The Fine Wine Safari – 2018 in Pictures : Part 1…

What a fabulous year 2018 was for wine. Some excellent vintages were put to bed, plenty of energy and enthusiasm was shared by global winemakers and overall, there seemed to be a growing appreciation for interesting wines from all regions of the world, not just from the classics.

What ever 2019 throws at us, I think it is safe to say that those who are prepared to join the journey and immerse themselves into the wonderful and intriguing world of fine wine, they will come out the other side socially, intellectually and experientially greatly enriched.

 

Beginning the year with the annual Romanee Conti new vintage release with Aubert de Villane and his amazing, possibly best ever, 2015 vintages.

A new recruit to the Handford Oyster Club… the multi-talented Peter Allan Finlayson.

Tasting a sample of Meerlust Rubicon 2015 with owner Hannes Myburgh in London. The greatest release yet!?

Samantha O’Keefe from Lismore Winery in Greyton, Western Cape, making some exceptionally exciting wines in an off the beaten track area of outstanding beauty.

One of the high lights of the year for me was a fabulous wine dinner at my rugby club London Welsh where I help coach, with the great Sir Gareth Edwards who scored THAT TRY for the Barbarians in 1973!

A real behind the scenes operator and all round great wine maker, Luis Seabra, making his own Xisto Cru wines and also consulting to great names like Suertes del Marques in Tenerife.

Rajat Parr over in London again showing off his fabulous Evening Land wines from Oregon. But his Sandhi whites from Santa Barbara County are also to die for!

Meeting up with Vassaltis Winery owner Yiannis Valambous for a Greek wine extravaganza lunch. His wines from Santorini are among the very best on the island.

Recently described as the “Clarke Gabel and Vivian Leigh” of the South African wine scene, also two of my favourite people anywhere… Olive and Anthony Hamilton-Russell from the Hemel-En-Aarde Valley winery.

An epic catch up at one of my favourite London Michelin Star restaurants, La Trompette, with Anthony, Olive and Neal Martin from Vinous.com

The legend, the maestro, Steven Spurrier … if anyone deserves a knighthood on the honours list, this is the chap! Tasting Burgundy En-primeur 2016.

One of my favourite rising talents in the world of wine communications, education and media… Amelia Singer. Catch her at http://www.Amelias-wine.com

It’s not just the South African wine makers setting the South African social scene on fire. Bertus and Marelise Basson making incredible food to accompany the fine wine. A lovely catch up at Spek & Bone in Stellenbosch.

One of the greats of the South African wine industry, Ian Naude now solo as of 2018 and making some of the most stimulating and profound old vine whites and reds in South Africa.

Friendships forged through wine… Donovan Rall, Ian Naude and Bruwer Raats. Some of South Africa’s greatest talents.

No one is making greater wines in the Swartland or South Africa than this dynamic duo… Andrea and Chris Mullineux. Perennial Winery of the Year winners.

The hottest talent to hit the headlines internationally in 2018… the incredibly talented Lukas van Loggerenberg. Track his eponymous wines down!

My fellow MW class mate, Bordeaux marathon 2014 team mate and now Decanter Man of the Year 2018… Eduardo Chadwick.

Bordeaux En-primeur fires the starting gun for the new South African fine wine fund managed by financial wizard, the highly talented Ken Kinsey-Quick. Tasting the Chateau Le Pin 2017 with Jacques Thienpont and son in April 2018.

Chateau Lafleur winemaker Omri Ram presenting an outstanding tasting and lunch in London’s St James’s.

Always a privilege to judge South African wines with Fiona McDonald … the Decanter South African panel chair.

An incredible flying visit and marathon tasting with JC Martin at Creation Winery in the Hemel-En-Aarde Valley. Some of South Africa’s finest Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines!

Tasting the 2017 Port component parts in London with the legend of Portuguese wines and Ports, Dirk Niepoort.

One of my favourite tastings of the year with Allegra Antinori tasting a vertical of one of my favourite white wines in Italy, Cervaro della Sala from Umbria.

Tasting the new Taittinger Comtes de Champagne 2007 at the London launch with the new Taittinger maitre de chais Alexandre Ponnavoy and the irrepressible fine wine aficionado Gareth Birchley, now ex-BBR and taking up the buying reins at Burns & German fine wine merchants in Chelsea in 2019.

A very proud moment in 2018 seeing South African artist William Kentridge being selected to design the Vendemmia d’Artista label for Ornellaia 2015. Tasting here with Ornellaia wine maker Axel Heinz and Steven Spurrier at the V&A for the launch.

More great friendships forged through wine. Tasting at Duncan Savage’s new urban winery with Ian Naude and bubbly producer extraordinaire Paul Gerber from LeLude in Franschhoek.

A highlight of the year, visiting Raffaele Pagano at Joaquin Winery in Campania to taste his iconic wines. Unquestionably one of the best kept fine wine secrets of Italy!

Celebrating a triumphant year of success for Meerlust with Hannes Myburgh, viticulturalist Roelie Joubert and wine maker Chris Williams.

Another epic visit to Montalcino to taste the barrel samples of Valdicava Brunello di Montalcino with owner Vincenzo Abbruzzese together with his son and his UK importer Masi Jacobacci. Truly epic age worthy wines.

After 11 years of carrying the mantle of being the 4th and last South African to pass the rigorous Master of Wine exams, in 2018 I finally passed the baton on to London based South African Cassidy Dart MW who became the 5th South African MW to pass since the institute started in 1953. Seen here celebrating with guest appearances by Chris Mullineux and wine journalist Angela Lloyd at Michelin Star Trinity restaurant in Clapham, London.

Another day, another epic tasting. This time a sweet Chenin Blanc tasting of the wines of Moulin Touchais back to 1947… with the current export manager Frederic, Chris Mullineux and Roger Jones.

Another real highlight for me was attending a Masterclass with these two Californian legends of Chardonnay… Jim Clendenen and David Ramey. Incredible benchmark wines from both these wineries.

Happy faces all round after another incredibly successful Old Vines Project Tasting In London at High Timber restaurant with Andre Morgenthal and IWC Wine Personality of the Year 2018, Rosa Kruger. Two people doing such important work to save South Africa’s old vine heritage.

One of the beneficiaries of the work of Rosa Kruger and the Old Vine Project… Chris Alheit, who probably produced the unanimous South African white wine of the year with his lieu dits Huilkrans Chenin Blanc 2017 from old Skurfberg vines sourced by Rosa Kruger.

A rare relaxed lunch with my favourite Bloemfontein gal in London. High Timber restauranteur Neleen Strauss joined our South African wine lunch with Keith Prothero at La Trompette restaurant for a day of fine wine. Neleen is another unsung champion of South Africa’s fine wines in London.

Watch out for the Fine Wine Safari year in Pictures part 2…. coming soon!

The Fine Wine Safari’s Top 10 Most Memorable “Off-Piste” Red Wines of the Year 2018…

The Fine Wine Safari Top 10 Red Wines of the Year was a modest attempt to illustrate South Africa’s finest benchmark wines and styles for all to see and to give international collectors and drinkers a handful of names and labels to look out for. However, one of the absolute cornerstones of the recent global success of the South African wine category has been its incredible diversity and in many cases it’s inspired eccentricity combined with outright quality.

So in an attempt to show the more experimental and alternative “off-piste” face of South African wine, I have enjoyed compiling my Top 10 list of most memorable reds, truly outstanding wines produced by producers that do not necessarily aspire to 100 point ratings or mass market appeal. Nevertheless, these wines are all more than worthy of a slot in your cellar!

Sadie Family Old Vine Series Treinspoor 2017, Swartland

Franco Lourens Howard John Red Blend 2017, WO Western Cape

David & Nadia Pinotage 2017, Swartland

Fram Grenache Gris 2017, Swartland

Kleine Zalze Amphora Grenache 2017

Craven Wines Cinsault 2017, Stellenbosch

Restless River Wanderlust Grenache 2017, Hemel-en-Aarde Valley

Scions of Sinai Feniks Pinotage 2017, Stellenbosch

Sutherland Petit Verdot Reserve 2015, Elgin

Welbedacht Estate Patriot Cape Blend 2014, Wellington

The Fine Wine Safari’s Top 10 Most Memorable “Off-Piste” White Wines of the Year 2018…

The Fine Wine Safari Top 10 Whites and Reds of the Year was a modest attempt to illustrate South Africa’s finest benchmark wines and styles for all to see and to give international collectors and drinkers a handful of names and labels to look out for. However, one of the absolute cornerstones of the recent global success of the South African wine category has been its incredible diversity and in many cases its inspired eccentricity combined with outright wine quality.

So in an attempt to show the more experimental and alternative “off-piste” face of South African wine, I have enjoyed compiling my Top 10 list of most memorable whites and reds of truly outstanding wines produced by producers who do not necessarily aspire to 100 point ratings or mass market appeal. Nevertheless, these wines are all more than worthy of a valued slot in your cellar!

(In the true spirit of these wines, they are not scored here and are presented in no particular order of preference!)

Alheit Family Wines Vote For Pedro 2017

Francois Bezuidenhout Leenders Baviaan White Blend 2018, 13 Abv.

Pieter Walser Blank Bottle Winery Epileptic Inspiration Semillon 2016, Elgin

Terracura Smiley V4 Chenin Blanc NV, Swartland

Donovan Rall Grenache Blanc 2017, Swartland

Andre Bruyns City on a Hill Dry Muscat de Alexandrie 2017, Swartland

Bosman Family Wines Fides Skin Contact Grenache Blanc 2016, Wellington

Iona 8 + 8 Riesling 2017, Elgin

A.A.Badendorst Family Wines Geelkapel Dry Muscat de Frontignan 2017, Swartland

Momento Grenache Gris 2017, Voor-Paardeberg

Tasting the Kelley Fox Skin Contact Pinot Gris 2017 – An Exciting Benchmark Example From Oregon…

2017 finally broke the pattern of the unusually warm vintages in Oregon since 2011. The winter rainfall and snowpack were excellent and the spring was generally wetter and cooler than average. Bud bloom in the Maresh Vineyard began around 22nd June and most of July was warm and even with morning clouds burned off by the afternoon. One could feel the ocean coolness behind the summer warmth. 

By 23rd August, veraison had begun in most of the blocks and by 28th August, during the return of hot weather, it was 80-100% complete. Mid-September brought cooling and some pre-harvest rain with the average highs being 19.4 degrees C the last ten days. Blocks at Maresh were picked in early October.

Kelley reduced the usual whole cluster usage to 0% for the Maresh Vineyard Pinot Gris in 2017 making the wines extra elegant, bright and perfumed with low alcohols.

Kelley Fox Wines Maresh Vineyard Pinot Gris, Dundee Hills, Oregon, 12.8 Abv. 

A fascinating copper blood orange tinted Pinot Gris produced from the fruit of vines planted on their own rootstock in 1991 in the northeast corner of the Maresh Vineyard. The wine saw 14 to 16 days of skin contact and elevage in a concrete amphora tank for 5 months with malolactic completed. The bouquet is loaded with dusty minerality of volcanic basalt, wet slate and crushed rocks complexed by pithy strawberry, red cherry skin aromatics, ripe quince and sweet ripe figs. Beautifully fresh, vibrant and light on its feet, the wine tiptoes across the palate with smokey sappy spice, resinous blood orange nuances, quince purée and wet river pebble minerality. There are delicate pithy phenolics from a fortnight of skin contact but also such a bright purity and crisp linearity. More complex and vinous than a lookalike Rose wine, this is a wonderful creation with an earthy savoury salinity that finishes with a long lasting complexity and intrigue. Lovely wine.

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

A Vinous Exploration into the Old Vine Wines of Campania, Italy – Tasting the Fascinating Wines of Joaquin Winery…

In a small and beautiful town called Montefalcione, located in the Campania region of southern Italy, lies the winery of Joaquin, built in 1999 and known for two of the greatest DOCG wines produced in the area: Fiano di Avellino and Aglianico Taurasi.

Raffaele Pagano, the colourful owner of Joaquin Wines first produced his own “non-family winery” wines in 2006 and ever since has been very clear about what he wants to achieve… “To me, it’s all about finding the right grape that is matched to the right soil. I decided to look for authentic vineyards to grow local grapes, which I think is how everyone should do it.”

According to Raffaele, each of his wines are supposed to be unique with low production volumes resulting in focused, characterful, expressive, individual high end wines with great texture, terroir nuances and complexity.

Owner and winemaker Raffaele Pagano

Originally from a famous Salerno based winemaking family that has more than 250 years of winemaking heritage, Raffaele decided to go it alone and established the Joaquin winery founded on a mission to become the flag bearer for one of the great wines of Campania, the Fiano, starting from a meticulous study and selection of antique, pre-phylloxera vineyards in the area of Lapio and Montefalcione, regarded as the original habitat for this variety. Since 1999, Raffaele has been working tirelessly to create an expression of Fiano which is the quintessence of the terroir of Lapio, with a purebred typicity that is different from the other Fiano wines produced from the local area.

Old vine Fiano vineyards of Joaquin

His winemaking model has also been applied to other varieties, creating a unique production philosophy which has come to characterize the Joaquin brand. With the motto “with each new vintage, a new project,” only the best wines which excel in a given vintage are produced and bottled, a philosophy which can lead to some cuvees not being produced for 2 or 3 consecutive vintages.

Probably the most unique 1.2 hectares of up to 200 year old Aglianico vines used for the Joaquin Taurasi DOCG Riserva.

The Joaquin winery also hand crafts unique wines on the beautiful and prestigious island of Capri, located off the coast of Sorrento. Here they perform what Raffaele likes to call “triage viticulture” … the recovery of indigenous varieties and the meticulous restoration of small, local vineyards, a project in which JOAQUIN DALL’ISOLA (Joaquin from the island) wines strive to safeguard the few vines left on the island, with varietals like Greco, Falanghina, Biancolella and the local “Ciunchesa” (an antique clone of Greco) being bottled, usually together as a white blend.

Over two fascinating days, I trawled many of the multiple vineyard sites Raffaele owns or contracts for the various Joaquin wines. It must be said, I encountered some of the oldest and most fascinating historical vineyards I have seen throughout Europe. With a dry, warm Mediterranean climate, vines in some secluded vineyards have managed to slumber their way past 250 years of age.

It seems only fitting that one of the most passionate, colourful, eccentric and generous winemakers should use these very rare, old vines to craft incredibly unique, boutique but thoroughly authentic natural expressions. While Raffaele remains an unashamed dreamer, the quality he has achieved with his profound Joaquin range of wines is very much a reality. Seek them out and indulge in these fascinating Campania whites and reds.

(Available in the UK from Woodwinters and throughout the EU from Classico)

Tasting at the Joaquin Winery:

Joaquin dall’Isola Bianco 2017, Campania, 12 Abv.

(1,700 bottles) Field blend of Greco, Fananghina, Biancolella and Ciunchesa. A striking, lifted nose showing intense savoury pear purée, tangerine peel, briney maritime notes, banana rock candy and attractive orange blossom complexity. There is a very fine sleek texture, fleshy, creamy round mouthfeel and a very vibrant salinity. Quite light on its feet, but displays impressive acidity and a long savoury, yellow stone fruit finish. Very young but a great terroir expression. Give this time or drink with food.

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

Joaquin dall’Isola Bianco 2009, Campania, 12 Abv. (Produced only in Magnum)

Deep dark yellow straw, the aromatics are exotic and complex, revealing tertiary notes of truffle, grain meal, bruised yellow orchard fruits, baking herbs, waxy green apple and savoury creamy peachy fruits. Round, fleshy and full in the mouth, this wine shows a riper vintage character with softer acids, pithy herbal green tea spice and a long, unctuous finish.

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

Joaquin Iviaggi Aglianico Bianco 2006, Campania, 13.47 Abv. (2,300 bottles)

Aged 5 months in acacia oak, this was the last bottle of Raffaele’s first vintage of Joaquin. Superbly complex nose with herbal candied gooseberry notes, dried Seville oranges, pithy marmalade, orange cordial and exotic peach tea nuances. Similar in many ways to a dry botrytis white with a delicious hard toffee sweets character, peach tea, orange pastille, and grapefruit marmalade, all framed by incredibly vibrant, fresh crunchy green fruit acids. It teases the senses, plays with the palate, enchants and seduces without any trickery, just with its innate complexity and terroir expression embellished by the passage of time.

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

Joaquin Piante A Lapio Fiano Bianco 2012, IGT Campania, 13.5 Abv.

100% Fiano from 80 to 100+ year old vines. Natural yeast ferment, then aged in chestnut oak for 10 months with a natural flor cap developing as barrels are not topped up. The nose is exotic and complex with aromatics of grilled herbs, fresh rosemary, sage, thyme, savoury pork fat with youthful pithy yellow orchard fruits peeking out from beneath. The palate follows suit with incredible intensity and concentration with massive saline, peppery honied lemon peel depth, baking herbs and orange pastille sweets. A very profound expression with inspired winemaking and exceptional Old Vine fruit. A wine that pushes boundaries and challenges the mind and palate.

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

Joaquin Taurasi Riserva DOCG 2010, Campania, 15.10 Abv.

100% Aglianico grapes with 30 days post fermentation maceration on skins in 500 litre barrels. The colour is comparable to a 2010 Gevrey Chambertin with a fine translucent garnet character on the rim. The nose is multi-faceted and complex with enticing notes of coffee granules, salty liquorice, stewed black berries, black cherry and subtle savoury notes of balsamic drizzled over bresaola. On the palate there is incredible power, freshness and definition with textural layers of brûléed coffee beans, black liquorice, grilled herbs and baking spices merging synergistically, underpinned by gravelly, basalt mineral tannins. A whole lot of wine packed into a bottle. Fabulous with food, perfect for ageing and drinking beautifully with 8 years of age… and it’s only the estate’s current release.

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

The unique unicorn wine that is the Buona Morte Taurasi Riserva DOCG 2009 red, as yet unlabelled.

Joaquin Taurasi Riserva DOCG Buona Morte 2009, Campania, 15.3 Abv.

100% Aglianico fruit from vines up to 200+ years old from the village of Paternopoli. Aged 30 days on skins post fermentation and then aged for 8 years in one 225 litre barrique without any topping up. The wine has the colour of a 10 year old Barolo and the complex, tertiary aromatics of blood oranges, cognac spice, grilled herbs and a bold lick of raspberry balsamic savoury depth. There is VA lift in a Chateau Musar meets traditional Cru Barolo style but the wine’s stability keeps its integrity in check. As Raffaele says, ‘there is no power without control’, and this wine exemplifies his philosophy of long ageing of terroir-driven old vine fruit combined with winemaking knowhow. The finish is unctuous, glycerol and almost sweet, with seductive length and power. Profound on so many levels. Only 150 bottles due for first release in 2019.

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

Church of the Venerabile Confraternita della Buona Morte that lends its name to the Joaquin Taurasi Riserva Prestige Cuvee red DOCG.

http://www.joaquinwines.com

An Attractive Brunello di Montalcino Made Using Biodynamic Principles – Tasting Piombaia 2013…

It is always a pleasure to visit Montalcino, especially when the region is riding high in popularity. This trip, I was fortunate to visit Francesco Cantini, the winemaker at Piombaia winery.

Created out of the union of the Rossi and Cantini families, the estate has always been run in a sympathetic way but it was only in 2009, after decades of ‘Lutte raisonnees’ that the winery turned to organic and biodynamic principles.

Francesco Cantini discussing biodynamics

The terrain of Piombaia Estate covers an area of about 210 hectares at an altitude of between 400 and 600 metres, with the 12 hectares of vineyard plantings divided into 12 separate 1 hectare plots, ensuring the best quality grapes can be managed and harvested separately.

From a cooler, more classical vintage, the weather was perfect until August with just a little refreshing rain in June and July, before the weather became noticeably cooler. Harvesting started on the 10th October and the natural yeast +-10 day non-temperature controlled alcoholic fermentation commenced with an additional 28 days skin maceration post fermentation before ageing 3 years in 70% Slovenian oak, 25% large French oak and 5% in large tonneau.

Rossi.Cantini Soc. Agricola Piombaia Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 2013, 13.5 Abv.

The nose is precise and intense with attractive aromatics of cherry blossom, red cherry skins, red apple and sour red plums. The oak is beautifully integrated lending the most subtle earthy, savoury, foresty wood spice notes and is almost imperceptible on the palate which is dominated by bruised sour plums, chalky pithy red cherry and vibrant fresh acids. So delicious, cool, harmonious and elegant, with a really classical mineral graphite slant and a piquant, saline, crisp energetic finish. An impressive and slightly alternative expression of Brunello. Drink now or cellar for 10+ years.

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

Laura Lorenzo and Daterra Viticultores Creating Breath-Taking Wines in the Val do Bibei, North West Spain…

Hailing from Allariz in the province of Ourense, Laura Lorenzo enrolled in the local enology school at the tender age of 16 with definite ambition to become a winemaker. Upon graduation, she worked at the nearby Adega Cachín, and then overseas with Eben Sadie in South Africa and Achaval Ferrer in Argentina. After her various apprenticeships, Laura took over the reins at Dominio do Bibei, a dynamic, pioneering producer of fine wine in the Quiroga-Bibei subzone of Ribeira Sacra.

Laura worked there for 10 years developing an attractive style of winemaking that was fine-tuned and focused on the hillsides of the region, specifically to the terruño around the village of Manzaneda. In 2014 Laura and her partner, chef & artist partner Alvaro Dominguez, branched out on their own and formed Daterra Viticultores to cultivate the mountainside vineyards of the Bibei Valley.

Gavela da Vila is comprised of 100% old vine Palomino organically farmed at a variety of elevations, expositions, and soil types in the Val do Bibei. 90% of the grapes were destemmed, with the must seeing just a few hours of skin contact before pressing.

The wine was fermented with wild yeast in used 225 liter French oak barrels, and then raised on the lees in the same barrels for 6 months. Small amounts of sulfur were added after fermentation and at bottling. The wine was not clarified, cold stabilized or filtered.

Daterra Viticultores Gavela da Vila Palomino 2015, Manzaneda, Val do Bibei, 12.5 Abv.

A bright pale gold straw colour, there are plenty of tell tale signs of the wine’s short skin contact. The nose is rich and very expressive with complex notes of savoury pithy yellow citrus, yellow blossom, hazelnut and walnuts, dried orange peel and the most seductive saline, baked apple, aldehydic and oxidative Sherry-Manzanilla notes. The palate entry is electric and vibrant challenging the palate and provoking thought, but most certainly makes your mouth salivate with a saline briney zest, fresh zippy acids and a delicious spicy oxidative leaning yellow fruited finish laced with baked pears and vermouth spices. A really tantalising effort from an incredible new talent in Spain. Only 1,590 bottles produced. Drink now to 2026+.

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