Anthony and Olive Hamilton Russell Showcase their Exciting New Oregon Wines in Cape Town…

This is an exciting wine project I have been hearing about for the past few years from winemaker Emul Ross as well as its proprietors Anthony and Olive Hamilton Russell every time I met up with them in either Cape Town or London. But this year also marked the release of their maiden offering of their new Oregon Chardonnay 2019 produced from the Maple Grove Vineyard in the Willamette Valley AVA, joining their premium Eola-Amity Hills AVA Pinot Noir.

During a quiet moment of the Cape Wine 2022 trade fair, I met up with Anthony and Olive to taste their new Chardonnay and Pinot Noir over a quick lunch. As we sat there discussing this exciting Oregon project, photos of the new Chardonnay 2022 harvest fortuitously started popping up on Olive’s phone, sent by Emul Ross as they had just commenced picking in the Willamette Valley.

Tasting the new Oregon releases in Cape Town with Anthony and Olive Hamilton Russell in October 2022.

Sadly, these wines are not yet available in the UK or in the South African market but are available in 21 different US states through Vineyard Brands. But judging from the excellent quality, I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before some stock finds its way out of the USA!

Hamilton Russell Oregon Maple Grove Vineyard Chardonnay 2019, Willamette Valley AVA, 13.8% Abv.

1.9g/l RS | 5.70g/l TA | 3.40pH

Maiden vintage and second crop from this Jackson Family owned Maple Grove single vineyard Chardonnay. South West of Salem, from an area due to become a new AVA, just south of the Van Duzer corridor. Pure Clone 95 in 2019, this wine was fermented with the Hamilton Russell’s own indigenous yeasts and was then aged in 34% first fill and 66% third fill Francois Freres barrels. The nose displays fabulous creamy leesy lemon biscuit notes, vibrant layers of waxy yellow citrus and a saline, stony minerality. The palate shows a fabulous lemon butter opulence, a honied leesy savoury complexity and a broad, soft, harmonious, fine boned persistent finish. Very classy, nuanced and pure. Fruit from a great terroir shaped and nurtured by the winemakers hand. More porcelain than pottery. Drink now and over 5 to 8+ years.

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

286 x 6 cases produced and exclusively sold in 21 states in the USA at circa $65pb. Vegan friendly. Distributed by USA Vineyard Brands.

Hamilton Russell Oregon Zena Crown Pinot Noir 2019, Eola-Amity Hills AVA, 13.3% Abv.

1.2g/l RS | 5.30g/l TA | 3.58pH

A classically orientated style of Pinot Noir aged for 14 months in 1st fill 23%, 2nd fill 30% and 3rd fill 47% French Francois Freres oak barrels. The aromatics are very exotic and seductive boasting delicate red and black cherry fruits, cranberry, pomegranate and hints of foresty bramble berry and wild strawberry. The palate is beautifully cool and sleek, light on its feet and finely textured with a real light touch elegance, a stony volcanic minerality and delicate silky tannins with an aspirational grandeur. Just love the effortless beauty of this wine. Plenty of appeal here for Burgundy lovers. Drink now and over the next 8+ years.

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

565 x 6 cases produced and exclusively sold in 21 states in the USA at circa $85pb. Distributed by USA Vineyard Brands.

Damascene’s Current 2020 Red and White Releases Reviewed and Rated…

Damascene is the super exciting South African winery partnership between top talent Jean Smit, previously the winemaker at Boekenhoutskloof, and David Curl, the former owner of Bordeaux’s Chateau Gaby. The maiden Damascene bottlings were only in 2017 but already the winery has, since then, established itself as one of the most exciting new producers on the Cape fine wine landscape.

While the new 2021 vintages have just been released to great acclaim in South Africa, the 2020 vintages are the current releases on the UK market and in May 2020, I caught up with Jean Smit in London to taste through his exciting range of whites and reds.

Tasting with Jean earlier this year in London.

As Jean explained, the idea of Damascene’s wines was to represent the different regional identities of the South African winelands with grapes being sourced from across the Cape. The wines are made in a well-equipped cellar on David Curl’s Elgin apple farm, which also supplies the Pinot Noir for the Moya Meaker label.

Damascene Semillon 2020, WO Franschhoek, 13.5% Abv.

Sourced from two old vine vineyards plss as noted in 1962 and 1942, this wine was fermented and aged on lees in 1000 litre Austrian foudre and offers up beautifully bright, fragrant, piercing aromatics of white citrus, white blossom, lemon and lime peel, a hint of sea breeze salinity (from the 1962 vineyard) and kelp nuances. Taught and concentrated with a fine glycerol texture, lemon grass, lemon butter, white citrus, tangy green apple and a hint of lanolin on the finish. Delicious and crystalline. A very impressive expression of Old Vine Semillon.

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

Damascene Chenin Blanc 2020, WO Stellenbosch, 13.5% Abv.

Sourced from three blocks on the crest of the Bottlary Hills. Granite (5% on skins), Greywacke and Shale soils which give acidity & lemon lime notes. Rich, savoury and yellow fruited, with lots of honey suckle, ginger, white blossom and dusty mineral spice. Aged 11 months in old oak barrels. The wine shows bruised yellow peach and yellow plum that follows to a palate loaded with tangerine, Seville oranges and honey on warm toast. Lovely complexity, flinty minerality, tart acids and impressive depth of flavour. Wow!

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

Moya Meaker Pinot Noir 2020, WO Elgin, 13.5% Abv.

10 barrels (300 litre light toast) using 777 & 667 Pinot Noir clones. No stems and 11 months ageing. Reveals a lovely rose petal, black cherry and bramble berry perfume with hints of pink musk. Texture is pure and sleek, beautifully polished and focused with pomegranate, blood orange, hints of cured meats and complexing wood smoke notes. Pinpoint focus and precision with really bright acids and textural elegance.

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

Damascene Cabernet Franc 2020, WO Stellenbosch, 13.5% Abv.

Aged 11 months in 1000 litre Austrian foudre. The terroir is based on poor granite soils in the Bottlary Hills. The nose shows sweet red and black berry fruit, bouquet garnier, potpourri, fennel, dusty granite, sweet cedar and grilled herbs. The palate is pure and elegant with a salivating fresh acidity supported by a fine line of tannin grip but all exceptionally well balanced. A really delicious expression of Franc!

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

Damascene Syrah 2019, WO Stellenbosch, 12.5% Abv.

75% of whole bunches used with no submerged cap. 2/3 Karibib fruit (lending pepper & perfume), 1/3 Bottlary (north facing for extra tannins). Boasts sweet dark red and black berry fruits, potpourri, musk perfume and a savoury cured meats complexity. Beautifully pure and elegant with red berry concentration, great textural finesse and soft integrated acids. Wonderful harmony and pedigree. This is something very special indeed.

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

Damascene Syrah 2020, WO Swartland, 13% Abv.

75% whole bunches used then aged in 2000 litre foudre from vines grown on brown schist soils. Aromatics are dark and broody with incense, waxy crayon, earthy black berry, black plum, lavender and wild bramble berry notes. The palate shows plenty of power, depth and concentration with focused mineral tannins, plenty of broody savoury black and blue berry fruits with a hint of black olive tapenade. Very Northern Rhone like in character and also quite individual. Another cracking wine.

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

Damascene Syrah 2020, WO Cederberg, 13.5% Abv.

Made using 45% whole bunches (on average), from one block at 940m above sea level. Shows classic Cederberg Shiraz aromatics of blue and black berry fruits, blue berry crumble, grey slate minerality and sweet vanilla pod dust. Palate is full and round with dense, sweet creamy tannins, cinamon spice, tart underlying acids and a taut linear structure. Lovely depth, fruit intensity and balance showing the true purity offered by Syrah from high elevation vineyards.

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

Damascene Cabernet Sauvignon 2019, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5% Abv.

Grapes mainly from Vlottenburg vineyards grown on koffee klip and granite soils (graphite notes) and Helderberg and Bottlary Hills (cranberry notes). Aged 12 months in 80% new 225 litre oak barriques, second year in 1000 litre Austrian foudre. Lovely sweet cedar, wet tobacco, tannery leather and a mix of red and black berry fruits and grilled herbs. Rich, plush and creamy with cassis, blueberry, musk, red cherry and creamy tannins with bright mouth-watering acids. Very impressive expression of Stellenbosch Cabernet!

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

Tasting the Cape of Good Hope Sneeuwkrans Elandskloof Pinot Noir 2018 from Anthonij Rupert Wines…

In 2006, Johann Rupert initiated the search for all vineyards in South Africa older than 35 years. Traditionally the South African wine industry depended on tonnage, meaning that the meagre yields of older vines often resulted in them being removed and replanted. What was left in the ground represented some pretty spectacular pockets of old vines tended by people who either kept them out of sentiment or foresight. Old vine fruit often guarantees extra intensity, texture while conveying a real sense of place.

Preserving these old vineyards is now regarded as an act of social responsibility toward South African wine and the people who invested in them despite the odds. In 2016, owner Johann Rupert agreed to sponsor the Old Vine Project and André Morgenthal and Jaco Engelbrecht were appointed after both having been informally involved with the project for some years.

Situated in the isolated Elandskloof Valley just North of Villiersdorp, Altima was purchased from the Overnstone Family in 2008. It is 5km wide and surrounded by a steep mountain range rising 1km from the valley floor. With a total average rainfall of 906mm per year, irrigation is generally unnecessary before the end of December. Coupled with the huge difference in temperatures between night and day, this continental climate is perfect for grapevine development. Good decomposed shale soils from the Malmesbury group are the predominant soils on the farm. With high water-retention, organic matter and usually no chemical limitation, it facilitates vigorous growth. Vineyards are planted from 600m above sea-level, with the highest vineyards planted at 878m. The steep topography causes the valley to receive less direct sunlight, making for a distinctly cooler climate.

Cape of Good Hope Sneeuwkrans Pinot Noir 2018, WO Elandskloof, 13% Abv.

Sourced from vineyards in the Elandskloof, an area renowned for producing premium Pinot Noir grapes, Anthonij Rupert Wines has created an exciting expression in 2018 from North-East and South-Western facing slopes consisting of decomposed shale at an altitude of 690 to 714 metres. The aromatics are suitably earthy and wild with hints of bramble berries, sweet herbs, sun raisined cranberries, red currant and strawberry compote. The palate is fleshy and plush with finely crafted tannins, a silky soft mouthfeel with plenty of finesse and textured elegance and a long, sweet fruited finish boasting notes of red cherry, red plum, blood oranges, sweet wood spice and earthy hints of cured meats on the finish. Complex and approachable now, you can enjoy this wine over the next 3 to 5 years.

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

Tasting Berene Saul’s New 2020 Tesselaarsdal Pinot Noir from the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge…

In a recent review of some of my top wine trends of 2020/21, I happily identified the onward rise of classic Cape Chardonnay and Pinot Noir quality. While exceptional wines made from Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah are actually now quite plentiful, Pinot Noir had hit somewhat of a glass ceiling of late with many skilful producers at a bit of a loss as to how exactly they could increase the quality, tension and intensity of the wines without compromising elegance, finesse and purity.

Thankfully, 2020 was a fruitful year for the premium Pinot Noir producers with new and old talent up and down the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley releasing some excellent examples. For Berene Sauls, her unique and inspiring journey continues unabated with her eye catching 2020 Pinot Noir release. If you are not yet acquainted with her delicious expressions from the higher altitude Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, then her small production 2020 Pinot Noir is the perfect wine to start with.

Tesselaarsdal Pinot Noir 2020, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, 13% Abv.

Already the sixth vintage release from talented Berene Sauls, her new 2020 Pinot Noir displays an elegant mid-weighted palate texture and exhibits attractive lifted aromatics of raspberries and rose petal potpourri, orange peel, bramble berries and hints of pomegranates and blood orange. The palate is cool, sleek and texturally very polished with impressively fine-grained sappy tannins, soft harmonious acids and a layered finish boasting succulent smoky wild berry fruits, hints of stewed strawberries and exotic Christmas spices. Simply put, this is another very promising offering from Berene. Drink now and over the next 5 to 8+ years.

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

Samantha Suddons Hits the Big Time with Her New VineVenom Cap Classique Thriller…

The world of wine, like life itself, can be a topsy turvy world of highs and lows. Perhaps it’s simply the yin and yang of life? So, after a few tumultuous years of change, Samantha Suddons, the once partner and shareholder in the now temporarily mothballed Terracura Wines project, has finally released her very own labour of love – a Method Cap Classique sparkling wine aged for over 5 years on its lees before disgorgement.

I met up with Samantha in London recently to unpick the mystery behind her new VineVenom label that was launched recently in South Africa. Her first wine under the brand is a killer Cap Classique sparkler from the 2015 vintage that she has labelled Serenade. 2015 you may ask? Well, if you know anything about Sam, you will know she is a Champagne and sparkling wine obsessive and while some have questioned how she managed to suddenly release a six year old MCC, the answer is simply that this was a passion project that was never really meant for commercial day of light, producing a wine made from the 2015 vintage which was originally intended for home consumption and sharing with friends.

But having recently disinvested from the Terracura Wines business, and looking for a new project, the VineVenom brand seemed the obvious next step. The maiden wine, a MCC blend of 68% Chardonnay, 18% Pinot Noir and 14% Pinot Meunier from grapes bought in cool climate Elgin, the wine spent five years on its lees and received zero dosage. The wine was disgorged in November 2020, saw no malolactic fermentation and no oak treatment and was bottled with a 2.5 g/l RS.

VineVenom Serenade 2015 Cap Classique, WO Elgin, 12.3% Abv.

The wine shows a lovely creamy explosive mousse with a fine bubble, lovely bright tangy acids and a complex bouquet of green apple skins, grilled almonds, cardamom and spicy white citrus. The palate is full and expansive, tangy and fresh with sweet and sour acids, layers of citrus, yellow grapefruit, lemon cream biscuits, crunchy green apples and a long, dry, saline picante finish. Very impressive depth of fruit but also beautiful complexity, electric vibrancy and a stony cool climate minerality on the finish. A thoroughly accomplished wine that will titillate fellow Champagne and sparking wine devotees. (1,600 bottles produced.)

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

Sadly, as yet, there is no follow up Cap Classique to the 2015 maiden vintage. But fear not! Samantha has been busy at work producing an impressive dry Carignan / Touriga Nacional 2020 Rose, a rather premium tasting Swartland Flor Contact Chenin Blanc 2020 as well as a delicious, Vin de Soif styled Swartland 60% Syrah / 40% Touriga Nacional Rosado 2021. I tasted newly bottled samples of all of the above and they were seriously impressive. I look forward to reviewing them properly in due course closer to release. The empire building has begun in earnest.

Tasting the Tantalising New Releases from Jessica Saurwein – Part 2: Om Pinot Noir 2020…

The third wine in Jessica Saurwein’s impressive range after her Elgin Chi Riesling and Nom Pinot Noir from WO Elandskloof is her Om Pinot Noir made from fruit grown in the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge in Walker Bay, Hermanus.

Sourced from a dryland grown vineyard situated just 12 kilometres from the sea which lies at 300 metres above sea-level, the soils are granitic in origin with a significant portion of clay. The Burgundian Pinot Noir clones planted in 2006 are 115 and 667.

The grapes were hand-picked and cold soaked prior to fermentation which began spontaneously with natural yeasts. Post fermentation, the wine spent 10 months in a combination of new and older 228 litre French oak barrels.

The new home of Saurwein Wines at Waterval farm in Stanford, Walker Bay.

As if two new stellar Pinot Noir releases wasn’t enough, Saurwein Wines has now found a exciting new home at Waterval farm in Stanford. Jessica and family recently moved to the farm and will embark on a regenerative agricultural farming venture including the establishment of a small vineyard over the next year or two.

Saurwein Om Pinot Noir 2020, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, 13.5% Abv.

While the Saurwein Nom and Om cuvees exhibit similar youthful foresty aromatics of savoury red and black berry fruits, bramble berry spice and a roasted cashew nut complexity, it’s on the palate that the real brilliance of the Om cuvee is revealed. Utterly vivacious and vibrant, refreshingly tart and fresh, boasting notes of cranberry, red cherries, pomegranates and blood oranges with a beguiling stony mineral tannin seam running through the wine. The wine finishes with hints of espresso, exotic sweet baking spices and a supremely sleek harmonious length. This is a class act, both sophisticated and seamlessly balanced. A new benchmark for Jessica. Bravo! Drink now and over 10-15 years.

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

Tasting the Tantalising New Releases from Jessica Saurwein – Part 1: Nom Pinot Noir 2020…

If you don’t know Jessica Saurwein and her delicious fine wines, let me introduce you to ex-model, super mum and more latterly a high-flying winemaker with an incredibly deft touch. Now in her 6th year of winemaking under her own brand Saurwein, the 2020 vintage sees some of her most accomplished and seductive releases yet. In December 2020 I reviewed her stunning new release 2020 Riesling (93+/100 GSMW) and now, just ahead of international “Drink Pinot Noir Day”, I get the chance to assess her latest red creations – the Nom Pinot Noir 2020 from WO Elandskloof (think Kaaimansgat / Villiersdorp etc) and also the Om Pinot Noir 2020 from the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge.

Made from vines grown on shale soils in the Elandskloof Valley near Villiersdorp, the vineyards lie at 700 metres above sea-level and are surrounded by towering mountains making this terroir ideal for cooler climate varieties like Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The Nom Pinot Noir features classic Burgundian clones 115, 667 and 777 from a vineyard planted in 2008. We all know about the dry 2018 vintage and the cooler, more classical 2019 vintage, but 2020 was a year with ideal ripening conditions. Wind during fruit set led to a reduced crop of smaller berries and thus wonderfully intense musts with medium tannins and vibrantly fresh acids.

Jessica at the new home of Saurwein Wines in Stanford

The grapes were hand-picked and cold soaked prior to fermentation which began spontaneously with natural yeasts. Post fermentation, the wine spent 10 months in a combination of new and older 228 litre French oak barrels.

As if two new stellar Pinot Noir releases wasn’t enough, Saurwein Wines has now found a exciting new home at Waterval farm in Stanford. Jessica and family recently moved to the farm and will embark on a regenerative agricultural farming venture including the establishment of a small vineyard over the next year or two. I can’t wait to visit Jessica and Roland at their new home in the near future.

Saurwein Nom Pinot Noir 2020, WO Elandskloof, 14.5% Abv.

The 2020 Pinot Noir shows an abundance of depth and intensity with aromatics brimming with notes of savoury red cherry, red currant, sappy freshly cut hedgerow and earthy, bramble berry spice nuances. The oak is incredibly well integrated and plays very much a minor backing track support role. On the palate, the wine is medium bodied but dense, wonderfully intense yet simultaneously weightless, fleshy and powerful with delicious savoury red and black berry fruits, ripe sun raisined sloe berries, roasted nuts, hints of wild strawberry and a full, opulent mouth coating finish with finely poised tannins and delightfully balanced acids. Another very detailed, opulent, savoury expression of Pinot Noir from the Cape. Drink this on release and over the next 8 to 10 years.

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

A True Burgundy Star On the Rise – Tasting the New 2018 Red Releases from Bruno Desaunay-Bissey…

So much has been written on or about the iconic domaines and wines of Burgundy making it so much more satisfying coming across a top drawer producer that I have not encountered before. Discovering the incredible wines of Bruno Desaunay-Bissey and unravelling the story behind this family domaine has been a great pleasure. These are wines with wonderful focus and purity of fruit, carefully considered extraction, impressively creamy concentration and an understated power all polished off into a final artisanal expression in bottle that shows an authenticity of style that represents Bruno’s own personal taste and passion for wine.

Together with his wife, Marie-Christine Bissey and his son, Bruno manages this small family domaine based in Flagey-Echezeaux that consists of 6 hectares, some of which is owned by the family, including prestigious old vine plots in Echezeaux and Grands Echezeaux, with additional plots farmed on a “fermage” basis. A fermage is a piece of land which is owned by someone other than the person cultivating it, or a farming tenancy in effect.  It is estimated that in 2010, two-thirds of all French agricultural land was tenant-farmed. Because vineyard land tends to inspire affection in the families who own it, even when they have become involved in other activities, fermages are very common in French wine regions even though this may not necessarily be identified on the producer’s wine labels.

With first vintages produced in 1975, it seems almost inconceivable that wines of this quality have managed to enter the market almost unnoticed, especially considering the current clamour and fervour of wine merchants to discover “the next big thing” in Burgundy. Over the years, some of the production was sold off to other domaines and as recently as the mid-1990’s, several of Bruno’s valuable barrels of Grands Echezeaux were being sold to illustrious names like Dominique Laurent. The Grands Echezeaux Grand Cru appellation takes the shape of a triangle with its northern point orientated towards Musigny, its eastern flank bordered by the Clos Vougeot Grand Cru and its western flank by Echezeaux Grand Cru. The Desaunay-Bissey old vine parcel, planted from 1928 onwards, is located on the point of this triangle.

Since 2007 Bruno uses no herbicides or pesticides and all the soil is tilled. Bruno’s winemaking is very terroir-expressive, doing short pre-fermentation macerations, using only indigenous yeasts and crucially, not too much extraction.  Barrel-aging is on average about 33% new except for the Grands Cru reds where a slightly higher percentage is used.  Since the early 1990s, the wines are neither fined nor filtered.  Bruno’s wines are normally only racked twice, once after malolactic fermentations and once before the assemblage.

Bruno cultivates, together with his father-in law, Daniel Bissey, several other parcels of very old vines situated in Vosne (some 80+ years), Echezeaux (some 110+ years) Grands-Echezeaux (70+ years), Chambolle (90+ years) and Nuits St. Georges (60+ years).

Bourgogne Vieilles Vignes 2018, 14.5 Abv.

This ‘entry level’ Bourgogne appellation Pinot Noir displays some of the most seductive exotic notes of purple flowers, pink musk, blueberry and black cherries showing where the old vines start to make their influence felt. On the palate there is focus and tension, powdery tannins and fine textural shape all framed beautifully by bright fresh acids. A delicious offering with intensity and blue and black berry length, hints of wild strawberry and a beautiful saline bite on the finish. This really punches above its weight. Drink now to 2028+.

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

Gevrey-Chambertin 2018, 14% Abv. 

Deep and alluring, this Gevrey shows an impressively broody depth of black currant, blueberries and a savoury, brambley, meaty complexity with a kiss of graphite spice. Pure and expressive, there is impressive concentration and focus on the palate with Parma violets, caramelised cherries, blueberry crumble and some attractive chalky limestone mineral grip on the finish. Vibrant, energetic and textually very polished, this should evolve beautifully over a few more years in bottle but it’s already so mouth-watering and delicious. Archetypal premium quality village Gevrey. Drink from 2022 to 2034+.

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

Chambolle-Musigny Combe d’Orveaux Vieilles Vignes 2018, 14% Abv. 

This famous Chambolle plot yields a richer, earthier expression with a wonderful overlay of perfumed dried flowers, potpourri and subtle savoury Chinese five spice hints. Laser like focus on the palate, the wine shows a potent intensity of red and black berry fruits, mouth-coating richness and a long, liquid minerality on the finish. A very pretty wine that displays impressive powerful and tension behind a classy, elegant demeanour. Drink from 2022 to 2035+.

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

Vosne Romanee Vieilles Vignes 2018, 13.5% Abv. 

Initially this displays a deep, earthy, broody dark fruited aromatics with bramble berry, black currant and layers of savoury Vosne spice. With a little more coaxing, this wine starts to yield notes of pink musk, violets and blueberry hints which follow to a wonderfully chiselled, focused, tight knit palate with incredibly chalky, fleshy sweet tannins. Again, plenty of concentration, blue and back berry fruits, purple rock candy and all the textural power and drive that you could hope for from a top Vosne Romanee producer. Despite being perhaps a little less intricate and exotic, this wine’s power, concentration and pure focus are alone enough to bowl me over and make me contemplate pouring a second glassful. Absolutely delicious. Drink from 2022 to 2034+.

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

Vosne Romanee 1er Cru Les Beaux-Monts 2018, 14% Abv. 

Sourced from an 80+ year old vines, this wine shows pure class and allows its pedigree to shine through in this serious expression of Vosne Romanee. One of the most respected 1er Cru vineyards delivers quality in bucket loads in 2018 with even more perfume, lift and intricacy than the village wine. The aromatics display a splendid array of crunchy wild strawberries, red and black cherries, subtle dried herbs and alluring Vosne spice. The palate reveals incredible depth and breath with piercing mouth-watering concentration, fine-grained tannins like polished marble and a tart, bright maritime salinity on the finish that retains a seductive kiss of pink rock candy. This is a very serious effort indeed. An utterly seductive Pinot. Drink from 2022 to 2038+.

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

Echezeaux Grand Cru 2018, 14% Abv. 

Made from old vines planted in 1902, 1940 and 1945, this Grand Cru red shows a more reticent and broody demeanour to begin with before revealing a complex melange of red and black berry fruits on the nose, seamlessly integrated oak and a subtle freshly tilled earth savoury note. Broad, suave and texturally plush, this is a wine to savour, to lose yourself in and to allow the more intricate finery to reveal itself slowly over time in the glass. The texture is dense, compact, almost creamy, with powder fine tannins, layers of bright blueberry, cassis and Fraises des Bois notes that linger for an age on the finish. Grand Cru Burgundy is not just about more volume, it’s about intricacy and complexity of rhythm, more drum, more base and an altogether more melodic crescendo. Drink from 2022 to 2038+.

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

Grands-Echezeaux Grand Cru 2018, 14% Abv. 

There is plenty of fragrant intricacy and complexity evident on this big hitting Grand Cru all delivered with the most considered delicacy, complexity and subtlety. The wine shows notes of rose petals, violets, pink musk and perfumed red and black orchard fruits underpinned by a grounding of chalky, stony minerality. The palate displays a broad seductive rainbow of flavours starting with tart red berry fruits and strawberry pith before fading to more darker blue and black berry fruit notes. But it’s the tension, taut energy, stony minerality, focus and length of flavour that really makes this a real eye opener. Quality comes at a price and this is certainly worthy of top echelon Grand Cru Burgundy status. Drink from 2022 to 2040+.

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

Wines available in the UK from Importer Wimbledon Wine Cellar London and Handford Wines.

Tasting The Luxurious Wines of Domaine de la Romanee Conti From The Classical 2017 Vintage…

It’s a real anomaly that Domaine de la Romanee Conti releases its new vintage allocations one year after most of burgundy’s producers. So while we finish off the small but swift Burgundy En-primeur 2019 campaign, DRC are only about to release their “in bottle” 2018 vintage wines. But in South Africa, the official DRC agent Great Domaines operates yet another year behind with the 2017 vintage allocations only now going out to a handful of very lucky consumers.

But it was this fact that reminded me that the DRC tasting in London was one I did manage to attend before the UK went into lockdown in late March 2020. So time to post my notes on these rarified wines which are some of the most sought after hedonistic Pinot Noir cuvees known to man.

2017 was the first truly generous vintage for the domaine since 2009 yielding wines packed with generosity, energy, refinement and utter charm that expressed a more classical interpretation of intricate structure, power, intensity and length.

The grandes Dame of the UK wine trade Jancis Robinson MW melting in the presence of “the Pope”…

The vintage was marked by three significant events, namely a threatening frost between the 27th and 29th April, the second a wonderfully early and fast flowering over three days at the end of May, and lastly, a final notable event being the retirement, after 39 years, of Maitre de Chai Bernard Noblet. In the end, when the final bottling was completed in the Spring of 2019, another exceptional vintage had been completed at the world’s most famous wine estate.

Domaine de la Romanee Conti Corton Grand Cru 2017

A fabulously bright and inviting nose greets you with lifted perfumed offerings of crushed red cherry, strawberry compote, violets and earthy red plum. The palate is vibrant and fresh with more classicism, tension and restraint than seen from more riper recent vintages like 2015 and 2016. All the hallmark harmonious balance is on display with a fine mineral under vein, powdery tannins and a fine focused finish of moderate length.

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

Domaine de la Romanee Conti Echezeaux Grand Cru 2017

The Echezeaux displays a strikingly darker fruited nose than the Corton with complex black berry notes, earthy black currant, dark orchard fruits together with alluring notes of sappy wood spice and pink musk. The entry is pure and focused with a crystalline purity of red cherries moving to a mid palate of red and black bramble berries and wild strawberry before becoming slightly more reticent again on the stony, mineral finish. Again, a wine that speaks of the vintage through its elegance and classicism.

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

Domaine de la Romanee Conti Grands Echezeaux Grands Cru 2017

This is a serious offering with perhaps less lift, overt opulence and sex appeal but hides a finely tuned V8 engine under the fine structured curves of its bodywork. There is ample fragrant dark black berry fruits, black bramble berries and a sweet wood spice underpinned by sweet plump chalky tannins, full glycerol concentrated weight and an impressively balanced fruit – acid balance. What this wine may miss now in immediacy and showiness, it more than makes up for with structural precision, classical power and an intense, harmonious long finish.

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

Domaine de la Romanee Conti Richebourg Grand Cru 2017

The aromatics of this expression show the intense stony dusty minerality of Burgundian terroir with notes of graphite and sappy spice lending further interest. The red cranberry and red cherry fruits are subtle and restrained in a way that classical Burg hounds would find highly appealing and reassuring in this age of global warming and ripe, showy vintages. There is nevertheless plenty of concentration, depth and broody structured power that should reveal all in years to come.

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

Domaine de la Romanee Conti Romanee St Vivant Grand Cru 2017

The RSV offers up a harmonious, complex melange of fine limestone dust, wood smoke, wet stones together with hints of cherry pip, forest strawberries and dark broody black orchard fruit notes. The palate is seductive and pure with crystalline red fruit notes, sleek polished marble tannins and a mouthwatering acid freshness. This has the perfect balance of power, minerality and fruit purity.

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

Domaine de la Romanee Conti La Tache Grand Cru 2017

Sweet, earthy red fruits, red bramble berry and sweet strawberry notes, with chalk spice, piquant minerality, wet stones and sappy chalk duster nuances. Palate is foursquare and fleshy with palate weight, breadth and expansive complexity of red musk, pink and purple rock candy and a silky, sensual, long persistent finish. Utterly sublime and probably wine of the vintage?

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

Domaine de la Romanee Conti Romanee Conti Grand Cru 2017

Deep dark and broody full of black bramble berry fruits, violets and cassis, salinity and sapidity. Crystalline and glassy with tension, taut tight fisted reticence and finely formed chalky mineral tannins. Broody, restrained and cloaked in mystery, there is subliminal power and depth, textural feel and potency that will come to the fore with time in bottle. One for the classical Burg lovers with deep pockets.

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

Tasting The Crystallum Whole Bunch Pinot Noir 2019 – A Truly Characterful Expression…

We all know Peter-Allan and Andrew Finlayson make some of the prettiest and accomplished Pinot Noirs in South Africa. With their family heritage and know how engendered in them by their father Peter Finlayson, top Pinot and Chardonnay has always been part of their DNA.

But when it comes to their Whole Bunch Pinot Noir cuvee, this small production endeavour has always been a vehicle for experimentation. Some drinkers, like myself, have certainly become besotted with previous vintages like the 2016 and 2018, but equally, I do realise it can be quite a divisive wine stylistically. In my mind, it probably comes down to how much French Burgundy one drinks and also from which domaines, which will decide your proclivity.

The 2019 was fermented using only native yeasts in small open top vessels. 100% whole bunches were employed. The wine spent a total of six weeks on the skins after which it went into French and Hungarian oak barrels (25% new) for 11 months ageing.

Crystallum Whole Bunch Pinot Noir 2019, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, 13.6% Abv.

pH 3.52 | TA 5.3 g/l | Total SO2 46 mg/l | RS 2.5 g/l | Only 1219 bottles

What a complex and intricate wine with aromatics that combine the best of the local terroir with fabulous whole bunch sapidity and minerality. Combine these notes with wild strawberry, cranberry, sun-dried cherry, bramble berry and sappy wood spice and you have the makings of a wonderful Pinot. The palate starts off a little raw, grippy and tight but with a little air quickly shows round supple notes of delicious black cherry, hoisin plum sauce, fresh fennel and spicy bramble berry fruits. The Whole Bunch has always been a bit of an outlier but wow, what an incredibly characterful wine. All the Whole Bunch wines normally need a bit of extra time to come around but in 2019, yet again, Peter-Allan knocks it out the park! Drink from 2022 to 2032+

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

The Crystallum wines are distributed in the UK by Liberty Wines.