A New Californian Icon Estate Launches their Wines in the UK – Tasting the Daou Estate 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon Release…

The greatest challenge any producer in today’s fine wine world can submit themselves to is a comparative tasting pitching their pride and joy against their primary piers. For those participating, it is an announcement of confidence and intent. That is exactly what the brothers George and Daniel Daou (pronounced Dao… like the Portuguese Region) did to pitch their impressive estate to the UK market.

Coming from the Lebanon, the first rockets from the civil war in the 1970s landed in front of their house, leading to the family deciding to flee to France and then to the USA. George and Daniel eventually started a business, Daou Systems, an intranet system for the US health care system and so created the financial means to realised their American dream.

They recently launched their wines in London to a discerning crowd of journalists and aficionados with full confidence, pitching their wines against the world’s very best! Here’s how their wines performed against the competition!

Cyril Henschke 2015, Eden Valley, 14.5% Abv.

Warm broody black fruited nose full of sweet tobacco, tannery leather and stewed black plums. Sleek and polished texture with bright glassy acids, intense concentration yet admirably light on its feet. An ambitious wine that succeeds through superb restraint and balance.

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

Cullen Diana Madeline 2017, Margaret River, 13% Abv.

81% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 6% Petit Verdot and 3% Malbec. Cool dusty nose with blueberry and black berry fruits, hints of graphite and a slight leafy, sappy vegetal note. The palate is cool and sleek, ultra restrained and fine with gravel, graphite and wood spice nuances on the long finish.

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

Leoville Lases Cases 2017, Saint Julien, 13.28% Abv.

79% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Cabernet Franc and 10% Merlot. Shows beautiful aromatics of blueberry, sweet cedar, aniseed root, cedar spice, hedgerow and a brambly undertone. Dense and compact, the textured layers are folded over one another with seamless transition and a long, dense core of rich, taut black fruit. Very classy, sophisticated showing great potential.

(Wine Safari Score: 96+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Chateau Montrose 2017, St Estephe, 13.5% Abv.

76% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc and 1% Petit Verdot. Dense dark and broody, this is archetypal Montrose with taut layers of creamy black fruits, creme de cassis, black cherry and hoisin plum sauce. Incredible tannins, fabulous blueberry length and a fabulous supple freshness. Very classy but approachable now.

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

Vina Sena 2017, Aconcagua, Chile

52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Malbec, 15% Carmenere, 10% Cabernet Franc and 8% Petit Verdot aged for 22 months in oak. Rich and lifted, this has a much more intense aromatic overt attack with opulent layers of cassis, salted black currant and an intense finish lined with kelp, blue berry and black cherry.

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

Vina Chadwick 2017, Maipo, 13.5% Abv.

96% Cabernet Sauvignon and 4% Petit Verdot. Deep savoury aromatics revealing forest floor, black currant, blueberry and graphite restraint. Cool and elegantly textured, this must have the most sophisticated palate balance in South America.

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

Opus One 2016, Oakville, Napa Valley

77% Cabnernet Sauvignon, 8% Petit Verdot, 8% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc and 2% Malbec aged 18 months in French oak barriques.Sure dense dark and compact, it smells expensive and tastes expensive. Subtle hints of creamy blue and black berry fruits coat the palate and overwhelm the senses. Sublime acids, a subtle mint leaf lift and a long, creamy opulent finish. Serious effort.

(Wine Safari Score: 97/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Daou Soul of a Lion 2017, Paso Robles, Adelaida District, 15% Abv.

Rich dark broody expression with plenty of opulent rich Cabernet fruit characters with notes of sweet black currant, blueberry, vanilla pod spice and a plush long length showing hints of molasses, blackberry compote and an exotic caramelised fig complexity. Multi-layered and textural, this is a serious Californian offering.

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

Creation Wines Release Their Premium 2019 Reserve Chardonnay Packed Full of Tension and Electricity…

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+.

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

The Ups and Downs of Great Sauvignon Blanc – Tasting the Thorne & Daughters Snakes & Ladders 2019…

Made from fruit sourced from another Skurfberg vineyard owned by grower Basie van Lill, this Sauvignon Blanc vineyard planted in 1997 used to be sold off to a co-operative winery before John Seccombe secured the fruit for his maiden vintage of the Thorne & Daughters Snakes & Ladders Sauvignon Blanc.

Made from tiny yields of around 2.2 tons per hectare, the grapes were whole bunch pressed and fermented with wild yeast in mix of 225 and 600 litre old oak barrels where the wines remain on their gross lees for 9-10 months before blending and bottling. John Seccombe favours malolactic fermentation over early additions of sulphur dioxide, and the wines only see a first addition of SO2 in the early winter as they look for wines that show tension without losing their suppleness and core, and wines that will reward time in the cellar. The finished wines were bottled unfined.

John Seccombe succinctly sums up… “My natural inclination was to have little interest in working with Sauvignon Blanc, but seeing the vineyard and the soils, I felt compelled to work with it.”

Thorne & Daughters Snakes & Ladders 2019, WO Citrusdal Mountain, 13.5% Abv.

From the first sniff, you know this is something special in the glass showing a beautifully complex nose of lemon grass, lime peel, white citrus and black currant leaf, crunchy white pear and subtle hints of bergamot. The palate is equally unique and utterly mesmerising showing a nervy steely liquid mineral core, oyster shell water and West Coast sea breeze nuances, a grassy sappy textural wood spice intensity and a fabulously tart complex finish with subtle hints of granadilla, naartjie peel and briney rock salt. Not really like any other Sauvignon Blanc on the South African market. Drink now to 2026+.

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

Now distributed in the UK market by Liberty Wines.

The Ultimate Waterford Estate Complete Jem Vertical Tasting in London with Mark Le Roux…

The Waterford Estate is situated in the picturesque Blaauwklippen Valley, in the world-renowned Stellenbosch region and consists of around 60 hectares of vines on a 120 hectare farm that was originally based around two smaller properties joined together on the Helderberg, one of the closest mountain ranges to the sea.

Owned by the Ord Family and developed under the watchful eye of Kevin Arnold, Cellar Master and Managing Partner, since 1998, the iconic Waterford The Jem cuvee stands as the winery’s flagship wine showcasing a multi-varietal blend concept which Kevin believed to be the very best wine that Waterford’s terroir could create.

Possessing a complex flavour profile encompassing the 8 varietals of its blend, this wine is a truly complex creation retaining an elegance and focus with seamless integration between its many component parts.

The 2004 was the first Jem vintage produced and until this special trade tasting in London in June 2019, the Waterford Estate had never shown a complete Jem vertical anywhere before. It was also the wine that drew winemaker Mark Le Roux to Waterford originally and has subsequently allowed him to develop and hone his winemaking skills and experiences.

There is a thought process that is followed when putting the wine blend together. When Kevin Arnold planted the various varieties on the different soil types it was to showcase the diversity of terroir at Waterford.

Built around Cabernet Sauvignon, it has always been the backbone of the wine at around 40%, followed by Shiraz at 20%, with Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot in the teens and Mourvèdre and Barbera in single digit percentages. With eleven varieties on the farm, the Jem normally used eight of these varieties to build up the layers of the wine.

Waterford Estate Jem Vertical:

Waterford Estate The Jem 2014, 14.6% Abv.

Aromatics of creamy, plush black berry fruits, black cherry, black plum and bramble berry spices with undertones of liquorice, cassis, sweet tobacco and vanilla prod spice. Palate possesses multiple layers of opulent fruit, black and blue berry complexity, sour cherry, graphite within a fine, polished tannin frame. The entry is hedonistic and opulent but the finish is long, dry spicy and mineral driven. Wonderfully textured and harmonious, this is one of the smartest and most distinguished blends from Waterford to date.

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

Waterford Estate The Jem 2012

Lifted, perfumed nose full of red cherry spice, dried cranberries, dried herbs and savoury plum notes underpinned by a stony, crushed grey slate minerality. The texture is beautifully polished, focused and sleek with the same creamy signature balance and harmony. Tannins are very fine and mineral and the finish spicy and classical with volume, weight and depth on the palate. Very old world in feel combined with a new world fruit purity.

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

Waterford Estate The Jem 2011

Dark broody aromatic profile with a savoury, earthy plummy depth, sweet cherry confit, pithy spice and dried herbs. Plum and fleshy with a pronounced sweet spot on the front of the palate supported by sweet cassis, cedar spice and a bright red cherry brightness. Lovely purity and beautiful textural harmony with a fine, dry, velvety tannin finish. Classical and classy.

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

Waterford Estate The Jem 2010

35% Cabernet Sauvignon. Possesses a complex nose of savoury, brambley black fruits, sweet tobacco, cigar box and grilled herbs. Wonderfully complex and savoury but also quite vibrant and piquant. Cool, sleek and impressively balanced, this wine is sleek, sweet fruited and fabulously balanced with seamless transitions between the multiple varietals. The finish is laden with pithy red cherry and chalky powery tannins but very distinguish and classically polished.

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

Waterford Estate The Jem 2009

35% Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend. Big, bold broody nose with plenty of sweet tobacco, savoury black berry fruits, earthy plum and spice and a pronounced, herbal, pencil shavings and cedar spice complexity. On the palate there is a fine savoury depth with stewed black fruit compote, Christmas pudding, coffee beans and a classically dry, slightly austere mineral tannin finish. Showing more evolution in fruit profile than the 2010. Texturally polished and pin point, this shows all the signature harmony and balance of the Jem with more tertiary layers.

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

Waterford Estate The Jem 2007

60% Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend making it the highest percentage ever used. The nose show the classical herbal notes of the vintage with aromatics of wood spice, cedar, green herbs and pencil shavings underpinned by black currant fruit pastille ripeness.

(Wine Safari Score: 91/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Waterford Estate The Jem 2006

Sweet earthy savoury nose with layers of coffee bean, green herbs, blackberry compote, tannery leather and cured meats. Sleek and plush, this 2006 shows evolution and tertiary development, creamy lactic savoury fruits and a round, plump finish.

(Wine Safari Score: 88/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Waterford Estate The Jem 2005

Darker, tighter, broody nose with smokey graphite, black berry pastille, black cherry and sweet tobacco spice. Creamy, texturally plush of polished with lovely purity, fruit clarity and seamless balance. Holding together beautifully and still showing wonderful integrity, freshness and character.

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

Waterford Estate The Jem 2004

Earthy and savoury, full of forest fruits, Christmas pudding, tannery leather, green bean and sweet leaf and grilled herbs. Sweet and textural, plush and creamy with the tannins possibly borrowing extra grip and spice from the oak ageing.

(Wine Safari Score: 87/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Wine Safari Cellar Notes – Revisiting the Sadie Family Old Vine Series Skurfberg Chenin Blanc 2012…

I recently watched another zoom interview with Eben Sadie after his new 2019 vintage releases and it became crystal clear that he has now officially joined the exclusive global ranks of iconic wine producers who don’t actually have to “sell” their wines but merely allocate them on a spreadsheet, thus joining the likes of Coche-Dury, Romanee Conti, JL Chave, Thierry Allemande etc., as one of the most sought after producers in the world.

But with this fame comes the added clamour from customers to drink his wines on release, highlighting and indeed exacerbating one of Eben’s greatest disappointments – that not enough people cellar his wines long enough to allow them to reach their true drinking potential. So, with the recent 2019 Skurfberg Chenin Blanc garnering a lofty 100 points from Tim Atkin MW in his recent South Africa 2020 report, I thought I’d revisit an older vintage of this iconic wine to check on its evolution.

Made from unirrigated parcels of old bush vines planted between 1940 and 1955 on decomposed sandstone in the Oliphants River Region, these knarled dry grown old vines struggle to survive with only the sparse local rainfall to rely on. But it is precisely this struggle that makes these old vines produce such sumptuously expressive grapes. So if you have the ability to cellar any wines, save some of your allocation and follow Eben’s advice.

Sadie Family Wines Old Vine Series Skurfberg Chenin Blanc 2012, WO Olifantsrivier, 14.5% Abv.

Drunk over 3 nights, just incredible to see this wine slowly unwind and unfurl over time. At its height of expressiveness, the bouquet positively bursts forth with lemon and lime marmalade, tangerine peel zest, pressed oranges, sweet dried herbs, honeysuckle, nougat and a fantastically expressive granitic mineral under vein. The breadth, depth and complexity of flavour on the palate is just mind boggling, with multiple layers of lime preserve, caramelised figs, grapefruit jelly and an intense finish of lemon cream biscuits and spicy, pithy gravelly minerality punctuated by a final zippy acid reprise. A wine that encapsulates perfectly why Eben Sadie’s wines are so sought after the world over! Start drinking this one now but certainly no rush. A true white icon wine for a new generation of drinkers.

(Wine Safari Score: 97/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Tasting the Impressive Wines Selected for the 2020 Nedbank Cape Winemakers Guild Auction…

The 2020 Nedbank CWG Auction hosted by Bonhams London will be held online on Saturday 3rd October from 12h00 (BST). Due to Coronavirus, there were no public tastings prior to sale making the limited tastings by a select group of wine journalists even more important this year. The line-up comprises 28 wines with total cases on offer amounting to 564 cases (6 x 750ml) compared to 45 wines and 1,932 cases in 2019.

One of the eye catching wines in 2020…

In support of one of the Guild members, buyers will have the opportunity to bid on smaller lots – the funds raised by the first case of six bottles of every wine will be given as financial assistance to Samantha O’Keefe, whose Lismore property in Greyton was devastated by fire in December last year. The CWG will also be hosting a 50 – item Vinotheque Auction made up of select older wines donated by members with express objective being to raise funds to assist employees within their businesses whose livelihoods have been affected by the Coronavirus pandemic.

The 2020 CWG Selection:

CWG host and Jordan Winery owner Gary Jordan taking us through the 2020 CWG wines.

Graham Beck Cuvée 129 Extra Brut 2009, WO Western Cape

Winemaker: Pieter Ferreira. 51% Pinot Noir, 49% Chardonnay. Cuvée 129 refers to the number of months on the lees aging – 10 years and 9 months.

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

Silverthorn Big Dog VI Méthode Cap Classique 2015, WO Robertson

Winemaker: John Loubser. 70% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Noir. Chardonnay fermented and aged in old French oak, Pinot Noir in steel. 50 months on lees.

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

De Grendel Wooded Sauvignon Blanc 2019, WO Darling.

Winemaker: Charles Hopkins. Crushed, 18 hours skin contact, then settled and fermented in old oak.

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

Bartho Eksteen Vloekskoot Sauvignon Blanc 2019, WO Cape Coast

Winemaker: Bartho Eksteen. Whole bunch pressed, no settling. Naturally fermented in older, big wood.

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

Simonsig Mediterraneo 2015, WO Stellenbosch

Winemaker: Johan Malan. 66% Roussanne, 28% Grenache Blanc, 6% Verdelho. Whole bunch pressed, mix of wild and cultured yeast.

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

Miles Mossop Wines Saskia-Jo 2018, WO Swartland

Winemaker: Miles Mossop. 65% Chenin Blanc, 25% Clairette Blanche, 10% Grenache Blanc. Decomposed granite soils.

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

Rijk’s CWG Chenin Blanc 2018, WO Tulbagh

Winemaker: Pierre Wahl. 14-year-old bush vines, fermented in new and used French oak.

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

Raats Family Wines The Fountain Terroir Specific Chenin Blanc 2019, WO Stellenbosch

Winemaker: Bruwer Raats. Rich, creamy but super bright with leesy, peachy fruit complexity and incredible precision and vibrant intensity.

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

Paul Cluver The Wagon Trail Chardonnay 2018, WO Elgin

Winemaker: Andries Burger. From the oldest Chardonnay vineyard on the Estate, planted in 1987 (the oldest vines in Elgin).

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

Leeu Passant Radicales Libres Chardonnay 2015, WO Klein Karoo

Winemaker: Andrea Mullineux. 100% Chardonnay, long elevage inspired by Jura and Rioja. From the incredibly cool Barrydale Valley in the Klein Karoo, after fermentation this Chardonnay was aged in barrel for five years.

(Wine Safari Score: 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Ataraxia Under The Gavel Chardonnay 2019, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge

Winemaker: Kevin Grant.  Cool and Crystalline with a stony minerality, pithy peachy yellow citrus concentration and a long, pure brilliance.

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

Newton Johnson Family Vineyards Windansea Pinot Noir 2017, WO Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley

Winemaker: Gordon Newton Johnson. Stoniest, most clay-rich parts of the vineyard used for this. No sulfites in the winemaking. 11 months in barrel then six months in large oak.

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

Neil Ellis Wines Amper Bo Tempranillo 2015, WO Stellenbosch

Winemaker: Warren Ellis. Whole berry fermentation then 18 months in 60% new French oak barrels and 40% in second fill.

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

Rust en Vrede CWG Auction Estate 2017, WO Stellenbosch

Winemaker: Coenie Snyman. 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Syrah.

(Wine Safari Score: 91/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Ernie Els CWG 2017, WO Stellenbosch

Winemaker: Louis Strydom. 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Shiraz, 10% Cinsault. Fermentation in small 300 litre open top oak barrels with three weeks extended maturation.

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

Luddite The Lone Stranger Mark II 2018, WO Bot River

Winemaker: Niels Verburg. 50% Mourvèdre, 40% Shiraz, 10% Grenache Noir. Small open fermenters then pressed to barrel for two years.

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

Delaire Graff Estate Banghoek Cabernet Franc Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, WO Stellenbosch

Winemaker: Morné Very. 55% Cabernet Franc, 34% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Petit Verdot, 3% Malbec. Whole berry fermentation with limited punch downs. Four weeks post-ferment maturation on skins before being basket pressed. Matured in 40% new French 225 litre barrels for 16 months.

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

Spier Frans K Smit Auction Selection 2017, WO Stellenbosch

Winemaker: Frans K Smit. 60% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon. Organic.

(Wine Safari Score: 91+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Strydom Family Wines The Game Changer 2017, WO Stellenbosch

Winemaker: Rianie Strydom. 80% Cabernet Franc, 20% Merlot. North facing slopes on the Helderberg.

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

Kanonkop CWG Paul Sauer 2017, WO Stellenbosch

Winemaker: Abrie Beeslaar. 76% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Cabernet Franc, 7% Merlot. From Simonsberg. Fermented in open top ‘kuipe’ for six days, then malolactic fermentation in tank, and matured in new French oak for two years.

(Wine Safari Score: 97/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Groot Constantia CWG Gouverneurs Reserve 2018, WO Constantia

Winemaker: Boela Gerber. 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 45% Cabernet Franc. 75% new oak.

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

Villiera Drip Barrel Cabernet Franc 2018, WO Stellenbosch

Winemaker: Jeff Grier. 18 months in new and used French oak.

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

Edgebaston Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2017, WO Stellenbosch

Winemaker: David Finlayson. 95% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc. From the clay-heavy section of their GS vineyard, picked five days earlier than the rest of the vineyard. New French oak for two years.

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

Hartenberg CWG Auction Cabernet Sauvignon 2018, WO Stellenbosch

Winemaker: Carl Schultz. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from the Bottelary Hills. 20 days on skins, 20 months in 50% new 225 litre French oak barrels.

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

Boschkloof Epilogue Syrah 2018, WO Stellenbosch

Winemaker: Jacques Borman. Harvested in three tranches, 30% whole bunch. Some matured in concrete, some in barrel (30% new).

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

Cederberg Teen Die Hoog Shiraz 2018, WO Cederberg

Winemaker: David Nieuwoudt. Red slate soils. 85% new oak.

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

Saronsberg Die Erf Shiraz 2017, WO Tulbagh

Winemaker: Dewaldt Heyns. The best barrel of Block 27. Aged for 20 months in a new French Allier oak barrel.

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

Boplaas Cape Vintage CWG Reserve 2015, WO Western Cape

Winemaker: Carel Nel. 80% Touriga Nacional, 10% Touriga Franca, 6% Souzão, 4% Tinta Barocca. Fermented and fortified in small lagares and barrel matured in large seasoned oak barrels.

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

The CWG dinner at the River Cafe London.

Wine Safari New Release Review – Tasting the Resplendent New Vilafonte Series C 2018 Red Blend…

I am very fortunate that despite almost a year of minimal international travel and intermittent lockdowns, I have been able to taste many of the best wines of South Africa both blind and sighted in my capacity as the lead reviewer for the Fine Wine Safari as well as in the capacity of South African Panel Chair for the 2020 Decanter World Wine Awards. As a result, I have luckily had ample opportunity to get up close and personal with many of the new release 2018 Cabernet Sauvignons and Cabernet based blends and formulate my opinions on the wines that this fourth drought year yielded.

The 2018 vintage was certainly marked by one of the worst droughts on record and presented some significant challenges for all vine growers and winemakers in the Western Cape. With water resources at an all time low and strict rationing in effect, reduced water availability for irrigation led to reduced vine vigour and canopy sizes. Some unseasonable rains and low temperatures in October and November disrupted fruit set and further reduced the number and size of berries on grape clusters.

In the end, harvest timings were close to normal, beginning on February 2nd and continuing uninterrupted until February 27th. Overall, the vintage saw yields contract by -24% following a very generous crop in 2017 and the fruit was marked by berries being on average -25% smaller in size than normal leading to wines with an intense inky colour, piercing concentration and striking fruit richness – the perfect building blocks for another impressive Vilafonte Series C blend.

Vilafonte Series C 2018, WO Paarl, 14.5% Abv.

This new release Series C 2018 is a blend of 58% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Merlot, 14% Malbec and 11% Cabernet Franc and saw 22 months in 69% new French oak barriques with the balance aged in older French oak. Following in the footsteps of three fantastic vintages in 2015, 2016 and 2017, the 2018 boldly asserts its own character and persona not wanting to live in the shadow of any of its predecessors. The aromatics are opulent and richly fruited with extroverted, evocative notes of violets and black cherry kirsch liquor, crème de cassis, ripe sloes and fresh juniper berries. The youthful fruit brightness is gently caressed by a creamy, seductive veil of subtle vanilla oak spice, cocoa powder, warm brown toast and lightly roasted coffee bean nuances. What many of the very best red 2018 blends show in glimpses, this wine reveals with generous excess. Softly textured and impressively suave and harmonious, the palate is filled with a piercing black currant concentration, salty black liquorice and an attractive vanilla pod spice complexity that coats the palate and grows slowly and persistently in volume, depth and breadth. Not only is one of the true signs of great winemaking marked by allowing a wine to express its terroir, but this must inevitably go hand in hand with the ability of a wine to truly illustrate its vintage in as many vivid colours and flavours as possible. 2018 reds have always shown an incredible translucent purity and sweet fruited concentration, extreme elegance with a compact core of power from day one with the more detailed finery never being obscured by any one single component in the glass. This beautiful Series C is a tremendous piece of winemaking resulting from an ongoing mission of vinous refinement. When all is said and done and we eventually look back on the 2018 wines objectively, I predict that this Series C will stand amongst the top wines of the vintage. Drink on release or cellar with confidence for another 10 to 15+ years.

(Wine Safari Score: 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

The Iconic Klein Constantia Winery Releases Its New Vin de Constance 2017 Natural Sweet Wine to Great Acclaim Yet Again…

The famous Vin de Constance is certainly a deeply contemplative wine. While I was tasting the fabulous new Vin de Constance 2017 release, deep in thought, I realised that my friendship with current winemaker Matt Day makes up the tail end of over 30+ years of my own relationship with this great estate and its winemakers after getting to know both Ross Gower and Adam Mason very well over the years. The journey of vinous evolution has been an exciting one for Vin de Constance which now proudly ranks, once again, among the most admired fine wine brands in the world.

With more than 320 years of history, Vin de Constance is without a doubt THE greatest sweet wine of the South hemisphere, being a unique style based on freshness, complexity, balance and deliciously hedonistic aromas. The vines of Muscat de Frontignan, the only variety used for Vin de Constance, stretch more than 16,5 hectares together with the estate’s other varieties on the slopes of the Constantiaberg mountain. The terroir of the Constantiaberg is 600 millions years old and has a high clay content which ensures good irrigation and favourable water retention, keeping the vines happy during the dry and hot summers. Located between 70m and 100m above sea level, the South-East oriented Muscat plantings on the estate’s lower slopes benefit from the constant cooling sea breezes of the Cape Doctor, a wind formed by the Benguela current coming up to the Cape from the Antarctic.

In the vineyard, a first harvest is made to create a basic base wine with a 12.5% to 13% alcohol content and a good acidity. In all, there are up to 20 separate pickings which are all vinified separately, 50% from bush vines planted in 2011 and 50% from older trellised vines planted in 1983. The consequential elaboration of Vin de Constance means that it does not require any “noble rot” or botrytis but merely the raisining of the grapes in a natural sweet wine style. After an extended fermentation period, the wine is normally aged for 3 years in a combination of 50% new French oak and acacia barrels, as well as some large format foudres before further blending and bottling.

Vin de Constance was previously enjoyed by…

• Napoléon 1st who had some bottles delivered weekly at Saint-Hélène during his exile. On his death bed, he wanted to drink only Vin de Constance and nothing else.

• Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette.

• King George IV, Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth II

• Prussian Emperor Frédéric Le Grand.

• George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.

• The Indonesian Prince Dipanagara who was a Muslim but still drank Vin de Constance.

• Baudelaire (« I prefer Constance to opium »), Lord Byron, Jane Austen (a remedy to a heartbreak ) and Charles Dickens.

• John Adams, Casanova, Alexandre Dumas

• Nelson Mandela and more latterly, Xi Jinping

The build up to the 2017 harvest of Muscat de Frontignan was text book according to Matt Day. The autumn months were hot and dry – resulting in early leaf fall and moderate reserves in the vines. Winter came late with mild conditions. The rainfall, although better than 2015, was below average. Spring’s warm weather initiated budburst, however a cold September resulted in the budburst being slightly uneven. The summer months were near perfect for flowering and berry set. The exemplary growing season was characterised by cold nights, moderately warm days, cooling winds and just the right amount of rainfall perfecting the process of berry development and the ever so important maturation process. Despite the drought, they were able to isolate their individual pickings into 20 different batches of Muscat de Frontignan. The first picking showed fine acidity from the Bush vines – at just over 18 balling or 7.5-8% Abv., a 3.3pH and a total acid of 9 TA. These pickings spanned over two months, allowing numerous possibilities when making up the final blend of Vin de Constance 2017. The most time consuming of these batches was of course the essencia, the heart and soul of the Vin de Constance, which is made from raisins harvested individually by a specialised team.

The first experimental recreation by Ross Gower in 1986 was made up of around 1,000 bottles from grapes from two to three blocks with the 1987 vintage forming the first official commercial release. The 1988 vintage made 13,000 litres and was at first rejected for certification before later being passed. To this day, Vin de Constance still has no accurate official certification category, meaning that the wine is still certified as a Noble Late Harvest, despite having no botrytis, and is then declassified to a natural sweet wine with a volatile acidity level around 1.2. Recent production has now reached between 30 and 40,000 bottles annually.

Vin de Constance 2017 Natural Sweet Wine, WO Constantia, 13.97% Abv.

165 g/l RS, 3.7pH, 6.6 TA.   

When comparing the technical stats of the 2017 with those of the 2016 Vin de Constance, they appear almost identical with a very similar alcohol level, residual sugar and total acidity. The aromatics are wonderfully cool, crystalline and fragrant with delicious notes of white peach, honey on white toast, spicy orange peel, apricot, passion fruit hints and pineapple pastille. Where this wine really departs from the 2016 is with its incredibly harmonious, utterly seamless, creamy mouthfeel that boasts a soft, suave glycerol mouth coating concentration, plush fleshy layers of dried apricots, honey and grapefruit marmalade. On the finish, the wine tightens up once again revealing such a fabulous balance where its multiple textural layers become almost inseparable before ending with a long, persistent phenolic length that lends an illusion of dryness. A truly outstanding benchmark Vin de Constance yet again. Drink now or over the next 25+ years.

(Wine Safari Score: 97+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Vin de Constance 2016 Natural Sweet Wine, WO Constantia, 14.04% Abv.

164 g/l RS, 3.73pH, 6.5 TA.

Winemaker Matt Day is always effusive about how much he loves the 2016 Vin de Constance expression for its unique and characterful style that is just slightly more exotic and out of the ordinary. The aromatics are intricate and overt showing deliciously complex notes of ripe yellow grapefruit and dried apricots, pithy marmalade and spicy nectarine peel together with fabulously edgy notes of stem ginger and herbal cinnamon spice. This fabulous 2016 earned a lot of followers and was highly lauded across the world with drinkers seduced by the wine’s lush dense palate, its impressive concentration and glycerol breadth and a textural depth kept beautifully vibrant and bright by the wines superb sweet and sour tangy acidity. The finish is long and precise with tantalising hints of zesty tinned pineapple slices in syrup, fresh honey and more ginger and apricot nuances. A very special wine that shows plenty of individuality. Drink now and over the next 20 to 30+ years.

(Wine Safari Score: 97/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines Release a Trio of Benchmark 2018 Single Terroir Syrahs…

With the allocation list opening for the Mullineux single terroir wines, casual drinkers, connoisseurs and collectors alike are going to be in for a big treat with the new 2018s. These three superb single terroir Syrah expressions have over the past eight years garnered almost every possible award available to South African producers reaffirming their exceptional quality but also the foresight, vision and attention to detail that has become a relentless crusade for Chris and Andrea Mullineux.

The five new single terroir releases.

I tasted these three unique single terroir expressions with Chris and Andrea recently and was very, very impressed by the consistently excellent quality of these 2018 Swartland Syrahs. So much hype and media attention has rightly centred around the 2017 vintage reds primarily thanks to the incredible Cabernets and Cabernet based blends from Stellenbosch. But 2018 represents something very special in the Swartland and finally we are able to see the results. So get on to the Mullineux allocation hotline pronto!

Mullineux Granite Syrah 2018, WO Swartland, 13.5% Abv.

RS 2.1 g/l  – TA 5.1 g/l  – pH 3.672

Sourced from a single parcel of 24 year old dry land grown Syrah planted on decomposed granite in the Paardeberg, the grapes were foot trodden in 500 litre French oak barrels to break the berries and release the juices. After 4 days of macerating, the fermentation begun naturally with indigenous yeasts and lasted around 10 days. After fermentation, the wine saw a further 4 weeks of skin maceration before being pressed into barrel to complete malolactic fermentation. Pigeage was performed once a day before, during and after fermentation. In the Spring, the wine was racked after 21 months in barrel and was bottled unfiltered and unfined. The wine saw 12 months in French oak 500 litre barrels, 25% new, followed by 9 months in 2nd fill foudre. A final 9 months of ageing in bottle was carried out before release.

Syrah vines in the Granite vineyard.

Just as Andrea Mullineux always enthuses, this Granite Syrah is yet again just so exquisitely perfumed with fragrant lifted notes of lavender and lilac, hints of violets and subtle notes of cherry blossom. A veritable Rhoney Garden of Eden. There is a wonderous beauty to the wine that teases the senses with multiple complex aromatic layers of wet gravel, fresh black currants, sun baked strawberries and hints of savoury cured meats, subtle juniper berry notes and sweet red and black peppercorn nuances. Intricately crafted and sublimely expressive, the palate shows a very pure and focused precision with silky, powdery almost creamy tannins that combine with dense, concentrated, tight knit red and black berry fruits, red currant compote, pithy blood orange zest and a long, fine-grained lingering finish that leaves you feeling so utterly charmed. The purity of fruit and compact textural focus and concentration is almost faultless and suggest that this wine is going to evolve into one hell of a Syrah beauty if allowed to age 10 to 15 years for starters. While always fabulous on release, these wines are built to reward extended ageing and so 6 to 8 years should be considered the minimum ageing requisite if you really want to start seeing some of the extra hidden dimensions of this wine. (5,376 bottles produced.)

(Wine Safari Score: 96+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Mullineux Schist Roundstone Syrah 2018, WO Swartland, 13% Abv.

RS 1.9g/l  – TA 4.9 g/l  – pH 3.72

The grapes for the 2018 Schist Syrah were sourced from 21 year old vines planted on stony shale and schist soils on the Roundstone farm where the Mullineux winery is based next door to the Kasteelberg. As with the Granite and Iron cuvees, the grapes were foot trodden in 500 litre French oak barrels to break the berries and release the juices. After 4 days of macerating, the fermentation begun naturally with indigenous yeasts and lasted around 10 days. After fermentation, the wine saw a further 4 weeks of skin maceration before being pressed into barrel to complete malolactic fermentation. Pigeage was performed once a day before, during and after fermentation. In the Spring, the wine was racked after 21 months in barrel and was bottled unfiltered and unfined. The wine saw 12 months in French oak 500 litre barrels, 25% new, followed by 9 months in 2nd fill foudre. A final 9 months of ageing in bottle was carried out before release.

The brown Schist soils of the Roundstone farm.

While the Mullineux’s are adamant that the Schist Syrah is always one of the most structured wines out of their single terroir reds range, the density and structure always seems to translate into extreme finesse, plush concentration and a seductive elegance, making this one of the most sought after cuvees by the “man in the street.” But like all great fine wines, when supreme quality is present, these wines can be drunk literally from the barrel with equal pleasure offered in youth as with bottle age. The 2018 Schist continues the vintage theme of mid-palate concentration and fruit density with an incredibly rich, plummy, fragrant aromatics laced with lavender and incense, savoury barbequed meats, charcoal embers, olive tapenade and earthy blackberry fruits. The palate is cool and velvety with a massive mouth coating concentration of red and black berry fruits, powdery dry tannins and all the depth and breath you’d expect from a wine of this pedigree. Decant and drink this beauty on release or bury away in your cellar for a good 10 to 15 years. (5,340 bottles produced.)

(Wine Safari Score: 97/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Mullineux Iron Syrah 2018, WO Swartland, 14% Abv.

RS 2.2 g/l  – TA 5.1 g/l  – pH 3.78

Grapes for the 2018 Iron Syrah were sourced from a single parcel of 19-year old organically farmed dry land bush vines on the rolling iron-rich soils west of Malmesbury. This parcel of Syrah gives one of the best expression of the “koffieklip” terroir – notably broadness and mid-palate concentration. As with the Granite and Schist cuvees, the grapes were foot trodden in 500 litre French oak barrels to break the berries and release the juices. After 4 days of macerating, the fermentation begun naturally with indigenous yeasts and lasted around 10 days. After fermentation, the wine saw a further 4 weeks of skin maceration before being pressed into barrel to complete malolactic fermentation. Pigeage was performed once a day before, during and after fermentation. In the Spring, the wine was racked after 21 months in barrel and was bottled unfiltered and unfined. The wine saw 12 months in French oak 500 litre barrels, 25% new, followed by 9 months in 2nd fill foudre. A final 9 months of ageing in bottle was carried out before release.

The dry grown Syrah vines of the Iron vineyard.

Often described as one of the most intellectually challenging wines in the Mullineux line up, the Iron Syrah also happens to be the most powerful, dense, concentrated and broody of the single terroir Syrah releases. Perhaps it is my love for the classical Northern Rhone Syrah expressions of France that make this wine so singularly and utterly seductive and beguiling. The aromatics are indistinguishable from a top Cote-Rotie Syrah with fabulous layers of sweet heady lavender perfume, rooibos, garrigue and savoury grilled herbs, barbequed meats and hints of iron and blood, iodine, bruleed earth and hedonistic notes of sweet oak spice, roasted coffee beans and a kiss of mocha complexity. So impressively compact, dense and concentrated, every component seems to add synergy to the seamless balance with the tannin management excelling yet again. This is truly a wine of impressive power and beauty within an international fine wine context. Drink from release after decanting or age for 15 to 20+ years. (2,628 bottles produced.)

(Wine Safari Score: 98/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines Release Another Incredible Pair of Whites – Tasting the 2019 Quartz and Granite Single Terroir Chenin Blancs…

Always a highly anticipated white wine new release, the Single Terroir cuvees from Chris and Andrea Mullineux continue to generate a lot of excitement year after year. With just two white cuvees this year, the Mullineux Old Vine white becomes the lucky beneficiary of the Schist portion yet again.

With a lot of discussion surrounding the incredible quality of the 2019s, I asked Andrea if she saw any similarities with their 2017 releases. Both vintages showed general character traits of intense liquid minerality and tight wound-spring tension though Andrea pointed out that not only does the 2019 Granite have a noticeably higher acidity at 7.2 TA, it also possesses an incredibly concentrated and intense density of glycerol fruit at a meagre 13% Abv.

The 2019s are definitely going to impress collectors looking to buy wines to lay down. Look out for the SA release in mid-September through Méridien Wines or across Europe in the Autumn.

Mullineux Quartz Chenin Blanc 2019, WO Swartland, 13% Abv.

RS 1.1 g/l  – TA 5.1 g/l  – pH 3.49

The grapes for the 2019 Quartz Chenin Blanc were sourced from a single parcel of sustainably farmed 38 years old vines planted in a quartz kloof on the Kasteelberg on the Leliefontein farm. This parcel of Chenin gives the best expression of the quartz terroir on the Kasteelberg, always displaying a fresh minerality and a lovely textural breadth. The grapes for the 2018 were whole-bunch pressed before settling and then racked into barrel for fermentation with indigenous yeasts which lasts around 4 weeks. The wine is then left in barrels, on its lees, until spring, during which time malolactic fermentation is completed. The barrels are racked and blended just before the following vintage and bottled unfiltered. Total maturation was 11 months in 3rd and 4th fill French oak barrels.

The rocky Quartz soils

Tasting the Quartz Chenin Blanc with the Mullineuxs recently, Chris described how their customers are finely divided by their preferences for either the tension and minerality of the Granite Chenin Blanc and the broader, richer, more texturally opulent Quartz Chenin Blanc which almost resembles a 1er Cru Meursault in character with overt flesh and opulence, a broad mouthfeel and a focused concentration of white citrus and green orchard fruits. The aromatics are certainly as expressive as the best wines out of the Swartland with clear, defined aromas of crunchy green apples, white pear pastille and a thrilling melange of orange peel and naartjie zest all under pinned by a chain gang dusty crushed rock minerality. The palate is fabulously crystalline and pure with a slightly saline green melon and granny smith apple concentration and a cool, fine focused finish that suggests plenty of textural generosity. Drink from release and over the next 8 to 10+ years. (2,880 bottles produced.)

(Wine Safari Score: 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Mullineux Granite Chenin Blanc 2019, WO Swartland, 13% Abv

RS 2.1 g/l  – TA 7,2 g/l  – pH 3.36

The grapes for the 2019 Granite Chenin Blanc were harvested from a 43 year old parcel of dry farmed bush vines planted in the decomposed Granite soils of the Paardeberg. These very deep decomposed Granite soils tend to produce wines with great acidity and a flinty, stony aromatic profile with notes of sea salt and brine. The grapes for the 2018 were whole-bunch pressed before settling and then racked into barrel for fermentation with indigenous yeasts which lasts around 4 weeks. The wine is then left in barrels, on its lees, until spring, during which time malolactic fermentation is completed. The barrels are racked and blended just before the following vintage and bottled unfiltered. Total maturation was 11 months in 3rd and 4th fill French oak barrels.

Traditional old vine Chenin Blanc bush vines in the decomposed Granite soils of the Paardeberg.

While yields in 2018 were decimated by the drought, down by up to -80%, the 2019 season also suffered a -30% reduction in yields resulting in another vintage with a dense glycerol texture, depth and intensity of fruit. The 2019 Granite is certainly classically proportioned displaying all the intense liquid minerality, crushed gravel and granitic spice that is so typical of the finest terroir wines grown on ancient decomposed granitic soils. With this minerality come layer upon layer of complex dried green herbs, green apple bon bon rock candy, crunchy white peach and salty, briney notes of a Cape west coast sea breeze. But unlike some previous vintages, this wine not only displays an incredibly piercing nervous acidity, picante white citrus and crunchy green fennel notes, it also impresses with an unbelievably expressive glycerol palate concentration with intricate notes of quince, greengage, rock salt and pear puree. With one of the highest total acidities yet registered for this cuvee, combined with its mind blowing depth of fruit, this is going to make Chenin collectors shiver with excitement. Drink from release and enjoy this wine’s evolution over 20+ years.

(Wine Safari Score: 97+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)