The Unicorn Whisperer at Work – Tasting the López de Heredia Vina Tondonia Reserva Blanco 2004…

It’s always an exciting moment when one gets to drink a new release of Vina Tondonia and even more so when the colour is white! While the 2004 Reserva Blanco was released back in 2017, this was my first opportunity to leisurely drink a bottle of this delicious unicorn nectar.

Tondonia is of course the hottest topic at the moment with the long awaited new release Vina Tondonia Reserva Rosado 2008 finally released into the UK in April 2018. Very little Rosado will be made available but at least there should be around 35,000 bottles of the Reserva Blanco 2004 produced. Buy it while you can!

Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Reserva Blanco 2004, 12.5 Abv.

The delicious 2004 Reserva Blanco seemed to creep onto the market in 2017 under the radar of thirsty buyers probably due to its impossible rarity. Differentiated with the Gravonia Crianza Blanco by 10% of very old Malvasía Riojana, the Reserva 2004 is a complex, intense, sophisticated expression that was fermented in 140 year old oak vats with natural yeasts, where it also underwent malolactic fermentation. The aromatics are packed with dried peaches, herbal peach tea, earl grey bergamot notes and melted honey on warm white toast. Few wines are as evocative and beguiling as white Rioja from Vina Tondonia. The palate is rich and nuanced but at no point does it show overt oak characters. Instead, it just unleashes wave upon wave of honied yellow orchard fruits, tea leaves, lemon cordial, dried guava roll, lemon grass and pungent ginger spice notes framed by vibrantly fresh acids. This is another incredibly strong performance by a Tondonia blanco reinforcing its status as one of the ultimate unicorn white wines.

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

Chateau Musar 2010 – A Vinous Collector’s Piece in the Making…

2010 was a year to remember in Lebanese wine-making history. Even from January it was obvious that this year would be lacking in water as snow fell only once on the 17th January (it was the shortest ski season ever!) and rainfall stopped on the 23rd February.

March was so hot that the vines began to blossom in early April and in May and June the vines were so vigorous and green following successful flowering, that Musar thought they would have the biggest harvest ever. However in mid-July things began to change and the temperature rose dramatically. A heat-wave hit Lebanon which lasted for about 23 days with an average daily temperature of 40 °C and the highest ever temperature in the Bekaa Valley was recorded at 48.5° C.

The grapes didn’t mature, they dried, as water disappeared from the grapes causing high sugar concentration. Cinsault and Carignan were less affected by this heat-wave than the Cabernet Sauvignon which suffered the most – dried grapes with high sugar content, high acidity and unfortunately the estate lost approximately 45% of their Cabernet Sauvignon this year.

The Musar winery north of Beirut just off the road to Byblos.

Fermentation began normally but Musar took the decision for the first time to ferment between 26 and 28 ° C to give the natural yeasts the ability to finish fermentation because of the high sugar content but mainly to preserve the fruity aromas that they were worried the wines may lack due to the heat-wave affecting the grape skins, where the esters responsible for aromas exist.

All in all, this extreme prolonged heat-wave resulted in a significant loss of grapes this year and the Chateau Musar Red 2010 will be sold globally exclusively on an allocation basis. Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault and Carignan were blended in 2012 after having spent a year in untoasted French Nevers barrels and this vintage was bottled in the summer of 2013.

Chateau Musar 2010, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, 13.5 Abv.

For a wine from a supposedly warm, dry vintage, this beautiful expression shows incredible precision, purity and focus. The 2010 has a compelling nose reminiscent of a youthful Cru Nebbiolo blended with 10 year old Grand Cru Cotes de Nuits Pinot Noir. There are wonderfully complex aromatic notes of cherry kirsch liquor, tar and roses, sweet earthy forest fruits, hints of balsamic, sun dried cherries, frais des Boisses and a subtle complexing note of freshly polished mahogany. The most intriguing aspect of this wine is it’s incredible focus, piercing palate freshness, medium bodied freshly weight allied with incredibly fine harmonious sweet chalky tannins. With the heavenly fruit purity of the finest Musar vintages married to the elegance of a more suave, feminine, seductive vintage, this 2010 is sure to be noted as one of the most lithe, elegant, attractive expressions from the Bekaa in more than a decade. Drink this beauty now or cellar for 15+ years.

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

Another Sensational Run of Boutique Wines from Carsten Migliarina – Tasting His Impressive New Releases…

I recently caught up with winemaker Carsten Migliarina to taste through his new releases. Always working on a variety of different wines that usually includes a Grenache and a Syrah, Carsten also normally has at least one new one-off boutique experimental bottling on the go at any time. One year it may be a dry Riesling, this year it’s a fabulous Pinot Gris. Most impressively, the quality across the board is of such a high standard that when Carsten talks about tweaking a wine to improve it, it means no more than freshening up the label!

But sommelier turned winemaker Carsten also manages to consistently capture and bottle such impressive varietal purity and typicity that I can only put this down to his hidden Germanic subconscious that unrelentingly demands absolute precision without loosing any excitement, character or drinkability. Cartsten’s newest releases once again follow this characterisation and are definitely worth tracking down on release as almost 70% of his wines are exported globally.

Pinot Gris 2017 Grey Matters, WO Stellenbosch, 13.9 Abv.

50% Barrel fermented – wild, 50% Tank – wild and inoculated. Just 2,500 bottles. Cool, vibrant, super fresh style. Loaded with crystalline white peach, green apple and cream soda but with extra complex spicy pithy aromatics from 30 mins skin contact in the rolling press. There is very little tooty fruity frivolity but more mineral lemon and lime intensity and incredibly fine purity. Great balance and impressive intensity, this is a fabulous expression of this rare variety in SA!

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

Chenin Blanc 2017, WO Stellenbosch, 13.1 Abv.

Just 2,500 bottles produced. Roughly 35 year old vines from a single vineyard, 100% barrel fermented with older shaven oak. Wild yeast ferment. An intense nose with lemon biscuit, vanilla pod spice and dusty yellow apples, aniseed and pineapple confit. Beautifully textured, massive concentration of apple pastille, pink musk, white peach, dusty talc minerality and exotic quince and yellow citrus depth. A classic cool style signature Migliarina wine that when you open it, it’s hard to stop until the bottle is finished. This is very special and very impressive.

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

Chardonnay Single Vineyard 2016, 13.5 Abv. WO Elgin

2,500 bottles produced. Barrel fermented, 35% new oak from France, Romania, Hungary and USA. A beautifully sleek fine Chardonnay with great breadth and depth and superb complexity. Nose is multi-dimensional with creamy vanilla pod, lemon biscuits, creme brûlée and toffee able with 14 months in oak with no malo. Expert oak interaction, beautiful acidity and chalky minerality that doesn’t seek to be bludgeoned to death with oak. This Elgin fruit screams cooler climate, minerality, subtlety with no fining and no filtration. Lovely lime cordial tension, linearity and a long, harmonious, classical finish. A supremely distinguished effort.

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

Grenache 2017, WO Wellington, 13.5 Abv.

100% Varietal Grenache, single vineyard aged 7 months in shaven oak, untoasted. Inoculated, whole berry, destemmed, cold fermented (max 13 to 20 deg) taking 3 weeks to finish fermentation. Incredibly pretty wine with fragrant raspberry, strawberry, red cherry perfume notes with an almost Cinsault-like Turkish delight, marzipan, parma violets and blood orange lift. Carsten’s mantra is not to “spoil” the wine with too much savoury sappy spice and oak, hence no whole bunch and the obsessive focus on purity, precision and perfume. The saline, cassis, oyster shell notes are incredible. A profound expression.

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

Parquet 2016 Syrah – Carignan – Grenache, 13.5 Abv.

84% Syrah, 7% Carignan, 9% Grenache. Syrah 8 to 10 weeks on skins, 2017 Grenache blended in. One barrel of Swartland Carignan 2016. Beautiful dark, alluring wine with sweet black pepper corns, savoury cured meats, black berry spice, black olive and black plum style that eventually meanders back to brightness and purity with the use of the 2017 Grenache addition. Another crystalline style, total focus and purity, with component parts beautifully pieced together. So cool, pure and fresh, with great precision that is a manifestation of Carstens own personality. Lovely wine.

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

Syrah 2015 WO Stellenbosch, 13 Abv.

10 weeks on the skins. 14 months in old oak, inoculated, unfined, unfiltered, destalked, destemmed, with initially whole berry cold fermentation in tank allowing malo on skins in tank. Pure Helderberg expression with delicious blackberry, iodine, coriander and lavender and subtle hints of fraise des bois. A medium bodied, classical old world European style wine with subtle restrained fruit, black berry salinity, some accessibility in young but embroidered with complex mineral pithy tannins and a fresh linear finish. Still taut, broody and tight, the finish will become naturally embellished with extra time in bottle. A great vintage and a very serious, “adults only” top shelf effort.

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

The Young Gun Still Blazing – Tasting the Alheit Family Cartology 2017…

As most producers are getting ready to press their 2018 grapes post fermentation, I’ve been tasting the incredible offerings from Chris Alheit. Still a leading light in South Africa, look no further than Dreyfus Ashby for an allocation of Chris’s incredible Cartology white blend. A Cape legend!

Alheit Family Vineyards Cartology 2017

Big expectations as ever and this blend does not disappoint. Big, broad expansive yellow orchard fruit aromatics, subtle yellow blossom and then an overriding dusty gravel quarry minerality. The palate shows amazing depth, typical Alheit pineapple fruit pastille concentration, lemon grass and an incredible saline, grassy, herbal pithy length. Another epic effort from Butch. Drink 2019-2038+

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

Andrea Mullineux – The Latest Cape Winemakers Guild Superstar…

The Cape Wine Makers Guild represents innovation, benchmarking and the sharing of knowledge spanning over thirty three years of winemaking excellence. The Guild, an association of some of South Africa’s finest winemakers, has evolved into a body of 49 members who jointly represent the pinnacle of South African winemaking.

So of course, when I recently hooked up with Chris and Andrea Mullineux at their Roundstone farm, no prizes for guessing which unicorn bottle I liberated out of their cellar!!🍷

Cape Winemakers Guild Andrea Mullineux Leeu Passant Old Vine Cinsault 2015, WO Franschhoek, 13.5 Abv. 

A beautiful expression from this 91 year old vineyard in Franschhoek. Andrea affords this grand old vineyard its due respect handling the fruit in a more serious crushed berry whole bunch style instead of a whole bunch carbonique style. Broad and texturally very complex, the wine unfurls in layers of sweet cherry, Turkish delight, marzipan and sappy oak spice. Full and distinguished, this medium bodied wine is an expertly crafted, supremely elegant version of Cinsault that turns a touch more serious and tannic on the firm, focused finish. Superb poise, impressive refinement and very precise and self assured. What else would you expect from Andrea Mullineux? Give it a year or 5 in bottle and drink over 20+.

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

Reinventing The Original Cape Red Blend – Tasting the New Mullineux and Leeu Family Wines Leeu Passant 2016 Dry Red Release…

I recently caught up with Swartland rock star wine couple Chris and Andrea Mullineux at their Roundstone farm to taste their new Leeu Passant releases. Of all the new wine brands released on to the South African and international wine market of late, few have generated as much discussion and debate as the Leeu Passant Dry Cape Red.

Too much of this discussion has perhaps superficially centred around the wine’s ultra premium pricing of £95-£100 per bottle and whether this pricing is merited instead of around the wine’s exceptional quality, its old vine fruit sources and it’s philosophical interpretation of a wine style synonymous with the early years of the 20th century Cape wine industry.

But new innovative wines that push the boundaries usually make easy targets for wine trade sceptics. It is without doubt the success of wines like this that will open new doors and pathways to financial viability and success for the whole of the South African wine industry. In the meantime, indulge yourself and savour some true precision winemaking with the Leeu Passant Dry Red.

Leeu Passant Dry Red Wines 2016, WO Western Cape, 14 Abv.

A blend of 36% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Cabernet Franc and 31% Cinsault using 100% whole bunch for the Cabernet Franc and Cinsault portions. 100% new oak was used for the Cabernet Franc fermentation. Lifted and aromatic, this wine initially displays a pronounced sweet leaf, red currant, cedar and red berry fruit character. Intensely focused concentration from low yields and super small berries in 2016 makes for a wine brimming with overt notes of earl grey tea, bergamot spice, pithy citrus peel, spicy red bramble berries and a broody, earthy red currant depth. A fine wine with ample structure and seriousness, impressive minerality, precision and power. This red will certainly be a great keeper that’s destined for many a collectors’ cellar. Hats off to Chris and Andrea Mullineux for succeeding in creating yet another collectable vinous gem in only year two of this new project. Drink on release if you are flamboyant, drink after 10 years if you are patient, and drink after 30+ if you are youthful and have time on your side.

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

New Wines and New Horizons – Tasting Christelle Guibert’s Tierra del Itata Muscat Orange Wine 2016…

I have been very fortunate to have shared a friendship with Christelle Guibert for almost two decades. Her sterling work at Decanter Magazine and at the Decanter World Wine Awards as Tasting Director has helped elevate these two entities for many years. Christelle recently announced that she will be moving on to newer, greener pastures just over the proverbial bridge. I just hope her new travails and new role allow her time to continue with her secret double life as a vigneron / winemaker.

Indeed, few outside the wine trade know that Loire originating Christelle owns, grows and makes fabulous white wines in Muscadet under her Vine Revival Terre de Gneiss label with the help of vigneron Vincent Caille. The vines are situated in the village of Monnieres, where the fruit is vinified using biodynamic principles, hand harvested and fermented in an egg. But there is none this year due to adverse weather conditions so Christelle has moved her attentions temporarily to producing a fabulous Muscat orange wine made from 150 year old vines in the Itata Valley in Chile. With the valuable assistance of Leo Erazo, 2000 bottles of the maiden 2016 vintage were produced.

This is a unique, delicious, characterful wine that reminds me of some of the finest natural style skin contact white wines made from Zebbibo (Muscat) in northern Italy. The grapes are organicly grown in bush vines on steep granitic hill side vineyards and are ungrafted and dry-farmed. The wine spent 42 days on its skins in concrete spherical shaped tanks. Only natural yeasts were employed and the wine was bottled bone dry, unfiltered. Stylistically, I would even go as far as to say this is one of the best dry orange wine Muscats I have ever tasted. Track this rare unicorn down quickly before it’s all gone. 🇫🇷 🍷 🇨🇱

Christelle Guibert Tierra del Itata Muscat Orange Wine 2016, 13 Abv. Chile

Seductive dark yellow straw colour, there is a slight haze to remind you of this wine’s natural, minimalist winemaking aspirations. Raised in a concrete sphere, the nose is reminiscent of the most seductive Zebbibo wines, positively overflowing with sweet quince, rose water, lychees, barley sugar, Thai basil, marzipan and pithy new season bitter marmalade on buttered brown toast. The amazing depth and complexity follows to the palate that is full bodied, intensely concentrated, superbly fresh with a vibrant acidity and a piquant, sweet / sour peachy depth. The key to this wine remains its mouth watering freshness allied to its pithy, bone dry liquid mineral finish. Once again, this is a triumph of old vine fruit intensity and passionate artisanal winemaking. Drink now and over the next 3 to 5+ years.

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