David & Nadia Wines Producing Grand Cru Quality Chenin Blancs in South Africa…

I’ve written a number of articles and been involved in numerous discussions about Chenin Blanc and whether or not it might just be the only grape out there that can truly rival the greatness, diversity of styles, ageability and collectabity of Chardonnay. To my surprise, I am yet to be berated by any journalists, wine commentators or consumers for making such assertions.

While my belief is not restricted solely to South African expressions, it is certainly solidified by the premium quality of wines now being produced by a multitude of top drawer wineries in the Cape. One such winery is David & Nadia run by David Sadie (no relation to Eben Sadie). David was born and bred in the Swartland and studied viticulture and oenology at the University of Stellenbosch. It was there that he met and later married Nadia, a qualified soil scientist and viticulturalist. Together, they have crafted some of the most profound wines coming out of South Africa including the fabulous Skaliekop and Hoe Steen single vineyard Chenin Blancs.

David & Nadia sell around 30% of their wines to the local market with 70% exported around the world. David says that their philosophy is simple… “they are just trying to be honest with every vintage” using 25 hectares of vineyards of which they farm 16 of those hectares. The 2016 yields were the lowest recorded to date until the 2018 vintage which marked the fourth consecutive year of drought in the Western Cape.

David Sadie tasting with UK wine critic Jancis Robinson MW OBE… who appears to be enjoying his wines!

The 2018 harvest saw a 90% loss of yield, certainly conditions not seen in the Swartland since a drought cycle in the 1960s. With the help of Andre Bruyns, their assistant winemaker, they tried to alleviate conditions with what David calls “biological wine making” – not specifically organic or biodynamic, but often incorporating best practices from both philosophies.

In the last three years since 2016 they have invested heavily in Grenache, trying to plant at least a hectare per year, a variety closer to David’s long term vision and hopefully leading to single vineyard cuvees in future. David has planted old clones normally used for bulk production as they appear to work well in the dry land conditions of the Swartland. Grenache is certainly seen as the future red variety for the winery as opposed to the Swartland stalwart Syrah.

The stellar 2017 vintage is often compared to the excellent 2015, where producers did not experience the heat spikes seen in 2016, but was certainly an exciting vintage to taste alongside expressions going back to 2014.

Mixed Flight:

David & Nadia Chenin Blanc 2017, 13 Abv.

From seven different vineyards with one new addition planted in the 1960s. Cool restrained nose of fresh straw, white citrus, pineapple pastille and peach pips. Spent a year in old oak without imparting any oak character but enhancing the textural breadth of the wine. Palate shows impressive fleshy concentration, bristling acids and delicious sweet pineapple, pear puree, granitic minerality and a long, intense, persistent finish.

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

David & Nadia Aristagos 2017, 13 Abv.

A blend of 58% Chenin, 14% Viognier, 13% Clairette Blanche, 7% Semillon, 5% Roussanne, and 3% Marsanne and shows a wonderfully complex aromatic profile with orange blossom, fresh hay, yellow citrus, waxy peaches, incense and yellow peaches. Massive breadth and depth, full of vibrance, spicy yellow orchard fruits, marzipan and a sleek, linear granite and salty pineapple finish.

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

David & Nadia Hoe Steen Chenin Blanc 2017, 13 Abv.

Famously including some sparsely interplanted Crouchen Blanc, Palomino, Semillon, Muscat and False Pedro adding extra complexity when all harvested together. Rich and textured, opulent and plush with great waxy, yellow fruit aromatics, tangerine, naartjie peel, pineapple, yellow apples and dusty minerality. Pithy, piquant and packed full of mineral spice. Plenty of power and impressive brawn and concentration.

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

David & Nadia Skaliekop Chenin Blanc 2017, 12.5 Abv.

From vines planted on shale soils in 1985. A complex melange of waxy yellow fruits, incense, lanolin, marzipan and greengage plum fruits. Searing bright acids enliven the palate that shows vibrant concentration, hints of soap stone, white pepper and yellow orchard fruits. So pure, so precise and wonderfully elegant with a delicious tangy pear drop finish.

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

David & Nadia Topography Semillon 2017, 11 Abv.

Siebritskloof fruit made 100% in stainless but finished off with 12 months in old big foudre. Shows obvious green apple, green peppercorn, lanolin, pithy granitic mineral spice. Wonderful freshness, fine balance and a real stony, dusty depth with hints of lemon sherbet, crunchy pear and tart green apple. Really delicious expression.

(Wine Safari Score: 91+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Red Flight:

David & Nadia Grenache 2017, 13 Abv.

Up to 50% whole bunch with four months ageing on its skins finished off with 12 months in old 500 litre oak barrels. 70% loss of yields in the vintage lead to an intensely focused, perfumed spicy red Grenache brimming with rose petals, violets and cherry blossom and multiple layers of red cherry and cranberry fruits. The palate is sleek, cool, ultra pure and bright with such elegance, crystalline red cherry and a slightly dry, gritty tannin grip on the finish. Wonderful allure and fleshy mineral depth. A super pretty but serious effort.

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

David & Nadia Elpidios 2016, 13 Abv.

34% Carignan, 33% Syrah, 14% Cinsault, 14% Pinotage, 5% Grenache. Lovely smokey melange of reds and black berry fruits, sweet plum, raisined cranberry and granitic spice. Wonderfully integrated, harmonious and balanced with impressive spiced complexity.

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

David & Nadia Topography Pinotage 2017, 12 Abv.

Spent 21 days on skins with a lot of whole berries. Lovely elegant pure aromatics of oak spice, marzipan, Turkish delight and an almost Cinsault styled finesse and perfumed complexity. Super fine texture, subtlety and elegantly fleshy but fresh, rounded and wonderfully cool and saline with plenty of red and black berry fruits, pithy spice and fine granitic powdery grippy tannins. Very impressive expression.

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

Vintage Flight: David & Nadia Skaliekop Chenin Blanc Single Vineyard

David & Nadia Skaliekop Chenin Blanc 2016, 13 Abv.

Creamy, rich and opulent expression, touch of sweet & sour, pineapple pastille, liquid minerality, sweet lemon cordial and piercing yellow citrus. Lovely power, flesh, and sumptuous hedonism.

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

David & Nadia Skaliekop Chenin Blanc 2015, 14 Abv.

Surprisingly quite closed and restrained. Taut and mineral. Granite and slate, white citrus and spicy nuances with touches of straw, thatch, herbs and lemon confit and a subtle, linear finish. Closed for business.

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

David & Nadia Skaliekop Chenin Blanc 2014, 13.5 Abv.

Rich expressive nose with dusty granitic spice, stony minerality, yellow orchard fruits, waxy green apples and subtle exotic vanilla pod finish. Lovely elegance, harmonious concentration and fruit intensity but certainly quite subtle and softly spoken expression.

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

Vintage Flight: David & Nadia Hoe Steen Chenin Blanc Single Vineyard

David & Nadia Hoe Steen Chenin Blanc 2016, 13 Abv.

1 x 400 litre barrel. Superb complexity and textural finesse. This has a Grand Cru feel to the wine, plush concentration, focused yellow fruit concentration and harmonious acids, amazing balance and a delicious white pear, pineapple pastille finish. Wow.

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

David & Nadia Hoe Steen Chenin Blanc 2015, 13 Abv.

Quite dusty and restrained, intense, concentrated textural balance with superb depth. Fresh and piquant, powerful yet regal showing elegance with fleshy concentration, pineapple pastille nuances and a structured acid frame. Very impressive indeed. Everything and more you could hope for from one of South Africa’s Grand Crus of Chenin Blanc.

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

David & Nadia Hoe Steen Chenin Blanc 2014, 13 Abv.

2 x 300 litre barrels. Touch of smokey, flinty struck match mixed with yellow apple purée and citrus pastille fruit nuances. Sleek, very polished and dusty liquid minerality with pithy pear and reductive herby, saline restraint. Characterful effort for the vintage.

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

Wines are distributed to the trade in the UK by Justerini & Brooks.

Andrea Mullineux Reveals the New Leeu Passant Wine Releases at Roundstone Farm in the Swartland…

With the Mullineux brand more than a decade old now, it has firmly been established as one of South Africa’s top fine wine labels with every new release highly anticipated. Their Leeu Passant brand on the other hand is only three vintages down but also seems to have garnered its own more individual, eclectic wine following among old vine collectors and connoisseurs.

I recently visited the Mullineux’s Leeu Passant winery in Franschhoek where Chris Mullineux showed me the ropes and I also got to meet Wade Sander, Andrea Mullineux’s assistant winemaker who works solely on the Leeu Passant wines.

The Leeu Passant winery in Franschhoek with assistant winemaker Wade Sander (below).

With the 2015 vintage certainly very famous now, the 2017 releases from all of South Africa’s top producers, look set to once again take local and international markets by storm and fill the cellars of a new thirsty generation of South African fine wine lovers.

Leeu Passant Stellenbosch 2017, 13.5 Abv.

Single vineyard on the maritime slopes of the Helderberg where temperatures seldom rise above 28 degrees C. One of the rare sites that the Mullineux’s actually have to wait for the acidity to drop before picking. The aromatics are pure and lifted expressing the usual crystallinity of the style and site. Bottled in October 2018, the wine is still super youthful, taut and fresh but with a touch of creamy malo to take the edge off the electric acidity. Beautifully intense and citrus driven, the wine has a wonderful textural balance and freshness with incredible poise and focus. Long and pin point, superb harmony and purity, this wine has impressive salinity and tart lemon / lime brilliance and brightness to invigorate the palate. A great effort.

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

Leeu Passant Dry Red 2017, 14.5 Abv.

This red blend of 56% Cabernet Suavignon, 26% Cinsautl and 18% Cabernet Franc spent 12 months in 500 litre barrels and around 10 months in neutral foudre. Explosive and expressive, this wine literally leaps out the glass to greet you. Hugely aromatic, it unfurls with intense black berry, red currant, bramble berry and raspberry jam nuances. Such opulence and freshness, on the palate there is an incredible balance and harmony. Fabulous layers of red and black berry, strawberry confit, sweet tobacco, leafy spice and the most alluring foresty bramble berry seduction. A truly beautiful, complex and expressive red blend that changes in the glass continuously. What a super classy red wine that really is worthy of its collectible fine wine status.

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

Mullineux Old Vines White 2018, 14 Abv.

A blend of 69% Chenin Blanc, 12% Clarette Blanche, 9% Grenache Blanc, 7% Viognier and 3% Semillon. Rich and opulent, the nose is broad and ultra aromatic with complex notes of dry grass, wet thatch, soap stone, lemon rind and apple skins. Deliciously ripe and intense, the palate is sleek but fleshy, crystalline and super pure… a feature emerging as a characteristic of the 2018 vintage. The last of the drought vintages, this wine really shows beautiful minerality and dry extract, concentration and intense yellow fruit focus. Really impressive, broad and powerful, this is going to be another super classical white blend for medium to long term ageing.

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

Mullineux Chenin Blanc Straw Wine 2018, 9% Abv.

Liquid gold, this has the classical nose of sweet caramelised orchard fruits, quince preserve, dried guava and a savoury, sweet peach brightness. Glycerol and rich, powerful and intense, it is more in the marmalade and citrus rind character than the tropical passionfruit style. Textural and finely balanced this is an incredibly well honed and focused sweet wine style that is certainly a benchmark for this genre.

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

The Fine Wine Safari’s South African Wine Stars at the London Wine Fair 2019…

There has been a lot of speculation over the years about the usefulness of the London Wine Fair. I for one am very pleased it moved back to its home in Olympia from Excel, Docklands a couple of years ago. But ultimately, if we want such an institution to succeed, the broader London / UK wine trade needs to support the Fair with its attendance and engagement.

Personally, I found the London Wine Fair 2019 the perfect opportunity to catch up with some of South Africa’s top producers and taste a huge swathe of new releases. By the looks of the below scores, consumers are in for a block busters year of new releases!

London Wine Fair 2019: Highlights…

Cap Maritime Pinot Noir 2017, 14 Abv. – 92/100 GSMW

Rich, creamy and textural. Plenty of foresty bramble berry spice and delicious, ponderous vanilla pod nuances.

Cap Maritime Chardonnay 2017, 13.5 Abv. – 94/100 GSMW

Rich, broad and concentrated. Freshness with glycerol mouthfeel. Class written all over it. One to watch in the coming years!

Reyneke Reserve SB 2016, 12.5 Abv. – 94/100 GSMW

Sweet & sour pineapple pastille, root veg, wet thatch and a long bruised yellow orchard fruit length. The complexity is beguiling!

Reyneke Reserve Syrah 2015, 14 Abv. – 93/100 GSMW

Sweet plummy black berry nose full of peppercorns, wood spice and meaty, blueberry, liquorice length. Young but super impressive.

Boekenhoutskloof Franschhoek Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, 14.5 Abv. – 93+/100 GSMW

Sweet caramelised lick of black berry, cassis and vanilla oak spice. Plush, opulent, finely honed. Classy, pure expression of Cabernet.

Boekenhoutskloof Syrah 2016, 14 Abv. – 94/100 GSMW

Brûléed earth, black berry confit and sweet grilled herbs. Impressive concentration, sweet, suave texture and an intense cured meat and barbecue smoke finish. Delicious.

Kanonkop 2009 Pinotage – 92/100 GSMW

Cool, bright fresh tart acids, bramble berry, freshly cut cedar, suave texture, ripe but also quite a chiselled, vibrant expression.

Kanonkop Pinotage 2017, 14 Abv. – 95/100 GSMW

Piquant and lifted with exotic red fruits, incense, coffee bean and dried potpourri. Oh the perfume! Mesmerising expression.

Kanonkop Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, 14 Abv. – 93+/100 GSMW

Bright, soft earthy violets, lavendar and freshly tilled earth overlaying savoury spicy black berry fruits. Powder fine tannins, bright acids and superb structure. Classical expression of this cooler vintage.

Kanonkop Paul Sauer 2016 – 95+/100 GSMW

Deep and broody full of sweet grilled herbs, cured meats, bloody meat and earthy red currants with bright cherry acids, chalky tannins and a classically dry, mineral finish with just a kiss of blueberry rock candy on the finish. Thoroughly distinguished expression of this South African benchmark classic.

Kanonkop Black Label Pinotage 2017 – 97/100 GSMW

Sweet perfumed black berry, incense, coffee bean and black and blue berry spice. Suave and ultra hedonistic, liquid luxury with very fine freshness, great concentration and a super fine, pinpoint long finish. A new world Grand Cru.

Bouchard Finlayson Crocadile’s Lair Chardonnay 2017, 13.5 Abv. – 94/100 GSMW

Super bright citrus lemon and lime cordial lift, concentrated sweet lemon pastille, green apple, chalky minerality and super crystalline purity. Classy Chardonnay!

De Morgenzon The Divas Chenin Blanc 2017, 14 Abv. – 97+/100 GSMW

Dusty, pithy crunchy yellow apricot, white peach and baked yellow apples in pastry. Lovely tension, bright acids, stony minerality and a fine linear finish. As serious as a £100 bottle of white wine should be.

Rustenberg Five Soldiers Chardonnay 2017, 13.5 Abv. – 94+/100 GSMW

Super lifted chalky lemon and lime complexity with sappy spice, apple cordial and lemon pastille. Lovely concentration, creamy depth and beautiful opulence. Very fine. Best since 2015.

Oldenburg Chardonnay 2018, Stellenbosch, 13.5 Abv. – 92+/100 GSMW

Dusty sweet lemon rock candy, wet chalk and spicy wet thatch. Cool, bright lemon cordial fruit, kiss of vanilla oak and a beautifully long, focused finish. Lovely.

Oldenburg CL Shiraz – Merlot 2017 – 90+/100 GSMW

Super lush and vibrant, mouth filling and rich with bright acidity, attractive sweet black fruits and an enticing savoury, caramelised, meaty edge. Really superb!

Oldenburg Rondekop Rhodium 2015, 14.5 Abv. – 94+/100 GSMW

Rich, opulent and deep with sweet wet tobacco, brûléed coffee bean, buttered brown toast and sweet black currant reduction. Suave, polished and fleshy, this is a very classy rendition of a Bordeaux blend with all the requisite chalky tannin grip, linear acids and a focused, pin point finish. The class of the vintage shines through without doubt!

Elgin Ridge Chaos White Blend 2017, 14 Abv. – 95/100 GSMW

Rich and exotic with delicious sweet white peach, green plum and pineapple pastille. Round, fleshy and long. A whole lot of wine.

Newton-Johnson Albariño 2018, 13 Abv. – 94/100 GSMW

Deliciously fleshy and round, sweet yellow fruit, white peach, green apple, sweet herbs and citrus peel. Very juicy and individual. Just love this wine!

Savage Follow the Line 2017, 13 Abv. – 95/100 GSMW

Soft pulped strawberry, raspberry pith, sweet cherry confit and an impressively tight, focused, pure finish. Profound expression without doubt.

Illimis Chenin Blanc 2016, 14.5 – 93+/100 GSMW

Creamy and glycerol with dried herbs, lemon biscuits and a vanilla pod finish. Impressive.

Stand Alone Gamay Noir 2018, 13 Abv. – 92+/100 GSMW

38 year old vine Gamay planted in 1981. 30% whole cluster layered in tank. Sweet candied red fruit, red cherry zip and a long red currant confit finish. Very juicy. A wine that wants to be noticed! (Fruit sourced from the Villiera farm)

Blank Bottle Little William Ceres Syrah 2018 – 92+/100 GSMW

Beautifully leafy, sappy, ripe and intense with exotic crushed raspberry, cranberry with a fine grained palate of dried guava roll, marzipan and juicy red fruits. A thoroughly amiable wine.

Oak Valley Groenlandberg Chardonnay 2018, 13.5 Abv. – 93/100 GSMW

White blossom, lemon rock candy, green melon Bon Bons and hints of spearmint. Cool, crystalline and pure fruited, this shows distinguished structure, impressive fruit concentration and a long intense finish.

Oak Valley Groenlandberg Pinot Noir 2018, 13.5 Abv. – 92+/100 GSMW

Rich expressive nose of brûléed bramble berry fruits, blood orange and pomegranate earthy red fruits. Sappy hedgerow spice, creamy concentration and pronounced finesse and harmony. Classy. Something very more’ish about this wine!

Tokara Directors Reserve 2016 White Blend, 14 Abv. – 95/100 GSMW

70/30 Sauvignon – Semillon. Creamy and plush, super intense yellow citrus, super glycerol but fresh. Harmonious and elegant texture, this is a very smart blend. Very few vintages of this classy wine I have not fallen in love with.

Tokara Directors Reserve Red Blend 2015, 14.5 Abv. – 93/100 GSMW

71% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, 4% Malbec, 7% Petit Verdot, 3% Cabernet Franc. Wonderfully suave, creamy and round, saline cassis, wood spice, sappy black berry and sweet tobacco. Another ultra luxurious expression.

Jordan Whole Nine Yards Chardonnay 2016, 13 Abv. – 93+/100 GSMW

Rich and textured, classically pure and punchy with orange blossom, vanilla oak spice and a honied brightness. Lovely classy expression.

Jordan Sophia Red Blend 2014, 14.5 Abv. – 93+/100 GSMW

Freshly rolled tobacco, sweet red currant, tannery hide and sweet bramble berry. Plush, classy and super polished texture. Very smart.

Lowerland Tolbos Tannat 2016, Prieska, 13.5 Abv. – 92/100 GSMW

Another Lukas Van Loggerenberg offering. Ultra plush and sensual, this is full of sappy red and black fruits, freshly cut hedge row and sweet bramble berry confit. Exotic but very fine craftsmanship indeed.

Catherine Marshall Chenin Blanc Fermented in Clay 2017, 13.5 Abv. – 95/100 GSMW

Elgin with a dash of Stellenbosch Chenin. 12 months in amphora. Piquant, savoury Chenin Blanc expression with bruised orchard fruits, apple purée and super broad concentration of pineapple and apple pastille. Really very impressive indeed. One for collectors to seek out!

One Of The Most Exciting Talents Since Eben Sadie Hit The Wine Scene – Tasting Sakkie Mouton’s Revenge Of The Crayfish Chenin Blanc 2018…

I am very fortunate to have the opportunity to taste some of the world’s greatest wines on a daily basis. Occasionally I even get to sit down with some of these talented winemakers of said wines and drink a few bottle in a relaxed convivial environment. Which is why I often try and visit the premier winemaking college Elsenburg to share my experiences with the highly talented resident students. You just never know where and when these young stars are going to surface in the future landscape of the global wine industry.

Well, one of these ex-students has indeed just risen from the frothy surf of the commercial winemaking world of Stellenbosch. Hailing from Vredendal originally, Sakkie Mouton was born and bred up the west coast and went to school locally there before moving to Elsenburg college to study winemaking. Now aged 27, Sakkie graduated from Elsenburg in 2014. 

Sakkie Mouton, an exceptional raw young talent! The label gets its name from Sakkie’s passion for west coast crayfish diving.

While working at the Muratie winery for the past few years, Sakkie has become obsessed with making his own wines sourced from vineyards near his homelands of Vredendal. Finally his vision and dreams have met reality after making his maiden release white wine… which for me is one of the most profound Chenin Blancs produced in South Africa since Eben Sadie conjured up Skurfberg and Skerpioen in his old vine series.

Sourced from a single block from a grower based in Koekenaap, a small hamlet 20 to 25 kilometres north west of Vredendal up the west coast, the vines are already around 12 years old and just starting to come into their prime.

This single block was picked at 22 balling in order to show a clean, fresh, natural acidity with the grapes being destalked and destemmed before fermentation in barrel with natural yeasts for approximately three weeks. There was no skin contact. Post ferment, there was no racking and the wines were left on their gross lees for eight months with some batonage for the first two weeks. If there was any chance of reduction during fermentation, they performed a delistage into a fibreglass vats before returning the wine to barrel with its lees.

The wine was bottled directly from gross lees in barrel with only a 30 micron rough filtration. There was no cold or protein stabilisation. Bottled on the 10th November 2018. Only 370 bottles were produced.

Sakkie Mouton Family Wines, Revenge of the Crayfish 2018, WO Western Cape, 13.5 Abv.

Tasted initially from both a Burgundy bowl glass and a white Chablis style Riedel, the aromatics are markedly different as I expected but are fascinating nevertheless. The Burgundy Montrachet-style bowl emphasises the lifted primary fruit notes of green melon, waxy green apples and crunchy green quince. But it is only in the Chablis-style small bowl glass where the true depth and mineral focus is revealed. Wow, the tart yellow bruised orchard fruits notes are firmly grounded by the most incredible granitic minerality, wet river pebble umami nuances and a sublime crystalline purity that really starts to speak boldly on the palate. With impressive energy and tart vibrant acids, one is so captivated by the intensity of saline green apple, tart yellow plum, fynbos spice and again, more and more wet slate and river pebble minerality. A fascinating wine that is incredibly precise, you would be wrong to think this expression is just all about freshness and minerality because the textural glycerol weight of fruit speaks volumes about the precise wine making, the superb fruit quality and the intelligent and passionate winemaking behind this cuvée. If quality like this can be repeated, future greatness and fame seems very close within reach for young Sakkie. Drink from 2020 to 2040+

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

“Probably the most exciting new comer to the South African wine scene that I have tasted since Eben Sadie, Donovan Rall and Duncan Savage!” ~ Ian Naude, winemaker and owner at Naude Family Wines.

The Dawn of a New Vintage – Tasting the Component Parts of the 2017 Vintage Port With Dirk Niepoort…

After selective Port house vintage declarations in 2015 including Niepoort and Quinta do Noval, Niepoort then decided not to declare a 2016 Vintage Port when most others did, as the quality of the provisional 2017 vintage component parts were considered some of the highest quality wines Dirk had ever seen, showing similarities in style to his excellent 2015 and possibly even surpassing 2015’s exceptional final quality. 

It seems to me, after tasting almost all the 2015 single Quinta Vintage Ports as well as all the 2016 Vintage Ports, that some houses got themselves into a bit of a muddle. In the end, the 2015s appear to have turned out better than most expected and then of course the pressure was automatically on to declare the ripe 2016s. The problem remained that most producers had by then already realised that 2017 was going to be a small but exceptional vintage, creating the unusual dilemma of whether or not to break the unspoken Oporto rule of never declaring two consecutive vintages in a row.

Today, in early April, the declarations for 2017 Vintage Port started and later this week, I will taste the final completed bottled expression of the Niepoort Vintage 2017 Port with Dirk Niepoort. According to Dirk, 2017 was a great year in all aspects, with the harvest promising perfection and the weather during the harvest helping to achieve this. Up until this point, 2015 was considered the best Vintage Port he’d made. 2017 follows in the same vein as the 2015, but with a touch more perfection according to Dirk … 

“It is possibly our finest Vintage Port since 1945. This is a Port that is concentrated and intense with beauty and perfection shining through. Perfect tannins with a fruit component that is austere, precise and alive. The spirit is perfectly integrated, and the resulting finish is long, seductive and persistent. All its components are wonderfully balanced, a veritable orchestra in harmony. A fatal attraction with an insane potential for ageing, yet unbelievably perfect in its youth. This 2017 Vintage Port is unquestionably a King of Ports.”

The 2017 Vintage

2017 will be remembered for the intense heat and record low levels of rainfall. In-spite of the dry weather, flowering and bud burst developed under good conditions and in August and September the high temperatures during the day and cold nights allowed an even and gradual ripening. The decision to start harvesting early, at the perfect moment of ripeness, allowed grapes to be received in ideal conditions with fantastic natural acidity. Harvest at the Vale de Mendiz winery, began on 24th of August under perfect weather conditions, with musts displaying an intense colour and a powerful character. The last grapes were harvested on 26th of September. The yields were approximately 30% down on a normal year essentially due to dehydration.

I look forward to seeing Dirk Niepoort again soon when he launches his newest creation. But as the perfect entrée, I have typed up my tasting notes from the fascinating masterclass he presented in London in May 2018, where he presented eight individual 2017 Vintage Port blend components taken from barrel, alongside a his final “indicative blend”. 

A Snapshot of the 2017 Niepoort Vintage Port In Component Parts: 1 to 8

Component parts 1 all came from very old vines, the majority over 100 years old, with component parts 2 also coming from very old vines from between 80 and 100 years old. Both wines deliver incredible intensity and concentration adding real gravitas and length to the blend. Blend component 3 showed fine harmony and balance while component 4 came from the Pisca vineyard and was fortified with organic spirit. As is often the case with the Pisca wines, there was a youthful aroma of bananas before melting away into sweet black berry fruits. Ripe and very concentrated, “it tastes like where it comes from so you need to use it in moderation” according to Dirk. This cuvee also showed a very fine tannin structure indeed. Component 5 was a little more vinous in weight, lighter and shorter as a wine acting to help lift the concentration of all the other component parts coming from 100% Souzao fruit. A superb blending component at 2-3% normally. Component 6 was cooler and earlier picked from the Charmes vineyard, with some of the juice going into the Niepoort Charmes unfortified red wine with the remainder being worked harder and going into the Port blend. Component 7 was rich, opulent, grippy and gravelly with savoury tannins that added a whole extra dimension to the wine. Component 8 was from a small parcel made by a small grower producing fruit and wines in a very individual style, allowing 10% to make the final preliminary blend. 

Preliminary Niepoort Vintage Port 2017 Indicative Blend – (Barrel sample taken in May 2018)

Dense, long and profound with great precision, tannins and fruit power that you can savour and chew with an incredibly long finish. So many aromatic layers of graphite, sweet black berry, mulberry and nuances of blueberry preserve. Suave and elegant yet utterly imposing, powerful and masculine, very well honed and chiselled. Creamy, powerful, with powdery mineral grippy tannins, showing such fresh vibrant acid perfection, textural seamlessness and sublime harmony. Pronounced classical bramble berry fruit profile loaded with hedgerow spice, incredible intensity and precision and a very long, block-buster finish that goes on and on and on! Classy benchmark Port, this really is an inspired creation. 

(Wine Safari Score: 97-99+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Reverie Chenin Blanc 2016 – A Masterful Skin Contact White Creation From Jacques de Klerk…

I think I first met Jacques de Klerk of The Winery of Good Hope a few years ago at a ‘very liquid’ casual fine wine dinner in Stellenbosch organised by Ryan Mostert and Samantha Suddons of Silvervis / Terracura fame. While I’m quite familiar with the Radford Dale wines, Jacques’s own pet side project, the Reverie skin contact Chenin Blanc, was a new one for me.

I recently enjoyed another bottle of the 2016 in London. Sourced from an old vine Chenin Blanc vineyard in the Swartland, this wine is made in a savoury oxidative style with several days skin contact before being aged for over a year in older oak. With the 2017 vintage already released and en route to Europe, grab the last few bottles of this exceptional 2016 if you can find it. This really was a superb vintage in South Africa specifically for older vine Chenin Blanc.

Jacques de Klerk Reverie Chenin Blanc 2016, WO Swartland, 11 Abv.

Rich and spicy, pithy and candied with an incredible lemon sherbet zing, enchanting white citrus, lime cordial and grapefruit length. The aromatics show the spicy lift of skin contact but it melts harmoniously into a grassy, fynbos and granitic complexity. Taut, concentrated and fresh but certainly does not lack any weight or archetypal Chenin Blanc punch despite the impressively low alcohol level. A very intelligently made wine that is very true to its Chenin Blanc roots in the Swartland but also displays its characterful eccentricities proudly.

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

25 Great South African Wines Under £25 Retail – Red and Whites Not to Miss…

Value versus quality. It’s the eternal debate with all New World wine producing nations. Peg your marker in the sand and stand up for top premium quality at the price you think the wine deserves or take perhaps the long view and sell your wine at a more affordable price level with more market accessibility. Who knows what’s right?

All I know is that some of the cracking whites and reds in my 25 for £25 selection could easily sell for a lot more money and no consumers would blink an eye. So does that mean the producers are under pricing themselves? No, not necessarily. Everybody produces different quantities, works from a different cost base and has a different long term business sales vision.

This eclectic collection of reds and whites does not stand alone to make a statement or indeed even seek to provoke discussion but merely serves to illustrate to consumers that South Africa is not only about £35-£75 bottles of white and red from trendy producers. Crack open any of these below wines with absolute confidence!

White Wines 

Fram Grenache Gris 2017, WO Voor-Paardeberg, 11 Abv.

Pithy bramble berry, stalk spice and sap with a zesty tart strawberry pip fruit note, crushed stone minerality and grippy tannin. Class. (£24)

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

Winterhoek 2015, WO Ceres, 13.5 Abv.

Earthy savoury quince, cassis leaf, sweet sour plum and oxidative notes. A different take on Sauvignon more in the Pouilly Fume style. Unique but a bit of a marmite wine. (£8.99)

(Wine Safari Score: 89/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

The Foundry Roussanne 2016, 13.5 Abv.

Fragrant white peach, citrus, orange peel zest with a creamy core and yellow pastille fruit finish. Superb! World class. (£15.99)

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

The Foundry Grenache Blanc 2017, 13.5 Abv.

White peach, yellow citrus and pithy stony fruits. Juicy to its core. Incredible quality with a nutty marzipan finish. Wow! (£15.99)

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

Naudé White Blend 2009, WO Western Cape, 13 Abv.

Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc Blend. Packed full of white citrus, white pepper, stalk spice and bruised orchard fruits on a finish with bright acids. Delicious and super classy. (£17.99)

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

Craven Clairette Blanche 2015, WO Stellenbosch, 11.5 Abv.

Quince, wet grass, apple peel, leesy white peach Bon Bon finish. Drinking very well. (£17.99)

(Wine Safari Score: 91+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Hannes Storm Wild Air Sauvignon Blanc 2017, 13 Abv.

Quince, tropical yellow fruits, gooseberry and a hint of green mango peel. Creamy, mineral, super concentration. Old World style at its best! (£18.99)

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

Craven Chenin Blanc 2017 Karibib Vineyard, WO Stellenbosch, 12.5 Abv.

Dusty, stony mineral fruits, hints of wet bushveld, white peach stone and crushed gravel on the finish. Very youthful. (£20.99)

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

Elgin Ridge Chardonnay 2017, WO Elgin, 13 Abv.

Grapefruit Bon Bon concentration, citrus pastille, lime peel and a toffee apple kiss. Vibrant, intense, incredible piercing length. Really very very special and worthy of an upgraded score since my last tasting note! (£22.95)

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

Thorne & Daughters Rocking Horse 2016, 13 Abv.

Semillon, Chardonnay, Roussanne, Clairette Blanche, Chenin Blanc, and Viura Blend. Creamy, complex and such interwoven intrigue. Flavours melt into one another. Fabulously complex, harmonious effort. (£24.99)

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

Julien Schaal Confluence Chardonnay 2017, WO Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, 13 Abv.

Pithy, citric, mineral and super energetic. Overtones of expensive fresh white Burgundy. Among South Africa’s best Chardonnays no doubt. (£24.99)

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

Rall Grenache Blanc 2017, WO Piekenierskloof, 13.5 Abv.

Piekenierskloof fruit selection. Deliciously stony with pithy white citrus, peach stone and crushed granite minerality. Very pure and elegant. Lovely subtle yellow sour plum finish. Fabulous. (£23.49)

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

Red Wines

Primordial Soup 2017 Blend, WO Western Cape, 13.5 Abv.

Light fresh sappy red bramble berry fruits. Bright, savoury stewed strawberry hints and a long juicy finish. Great value for money. (£7.99)

(Wine Safari Score: 86+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Zorgvliet Silver Myn Argentum 2017, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5 Abv.

Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec blend. Shows sweet plum, cassis and tannery leather. Classical notes with sweet black fruited savoury depth. Well-proportioned and great value. (£9.99)

(Wine Safari Score: 87/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Kaapzicht Cinsault Skuinsberg 2017, WO Stellenbosch, 12.5 Abv.

Stewed winter fruits, damson plum and raisined cranberry with a hint of marzipan and rose petals. Soft, sleek with a granitic minerality. Very fine. (£18.99)

(Wine Safari Score: 91+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Bohemian Syrah 2016, WO Wellington, 14.5 Abv.

Rich savoury, bramble berry black fruits, sweet cassis, cured meats and crushed coriander and peppercorns. V8 Chevy engine under a Porsche bonnet. Plush, smokey savoury finish. Punchy style. (£18.99)

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

Cricket Pitch Red Blend 2013, WO Wellington, 14.5 Abv.

Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc blend. Super perfumed notes of rose petals, violets, lilies with sweet cassis fruit. Sleek, classical Bordeaux Blend expression with fine pedigree. (£19.99)

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

Hat Trick 2012 Cape Blend, WO Wellington, 14.5 Abv.

Pinotage, Merlot, Grenache Blend. Sweet sappy bramble berry savoury black fruited nose. Exotic with hints of peach juice and black currant and a long, musk laden finish. (19.99)

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

La Vierge The Affair Pinot Noir 2016, Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, 13.5 Abv.

Savoury bramble berry fruits, pomegranate exoticism, tilled earth and blood orange. Fresh, cool and precise. Lovely. (19.99)

(Wine Safari Score: 90+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Crystallum Peter Max Pinot Noir 2016, WO Coastal, 14 Abv.

Starts a bit reductive so give it air. Packed full of cherry stone and cranberry with hints of Victoria plum and pink rock candy. Cool, creamy, sublime balance and delicious depth with typicity. (£24.99)

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

Naude Adoro Red Blend 2007, WO Stellenbosch, 14 Abv.

Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Shiraz blend showing classic notes of sweet tannery leather, raisined plums, winter stewed compote and earthy black bramble berry fruits with ample spice, salinity and cured meat complexity. A real consumer favourite! (£20.95)

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

David & Nadia Pinotage 2016, WO Swartland, 12.5 Abv.

Deliciously light, lithe and fresh with perfumed, chalky red fruits and luscious, sappy red apple and cranberry intensity on the long, pure finish. Fabulous expression. (£22.99)

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

Thorne & Daughters Wanderer’s Heart 2016, WO Western Cape, 13.5 Abv.

Stony granitic cranberry and sweet tart red cherry. Super pure and precise with amazing freshness and depth with a light weight texture. (£24.99)

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

Kottabos Grenache Syrah 2017, WO Stellenbosch, 13.5 Abv.

Lifted dried rosemary and oregano herbal notes melt into sweet red berry fruits, liquorice, dried mint leaf, peppercorn and a subtle eucalyptus kiss. Delicious. (£24.99)

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

Savage Thief in the Night 2017, WO Western Cape, 13 Abv.

Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah blend showing wonderfully expressive perfumed nose with crystallised cherries, cranberry, Turkish delight and red bramble berry fruits. Such purity, class and distinction. Just wow! (£24.99)

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