2016 Crystallum Whole Bunch Pinot Noir into the line up and a I can honestly say, hand on heart, that we all thought it was a very good youthful Cotes de Nuits Burgundy red from a good grower at possibly village or premier cru quality level from 2015 or 2016. The grand reveal had us all fooled with the maiden release Crystallum Whole Bunch 2016 showing a beautiful intensity and a youthfully alluring power.
While I was slightly surprised to see Tim Atkin MW recently review the 2018 instead of the new 2019, he nevertheless scored the second release (there was no 2017) a mammoth 97/100 points. So as I am on the cusp of reviewing the 2019 in the coming days, I thought I would enjoy another bottle of the fabulous 2018 from my cellar to recalibrate my palate.
The 2018 Whole Bunch Pinot Noir marks the second release of this initially experimental wine made from fruit sourced in the Cuvee Cinema vineyard in the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge and the Shaw’s Mountain Vineyard. Fermented using 100% of whole bunches, the result is possibly one of Peter-Allan’s most mesmerising creations yet. The aromatics show the best of both worlds with a delicious pure black and red berry fruit concentration, black currant compote, black cherry and red currant notes with subtle hedgerow and underbrush complexity together with the classic whole bunch nuances that offer extra sapidity and a stalky mineral spice. The whole bunch component definitely adds the extra magic that elevates this wine into the ranks of truly special New World Pinot Noirs that firmly tip their hats towards the masters of Burgundy. There is boldness and an extra confident swagger, opulence but also controlled mineral spicy restraint all packaged with an incredibly supple, seamless, harmonious tannin texture. You can drink this wine now but with the maiden 2016 still showing an incredibly youthful glow, it would be a shame not to bury some of these in the cellar for 8 to 10+ years.
(Wine Safari Score: 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Ps. I scored the Whole Bunch 2018 the same score on release back in January when I tasted the wine the first time with Peter-Allan.