Reimagining the Iona Elgin Wines – Tasting the Iona Monopole New Releases in London with Rosie Gunn…

I have been following Iona and their delicious cool climate wines for many years. So naturally, I was thrilled to be contacted in February 2020 by owner Andrew Gunn, who invited me to join him for an exciting new release tasting in London profiling their new single vineyard wines that have been vinified to specifically portray the unique micro climates and soil types of the Iona Elgin Highlands.

Just a few weeks before we were due to meet, I received an email from Rosie Gunn, Andrew’s wife and partner in the Iona winery, to inform me that Andrew had unfortunately had a terrible fall off a ladder on the farm and had broken a number of bones, so she would be making the trip to London in his place. On the 5th March, I met up with Rosie and Marketing Manager Brad Gold at Trivet, one of London’s most exciting new restaurant openings, to taste through their fantastic new range of wines.

Tasting with Rosie Gunn in London.

From each main red and white wine selection, Iona has teased out two single vineyard Pinot Noirs and two Chardonnays, with only 500 bottles of each wine produced. This range is also joined by the Iona Elgin Highlands range of whites and reds along with the Solace Syrah produced from the nearby Brocha farm, where Rosie used to live and which is farmed organically with its ultra rocky soils, warmer growing temperatures and a lower rainfall.

Iona Monopole Elgin Highlands Pinot Noir 2018, WO Elgin, 13.74 Abv.

10 barrels were produced from mostly younger vines. Using 115, 667, 777 Pinot Noir clones, the wine was aged 11 months in barrel with a low solids content to avoid too much racking.

Bright tart aromatic profile full of crushed cranberry and rose petals, Turkish delight and potpourri perfume. Pristine, linear and pin point in the mouth, the acids frame the palate beautifully with attractive red berry fruits, cherry and hints of pomegranate. Pure, intense but with sufficient open, accessible fruit depth and lovely complexing minerality on the finish.

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

The new single vineyard wines all come from the dry 2017 vintage. A cool winter ensured good vine dormancy and rainfall was low, similar to 2015 and 2016. Flowering took place a little earlier than usual in warm sunny conditions, with the vines cropping slightly higher than usual but producing exceptional fruit quality and concentration. Grapes were harvested from late February to mid-March and yielded exceptional quality with pristine fruit purity, high natural acidity, real intensity of fruit flavour and a signature elegance that marked all the wines of 2017.

Iona Monopole Kloof Limited Release Pinot Noir 2017, WO Elgin, 13.57 Abv.

Clones 667, 115 and 777. Around 5 to10% of whole bunches used from soils with large deposits of silica quartz with underlying clay with a North facing aspect and East / West row direction.

A more pronounced minerality of chalk board duster and crushed limestone that comes through on the aromatics as spice and complex sapidity. It melts into dried potpourri, raisined cranberry, pithy red cherry and wild strawberry notes. Cool, sleek, crystalline, this is grown up Pinot Noir that opens up in the glass to display beautiful notes of red cherry sherbet and pink musk together with struck quartz minerality. Polished texture, harmonious and super classy effort from a great vintage.

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

Iona Monopole Kroon Pinot Noir 2017, WO Elgin, 13.63 Abv.

Clones 115 and 777. Around 5 to10% of whole bunches used from soils with alluvial gravel beds, sandstone and ferrocrete (iron) with underlying clay with a South facing aspect and North / South row direction.

A slightly deeper, darker, bloodier aromatic expression with notes of pomegranate, blood orange, spiced red cherries with a fabulous mineral under vein of wet river stones. Hints of sweet and sour together with intense salinity meet your palate on the entry. This wine displays the same high pedigree polished marble tannins as the Kloof cuvee but with a touch more flesh and savoury, pithy red fruit on the finish. Another very impressive Pinot Noir expression.

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

Whites

Iona Monopole Elgin Highlands Chardonnay 2018, WO Elgin, 13.25 Abv.

Dusty, smoky, spicy yellow fruits blend into wet river stone minerality, rain on grey slate and pithy green apple and yellow grapefruit intensity. Fleshy, glycerol but fabulously concentrated, piercing and intense. The oaking is super intelligent and the integration of crystalline fruit and acidity vibrancy perfectly judged. A really delicious Chardonnay that will get a lot of drinkers very excited.

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

Iona Monopole Kloof Chardonnay 2017, WO Elgin, 13.64 Abv.

Clones CY95, CY96 and 548 from soils with large deposits of silica quartz with underlying clay with a North facing aspect and East / West row direction.

Classic complex mix of liquid minerality, struck flint and crushed gravel melt gently away into nuances of lemon citrus peel, spicy lemon grass and earthy papaya skins. Bold, brazen and super focused, this wine has wonderful lines of acidity and cool, white citrus tension backed by an enthralling chalky limestone mineral pithy complexity. Exquisite intensity and concentration make for a very serious glassful. A truly outstanding South African Chardonnay expression!

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

Iona Monopole Fynbos Chardonnay 2017, WO Elgin, 13.72 Abv.

Clones CY95, CY96 and Rustenburg from soils with alluvial gravel beds, sandstone with underlying clay with a North facing aspect and North West / South East row direction.

Made from grapes grown on a slightly heavier soil with more northerly aspect, this wine shows a bolder, richer, riper expression on the nose with lemon and lime cordial, lemon bon bons, apple pastille and green rock candy seduction. Plush and beautifully textured with more savoury, stony, green plum notes layered with lemon herbs, citrus spice and a splendidly long, concentrated green stone fruit finish. Very showy and confident.

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

Iona Solace Syrah 2017, WO Elgin, 14.1 Abv.

Saline, purple bright fruits full of black saline intensity, salty black liquorice and supple, glassy, tart savoury intensity. Classy, classical and very cool and refined packed with black cherry, black pepper corns and blueberry pie nuances. A real evolution in style that perhaps works better for Elgin’s cooler vineyards than previous bigger, more extracted styles of Solace. This wine seems perfectly judged on so many levels.

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

Iona Monopole Wild Ferment Sauvignon Blanc 2018, WO Elgin, 13.55 Abv.

A super exotic complex Sauvignon Blanc nose packed full of tangerine, grapefruit, dusty white peach, quince and a tropical papaya fruit finish. Fleshy, delicious and super distinguished, this wine ups the ante and delivers an impressively complex, serious glass of Sauvignon Blanc.

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

Iona Sauvignon Blanc 2019, WO Elgin, 13.63 Abv.

The aromatics are filled with lemon grass and tangerine peel complexity, this wine has mouth watering vigour and enthralling allure and focus. Fabulous notes of mango and papaya, yellow citrus and green apple blend imperiously, building to a vinous crescendo on the palate with delicious, bright, fresh Sauvignon Blanc grassy nuances. This is benchmark cool climate Elgin Sauvignon Blanc that really ticks all the pleasure boxes.

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

Pici pasta, Cornish crab and artichokes
Chicken with vinegar sauce
The delicious dessert – A house speciality!
Hokkaido PotatoBaked potato Mille feuille, sake and white chocolate mousse, butter and sake gelato.

The two main concerns you think about when producers shake up their range of wines in the way Iona have, is whether the new single vineyard wines will detract from the overall quality of the larger blends that came before them and whether the new single vineyard wines will be sufficiently different and interesting enough to merit the whole vineyard partitioning exercise. While I certainly had my favourites, I can confirm that the whole new range is very well conceived and the wines are truly unique in their own ways. They are also exceptionally good quality.

In London pricing, they are also not ridiculously priced, making them accessible to both restaurant buyers and Chardonnay aficionados alike. Exciting times indeed for Iona wines. By the time Andrew reads these reviews, I certainly hope he will be well on his way to recovery. Catch you in London on your next trip!

Return of the Crayfish… The Revenge Continues – Tasting the New Release 2019 Revenge of the Crayfish Barrel Sample…

With only a third of 2020 ticked off on the calendar and a very uncertain next six months lying ahead, I thought that the 29th March would be the perfect moment to release my initial review for Sakkie Mouton’s second vintage of Revenge of the Crayfish Chenin Blanc. Happy Birthday Sakkie!

Sakkie and I met up in Stellenbosch in mid February to taste the second edition of this cult Chenin Blanc from Koekenaap near Vredendal, made from a 25 year old vineyard with fruit from the same site as the 2018 maiden vintage.

What a journey it has been. With the sell-out 2018 turning heads, blowing minds and agitating the bureaucrats, the anticipation (and pressure) on Sakkie surely grew every day as the 2019 harvest approached. But a valuable stint in Oregon from June to the end of November at Carlton Winemaker Studio winery undoubtedly added to Sakkies further winemaking experience and overall maturity. 

The 2019 vintage Chenin Blanc grapes were taken in a lot earlier than 2018 resulting in an acidity of 8.2 versus 7.2 for the 2018 grapes. 

Revenge of the Crayfish Chenin Blanc 2019, 12.5 Abv. (Barrel Sample)

While still super youthful and vibrant, this Chenin Blanc expresses itself as boldly and characterfully as the incredible maiden release 2018. There are beautiful notes of crystalline white peach, green melon draped in salty Parma ham, white citrus, hard fig and saline sea breeze notes. On the palate, the alka seltzer spritzy minerality comes to the fore, shining brightly and melting beautifully into a subtle leesy white granitic wet stone mineral austerity tempered by a plush mid palate richness of yellow orchard fruits, wet straw and a mouth watering tart linear line of acidity, finishing with the most incredible intensity and saline persistence. This wine will tighten up further in bottle, but I envisage this 2019 offering an incremental generosity, concentration and finely textured mouthfeel. I am smitten yet again!

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

Post Script – We finished off the tasting with three new unfinished components who’s end destinations are still undecided. An interesting but characterful 2020 Chenel from Vredendal, a 2020 Palomino from Lutzville and then an incredible, unusual, highly expressive Chenin Blanc from a vineyard in Vredendal planted in 1989. More exciting treats from talented Sakkie Mouton coming soon.

Upfront and Showy – Tasting the New Release Hamilton Russell Vineyards Chardonnay 2019…

It seems almost every year one corner of the Cape winelands or another is touched by bush fires. As a hangover of the long regional drought, wildfires have taken their toll in the Western Cape just as they have in California. Sadly, 2019 was no different and during this harvest, fires managed to wreak havoc across the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley.

The large wildfires which burnt along the borders of the Hamilton Russell Vineyards estate on January 11th 2019, necessitated the rejecting of almost all the 2019 Pinot Noir grown on site as a result of minor but noticeable smoke taint to the fruit. However, Hamilton Russell were luckily able to harvest their full Chardonnay crop before any smoke damage occurred and produced another very impressive expression.

Extremely warm, hot weather in May, June and July 2019 lead to uneven bud break and resulted in a -44% reduction in yields. Overall the vintage temperature averages were cooler than in both 2017 and 2018 and final quality was high amongst harvested grapes.

Hamilton Russell Vineyards Chardonnay 2019, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, 13.2 Abv.

This wine shows the true pretty, overt appeal of the 2019 vintage without any of the usual youthful reduction and broody mineral austerity. The aromatics are bright, pure and lifted, ultra expressive, offering up seductive notes of Spring flowers, lemon cordial, green apple, yellow grapefruit confit and honeydew melon pastille sweets. The palate mirrors the aromatic succulence and generous fruit forward concentration boasting hallmark notes of sweet citrus fruit intensity, crystalline purity, tangy acids and a fleshy, glycerol harmonious persistence. A little more showy fruit immediacy will surely see this vintage race off the shelves with new and old Hamilton Russell collectors alike. Total production 2812 x 12.

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

Triumph from Tragedy – Tasting the New Release Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir 2019…

It seems almost every year one corner of the Cape winelands or another is touched by bush fires. As a hangover of the long regional drought, wildfires have taken their toll in the Western Cape just as they have in California. Sadly, 2019 was no different and during this harvest, fires managed to wreak havoc across the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley.

The large wildfires which burnt along the borders of the Hamilton Russell Vineyards estate on January 11th 2019, necessitated the rejecting of almost all the 2019 Pinot Noir grown on site as a result of minor but noticeable smoke taint to the fruit.

In a testament to the true spirit of the wine trade, local neighbours rallied around Hamilton Russell to offer quality parcels of fruit from unaffected areas to allow a 2019 wine to be produced. Grapes came in from the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, the Upper Hemel-en-Aarde and the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley and were, for the first time ever, blended into a Hamilton Russell WO Walker Bay Pinot Noir cuvee by winemaker Emul Ross.

Those with a sharp eye will notice the subtle label change from Hamilton Russell Vineyards to merely Hamilton Russell together with a Walker Bay branded capsule over the closure. This is a fabulous wine that truly is a triumph forged out of tragedy. Anthony’s only worry is that consumers might enjoy the wine’s extra forward, showy opulence too much and demand more of the same next year. Nevertheless, this is definitely a deliciously pure Pinot Noir wine worth buying!

Tasting the new Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir with Anthony Hamilton Russell in London recently.

47% Ridge (Babylon / Creation)

37% Upper (Sumaridge)

16% Valley (Hamilton Russell)

Winemaking changes involved: Less skin contact; More gentle extraction; Inoculation with Hamilton Russell Sauvage wild yeast strain.

Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir 2019, WO Walker Bay, 13.5 Abv.

Having only been bottled a couple of months ago, this 2019 cuvee is wonderfully generous and opulent with layered aromatics of ripe blood oranges, bruleed wood spice, sun raisined red cherry, red bramble berries and subtle hints of pomegranate spice. The palate is perhaps more fleshy, supple and open than a normal Hamilton Russell Vineyards Pinot Noir would be at this youthful stage in its life but it is certainly no less juicy, mouth watering and seductive. The bright fruit forward expression, however attractive, does perhaps obscure some of the usual structure and mineral restraint found on most vintages of Hamilton Russell new releases, however as Anthony commented, “it’s almost like we have just changed coopers or barrel toasting as the fruit quality is still exceptional.” There is fabulous earthy red berry fruit complexity bolstered by fine creamy tannins and soft, tangy acids that steer the wine to a long, glycerol, textured finish packed with oodles of sex appeal. This may be a once-off cuvee born out of tragedy but it is certainly a triumphant wine with great character and upfront appeal. Drink from release or cellar for 6 to 8+ years.

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

The End of a Golden Era in Wine – Goodbye Michael Broadbent MW 1927-2020…

Very sad to hear of the passing of the legend Michael Broadbent MW. One of the people who put fine wine on the global map when wine was an unknown niche category. Feel so privileged to have know him. RIP Michael Broadbent 1927-2020 🍷🙏🏼

Born in Yorkshire in 1927, Michael studied architecture at Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London before joining the Royal Artillery where he was 2nd Lieutenant from 1945 to 1948. He joined Laytons Wine Merchants as a trainee in 1952 where his wine career started. After a two year stint at Saccone & Speed Michael joined John Harvey & Sons Ltd Bristol in 1955. He was initially in charge of the North region both in shops and marketing, before becoming a director and finally the UK sales director.

Michael passed the MW exam in 1960, and a few years later he joined Christie’s in July 1966 where he created their first specialised wine department. He was responsible for starting Christie’s wine auctions, which he conducted worldwide. Until 1992 he was the senior director of Christie’s wine department, and he remained a senior consultant with the firm until 2009.

A wine writer and critic, Michael produced an extraordinary amount of tasting notes from his life in wine which are widely available to read. He published many books, including Michael Broadbent’s Wine Tasting and The Great Vintage Wine Book.

I had the pleasure of celebrating Michael’s 90th birthday with him at the new IMW office opening and again at a private celebration at Vintners’ Hall while many industry friends and colleagues also joined him last year at Vintners’ Hall for the launch of his last book.

With Michael at Vintners Hall to celebrate his 90th Birthday in London.

Glenelly Estate Prepare to Release their Greatest Creation to Date – Tasting the Epic Lady May 2015 Flagship Red Blend…

The Glenelly Estate is a beautiful winery buried in a little corner of the Idas Valley in Stellenbosch. The property was famously bought in 2003 by Madame May de Lencquesaing of Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande fame in Pauillac, Bordeaux, with a vision to transform the property into one of the preeminent fine wine producers in Stellenbosch.

In February 2020, I visited the estate for a lengthy and informative tutored tasting with Cellar Master Luke O’Cuinneagain. After a final flight of three vintages of their flagship Lady May red blend, tasting the 2010, 2013 and 2014, I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to try and also taste the as yet unreleased Lady May 2015. It required a few thumb screws and persuasion, but Luke finally obliged with a sneak peak of this fantastic Bordeaux blend from the iconic 2015 vintage.

You can expect a possible release of this iconic wine hopefully towards the end of 2020.

Glenelly Estate Lady May 2015, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5 Abv. 

79% CS, 8% M, 8% PV, 5% CF

Deep, dark and broody, this wine speaks with all the authority and confidence of a 5 star block buster vintage. Brimming with black menthol cassis, boiled black berry sweets, black cherry and tight grained cedar spice, this wine wears a super hero gown of graphite and stony minerality and whispers quality from the moment it hits the glass. Tight, focused and impressively compact, there is a seamless saline black currant balance with linear polished marble tannins and a super intense concentration. This is the culmination of years of winemaking refinement and is without doubt the finest red wine produced to date at the Glenelly Estate revealing the true terroir quality potential of these groomed, premium Stellenbosch vineyards. Drink from Release with decanting and over the next 20+ years.

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

An Exercise in Opulence and Hedonism – Tasting the New Release Ornellaia 2017…

Hot on the heels of the Sassicaia 2017 release comes the opulent, extroverted Ornellaia expression. From a warm dry vintage, conditions certainly played to the Ornellaia style of richness and opulence.

The vineyards extend 115 hectares and are broken down into 70 different plots, all with slightly different characteristics. There are two main areas, one around the Ornellaia winery itself and another around Bellaria to the north and north-west of Bolgheri, where the land slopes gently down towards the sea some 5 km away. All vineyards within the Bolgheri DO are dedicated to the production of the Ornellaia range with the very best plots being blended into Ornellaia and also the highly respected second wine, Le Serre Nuove dell’Ornellaia.

Ornellaia 2017, DO Bolgheri Superiore, 15 Abv.

Facinating to see how individual and unique the expression of Ornellaia is vintage after vintage. This warm sunshine vintage boasts a ripe, plush opulent nose jam packed full of cherry confit, black plum preserve and blueberry pie laced with a dusting of vanilla pod and brûléed oak spice. Such a dense, dark core with hedonistic notes of mocha and chocolates filled with blueberry reduction, creme de cassis and buttered brown toast. A bold, extroverted, flamboyant expression of Ornellaia that will appeal to those who enjoy riper, more exotic vintages. Drink from release and for 15+ years.

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

Note: Tasted after bottling, this wine was rated 94+/100. A subsequent tasting in April 2020 resulted in an upgraded score of 95+/100 GSMW.