John Seccombe Fast Establishing his Thorne & Daughters Rocking Horse White Blend as One of the Best in the Cape – Tasting the 2020 Release…

Writing about and reviewing Cape White Blends has got to be one of my favourite pastimes. Why you may ask? Well, it’s all about the unique ability of the Cape producers to mix and match some truly expressive varieties to produce incredible wines that despite being a fruit salad of varieties, continue to display their own unique sense of terroir and place while producing wines of incredible quality with impressive age worthy credentials. Oh, and of course they are impossible to imitate and copy. Some countries like Chile and New Zealand have tried their hand at producing similar esoteric white blends but I think it’s safe to say none have gained an international following and quality reputation equal to any of the great brands from the Cape.

John Seccombe has been producing his unique Rocking Horse Cape White Blend since the 2013 vintage and every subsequent vintage seems to get more sophisticated and refined. As well as being one of the most exciting white blends in the Cape, it also represents incredible value for money, something that is becoming less and less common in the world of fine wine these days. This is most definitely a wine you would want in your cellar.

Thorne & Daughters Rocking Horse 2020 Cape White Blend, WO Western Cape, 13.5% Abv.

A complex blend of 35% Semillon from Franschhoek, 28% Roussanne from both Stellenbosch and the Paardeberg, 16% Chardonnay from the Ceres Plateau, 15% Chenin Blanc from the Paardeberg and 6% Clairette Blanche from the Swartland. The aromatics display a seductive melange of white peach, green pear, freshly squeezed lime, tangerine peel and delicate hints of roasted pistachio nuts. Still embryonic in its youth, the palate reveals impressive linearity and tension, a fresh acid frame and delicious lingering notes of green apple, savoury yellow orchard fruits and bees wax complexity. There is more an educated sense of intensity and concentration on the palate rather than an overt unctuousness. But everything points to a very impressive wine with a fabulous stony minerality and a classically harmonious finish. Drink now over a couple of days or bury in the cellar for 3 to 5 years minimum.

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

Naudé Family Wines Releases the Long-Awaited Old Vine Werfdans Cinsault 2016…

If Chenin Blanc has become Ian Naude’s white wine calling card, then there is no doubt whatsoever that Old Vine Cinsault is his red equivalent despite the cult following for his incredible Grenache wines. Ian Naudé was recently over in London to launch a comprehensive selection of his new vintage releases including his Platter 5 Star Langpad Colombard 2021, his Platter 5 Star Oupa Willem 2019 Cape Heritage Blend, his Grenache 2019, and of course his long awaited Old Vine Cinsault 2016.

This benchmark expression of Darling / Swartland Old Vine Cinsault has now been labelled the Werfdans, an Afrikaans name for the small dust whirlwinds that spin and dance around the dusty coastal vineyards of the Swartland. If you are not familiar with Ian Naude’s Old Vine Cinsault wines, be sure not to miss this new creation that rivals the greatest expressions produced in South Africa from the likes of Eben Sadie, Duncan Savage, Donovan Rall and Mullineux Family Wines’ Leeu Passant venture.

Naude Family Wines Werfdans Old Vine Cinsault 2016, WO Darling, 12.5% Abv.

The fruit for this 100% Darling 43+ year old vine Cinsault was sourced from the late Boetie van Reenen’s farm in the Swartland. While the 2014 vintage was a slow burner that sizzled invitingly until it finally exploded with exuberance after a few years in bottle, the 2015 release was and is a long-standing icon wine that came close to redefining premium Cinsault in South Africa. In the 2016, Ian Naudé has shifted into sixth gear, coaxing some of the most seductive textures and flavours out of his old vine fruit. The aromatics are positively brimming with marzipan, Turkish delight, dried coriander seeds, violets and rose petal perfume with a subtle kiss of lychee exoticism. On the palate the quality shift is witnessed in full focus with a beguiling combination of sweet seductive red berry fruits, harmoniously textured concentration and a long, full, persistent finish that simply crashes the senses mainframe and announces something very very special indeed. This certainly is next level seductive Cinsault quality from the old vine master himself. Drink the 2016 now and over the next 10+ years.

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

Available in the UK from Museum Wines, Handford Wines and Vino SA.

Stellenbosch’s Icon Warwick Winery Releases an Eye Catching New Old Vine Chenin Blanc 2019…

Warwick Winery is a key player in the premium South African wine landscape so when the Ratcliffe family sold the winery a few years ago, there was a lot of concern among wine lovers that the new American owners would push the brand in a more commercial direction and eventually compromise on range quality. However, one of the earliest reassuring signs of confidence was the appointment of JD Pretorius as head winemaker after the departure of the talented Nic van Aarde to Oldenburg Winery. So at least the winemaking would be in safe hands!

Roll on several years and the wines are thankfully as good as they ever were with even more premium raw material available to JD from their Simonsberg neighbour, the Uitkyk winery, which was also purchased by Warwick’s new owners. Most impressively, the new releases of the ‘classic wines’ at Warwick including the Trilogy red Cape Bordeaux blend, the Blue Lady Cabernet Sauvignon and their excellent Cabernet Franc are all superb and firing on all cylinders. But exciting new labels have also been created like the impressive Professor Black Pitch Black red blend as well as a new release Chenin Blanc made from old vines situated on the Uitkyk estate.

Made from a single vineyard Chenin Blanc planted in 1978 on the lower slopes of the Simonsberg, these lovely old bush vines yielded a small harvest of exceptionally high-quality fruit coaxed to perfection by winemaker JD Pretorius. The Grapes were handpicked in the cool early morning and then whole bunch pressed with the juice being allowed to clarify naturally before fermentation took place in 400 litre French oak barrels. After fermentation, the barrels were rolled once a month for nine months before blending in January 2020 and bottling in February 2020.

Warwick Old Vine Single Vineyard Chenin Blanc 2019, WO Simonsberg-Stellenbosch, 13.5% Abv.

1.65g/l RS | 5.73 TA | 3.38pH

This Chenin Blanc made from grapes planted in 1978 shows expressive and nuanced aromatics boasting layers of pear puree, wet straw, honied white peaches and a compelling stony minerality. On the palate, the wine reveals an explosive depth of fruit, rich glycerol layers of tangy tangerine glacé and candied yellow fruits, quince, and honied yellow plum. There is plenty of showy breadth and depth but it’s the intensity of the old vine fruit that
really impresses most. This is top drawer quality and a delightful addition to a very accomplished range of Warwick Wines. Drink on release or bury in the cellar for 10 to 12+ years.

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

New Release Review – Tasting the Rueda Family Wines Carignan 2021 from Wellington…

Carignan is a red grape variety of Spanish origin that is more commonly found in French wine but is widely planted throughout the western Mediterranean in the Languedoc-Roussillon, Sardinia, and Catalonia. Carignan (also known as Mazuelo, Cariñena, Carinyena, Samsó, Carignane, and Carignano) is believed to have originated in Carinena, Aragon, Spain and was later transplanted to Sardinia, elsewhere in Italy, France, Algeria, and much of the New World. Carignan is a late budding and ripening grape which requires a warm climate in order to achieve full physiological ripeness making countries like South Africa suitable bedfellows for quality grape growing.

The fruit for this small boutique wine is sourced from 22-year-old Carignan vines nestled in a picturesque valley in Wellington, Western Cape. The wine was made with a minimal intervention philosophy employing a light cap management and eight to ten days of skin maceration with manual punch downs and pump overs. Thereafter, the wine spent eight months in old oak barrels and was bottled in September 2021 using only small amounts of sulphur. Total production was a mere 800 bottles.

Rueda Family Wines Torero and the Suit of Lights Carignan 2021, WO Wellington. 12.5% Abv.

1.94g/l RS | 6.89g/l TA | 3.43pH

A very individual expression of Carignan that shows a touch of spicy, flinty reduction over sea breeze, dried kelp, salty cassis, sour black plum and exotic complexing layers of graphite and crushed granite minerality. The palate is cool, penetrating but impressively punchy with zippy intense glassy acids, more sour black plum, tart spiced cranberry notes and a linear mouthfeel of intelligently early picked fruit. An accomplished, well-made wine that is ready to drink now after a short decant or good to cellar for another 5 to 8+ years. This is artisanal winemaking done very well. If you are a lover of Rhone varieties, snap up a case of this new release with confidence.

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

Available in South Africa from www.ruedawine.com for circa R295 per bottle (£14). Contact fernando@ruedawine.com

Steady As She Goes – Tasting the New Forrester Meinert FMC Chenin Blanc 2020…

More than two decades on since the maiden vintage release of the FMC which was labelled as the Meinert Scholtzenhof Grande Chenin 2000, the 2020 is about to be released onto the market. Always a wine with a very distinctive personality, premium quality concentration and more often than not a subtle complexing hint of botrytis characteristics together with a hint of residual sugar, the FMC is a striking expression of Chenin Blanc that has earned itself a massive global following.

Produced primarily from a vineyard planted in 1974 with no trellis system, the vines are grown in the goblet method or as bush vines, with the vineyard producing very limited yields which are picked over multiple tries, with pickers passing through the vineyard 7 to 8 times over a 4-to-5-week window. The wine is then fermented with natural yeasts in large 400 litre French oak barrels and aged for 10 to 12 months before another barrel selection chooses the best lots for the final assemblage.

Ken Forrester Wines FMC Chenin Blanc 2020, WO Stellenbosch, 13% Abv.

6.1g/l TA | 9.4g/l RS | 3.67pH

Another bold and distinctive Chenin Blanc that shows a confident, rich, exotic bouquet of honey on warm buttered white toast, honeysuckle scents, apricot preserve and crystalised tangerine peel. On the palate there is a ripe glycerol mouthfeel that is simply bursting with sweet lemon and white citrus notes, green mango, papaya, quince and pithy orange marmalade. In true FMC style, the wine delivers some incredibly audacious flavours and complexity with a wonderfully viscous mouthfeel intricately balanced by fresh tangy acids, honied apricots, brioche and orange blossom nuances. The finish is intense and generous but also fresh and dry despite the wine’s hallmark RS. This is yet another benchmark Chenin Blanc effort from Ken Forrester Wines. Drink now and over the next 5 to 8+ years.

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

Napa Valley’s Icon Estate Diamond Creek Release their New 2019 Trio of Reds…

Diamond Creek produces Single-Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignons from their unique terroirs on Napa Valley’s Diamond Mountain. Produced with 100% estate-grown fruit, Gravelly Meadow, Red Rock Terrace and Volcanic Hill each express their geologically diverse micro sites whilst creating wonderfully complex and long-lived wines.

The 2019 vintage had a smaller crop than 2018 allowing the wines to perhaps show a little more concentration and depth from the lower resulting yields. The 2019 wines were still made and blended by previous owner Phil Ross but finished off and bottled by current winemaker Graham Wehmeier working under the new ownership.

Zoom tasting with winemaker Graham Wehmeier

The 2019 growing season offered excellent conditions with parallels in quality to the 2018 vintage with one exception – lower than expected yields. 2019 was also the first fully organic vintage for the estate. In 2018, the estate harvested 50 tons of grapes and in 2019, only 40 tons. A mild, wet spring led into a long summer of steady ripening. 2019 saw long hang times and a steady increase in phenolic ripeness. Selective hand picking began in early October followed by careful sorting and winemaking.

Diamond Creek Gravelly Meadow 2019, Napa Valley, 14.6% Abv.

78% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot, 2% Malbec and 1% Cabernet Franc.

Gravelly sandy based soils with the lowest yields shows a fabulously deep black opaque black cherry colour and seductive aromatics of sweet black berry, black currant, melted liquorice, crushed basalt, graphite and a pinch of sweet cinnamon oak spice.

On the palate, the impressive fruit concentration and depth is matched by stony, grippy mineral tannins, lashings of more salty black liquorice, blueberry spice and a rich vein of black currant and caramel cream intensity. A wine with lovely focused power, a sympathetic harmony, textural symmetry and plenty of generosity. Just Awesome.

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

Diamond Creek Red Rock Terrace 2019, Napa Valley, 14.5% Abv.

75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot, 4% Malbec and 1% Cabernet Franc.

Red iron soils yield a rich, opulent expressive nose of blueberry, red plum, mulberry, cassis, salty red liquorice and subtle iron filing wafts. There is a brighter, more fragrant red fruited feel to the steeply terraced fruit which naturally receives less direct sunlight.

The palate too is a picture of elegance and restraint with cool elegant layers of spicy red and black berry fruits, spicy red plum, hints of graphite, crème brûlée and buttered brown toast smothered in red currant jam. The tannins are subtly drying and sophisticated but lifted up by a wonderfully fresh frame of vivacious acids. Another beautiful expression of Cabernet Sauvignon.

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

Diamond Creek Volcanic Hill 2019, Napa Valley, 14.5% Abv.

76% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Merlot, 7% Malbec and 3% Petit Verdot.

This south-facing hillside terraced vineyard with its grey ashy volcanic sandy soils yields another big, bold expression with a suitably dark black opaque colour. But there is nothing broody about the wine’s aromatics that burst out the glass with notes of gingerbread, saline black currant, melted tar, stewed black cherries, camphor and hints of graphite.

The palate is focused and powerful with a big concentration of creamy black and blue berry fruits, very fine grained, stern, mineral graphite tannins and an incredibly compact, precise yet generous mouthfeel. Lovely balance and seductive power. A real WOW wine!

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

New Release Tasting – Assessing the New Quinta do Vale Meao Tinto 2019…

The 2019 Douro vintage was among the longest in recent years, lasting up to six weeks, from the first week of September to mid-October. For many wine producers, yields were closer to average following the exceptionally small years of 2017 and 2018. Few estates in the Douro have managed to build up such an impressive reputation as Quinta do Vale Meao and recent vintages have all been received with high critical acclaim.

The grapes for this immense estate wine come from a vineyard steeped in history and with the blending of only the best Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Touriga Franca, Barroca, and Tinto Cao, winemaker Xito Olazabal has turned this wine into a flag bearer for the Douro and Portugal. The Olazabal family, proud owners and descendants of the founder, Antonia Adelaide Ferreira, are now writing a significant chapter for this iconic estate and the region. Since 1998, Xito Olazabal has been working hard to understand the estate’s complex palette of grapes and terroirs and with his growing experience, skill, and attention to detail, the best out of the estate-grown grapes planted by soil type – alluvial, granite, and schist – are all fermented and aged separately. The resultant wines are then blended together, with different proportions each year, to best represent the estate’s overall terroir and each vintage’s individual character.

Quinto do Vale Meao Tinto 2019, Douro, 14% Abv.

2019 was a lauded vintage across many regions of Europe and this new resplendent expression of the Vale Meao tinto certainly displays wonderfully complex aromatics of pressed violets, sappy black currant, bramble berry spice, vanilla pod and an imposingly pronounced underlying minerality of graphite and crushed granite. The palate is incredibly focused and pinpoint with firm polished marble tannins, yet also weightless layers of black and blueberry fruit concentration all packaged and presented so meticulously. There is a delicious concentration and certainly no over ripe flavours but also a thrilling freshness to keep the whole palate texture glassy and sleek. The finish is stony, mineral and very serious suggesting that this wine could be one of the estate’s more age worthy examples. Drink from 2024 to 2040+.

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

Naude Family Wines Releases the Follow-up Vintage of the Ground-Breaking Langpad Old Vine Colombard 2021…

Sometimes, consumer trends are set by the new kids on the block… like Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc. But when you learn that varieties like Colombard have been planted in the Cape since the early 1700’s, you realise that maybe we should all be taking another look at the potential of some of these latter-day unsung hero varieties. This is exactly what Ian Naude has been doing with a wonderful old vine Colombard vineyard planted in the Vredendal area in 1983.

Grown on soils that are almost 100% sand where flood irrigation is still the order of the day, the grapes were picked into small crates and then whole bunch pressed before undergoing natural fermentation after around three days maceration. Thereafter, the wine was kept on its fine lees for as long as possible to develop extra aromatic and textural complexity before being bottled as naturally as possible.

Picking up the reins of an established variety is one thing, but doing so with a complete outsider grape that has hardly ever been considered good enough for anything other than brandy distillation is another. Yet again, the maverick old vine innovator Ian Naude has struck a rich seam of vinous gold with his mouth-watering Langpad Colomard.

Naude Family Wines Old Vines Langpad Colombard 2021, WO Western Cape, 12% Abv.

1.3 g/l RS | 6.1 g/l TA | 3.3 pH

This second vintage of Naude’s old vine Colombard is something very special. Whether it’s all down to vintage quality or Ian’s swift mastering of this new grape in his repertoire I don’t know. The aromatics are positively explosive with rich intense notes of green apple pastille, crunchy white peaches, pear puree, dried herbs, wet hay and a seductive rich seam of cream soda. On the palate, there seems to be even more concentration and flavour intensity than the impressive maiden 2020 with these happy old vines spinning their spellbinding magic and delivering a wine with layer upon layer of enchanting peachy fruit, seductive hints of ripe guava, pear, quince and an underlying basaltic stony minerality that combines with a pronounced maritime salinity and a bright tart freshness. It is perhaps the almost volcanic feel to the minerality that makes many fans suggest that this wine reminds them of an old vine Assyrtiko wine from the Greek island of Santorini. Cool, crystalline and intense, this pristine white leaves little to the imagination and smothers the senses in pure, crystalline West Coast pleasure. Drink now on release or age for 5 to 8+ years.

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

Wines available in the UK from Museum Wines, Handford Wines and Vino SA.

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!