Hamilton Russell Vineyards Release an Impressively Sophisticated New 2020 Chardonnay…

Hamilton Russell Vineyards run under the watchful eye of Anthony and Olive Hamilton Russell are well established as one of the most respected Chardonnay and Pinot Noir producers in South Africa. With their winery retaining an obsessive and loyal legion of drinkers and collectors only matched by the likes of fellow icon brands like Meerlust Rubicon or Kanonkop Paul Sauer, quality and consistency has always been the Hamilton Russell calling card.

With Emul Ross firmly in control of winemaking since the 2015 vintage, it is incredible to think that after 30+ years, this estate’s finest wines may lie in future vintages still to be born.

Winemaker Emul Ross and Anthony Hamilton Russell at the barrel cellar.

The 2020 vintage was a touch earlier than usual beginning in the first week of February and was also wetter than the previous few vintages. A standout feature of 2020 was however the exceptional phenolic ripeness at lower-than-normal alcohol levels which helped produce a wine that is taut, tight, minerally expressive and texturally very classical showing the usual Hemel-en-Aarde Valley cool climate length and complexity.

95% of the wine underwent malolactic fermentation in 228 litre Francois Freres French oak barrels before being aged for a total of 9 months in 24% new French oak with 5% aged in foudre.

Hamilton Russell Vineyards Chardonnay 2020, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, 12.9% Abv.

3.45pH | 6.90 TA | 2.20 RS

If 2018 produced a super taut, reductive serious expression and 2019 showed a lusher, more forward, accessible opulence, then 2020 is perhaps a marriage of these two styles. This is a wine full of confidence and composure, brimming with taut white citrus pith, green pear and lime peel, bruised green apples, white blossom and a complexing saline oyster shell minerality. On the palate there is a feel of density, dry extract, concentration and a really precise harmonious balance with layers of green melon, sweet lime jelly, melted butter and a full glycerol finish with just the faintest hint of butterscotch, lime cordial and vanilla pod spice. Seemless and sleek, the layers just melt into each other leaving a sensation of utter completeness. What a truly fabulous wine, resplendent in its mellow classical restraint, intense concentration and harmonious length. A big high five for Emul Ross!! Drink on release and over the next 10-12+ years. (51,516 bottles produced)

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

Tasting Imvini Wethu – Another Incredible Old Vine Project Wine Hits the EU Market…

This is a super exciting new wine from South Africa made in association with the Protégé Programme run under the supervision of Andrea Mullineux (Mullineux Wines), the current Cape Winemakers Guild Chair.

Imvini Wethu means “our vines” in Zulu, and the 2019 vintage is the maiden release of a wine conceived by the German trade with the intention of empowering future winemakers and protecting South African wine heritage, with the Cape Winemakers Guild’s Protégé Programme and the Old Vine Project run by Rosa Kruger and Andre Morgenthal being the specific beneficiaries.

Imvini Wethu Old Vine Cinsault Pinotage 2019, WO Western Cape, 13.5% Abv.

All this wine needed was 15 minutes in a decanter before it really started to perform! A blend of 70% Cinsault and 30% Pinotage, this wine shows the very best of both varieties in a wonderful synergy. The Cinsault grapes come from a Franschhoek vineyard planted in 1932 and the Pinotage from a vineyard in Stellenbosch planted in 1973. There is plenty of perfume and lift with seductive notes of Turkish delight, rose petals and violets. The nose is packed full of red and black berry fruits, black cherry, dark sweet plum, vanilla spice and a dusting of mocha choc powder. The palate is fleshy and fresh, juicy and accessible with a sleek seamless texture, soft creamy tannins and a long harmonious finish. A wine that delivers a whole lot of frolicsome pleasure in a very more’ish manner. Drink now and over 6-8+ years.

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

Revisiting the Exceptional Gramina Single Vineyard Assyrtiko 2018 from the Vassaltis Winery…

Greek wines, but more specifically the white Assyrtiko wines of the volcanic Cyclade island of Santorini, are continuing to see an ongoing collector renaissance not witnessed in classical Western wine markets since the mid-2000’s when now iconic producers such as the late Haridimos Hatzidakis burst onto the United Kingdom wine scene with profound unoaked old vine Assyrtiko whites from this small volcanic oasis in the Southern Aegean Archipelago.

This rising global fame has indeed led to rising demand but has also seen the island’s key growers, who supply a large quantity of the premium old vine fruit, raise their prices year on year for the last 6 or 7 years, leading to a situation where affordability has become a big issue for many producers buying in grapes. One way to counteract this supply pressure has been for producers to make more focused, niche, premium Assyrtiko wines and there are none more niche and quality focused than the impressive Vassaltis Gramina single vineyard Assyrtiko made from grapes harvested from very old kouloura trained vines.

The Vassaltis winery on Santorini

On the eve of the release of the new 2019 Gramina, I took another look at the current release 2018 to see just how it’s performing three years from vintage.

The maiden 2017 release of Gramina scored 96+/100 from The Fine Wine Safari.

Vassaltis Gramina Cuvee des Vignerons Assyrtiko 2018 Single Vineyard, PDO Santorini, 14% Abv.

Like the maiden 2017 vintage of the Gramina, the 2018 is made from 100% Assyrtiko grapes that are harvested from an old vine single vineyard in Vourvoulos. The meagre crop of the 80 to 100+ year old vines is picked in the early hours of the morning in the autumnal dark and whole bunch pressed with around only 2 to 3 hours passing between the commencement of picking and the completion of pressing into stainless steel tanks, which miraculously has an enormous influence on the structure, style, clarity and purity of the resulting juice.

Compared to most upfront Santorini Assyrtiko whites, this sensational creation captures a profound granitic, basaltic, volcanic minerality in the bouquet, which is interwoven with intricate notes of dried oregano and thymus polytrichus or wild thyme herbs. Neither overtly fruity or showy, the nose and palate is nonetheless underpinned by the most mouth watering acidity that duals with sweet sour notes of green apple pastille, crunchy white peaches and intense saline notes of brine and sea breeze with complexing nuances of dried kelp, sushi nori, dry roasted hazelnuts and bitter lemon peel pith. While never straying far from its crystalline purity and intensity, the palate texture remains bold, fleshy and long with characteristic layers of Santorini liquid minerality and oyster shell distinctiveness. A true terroir driven beauty of a wine! Released in the UK in June 2020 with almost 9 months ageing in bottle, the Gramina has to rank among the most impressive whites produced anywhere in Greece, let alone on the Cycladic islands and is undoubtedly a worthy successor to the epic maiden 2017 release.

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

Exploring the Incredible 2016 Barolo Wines from Cantina Luigi Pira…

Admittedly, I love Barolo and drink a lot of all the top producer’s wines at any chance I get, but I have to be honest that while I’d heard a little bit about the Luigi Pira wines, I had never tasted any. So what a way to acquaint oneself with a new Barolo producer’s wines than to taste their blockbuster 2016s!

Founded by the Pira family in 1950, this Serralunga estate consists of 12 hectares of vineyards at 300 metres above sea level with winemaking duties overseen by Giampaolo Pira. Vigna Marenca and Vigna Margheria are reputed to be some of the best vineyards in the township of Serralunga and this estate produces single vineyard Baroli from plots owned in all of these crus (which can be seen from the azienda’s terrace). In the 1950s the grapes were initially sold off. In the subsequent years, small quantities of Barolo started to be bottled at the estate.

In 1993 the Baroli Margheria and Marenca were produced followed by Barolo Vigna Rionda in 1997. The wines from these three crus are typical of the great terroir of Serralunga displaying great minerality, intensity and power. Barolo Margheria, made from 50-year-old vines, is the most classical. Barolo Marenca and Barolo Vigna Rionda are structured and complex, with a lot of muscle and age ability. But tasting all these crus for the first time was certainly an exciting exercise.

Luigi Pira Serralunga Barolo 2016, 14.5% Abv.

The Luigi Pira 2016 Barolo Serralunga is another fabulously dense and sweetly fruited Nebbiolo that has just the most seductive aromatics of dried rose petals, violets, potpourri, orange peel, tea tree oil, tart red cherries and an exotic licorice and wild herb botanical top note. The palate is cool, plush and powerful with fleshy layers of red and black cherry, char grilled herbs, dried ginger and plenty of dried thyme and sage. True to the iconic 2016 vintage, this wine combines classical Serralunga structure and power with a beautiful fruit opulence and concentration. Deliciously accessible and fresh, this is another Barolo beauty from the vintage.

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

Luigi Pira Margheria Barolo 2016, 14.5% Abv.

The Luigi Pira 2016 Barolo Margheria is an exotic, complex expression of the vintage with the most intricate aromatics of pressed purple flowers, pink musk , cherry cola, licorice and tar, dried rose petals and the most personality filled botanical, herbal vermouth spice nuances. The tannins are powerful and grainy coating the mouth with a fabulously plush mineral grip. On the palate there are hints of saline cassis, black cherry and bramble berry spice with a long, liquid mineral stony finish. This possess all the power and structure to last a very long time in the cellar. Something very serious but also very magical from a fantastic Barolo vintage. (7,000 bottles produced.)

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

Luigi Pira Marenca Barolo 2016, 14.5% Abv.

With one of the only other Marenca Crus produced going into the Gaja Sperss Barolo cuvee, you know this is a very special site. So with Sperss 2016 garnering a perfect 100 points from the Wine Advocate, you would expect this wine to also show something extra special sharing the same terroir. This Marenca is almost like a subtle blend of the Pira Margheria and the Pira Serralunga Barolo wines with rich, plump, bold dark berry nuances, pink musk, charcoal embers, licorice and potpourri spice but also notes of freshly tilled earth, crushed gravel, iron and blood together with a fabulous dried herb and wood spice melange. The palate is deceptively generous and cool with seductively textured layers of blue and black berry fruits, cassis, black currant, purple rock candy, graphite and the most suave fleshy plump tannins I have tasted on a Nebbiolo in a long time. This really is classy and classical, yet supremely ripe, intense and just drop dead gorgeous. A very fine effort from Pira!

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

The Iconic Swartland Porseleinberg Syrah 2018 Assessed and Reviewed…

Having seen the stick Christian Eedes (SA Winemag.co.za editor) received for posting a belated Porseleinberg Syrah 2018 review, long after it scored 100 points from Tim Atkin MW and also long after it had sold out, I approached the issue with a certain amount of circumspect. But sometimes great wines need to be reviewed and reassessed regardless of their first release status, so that secondary market consumers can add further perspective to their prospective purchases.

Like many regular consumers, I was ‘forced’ to make a decision on buying this wine without tasting, long before it arrived in the UK in 2020 due to the pandemic chaos. But like the Kanonkop Paul Sauer 2015, the Porseleinberg 100 point choice was fairly bullet proof from real criticism for Tim Atkin in the same manner scoring a modern Bordeaux first growth 100 points in a good vintage might be debatable yes, controversial, not at all.

I recently spent two evenings enjoying a bottle of this famed 2018 Syrah and became close bedfellows with this lastest release from Callie Louw and the Boekenhoutskloof stable.

Porseleinberg Syrah 2018, WO Swartland, 14% Abv.

The 2018 vintage yielded some very supple, pretty, lithe Syrahs with delicacy, elegance and seamless textures. Well known for its power and structure, this Porseleinberg shows a lighter, finer, more accessible expression with delicately savoury velvety tannins and fleshy red and black berry fruits. Initially quite reticent on opening, the nose slowly unfurls with aromatics laced with grilled herbs, cured meats, black liquorice, black olive tapenade and chargrilled meat nuances. The wine is more mineral than floral at this youthful stage yet still shows a lovely precision, intensity of black berry fruit and well judged oak handling. There’s a lovely tenderness and complexity to the wine that reminds you of just what a very special schistous terroir lies behind the production of this world class Syrah. Drink from 2023 to 2034+

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

Cartology 2019 – Chris Alheit Releases Another Prodigious Edition of His Old Vine Chenin Blanc Global Brand…

After the difficulties of the 2018 harvest, the fourth drought influenced vintage in a row, that produced small quantities of very high-quality wines, 2019 arrived after a winter with better rains and beckoned a vintage with heathier yields and higher volumes. While Chris waivered briefly a few years ago on the long-term future of the Cartology brand, a subsequent broader rejigging of some of the exceptional old vineyards that used to go into this wine ultimately led to a complete shake up of the range, and most importantly, the acquisition of the Nuwedam farm in the Swartland, the Paardeberg source of the Fire By Night brand, now renamed Broom Ridge.

But the Cartology Chenin Blanc based blend luckily remains central to the Alheit Family Wines long term plans. While it’s unclear how large volumes might grow one day, this wine remains one of the greatest success stories to emerge from the “New South Africa” and its winelands.

Alheit Family Wines Cartology 2019, WO Western Cape, 13% abv.

The 2019 expression of Chris Alheit’s sought-after megabrand is a blend of 90% Chenin Blanc and 10% Semillon (from La Colline) and stands as the benchmark reference point for his whole winemaking range and philosophy. Always normally requiring a bit of extra time in bottle to show at its expressive best, this delicious 2019 already reveals a wonderful balance and precision, focus and textural attention to detail. The aromatics are loaded with the now unmistakable Chenin Blanc notes of yellow orchard fruits, white peach, tangerines, wet thatch and orange peel zest with complexing waxy, honeycomb nuances. Cool, seamless and wonderfully balanced, the palate shows a lovely vein of tangy acidity that really brings the fruit flavours to life. Plush, concentrated and impressively glycerol already, this Cartology is showy and seductive but contains all the requisite stuffing required for 15+ years of ageing.

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

New Release Review – Tasting the Exceptional Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 From Kanonkop…

The Kanonkop Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 is another classical example of this varietal grown on the prime slopes of the Simonsberg ward. Exuding a sense of compact density, balance and harmony, its coolness in character is truly impressive considering the warm, dry vintage conditions of 2016.

With the 2016, Abrie Beeslaar handles this 100% Cabernet Sauvignon wine with a masterfully deft touch drawing out every drop of prime Simonsberg terroir. These Stellenbosch vines are on average 27 years old and grown on dry land vineyards located on decomposed granite, hutton and clovelly soils. Yields in 2016 were a mere 4 tons per hectare and only 8,000 cases of 6 were produced.

Kanonkop Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, WO Stellenbosch, 14% Abv.

On opening, this 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon was initially surprisingly taut, tight and broody with reductive aromatics of oyster shell, salty creme de cassis, black currant leaf, black chai tea, iodine and maritime salinity. But as I’ve discovered repeatedly over the past 12 months, the hot dry 2016 drought vintage did produced some really excellent red wines proving that exceptional terroir handled intelligently by an accomplished winemaker can trump even difficult vintage conditions. Given ample time to breath, the nose starts to reveal a growing intensity of black cherry, salty cassis and vibrant blueberry hints with a seductive underlay of cherry kirsch liquor. On the palate, the texture is sleek and polished with multiple waves of creme de cassis and blackberry fruits rising like a tide, finishing with a tangy concentration burst of acidity and mouthwatering fruit. Tannins are understated and powdery suggesting optimal phenolic ripeness. A really beautifully constructed wine with elegance, balance and supple accessibility. Drink on release with a bit of decanting or over 10 to 12+ years.

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

Gaja Pieve Santa Restituta Releases One of the Stand-Out Brunello di Montalcino Wines of the 2016 Vintage…

Gaja Pieve Santa Restituta is one of Angelo Gaja’s two Tuscan properties, on the site of an old church, Santa Restituta, which dates back to the 4th century. As is the family’s style, their’s is a fusion of modern and traditional winemaking. They too own land on the Buonconvento Northern side of Montalcino and some prestigious lands in the South, a stone’s throw from Sesti. The Northern sites normally go into the Brunello di Montalcino with Sugarille and Rennina located around the winery on the Southern side of the town being bottled individually as Crus. These three Brunellos from one of the finest names in Italian wine are impeccably crafted and full of character, finesse and age ability.

The best 2016 Brunellos are truly complex and captivating wines characterised by deep ruby colours, pure and vivid aromas, with many showing powerful structures but also finesse and grace with lively freshness and ripe, muscular mineral tannins.

The 2016 season started slowly, with cool temperatures and frequent rains until June. The summer was mostly warm and dry (average temperature of 35 °C), a unique heavy and refreshing rainfall occurred in August. Strong diurnal temperature exchanges during the ripening period contributed, together with appropriate agronomical techniques, to a slow and even ripening of the grapes. The harvest (with an average temperature of 30 °C) started on September 14th and finished on October 6 th.

Gaja Pieve Santa Restituta Brunello di Montalcino 2016 DOCG, 14% Abv.

The 2016 Brunello di Montalcino normale is a fabulously plush, concentrated and intense expression of Brunello and represents probably the estate’s best vintage to date. The aromatics are perfumed and detailed showing cherry blossom, violets, vanilla oak spice and ripe dark layers of red and black berries, sweet cherry tobacco, cola and subtle red liquorice notes with just the faintest spearmint menthol top note. On the palate, the tannins are ripe but powerful with broad mouth-coating grip supported by pure cherry and cranberry fruit concentration, hints of balsamic, crystalline fresh acids and a wonderfully long harmonious finish. Distinguished and refined, but showing tremendous breadth, depth and structural power making this a perfect wine for medium to long-term cellaring. Drink from 2024 to 2036+

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

Another Superb Old Vine Semillon Release to Seduce Fine Wine Lovers – Tasting the Dark Side of the Vine Semillon 2017 From Jacques Wentzel…

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+.

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

The New Release Blue Lady Cabernet Sauvignon From Warwick Estate Hits the Shelves in the UK…

The first wine under the Warwick label was released in 1984, then named “La Femme Bleu” or the “Blue Lady” as it is known today. Two years later, in 1986, the Warwick Trilogy, a three varietal Bordeaux-style blend, was released and has ever since been recognised as one of South Africa’s and Stellenbosch’s top icon wines. Throughout the years, Warwick’s wines have won multiple awards as well as the hearts and minds of not only the local market but also the discerning fine wine collector market internationally, firmly establishing the brand as a true South African icon.

The resurrected Warwick Blue Lady re-emerged more recently as a non-vintage Cabernet Sauvignon made from a blend of the 2008 and 2009 vintages. The then winemaker Nic van Aarde blended the 2010 and made all subsequent vintages up until the 2018 before passing on the winemaking reins to his talented successor JD Pretorius. The Blue Lady, Nic van Aarde informs me, was normally made from Block 14, an old vine block on the Warwick estate, but in later years became a blend of three specific blocks on the farm.

Warwick’s current winemaker, JD Pretorius.

The grapes were hand harvested, de-stemmed and sorted into tanks for primary fermentation with one to three pump overs per day as well as two ‘rack and return’ over the fermentation period. After fermentation and then post-fermentation tank maceration lasting for an average of 36 days on the skins with three or four gentle pump overs per day with malolactic fermentation taking place in stainless steel tanks. After the MLF the wine was racked into French oak barrels (25% new) for a period of 27 months before a strict barrel selection process decided the final expression in the spring of 2019.

Warwick Blue Lady Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5% Abv.

The 2017 is a cool, suave, classy Stellenbosch Cabernet at its seductive best, oozing with class and pedigree. The aromatics are picture perfect with intense notes of violets, fresh cedar, lead pencil and spicy pithy black berry fruits. But no classy Cabernet Sauvignon would be complete without the signature notes of iodine and dusty graphite complexity. True to the vintage, this 2017 is rich, plush, suave and super sleek with a characterful weightless concentration of inky, earthy black plum, blueberry compote, black cherry and subtle black currant. Acids are bright and glassy but also finely harmonious on the palate with powdery, creamy, finessed tannins and a gentle but lithe textural physique. Wonderfully classical and truly Simonsberg Cabernet Sauvignon in character, this wine personifies everything great about the regions premium grape growing terroir. Drink from release and savour over 10 to 15+ years.

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