Julien Schaal’s Confluence Chardonnay 2016 Recognized at the Platter 5 Star Awards… 

I have been a long time follower of Julien Schaal’s amazing wines from both Alsace as well as South Africa. Always over delivering in quality terms and offering great value for money, Julien upped the ante in 2014 with the launch of three single vineyard Chardonnay whites: Evidence (Elgin), Confluence (Hemel-en-Aarde), and Renaissance (Elandskloof).


While they are all absolutely delicious terroir specific wines, the Evidence Elgin Chardonnay has always been my perennial favourite. This year however, it was Julien’s Hemel-en-Aarde Confluence Chardonnay 2016 that deservedly cracked him his first 5 Star Platter Wine Guide award. A massive achievement for this young, talented French winemaker, it can only be the beginning of new heights that will surely be reached in coming vintages. 


Julien Schaal Confluence Chardonnay 2016, Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, 13 Abv.

From another drought vintage, this beautiful 2016 shows an opulent lifted nose with real concentration and intense aromatics of sweet honeysuckle, orange blossom, mango peel, lemon and orange rind, and a complex, mineral undertone of wet slate and crushed granite, expertly embellished with brûléed vanilla oak spice, toffee apple and waxy green apple nuances. However impressive the nose is, the palate offers up threefold more. Sculptured acids frame the lush, intense, concentrated citrus fruit flavours, showing layers of lemon marmalade, caramelised oranges, barley sugar, lemongrass spice and pithy apple puree. Rich and fresh, piercing and taught, this wine seems to have it all. Intensity, balance and such mouthwatering length. Well done Julien, this is a truly accomplished Hemel-en-Aarde Chardonnay. Drink now to 2028+

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

Restless River’s Craig Wessels Finally Comes Out the Closet and Produces a Hemel-en-Aarde Pinot Noir…

Think of Hemel-en-Aarde and red wine and you automatically point to Pinot Noir. Think of Craig Wessels and Restless River and you definitely go straight to fine Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. But finally, Craig has shed his Bordeaux blazer and donned a Burgundian hemp vest, producing his first Pinot Noir from vines he planted at the winery.


The must for this wine under went spontaneous fermentation in open top fermenters using 20% whole bunches from vines only planted in 2013. It was then basket pressed into old oak barrels for 15 months ageing. The wine has a healthy total acidity of 6.1 TA and a total SO2 of 50, with 25 free. Bottled in April 2017, Craig is planning for a mid 2018 release date. 


Restless River Pinot Noir 2016, Upper Hemel en Aarde, 12.8 Abv.

A very tense, taught version of Pinot Noir that harks back to Burgundy instantly. Lovely dark Cotes de Nuits berry fruits, a la Morey St Denis. Not quite the earthy nuances of a Gevrey, this wine is highly charged, spicey, black fruited with tart sour cranberry acids, sappy bramble berries, red plum and pithy cherry skin spice. Lovely definition, wound spring tension and ample energy. Texturally very sophisticated, broody and powder soft dry tannins. A very grown up version from young vines that can only get better and better as the vines establish themselves. Drink now or age for 3 to 8+ years. This is a serious effort for dedicated Burgundy lovers. 

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


Hamilton Russell Vineyards Chardonnay 2016 – Reviewing a South African Benchmark…

This time last year, I was sitting alongside my favourite Cape wine land royalty couple, Anthony and Olive Hamilton Russell at the Cape Wine Auction 2016 hosted at Klein Constantia. Roll on another year and I’m pleased to hear that the Cape Wine Auction 2017 netted over R22 million rand to bring the running auction total to over R55 million raised to date, all destined to be spent on valuable wine land charities. 


So to toast this amazing success and remember my lovely friends Anthony and Olive, who’s Cape Wine Auction lots have themselves helped raise millions over the past years, I decided to crack my first bottle of Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2016 that has just hit the shores of the UK.


Chardonnay is rightly flying high again in the repertoire of global fine wine consumers. Unaffordable white Burgundy prices have forced consumers to look for substitutes further afield and South Africa’s finest examples from the likes of Hamilton Russell, Ataraxia, Storm, Restless River, Kershaw, Meerlust, Newton Johnson, Julien Schaal, Warwick and Jordan have made a lot of friends around the world.

Having recently enjoyed the thrilling 2016 Meerlust Chardonnay with Hannes Myburgh in London, I was startled at the high quality and comparable style with the highly regarded 2015 vintage wines. What would the 2016 Hamilton Russell Chardonnay hold in store?


Tasting Note: Coming from fruit grown on Low-vigour, stony, clay-rich, shale-derived soils, this 13.2 Abv Chardonnay has a beautiful lemon curd yellow colour and an opulent, fragrant nose of green honeydew melon, apple pastille sweets, pear purée, chalky limestone and subtle wood spice and dried mint leaf. There is a youthful confidence to the palate that is at once both broad, lush and textural, but also fresh, intense and focused with pithy lemon confit and grapefruit marmalade richness. The 35% new Francois Freres oaking melts seamlessly into the fruit’s purity and concentration. Classy, complex and thoroughly delicious, it could be the wine’s youthfulness or perhaps vintage character nuances, but the 2016 shows slightly more New World opulence and sweet Bon Bon / pastille fruited concentration than the more Burgundian 2015. Perhaps a sign of the 2016’s unusually early and short harvest? Though Anthony is quick to point out that the harvest cycle was very similar to 2015 and the wine is perhaps “more typical of the Hamilton Russell style”. Either way, the 2015 and 2016 will go down in the records as one of the winery’s most successful pair of quality Chardonnay vintages. 

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

Yet Another Epic Wine from Hannes Storm…

It’s always an amazing privilege to be able to taste and buy new, small production wines from producers located all over the world.


More recently, I assumed tasting Hannes Storm’s Chardonnay 2015 was an exciting privilege, but today I got a sneak preview of one of the most exciting new releases I’ve tasted this year so far… the Wild Air Sauvignon Blanc 2016 from Hemel en Aarde Valley at 12.5 Abv.


This is a joint venture between Ben Henshaw of Indigo Wines and Hannes Storm, to produce a seriously complex, wine of substance, something the Cape loving Henshaw has done previously with his Johan Meyer joint venture making Chenin Blanc and top red blends.

This is an epic wine of substance. Seek it out, buy it, drink it. There, I’ve said it. I love Hannes and everything he touches. Apparently this phenomenon is catching!


Tasting Note: Seductive, rich, opulent, exotic lifted nose of white blossoms, gooseberries, honey suckle and green apple purée. Palate is so pure and fine with crunchy green pear, a rich textural, sensual, seamless broad flavour spectrum. Such alluring, seductive notes. Top show stopper for the first release! (Wine Safari Score: 93/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

A Future Unicorn Wine… Storm Vrede Chardonnay 2015, Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, 13 Abv.

Made from low vigour Chardonnay vines grown on the clay-rich Bokkeveld shale-derived soils of Walker Bay, this wine has a wonderfully austere nose of crushed gravel, white citrus, lime pith and crunchy white peach stone fruits. It is dusty and restrained, laden with wet river pebble mineral aromatics that suggest plenty but reveal little to start with. As you coax the wine in the glass, notes of cassis leaf, green apple skins, lemon verbena, wet chalk and yellow grapefruit reveal themselves in little mini waves.


The palate is taught, saline, and full of nervy tension, showing more overt complexity of green mango, lime cordial, green apple Bon Bons and lemon pie. This wine is still in puberty yet certainly shows great potential and ageability. 

Hannes Storm has made a tantalising expression of Walker Bay Chardonnay in this 5 star white vintage … but at 150 cases, sadly few will get to enjoy this beautiful, classically inspired white. 

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

Tasting with Hannes Storm at the Hemel-en-Aarde Pinot Noir Celebration 2016