Exploring the Unique Terroir of South African Single Vineyard Pinotage…

Wines of South Africa in the UK do a wonderful job promoting South African wines and the various diverse wine regions in South Africa on a pretty meagre shoestring budget. From premium wines to mass-market high street brands, all producers get a look-in through the year as the full breadth and depth of the industry is conveyed to the UK marketplace. This weekend is National Pinotage Day and to celebrate, Jo Wehring and the WOSA UK team organised a fascinating webinar and tasting with Dr Etienne Terblanche PHD and L’Avenir winemaker, Dirk Coetzee, featuring some excellent examples.

Pinotage knowhow has matured extensively over the years and is now able to highlight new and unique insights into the broader Cape wineland terroirs thanks to the variety being so widely planted and with a relatively large quantity of older vines in the ground. The cliché of Pinotage being a real “marmite” wine is starting to fade as producer after producer starts to produce high quality wines that more than anything else, represent the regional terroir the grapes are grown on.

Pinotage, like Chardonnay, does often allow the winemaker to make their personal mark stylistically, but one thing is for sure, the variety’s true strengths and unique selling points include being able to make a variety of dry red styles, wines with lots of juicy fruit, most wines possessing excellent ageing ability and also the versatility of the variety to make dry reds, Rosé, Method Cap Classique sparkling wines and numerous dessert styles.

Dirk Coetzee and Dr Etienne Terblanche PHD

The pinnacle of quality Pinotage production in South Africa often manifests itself through many of the Cape’s single vineyard wines grown on the three main soil types of Sandstone (300-400 million years old), Shale (Malmesbury Group) and decomposed Granite, which covers all the wines tasted for this seminar.

The Diversity of Pinotage:

Kaapzicht Skraalhans Pinotage 2020, WO Bottelary – Stellenbosch, 12.5% Abv.

A young vine trellised vineyard situated at around 90 to 100-meter altitude on pure washed out granitic soils. Picked early to respect a lighter style with 20% whole bunch, fermented on the skins for three days before being racked off into large old barrels to complete fermentation. Youthful and vibrant, the aromatics are very perfumed and lifted showing wonderfully inviting notes of red cherries, cranberry and red currant. Palate is super soft, fine boned and supple, very cool and precise, showing a delightful light touch extraction. There is layer upon layer of tart red cherry fruit with bright bristling acids that give the mouthfeel incredible energy and mouth-watering freshness with soft powdery tannins and a long, brambly mineral finish with just a subtle hint of flinty reduction. A truly delicious expression.

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

B Vintners Liberté Pinotage 2017, WO Stellenbosch, 13.5% Abv.

Made from 20-year-old bush vines on a south facing False Bay vineyard on washed out granitic soils utilising around 40% whole bunch during fermentation. The aromatics show a cool, savoury red cherry fruited complexity with plenty of maritime sea breeze salinity, sappy cranberry and bramble berry fruits, sweet grilled herbs and hints of potpourri. The palate is exceptionally polished, tight knit and fine grained with a drying tannin density, bright citric acids and a cool, stony, mineral length with a tangy salinity on the finish. Another very accomplished expression from Bruwer Raats and Gavin Bruwer Slabbert.

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

Sangiro Pinotage 2018, WO Piekenierskloof, 12.5% Abv.

A vineyard located three hours north of Cape Town in the Piekenierskloof at 300 to 400 meters altitude with dry grown vines. Made by Rudiger Gretschel (of Reyneke and broader Vinimark winemaking fame), the wine shows plenty of raspberry herbal tea spice, notes of dried herbs and fynbos nuances over red and black berries and damson plums. The palate is rich, plush and structured with spicy tea tannins, black cherry, stony mineral grip, round tangy acids and yet more layers of black cherry and black plum with an intricate apricot stone pip finish. Mineral, savoury, focused and rather bold… this is quite an individual expression of Pinotage.

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

Ashbourne Pinotage 2018, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, 13.5% Abv.

An impressive rich, savoury and expressive red from 16-year-old trellised vines planted on Bokkeveld Shales. Matured for 10 months in 400 litre barrels, 40% of which were new, with approximately 10% of sun-dried stems added back for additional structural complexity during fermentation. The aromatics are lifted, fresh and perfumed with opulent notes of black cherries, red berries, eucalyptus, peppermint crisp milk chocolate and sappy spicy oak nuances. The palate reveals attractively rich, plush, textured fruit notes with bright tangy acids, plenty of red berry freshness and ample mineral fine grained tannin characteristics. An attractive multi-dimensional wine that shows a lot of pedigree.

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

L’Avenir Single Block 02 Pinotage 2018, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5% Abv.

A dryland grown single vineyard planted in 1994 on decomposed shales with plenty of exposure to the salty coastal sea breezes of the False Bay. The aromatics are cool, refined and broody with great precision, purity and focus but also offer up ample depth of black fruits, hints of kelp, liquorice and raisined black cherry liquor notes. The palate is powerful and intense, with piercing sweet – sour acids, rich intense salty black fruits and a long, dense, bold finish with fine grained graphitey, stony, mineral tannins. Undoubtedly a very confident, well-made Pinotage that will appeal to a lot of fine wine lovers.

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

Beeslaar 2018 Pinotage, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5% Abv.

Made by Kanonkop winemaking legend Abrie Beeslaar from 25-year-old dryland bush vines grown on decomposed shale soils with a small portion of decomposed granite. Fermentation took place in open top concrete tanks with regular punch downs performed every 2 hours to maximise extraction. After fermentation, the wine was aged in 40% new 225 litre French oak barrels for 21 months. On the nose, there is plenty of density and broody black fruited depth together with intricate notes of raisined black cherry, raisined cranberry, damson plum and hints of Christmas pudding, incense and crème bruleed caramel oak spice. But for all the richness, intensity and depth, the palate shows a freshness and vitality that is quite startling, helping to balance the expansive fruit concentration and sweet, creamy tannins. Where the 2017 showed a more weightless perfumed concentration of vibrant red fruits, this 2018 is darker fruited and more savoury with plenty of sweetness on the front of the palate but also a fine, drying, tangy finish. Very classy.

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

Sakkie Mouton Family Wines Breaks New Ground Launching a South African Unicorn Vermentino from Koekenaap…

I am a massive fan of Vermentino whether grown in the Italian regions of Liguria, the Maremma, Corsica and Sardinia or down in Provence in the sun-baked South of France where it is generally known as Rolle. This maiden Vermentino release from the hugely talented young gun Sakkie Mouton is certainly an unusual grape to find produced in South Africa but is also an inspired choice for his electric (and eclectic) style of winemaking.

A picture from the Mouton family album… shows his grandfather riding a bull on the beach up the Wes Kus (West Coast) in what looks like circa 1950s to me!? This wine is a celebration of eccentricity in a world of mass conformity.

Like Sakkie’s highly sought-after Revenge of the Crayfish Chenin Blanc, this wine is sourced from a tiny patch of Vermentino vines grown on sandy soils in Koekenaap planted in 2017, located 15 kilometres from the cold Atlantic Ocean. For me, one of the most exciting aspects of Sakkie’s winemaking is that whatever grape variety he chooses to turn his hand to, you can be assured that the end result will reflect the regional terroir of Koekenaap almost more intensely than any individual expression of the grape variety. The unwaveringly maritime and saline characteristics of this barren coastal terroir up the West Coast has become almost synonymous as Sakkie Mouton’s signature style and these particular Vermentino grapes are located no more than 600 metres away from his Crayfish Chenin Blanc vineyard with its decomposed sandstone soils with pockets of limestone which lend great minerality and low pH’s to the finished wines.

The Vermentino grapes for this 2021 maiden release actually form part of a complex viticultural story with vines planted originally by Vinpro as part of a programme of small batch experimental vineyards developed around interesting viticultural areas to see if these experimental varieties might work on a more commercial scale. Similar projects today see Vinpro planting Assyrtiko vineyards to assess their future potential, but not to be confused with Gary Jordan who has pioneered this variety in South Africa and is already on his third tranche of vineyard plantings in Stellenbosch!

An animated story for sure but as Sakkie points out, Vermentino did not eventually crack the nod from Vinpro as growers immediately saw that the variety would not produce sufficient yields and the extraction process for Vermentino subsequently proved way too difficult for commercial purposes with lower than expected juice yields.

But with Sakkie ignoring adversity, the grapes from this micro vineyard were hand harvested early in the morning, then taken to a cold room facility for cooling. The grapes were foot trodden as whole bunches in an old basket press with the juice being transferred to cold settle for 12 hours in a stainless steel tank. The clear juice was then racked into 228 litre barrels to ferment naturally. The finished wine was aged on its gross lees for four months with regular stirring of the lees. After four months in the 228 litre barrels, the wine was racked into 500 litre barrels for a further two months of aging. Nothing was added to the wine except sulphur before bottling. The wine was bottled unfined and unfiltered.

Sakkie Mouton Family Wines Sand Erf Vermentino 2021, WO Koekenaap, 12.5% Abv.

8.2 TA | 1.0 RS | 3.12 pH

This delicious Vermentino expression, like many of the best premium old-world styles offers up an intense, complex aromatic array of crunchy white pears, green apples and white peaches all underpinned by a pronounced stony crushed rock minerality. Give the glass another swirl and yet more aromas of lime peel, honeydew melon and tangerine waft out the bowl. With Vermentino’s higher than usual phenols, the palate shows a delicious green almond bitterness that melts into a mouth-watering melange of glycerol pink grapefruit, pear pastille and freshly cut fennel which bears pronounced maritime notes of rock salt and tangy citric acids. Medium bodied but displaying an almost creamy texture, this wine is both generous and bracing all at the same time, confounding the palate with its profound salinity. If there is one thing that Sakkie Mouton is good at, it is making articulate white wines that challenge the senses before ultimately seducing them with effortless harmony, freshness and balance. Simply delightful to drink now, but with several more years of ageing, this wine will undoubtedly start to show more of its true Vermentino DNA with notes of floral-infused honey, chamomile and toasted almonds. The question is however … can you resist the temptation of the wine’s current youthful allure!? (Total production 620 bottles)

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

Postscript: I opened this bottle at fridge chilled temperature and tasted continuously over 4 hours without returning the bottle back to the fridge. The gradual release of additional flavours, sensations of concentration and an amplified salinity with a searing acidity were very impressive. In the same way a serious white Burgundy does not need to be returned to ice, this wine just unfurled continuously, and I encourage drinkers of this wine to serve it chilled but also to allow it to warm up a little so that it can fan its peacock tail!

Marelise Niemann and Anysbos Continue to Build An Enviable Track Record of Star Studded Releases…

Marelise Niemann officially launched her own Momento label in 2013 when she was still working for Beaumont winery in the Bot River region. She has since taken up wine making duties at Anysbos Winery in the Bot River owned by Peter-Allan Finlayson’s uncle-in-law with her maiden vintages released from the 2017 vintage.

Marelise had also been making her Momento wines at Gabrielskloof along side Peter-Allan and John Seccombe (Thorne & Daughters) but has also moved production of these wines to the Anysbos Winery. The 2019 Disdit white is a blend of 70% Chenin Blanc, 29% Roussanne and 1% dryland grown bush vine Grenache Blanc naturally fermented and then aged for 10 months in old barrels.

Anysbos Disdit 2019, WO Bot River, 13.5 Abv.

The first time I tasted the 2017 Disdit white blend I was blown away. So what to expect from the follow-up 2019? Predictably the wine shows much more tension, flinty reduction and impressive minerality like many top SA 2019 whites. The aromatics reveal a complex melange of white citrus, wet thatch, dried herbs, fresh fennel, yellow pithy orchard fruits and a curiously alluring, earthy mineral undertone. The palate fruit expression is cool and tightly wound showing a herbal intensity, pithy white peaches, savoury buttery notes and a vibrant, fresh textured finish. Very impressive indeed! Pop this in the cellar for 1-3 years before pulling the cork.

Wine Safari Score: 95+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Stark Condé’s Flagship Oude Nektar Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 Dazzles and Shines…

I recently reviewed the Three Pines Cabernet Sauvignon from the Stark-Condé Winery that was launched in Stellenbosch in 1998 by Hans and Midori Schroder with a focus on producing hand-crafted premium wines. Located in the picturesque and ever so dramatic Jonkershoek Valley in Stellenbosch, it is a site with steep changes in vineyard elevation ranging from 150 to 600 metres making for a range of terroirs with distinct characteristics.

At Stark-Condé they stick to traditional winemaking methods using open tank fermentation, meticulous sorting of grapes, hand-punch downs, basket pressing and maturation in small French oak barrels.

With a very limited availability of this superb single vineyard wine, I thought I couldn’t pass on reviewing one of the most exciting Cabernet Sauvignons I have tasted from Stellenbosch in a long time. The vineyard is situated on a south-westerly aspect on decomposed granitic soils and was replanted after tragic bush fires in 2009. The 2017 vintage is of course synonymous with weightless intensity, piercing concentration and sublime elegance and this wine is yet another flag bearer for this iconic vintage and region. The wine was aged for 20 months in 70% new French oak barrels and bottled unfiltered and unfined.

Stark Condé Oude Nektar 2017 Red Blend, WO Jonkershoek Valley, 14% Abv.

6.7g/l TA | 1.9 RS | 32.3 g/l Total Extract

This utterly seductive wine is a bottling of 95% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Petit Verdot and 2% Malbec. Despite the salt and pepper additions, this is a wonderfully pure classical Cabernet Sauvignon with archetypal aromatics of pressed violets and tilled earth, crushed gravel, graphite, freshly brewed espresso and sweet cedary spice. There is an irony, bloody, iodine and black olive complexity that lends that extra dimension to the wine making it just that little bit more special. The palate is pinpoint 2017 elegance personified with piercing fresh acids, powder puff tannins, weightless saline black currant and black cherry fruit concentration and a wonderfully long, harmonious finish of melted Belgian chocolates, salty kelp, black liquorice and warm buttered brown toast. Just quite simply spellbinding. Drink now and over the next 15+ years. (Only 4,617 bottles produced)

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

Stark – Condé’s Pedigree Shines Brightly With Their Exceptional Three Pines Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon…

Stark-Condé Wines was launched in Stellenbosch in 1998 by Hans and Midori Schroder with a focus on producing hand-crafted premium wines. Located in the picturesque and ever so dramatic Jonkershoek Valley in Stellenbosch, it is a site with steep changes in vineyard elevation ranging from 150 to 600 metres making for a range of terroirs with distinct characteristics. At Stark-Condé they stick to traditional winemaking methods using open tank fermentation, meticulous sorting of grapes, hand-punch downs, basket pressing and maturation in small French oak barrels.

The 2017 vintage was a warm and dry growing season resulting in wines that were intensely aromatic and admirably elegant and harmonious with suave velvety tannins and a weightless concentration of fruit. If the wines age as well as some people expect they will, tasting the 2017s alongside the block buster 2015s in 10, 15 or 20 years’ time will undoubtedly prove to be a very popular exercise.

Stark – Condé Three Pines Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, WO Jonkershoek Valley, Stellenbosch, 14% Abv.

The grapes for this vibrant single vineyard wine were hand-picked, sorted, basket pressed and then fermented in small batches before being matured in small French oak barrels for 20 months. The wine was bottled without fining or filtration. The aromatics are piquant, spicy and thoroughly enticing with hints of fragrant black berry confit on slightly burnt brown breakfast toast supported by emerging notes of bruleed coffee beans, inky iodine, sweet cherry tobacco, cola, salty cassis and a pronounced under vein of graphite. The palate is super elegant from start to finish, suave, supple and impressively harmonious with a fine textural breadth and depth of black and blueberry saline fruits, soft, sleek silky tannins and all the tell-tale weightless concentration that has come to define this vintage’s greatest red wines. Seamless, precise and incredibly well made, this is sultry, seductive Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon at its best. Drink now or cellar for 12+ years. (8,175 bottles produced.)

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

Tasting the New Leeu Passant 2021 Releases – A Project of Grand Ambition Coming of Age…

It has to be said that when Chris and Andrea Mullineux embarked on their new Leeu Passant adventure with silent partner Analjit Singh, there were many in the industry that thought that this duo would be better off focusing on their successful eponymous Swartland project at Roundstone instead of spreading themselves a bit thin across multiple wine regions. But when you are as driven and as wine curious as Chris and Andrea, holding back on their new winemaking endeavour was never an option. Since the first vintages released from the 2015 vintage, there has certainly been a high degree of evolution and even a bit of revolution as Chris and Andrea have shaken up the establishment in both Stellenbosch and Franschhoek.

But in 2021, the Leeu Passant project can finally be considered to have come of age with some of their most compelling releases yet. With a conscious effort to try and realign the vintage releases a little more after choosing to hold back the 2018 Leeu Passant Dry Red and the Basson Vineyard Old Vine Cinsault 2018, they have finally reached a point where the extra year in bottle for these extraordinary wines has allowed them to be appreciated and admired for what they truly are – exceptional winemaking creations.

I normally visit Chris and Andrea at least once a year in the Swartland and then finally fill in the remaining gaps on one of their many trips to London. I certainly miss the Swartland and walking the vineyards with Chris as he explains all the new ideas they’re perpetually putting into practice in the vineyards. But these are strange times and unfortunately I had to make do with a Zoom tasting to acquaint myself with their fabulous new wine releases.

Leeu Passant Stellenbosch Chardonnay 2019, WO Stellenbosch, 14% Abv.

Made from a single vineyard in the Helderberg where the climate probably has a bigger fingerprint than even the soils and terroir but at 400 meters plus, the maritime climate really shapes the wine with very consistent temperatures, that yield high acidities and often 9 TA – 9.5 TAs before settling at around 7 TA when all is said and done. Whole bunch pressed with oxidative must handling then to barrel for 18 months in oak without SO2. Barrels were 225L size of which around 30% were new with the rest 2/3/4/5th fill.

The 2019 Chardonnay is a very serious contender for one of the top Chardonnays produced in South Africa along with a very small handful of obsessive producers. This Stellenbosch 2019 is full of power and focus with all the hallmark purity that Andrea Mullineux prides herself in. The aromatics are reminiscent of granitic river pebbles immersed in lemon cordial with a dusting of honey, toffee apples, lemon grass and dried baking herbs. Always brilliantly pure, crystalline and electric, the palate shows tremendous tension and linearity supported by astonishing fruit concentration and intensity. The balance and harmony are spellbinding, revealing sip after sip, the true pedigree of this wonderful Helderberg vineyard site in the hands of a masterful winemaker. Undoubtedly comparable to the very best Chardonnay expressions produced by Leeu Passant to date, this 2019 seems to pack an extra level of lemon and lime intensity making it already an incredibly appealing fine wine. Give this vintage at least three years from release in your cellar and then drink over 10+.

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

Leeu Passant Wellington Old Vine Basson Cinsault 2018, WO Wellington, 13% Abv.

This treasured dry-farmed Cinsault vineyard is the oldest certified red wine vineyard in South Africa, planted in circa 1900 and farmed by the Mullineuxs since 2014. One of the original Old Vine Project “Certified Heritage Vineyards” that has been held up as a shining beacon of education and preservation, these gnarled deep rooted old Cinsault bush vines are planted on deep, weathered sandy Table Mountain sandstone alluvial soils which yield wines deceptively light in colour but also impressively structured, taut and rich. Producing as little as 600 kilograms of fruit in 2015, the plot has now been nursed back to rude health enough to yield two tons of fruit in 2019.

This vineyard always shows plenty of structure, power and focus and the 2018 vintage is considered one of the most structured yet. In its current youthful state, the aromatics are distinctively stony and mineral but also fabulously perfumed showing notes of potpourri, lavender, bramble berries, fynbos and Turkish delight. The palate is incredibly precise and foursquare with a polished structure and frame you just don’t expect from such a delicately fragrant wine. The texture is dense and tightly packed, the wine concentrated and intense but also deceptively light on its feet revealing notes of cranberry, red cherry and wild strawberries on the finish all supported by the most powdery, silky tannins imaginable. A difficult wine even for me to put accurately into words because it is so evocative on both an emotional level as well as on a sensorial level. Drink this wine from release and over the next 30+ years. (Circa 1,800 bottles produced)

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

Leeu Passant Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon 2019, WO Stellenbosch, 13.5% Abv

Chris and Andrea experimented with over 20 different vineyards around Stellenbosch before they started to focus on five specific vineyards including two in the Helderberg, two in the Polkadraai Hills and one 40-year-old parcel in Firgrove close to False Bay. Three of these five vineyards already contribute fruit that goes into their flagship Leeu Passant Dry Red Blend together with components of the Lotter Cinsault, the Wellington Basson Cinsault and a splash of Cabernet Franc. The wine sees only 30% new oak with some extended maceration that changes from site to site with the older Firgrove vineyard seeing the longest maceration. With vines grown on a mix of alluvial soils and decomposed granite soils, the grapes produce a sleek, crystalline, elegant style of Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon that many say harks back to the golden age of Bordeaux’s finest old Clarets. The wines are aged for 12 months before being moved to larger 2000 and 5000 litre upright oak vats for another year of aging before spending several months in bottle before release.

The aromatics are wonderfully lifted and perfumed showing all the intricacies of cool climate Cabernet Sauvignon fruit. There is an intriguing piquant leafy spice that melts into notes of liquid minerality, granitic dust and graphite while underneath the mineral veil is a powerful depth of fruit held on a very short rein lest it bursts out the glass. There are seductive notes of violets, sweet cedary spice, saline black currant, hints of iodine and fresh kelp brought in on the morning’s tide. On the palate there is plenty of textural precision on display for all to see, confidently boasting layer upon layer of stony minerality, sweet cherry tobacco, cassis leaf, black tea, tilled earth and creamy dense powdery tannins. Fabulously old school on so many levels, this wine will undoubtedly age well and develop into something that harks back to the great old Clarets of times gone by. Drink from 2024 until 2040+

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

Leeu Passant Dry Red 2018, WO Western Cape, 14% Abv.

The impressive wine is formed of two old vine Cinsault blocks (Basson and Lotter), three Cabernet Sauvignon parcels and Cabernet Franc from the Helderberg. The 2018 is a blend of 63% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Cabernet Franc, 16% Cinsault (in 2018 mostly Basson and lesser amounts of the opulent Lotter), with the Basson Cinsault being whole bunch fermented. Some of the Cinsault is co-fermented with the 40+ year old Cabernet Sauvignon while the Cabernet Franc, planted in the early 1990s, if vinified separately. The Dry Red traditionally sees the components aged 12 months in 500 litre oak barrels separately before being blended and aged for another 12 months in large 2000-litre old oak foudre. The wine now also spends an extra year in bottle “because when it was released earlier, the Cinsault component seemed to dominate the style. Now with the extra 12 months in bottle it is a far more harmonious wine”, according to Chris Mullineux. Almost 10,000 bottles were produced in 2018 compared to circa 4,000 bottles in 2015, the maiden vintage.

My experience of tasting this wine has sometimes been somewhat of a challenge because in its early years, the individual components often seemed to intermittently compete with one another for aromatic and flavour dominance. The extra years ageing in bottle has been a game-changer. The wine is now so incredibly lifted and perfumed with a real melange of red currant, wild strawberry, pressed violets and vanilla pod spice bursting out the glass. There is such magnificent purity, precision and a real synergy that shines through the wine. The palate is incredibly dense, textured and luxuriously opulent, packed full of fleshy red cherry and cranberry pastille fruits, Turkish delight and red currant jelly. Perhaps it’s the vintage or perhaps it’s just the extra bottle age but this wine seems so much more complete with less obvious sapidity and spice and much more harmonious fleshy layers of red fruit and creamy, savoury tannins. This is an absolute triumph of a wine and a flagship vintage Dry Red that single-handedly announces the true ‘arrival’ of the entire Leeu Passant project. Drink this phenomenal wine on release and over the next 30+ years.

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

Tasting the New Release of Santorini’s Vassaltis Winery’s Assyrtiko 2019 – The Pocket Vintage…

The 2019 vintage in Santorini was described as the “pocket vintage” with circa 1,000 tons of grapes harvested on the island compared to the normal 3,000 tons. Fortunately, quality was high and new boutique producers like Vassaltis Winery, who have already established a very high quality track record, were able to source sufficient quantities of high quality old vine Assyrtiko.

For the vintage, owner and proprietor Yiannis Valambous stated that “our source vineyards in Vourvoulos yielded approximately 50% less than they did in 2018. Yields were approximately 6 hl/ha. It is scary, but it is what it is… on the upside, quality seems to be outstanding.” I recently tasted a bottle of the Vassaltis Black Label “estate” Assyrtiko and was suitably impressed.

Vassaltis Assyrtiko 2019, PDO Santorini, 14% Abv.

Summer is in the air and this new 2019 Assyrtiko from Yiannis Valambous is another serious benchmark Santorini white. With the island’s unique volcanic terroir and old vines, you always know there will be freshness combined with a concentration of flavour and minerality. This classical rendition speaks of Santorini’s maritime terroir with a fabulously complex nose of dusty basaltic minerality, crushed gravel, salted almonds, lemon bon bons and dried summer grasses. On the palate there is impressive purity and precision, a hallmark of all the Vassaltis wines that combine a palate tingling intensity of salty, briney zest, deliciously tangy acids and a remarkable palate breath that leaves a long lasting impression. Drink now and over 3-5 years.

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

Tasting the New Release Quinta do Noval Vintage Port 2019…

Equilibrium, harmony, finesse and elegance characterise the great Vintage Ports of Noval, which are declared only when they are certain that the year has produced a blend, however small, that is worthy of bearing the name of Quinta do Noval Vintage Port.

Noval always follows its own path in its approach to declaring Vintage Ports. If they believe that they have the wines of the right quality and personality to join the ranks of the Quinta do Noval Vintage Ports of previous years, they will bottle it and declare it, even if this means declaring several years in a row, and even if it means, as is often the case, bottling only a few hundred cases of Quinta do Noval Vintage Port, representing a tiny percentage of the total production of the Quinta. In the case of 2019, the selection of 2,780 cases represents just 14% of their production.

2019 was marked by a mild winter and generally dry conditions, with almost no rain from May to the end of August. While in many parts of Europe producers faced heat waves, and although the Douro Valley enjoyed prolonged sunny weather, summer temperatures were fortunately lower than usual this year, making the absence of rain easier to bear for the vines. Moreover, low humidity led to low disease pressure in the vineyards and beautifully healthy grapes. Harvest started on September 9th for the red varieties. Harvesting conditions were ideal, with moderate temperatures and overall dry weather. A small amount of helpful rain fell on September 21st-22nd and later between October 14th and 17th. Yields were slightly higher than their 10-year average and musts showed great natural acidity and freshness.

Quinta do Noval 2019 Vintage Port, 19.5% Abv.

100 g/l RS | 5.55 TA | 3.63 pH

Made from a fine selection of grapes including Touriga Nacional, Touriga Francesa, Tinto Cão, Sousão and Tinta Roriz sourced from 145 hectares over three large areas of vineyards allowed for a lot of flexibility at blending time, with the 2019 representing 13 different parcels that all add a unique character to the finished wine. Elegance and balance are the hallmarks and are all present in the 2019 in abundance. In many ways, the 2019 resembles the 2018 on steroids with just more profundity. Immediately attractive, deliciously forward and fresh, there is great finesse and balance in evidence with a silky, creamy texture and a youthful approachability. Gone are the old school grippy tannins of years gone by that used to be found on most young vintage Ports. Indeed the 2019 shows no less tannins and structure, just much more precision, purity, freshness and black fruit focus. (2,780 cases produced)

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

ALS – The Emergence of a New Extreme Terroir Dry White Wine from Santorini…

ALS is the exceptional new creation from three young Greek winemaking talents in Yiannis Papaoikonomou, Ilias Roussakis and Alexis Kolovos. Yiannis Papaoikonomou studied oenology in Athens before coming to Santorini in 2009 to work at Domaine Sigalas, where he worked as a vineyard manager (under the guidance of a consultant) and as an assistant winemaker. In 2013, Yiannis left Santorini to go to Chile (Vina Maquis), New Zealand (Oyster Bay) and France (Chapoutier) for further work experience and in 2015 he finally returned to Santorini to literally help build the Vassaltis Winery from scratch with Ilias Roussakis.

Ilias studied agronomy in Athens and oenology in Montpellier. He started to work in Santorini’s vineyards, working at Sigalas and Hatzidakis while he also worked at T-Oinos on the island of Tinos as chief oenologist. His broad based experience helped him to consult at wineries all around the Cycladic islands with great success. The third member of the team behind ALS is Alexis Kolovos, who originally studied agronomy and now works as a landscape architect all around the Cyclades. But his goal was always to manage a vineyard and finally with the ALS project, this has become a reality.

While sharing the same vision for Santorini’s terroir, there is also a strong friendship that connects the three ALS partners. In 2015, they finally got the opportunity to rent a vineyard in Imerovigli with a 25 year contract…. that you can find on Google maps at:

36.436530570174845, 25.423992561987845

The vineyard is 2,5ha and certainly wasn’t in a great condition when they took it on. Year after year, they started renting more vineyards and also started renting fields to convert into vineyards. They created a company which today runs 6,5ha of healthy, productive vineyards in Vourvoulos, Oia, Megalochori and Imerovigli.

While most of their grapes are now sold to wineries like Vassaltis, they just couldn’t resist the temptation to vinify a part of their own grape yields and so in 2018 they decided to make their first wine. With the help of their good friend Nikos Chatzakis, a fellow winemaker on the island of Syros, who agreed to host them and allow them to vinify ALS in a corner of his premises, their first pure Assyrtiko creation was born.

Selecting the only the very best clusters from every plant, they harvested their first grapes on the evening of the 19th of August 2018, loading a refrigerated truck before taking the ferry across to Syros. Four hours later they were pressing the Assyrtiko whole bunch grape clusters in a pneumatic press. They kept the juice in a tank for a day, with low temperatures to let it clarify a little and then racked the wine the following day. The juice was pumped gently into their small inox tank where the fermentation took place at 20-21 degrees centigrade with selected yeast. The wine stayed on its lees for 12 months with battonage for 4 months before being bottled on the 11th of July and spending an additional 16 months in the bottle before being released. The current release is still the 2018 but they also produced 1,300 bottles in 2019, 2020 and 2021. From 2022, they hope to increase their production quantity.


ALS Extreme Terroir Dry White Wine 2018, 14%, Greece

RS 2.5 | pH 2.97 | TA 6.8 | VA 0.4

This is certainly a unique expression of Assyrtiko unlike any other wines I have tasted from Santorini to date. With 12 months ageing on its lees in tank and a further 16 months ageing in bottle, the aromatics show complex layers of bruised yellow orchard fruits, bees wax, ripe pears, chamomile tea, briney sea breeze salinity and pronounced mineral nuances of crushed basalt and gravel. There are some truly alluring, dusty, leesy notes but the nose still retains impressive purity, focus and depth. The palate is broad, plump and quite glycerol with soft, creamy, spicy yellow fruits, green herbal tea nuances, spicy almonds and walnuts and then yet more savoury peachy, salty, briney maritime complexity. This certainly is a very impressive maiden release white wine with exceptional depth, palate concentration and a mellow, harmonious balance. The wine coats the palate and from the last swallow, the flavours resonate with leesy, savoury intensity and persistence for over a minute before the clean, soft acids bring the extravaganza to a final curtain call. An extraordinary creation. (Only 1,300 bottles were produced)

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

Kanonkop Paul Sauer 2018 – The New Release of This South African Icon Wine Reviewed…

With so many of South Africa’s top Cape Bordeaux Blends and Cabernet Sauvignon producers stepping up to the mark to produce their best wines ever across the 2015 and 2017 vintages, 2018 was always going to be under the spotlight to see if some of the magic of these previous vintages could be applied by winemakers to the benefit of the final wines.

Certainly, the winter rainfall was higher than the previous two winters but with irregular temperatures from winter until the flowering period, together with cool growing conditions, there were inevitably some variations in ripening across the Simonsberg vineyards. However, cooler weather and regular rain showers led to less water stress for the vines during the ripening period.

Having tasted most of the top 2018 Cape Bordeaux blends now, the signature style and characteristics of the vintage are becoming clearer and clearer – Very cool, precise wines with impressively glassy acid frames, silky powdery tannins, impressive fruit intensity but without the 2015’s inky dry extract or the 2017’s weightless fruit concentration. The 2018s are very attractive wines, more classically leaning with a little less exoticism but plenty of the traditional characteristics on the aromatics and palate that have made the wines so popular with French Bordeaux collectors and connoisseurs around the world.

The grapes for the 2018 Paul Sauer were fermented in open top concrete fermenters at 29 deg C with the floating skins being punched down by hand every 2 hours during fermentation. The juice was drawn off the skins after 5 days. After malolactic fermentation the wine was matured for 24 months in 100% new 225 litre French Nevers oak barriques.

With only 7,000 cases or 42,000 bottles produced, stake your marker in the allocation queue nice and early as this iconic wine seems to sell out faster and faster every year. This of course is the reward for a proven pedigree and quality track record.

Kanonkop Paul Sauer 2018, WO Simonsberg – Stellenbosch, 13.91% Abv.

2.4 g/l RS | 6.2 TA | 3.55 pH | 90 mg/l Total SO2 | 0.63 g/l VA

The 2018 Paul Sauer is a classical blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Franc from vines averaging 30 years of age grown on dryland vineyards of Decomposed Granite and Hutton and Clovelly soils. Vibrant and ruby / purple, the wine almost glows in the glass with inviting promise. At this youthful stage, the Cabernet Sauvignon component shines through strongly revealing a generally dark, broody, black fruited demeanour embellished with subtle notes of saline crème de cassis, star anise, lead pencil shavings, dried violets and signature nuances of freshly tilled earth, buttered brown toast and hints of breakfast espresso. In the mouth, the palate shows gorgeous elegance, purity and fruit focus with the most fine grained filigree tannins, soothingly generous black berry fruits and delicious mouth-watering acids. This wine is precision personified showing such effortless grace and harmony together with a measured power and intensity. The 2018 is certainly a very classically schooled expression that waltzes across the palate without ever putting a foot out of place. Like all truly great Bordeaux blends, this has the finesse and textural harmony to drink on release but also the intensity and gravitas to age effortlessly for 20 to 30+ years.

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