Niepoort Port Declaration – Tasting the 2019 Vintage Port Pre-Release with Dirk and Daniel Niepoort…

The 2017 Niepoort Vintage Port was one of the fastest selling ports released by the winery… or at least it was until they released the 2019. At the release tasting of the 2019 Niepoort vintage Port, Dirk interestingly also showed us his 2000 Vintage Port because this was probably the vintage where he started to redefine how the Niepoort wines were made, with extra special attention to the little details that certainly make a very big difference to the final finished product.

In 2019, the average rainfall was low in the winter months but throughout the year, to make up for this, the Douro and in the case of Niepoort, the Cima Corgo sub-region, was lucky due to two compensating factors: firstly, the summer months were unseasonably cool and secondly the timely rainfall on the 26th-27th of August was invaluable, allowing fruit to reach complete maturity.

Daniel, Dirk and Nick Delaforce

At Vale de Mendiz, harvesting started on the 2nd of September under fine conditions and the last grapes were received in the first week of October. All years are remembered for different and unique reasons, and 2019 will surely go down as a year with amazing natural, acids, balanced musts and very cool weather, reminiscent of the elegant year of 2008 – all in all perfect conditions in which the Niepoort house style thrives.

All the components for 2019 Vintage Port were trodden by foot in circular granite lagares with 100% of stems. The wines were racked soon aft­er harvest, aged in “tonéis” (large oak vats) in the Douro over the winter, and then moved to the cellars in Vila Nova de Gaia in the Spring of 2020. The average vine age is 80 to over 100 years old and the key grape varieties used in the blend were Touriga Franca, Tinto Cão, Tinta Francisca, Tinta Amarela, Sousão, Tinta Roriz as well as a few others. At the time of tasting samples, the winery was already sold out of the 2019, so consumers will have to hunt down allocations in their individual markets from Niepoort’s importers.

Niepoort Vintage Port 2019 (Proposed Blend)

This lovely signature Niepoort 2019 vintage Port apparently has higher tannins than the famed 2017, but at this youthful stage, it is hard to comprehend this with its rich, accessible, voluptuous layers of silky, juicy soft black fruits. Benchmark certainly, a notable success – absolutely. The aromatics are so much more important than the palate flavours at this early blending phase (according to Dirk) and this enticing 2019 shows attractive notes of sweet sun ripened black berry fruits, hints of creamy molasses, savoury black stewed winter orchard fruits and a dusty, stony, smoked cigars complexity. Beautifully silky, supple and textured, there is also a fine, stony, grippy mineral tannin mouthfeel that lends a wonderful frame for the juicy blue and black berry fruit finery to be displayed. Fabulously drinkable, deliciously fresh and vibrant, but eminently bold and characterful, this is certainly another very accomplished wine from the House of Niepoort. (Residual Sugar: 88 g/l RS)

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

Revisiting The New Naude Grenache 2019 That Rises From the Swartland Dust Like a Vinous Phoenix…

I first reviewed this wine back in December 2020. But with its release in the UK market imminent, I thought I would have another look at what must surely rank as one of the top Grenache reds produced in South Africa. Despite over 30+ producers producing in excess of 100 Grenache-based wines – mostly blended – from the 350 hectares of Grenache planted in South Africa, it still ranks as somewhat of a curiosity variety compared to industry stalwarts like Syrah or Cinsault.

But there is no doubt about the quality heights this grape is capable of in regions like the Swartland. If Grenache is a variety that gets you excited, look no further than the new Naude 2019.

Naude Family Wines Grenache 2019, WO Swartland, 12% Abv.

RS 1.2 g/L | TA 6.1 g/L | pH 3.2 g/L 

While this may only be Ian Naude’s second Grenache attempt from this special Swartland vineyard, he certainly seems to have done the fruit justice creating a wonderfully expressive red. A light translucent cherry red colour, the aromatics are jam packed with crunchy red berry fruits, rose petals, musk, lavender, dried baking herbs and enticing savoury Chinese five spice nuances. The clarity and purity of fruit on the nose translates into an incredibly precise, focused invigorating palate with mouth-watering juicy fresh acids, crystalised red cherries, tart red cranberry and a long, linear finish that reveals a fine stony minerality. Lovely wound spring tension lends a serious note to the wine ensuring that this fabulous 2019 will be as equally long lived as its maiden predecessor, the 2014. However, this wine definitely has more Naude signature elegance, freshness, linearity and precision than the 2014 had at the same youthful stage. The five-year wait has certainly been worthwhile! This is a triumph of skilful winemaking utilising outstanding fruit. Bravo Ian! Drink now and over the next 10 to 15+ years.

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

The legend Continues – Tasting the New Release Revenge of the Crayfish 2020 Chenin Blanc…

Sakkie Mouton is the epitome of the classic West Coast maverick or perhaps the West Coast misfit to use his own words. But whatever descriptives you use to describe his unique brand of winemaking and marketing, there is no denying this young man’s incredible talent, passion and vision. Almost uniquely, despite his enviable and obvious rock star talents, he has never been too confident or arrogant to dismiss advice or unwilling to alter course in the name of producing the very best possible end product.

With his 2018 maiden release, I likened Sakkie’s unique talents to something I had not seen since Eben Sadie hit the South African wine scene properly in the early 2000s, at first with the Spice Route Winery and then subsequently with his own labels. Perhaps the real similarity lies in both being able to elicit something quite unique and magical from varieties and vineyards that so many before them had managed to produce merely average wines from. Who knows? The industry is lucky to have them both for sure!

“Get your Cray on… “

This new 2020 Crayfish edition was picked in two different passes through the vineyards before being fermented with wild yeast in used 228 litre barrels and aged on the gross lees for eight months. The wine was then bottled unfiltered and unfined with minimal intervention.

Revenge of the Crayfish Chenin Blanc 2020, WO Koekenaap, 13.5% Abv.

With two vintages under his belt, Sakkie Mouton must surely have a fairly watertight idea of what he is trying to create with his unique Chenin Blanc fruit sourced from his homeland vineyards of Koekenaap up the West Coast. While super youthful and fresh, this 2020 expression does indeed display an impressive clarity and composure with wonderfully pure aromatics of crunchy green apples, pear drops, bay leaves, dried green baking herbs, lime peel and of course the signature West Coast notes of oyster shell and maritime sea breeze salinity. On the palate, there is notable concentration and depth of zippy white citrus, savoury yellow orchard fruits and a briny rock salt salinity reminiscent of river pebbles washed in sea water. Never a wine to reveal all its secrets willingly, a little more coaxing in a big Zalto glass allows the wine to show hints of orange citrus peel, a lovely fresh tangy sweet / sour acidity and yet more layers of maritime intensity. This new release might not be quite as wild and rebellious as some of Sakkie’s previous releases, but it certainly shows a growing confidence, maturity of thought, and texturally, an intricacy and purity that makes this wine very much one of his most complete creations to date. Give this white one to two years in the cellar from release before opening and then enjoy over 12 to 15+ years. Congratulations Sakkie on another distinguished wine!

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

Wines available in the UK on allocation from Vino SA and Handford Wines.

Another Noteworthy 2017 Stellenbosch Red Blend Released By Ernie Els Wines…

The Proprietor’s Red Blend is a selection of six varieties all of which are sourced from the Ernie Els winery property. These vineyards are grown primarily on the warmer, north-facing slopes of the Helderberg within the Stellenbosch region.

These particular varieties thrive under these conditions and result in rich, full-bodied red wines with balancing freshness. At an altitude of approximately 250 metres above sea level, together with the cooling influence of the Atlantic Ocean, the ripening period or hang time of the grapes can be extended, resulting in wines with optimal phenolic ripeness and pure, bold, concentrated flavours. This of course is one of the reasons Stellenbosch has become so famous for successfully growing premium Bordeaux varieties as well as some excellent Syrah / Shiraz.

I recently tasted the Ernie Els Proprietor’s Blend and was pleased to see the pedigree of the 2017 vintage captured in this new release.

Ernie Els Proprietor’s Blend 2017, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5% Abv.

A premium red blend made up of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Shiraz, 5% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, 5% Malbec and 5% Petit Verdot. The result is a rich enticing blend with expressive aromatics laced with tannery leather, decomposing forest floor, sweet black berry compote, black currant pastille, graphite and nuances of freshly tilled earth. The palate is finely weighted with creamy round tannins, layers of crunchy black currant, black cherry and blueberry spice with delicately integrated cedar wood vanilla spice notes. This wine shows impressive density, power and concentration for a vintage renowned for having a more lithe, silky, weightless character. Here we see the elegance and textural finesse of 2017 but certainly with a little more dry extract, stuffing and grip. Nevertheless, this is a wine that can be enjoyed now on release or cellared for 10-12+ years comfortably. Another triumph for prime Stellenbosch terroir.

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

The Ernie Els Wines are distributed in the UK by Seckford Wine Agencies.

Catherine Marshall Releases Another Benchmark 2020 Fermented in Clay Chenin Blanc…

I’ve been following the new releases of this wine for several years now and it has certainly proven beyond doubt to be one of the most accomplished Chenin Blancs on the South African fine wine scene.

Grapes for the 2020 were again selected from a single vineyard in Elgin grown on red Laterite soils also known as “koffieklip” or coffee stone as it resembles the same structure as ground coffee, and also from from grapes grown in the Bottelary Hills in Stellenbosch on old bush vines in lighter soils, which were harvested in early March. Once fermentation was completed in the clay amphorae, 800 litres of wine was decanted to oak casks for a further 9 months maturation.

The wine portion aged in the clay amphorae had no malolactic fermentation so that the fresher flinty characters would be maintained. After 9 months, the two components were blended together and lightly filtered before bottling.

Catherine Marshall Fermented in Clay Chenin Blanc 2020, WO Western Cape, 14% Abv.

TA 5.6g/l | pH: 3.4 | RS: 2.1g/l | Total Extract: 23.2g/l

After the phenomenal 2017 and eye-watering 2019 Fermented in Clay Chenin Blanc, expectations for follow up vintages become almost impossibly high. But this 2020 is another real head turner with aromatics brimming with crunchy white peaches, tangerine, orange peel, green pears and a beguiling melange of grilled herbs and stony granitic minerality. On the palate this youthful 2020 is cool, crisp, focused and texturally quite linear and taut with tangy acids, a steely concentration of peach pastille, yellow tropical fruit bon bons, clementines and yet more unfurling layers of wet river pebbles and stony liquid minerality. Cathy has now established a rock solid track record for this wine which must surely rank in the top 10 Chenin Blancs produced in South Africa.

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

Wines available to the trade in the UK from Seckford Wine Agencies.

New Release Review – Tasting the Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines 2018 Syrah…

I recently tasted the phenomenal 2017 Mullineux Syrah again with Andrea Mullineux and was just blown away by the balance, intensity and poise of the wine. While chatting about the 2017, Andrea expressed her real excitement surrounding the release of the new 2018 Syrah which she thought might just be their winery’s best effort yet. High praise indeed.

While 2018 was the last of four drought vintages in the Cape and severely affected the Swartland region, there seems to be some consensus that the vines had slowly started to become more accustomed to the severely dry conditions. This new release was made from grapes grown in seven different vineyards all with differing terroirs – four vineyards on shale and schist, two on granite and one on iron soils. Up to 80%-90% of the fruit was whole-bunch fermented and was then matured for a further 14 months in 15% new French oak barrels, old oak barrels and also foudre.

Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines Syrah 2018, WO Swartland, 13.5% Abv.

This is a very expressive wine with complex aromatics loaded with grilled herbs, lavender, fresh bresaola, red berries, cherry cola and savoury black berry notes with a tantalising dusting of white pepper. The palate is full, fleshy, layered and impressively textured with a weightless harmonious clarity of savoury red and blue berry fruits, soft mellow acids and light airy tannins that show a fine liquid mineral schisty grip on the finish. A wonderfully supple Syrah expression that throws a spotlight on the impressive winemaking talents of the Mullineuxs. Drink now and over 10 to 15+ years.

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

Chateau Tour Baladoz Produces Another Stand-Out Saint Emilion Grand Cru in 2018…

Château “Valados” first appeared in “Le Producteur” in 1841, and was included in the first edition of “Cocks and Feret” (Bordeaux and its Wines) in 1850 under the name of “Baladoz”. From 1874 to 1922, the estate was known as Château Baladoz until a tower was erected and adopted into the name.

In certain parts, vines are grown at an altitude of up to ninety metres, almost the highest in the appellation, with more vines planted on the clay and limestone plateau that dominates the estate. Originally categorised as between the first and second crus of St Emilion, the estate later settled in the Grand Cru category.

Anthony Crameri from Chateau Tour Baladoz alongside the Chateau’s ancient limestone cliffs.

The property, located in Saint-Laurent-des-Combes, was purchased by Belgian wine trader Emile De Schepper in May 1950 and included 5.56 hectares of vines. The new owner spent his first year renovating the cellars and making improvements to the vineyard. In the early years, the wine was exclusively exported to Belgium, in barrel, where it was bottled in the owner’s cellars in Ghent. The current cellar master and manager is the ultra talented Jean-Michel Garcion, who was appointed in 1992 and now also overseas production at sister estates Chateau La Croizille next door and Chateau Haut Breton Larigaudiere in Margaux.

The 2018 is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon.

70% of the Tour Baladoz vineyard is planted on the plateau, with the remaining 30 % situated on the slopes of the valley over deeply submerged rocks. Here, the challenge lies in making a wine that is as mineral as the geological environment in which the vines grow. The soil base varies from pure chalk and marl, which reminiscent of certain terroirs in the Champagne region, to freestone that appears occasionally and is noticed because of the colour variation in the clay. Here, the Merlot grape thrives and comprises 70% of the vineyard planting with Cabernet Franc (20%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (10%) making up the remainder.

Chateau Tour Baladoz 2018 Saint Emilion Grand Cru, 14.5% Abv.

A beautiful vineyard with a few pre-phylloxera vines, a collection of ancient Bordeaux varieties and spectacular limestone caves with vine roots growing through the ceilings. This 2018 is garnet purple and already quite explosive in the glass revealing waves of violets and lilac, black plum, mulberry, salty black currant and buttered brown toast nuances. On the palate it shows an accessible opulence of red and black berry fruits, fine chalky mineral tannins and a steely vein of acidity that guides you to a long, fresh, nervy finish with further notes of vanilla spice, graphite and crème de cassis. A really wonderful, high quality expression of Saint Emilion that will seduce a legion of Bordeaux lovers. Drink now and over the next 10 to 15+ years.

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

Tasting Imvini Wethu – Another Incredible Old Vine Project Wine Hits the EU Market…

This is a super exciting new wine from South Africa made in association with the Protégé Programme run under the supervision of Andrea Mullineux (Mullineux Wines), the current Cape Winemakers Guild Chair.

Imvini Wethu means “our vines” in Zulu, and the 2019 vintage is the maiden release of a wine conceived by the German trade with the intention of empowering future winemakers and protecting South African wine heritage, with the Cape Winemakers Guild’s Protégé Programme and the Old Vine Project run by Rosa Kruger and Andre Morgenthal being the specific beneficiaries.

Imvini Wethu Old Vine Cinsault Pinotage 2019, WO Western Cape, 13.5% Abv.

All this wine needed was 15 minutes in a decanter before it really started to perform! A blend of 70% Cinsault and 30% Pinotage, this wine shows the very best of both varieties in a wonderful synergy. The Cinsault grapes come from a Franschhoek vineyard planted in 1932 and the Pinotage from a vineyard in Stellenbosch planted in 1973. There is plenty of perfume and lift with seductive notes of Turkish delight, rose petals and violets. The nose is packed full of red and black berry fruits, black cherry, dark sweet plum, vanilla spice and a dusting of mocha choc powder. The palate is fleshy and fresh, juicy and accessible with a sleek seamless texture, soft creamy tannins and a long harmonious finish. A wine that delivers a whole lot of frolicsome pleasure in a very more’ish manner. Drink now and over 6-8+ years.

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

Revisiting the Exceptional Gramina Single Vineyard Assyrtiko 2018 from the Vassaltis Winery…

Greek wines, but more specifically the white Assyrtiko wines of the volcanic Cyclade island of Santorini, are continuing to see an ongoing collector renaissance not witnessed in classical Western wine markets since the mid-2000’s when now iconic producers such as the late Haridimos Hatzidakis burst onto the United Kingdom wine scene with profound unoaked old vine Assyrtiko whites from this small volcanic oasis in the Southern Aegean Archipelago.

This rising global fame has indeed led to rising demand but has also seen the island’s key growers, who supply a large quantity of the premium old vine fruit, raise their prices year on year for the last 6 or 7 years, leading to a situation where affordability has become a big issue for many producers buying in grapes. One way to counteract this supply pressure has been for producers to make more focused, niche, premium Assyrtiko wines and there are none more niche and quality focused than the impressive Vassaltis Gramina single vineyard Assyrtiko made from grapes harvested from very old kouloura trained vines.

The Vassaltis winery on Santorini

On the eve of the release of the new 2019 Gramina, I took another look at the current release 2018 to see just how it’s performing three years from vintage.

The maiden 2017 release of Gramina scored 96+/100 from The Fine Wine Safari.

Vassaltis Gramina Cuvee des Vignerons Assyrtiko 2018 Single Vineyard, PDO Santorini, 14% Abv.

Like the maiden 2017 vintage of the Gramina, the 2018 is made from 100% Assyrtiko grapes that are harvested from an old vine single vineyard in Vourvoulos. The meagre crop of the 80 to 100+ year old vines is picked in the early hours of the morning in the autumnal dark and whole bunch pressed with around only 2 to 3 hours passing between the commencement of picking and the completion of pressing into stainless steel tanks, which miraculously has an enormous influence on the structure, style, clarity and purity of the resulting juice.

Compared to most upfront Santorini Assyrtiko whites, this sensational creation captures a profound granitic, basaltic, volcanic minerality in the bouquet, which is interwoven with intricate notes of dried oregano and thymus polytrichus or wild thyme herbs. Neither overtly fruity or showy, the nose and palate is nonetheless underpinned by the most mouth watering acidity that duals with sweet sour notes of green apple pastille, crunchy white peaches and intense saline notes of brine and sea breeze with complexing nuances of dried kelp, sushi nori, dry roasted hazelnuts and bitter lemon peel pith. While never straying far from its crystalline purity and intensity, the palate texture remains bold, fleshy and long with characteristic layers of Santorini liquid minerality and oyster shell distinctiveness. A true terroir driven beauty of a wine! Released in the UK in June 2020 with almost 9 months ageing in bottle, the Gramina has to rank among the most impressive whites produced anywhere in Greece, let alone on the Cycladic islands and is undoubtedly a worthy successor to the epic maiden 2017 release.

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

The Iconic Swartland Porseleinberg Syrah 2018 Assessed and Reviewed…

Having seen the stick Christian Eedes (SA Winemag.co.za editor) received for posting a belated Porseleinberg Syrah 2018 review, long after it scored 100 points from Tim Atkin MW and also long after it had sold out, I approached the issue with a certain amount of circumspect. But sometimes great wines need to be reviewed and reassessed regardless of their first release status, so that secondary market consumers can add further perspective to their prospective purchases.

Like many regular consumers, I was ‘forced’ to make a decision on buying this wine without tasting, long before it arrived in the UK in 2020 due to the pandemic chaos. But like the Kanonkop Paul Sauer 2015, the Porseleinberg 100 point choice was fairly bullet proof from real criticism for Tim Atkin in the same manner scoring a modern Bordeaux first growth 100 points in a good vintage might be debatable yes, controversial, not at all.

I recently spent two evenings enjoying a bottle of this famed 2018 Syrah and became close bedfellows with this lastest release from Callie Louw and the Boekenhoutskloof stable.

Porseleinberg Syrah 2018, WO Swartland, 14% Abv.

The 2018 vintage yielded some very supple, pretty, lithe Syrahs with delicacy, elegance and seamless textures. Well known for its power and structure, this Porseleinberg shows a lighter, finer, more accessible expression with delicately savoury velvety tannins and fleshy red and black berry fruits. Initially quite reticent on opening, the nose slowly unfurls with aromatics laced with grilled herbs, cured meats, black liquorice, black olive tapenade and chargrilled meat nuances. The wine is more mineral than floral at this youthful stage yet still shows a lovely precision, intensity of black berry fruit and well judged oak handling. There’s a lovely tenderness and complexity to the wine that reminds you of just what a very special schistous terroir lies behind the production of this world class Syrah. Drink from 2023 to 2034+

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