Fine Wine Safari New Release Notes – Tasting The Maiden Release Crystallum Litigo Pinot Noir 2019…

The Litigo Pinot Noir is an impressive new release for Peter-Allan and Andrew Finlayson after their Bona Fide cuvee was not made into a single vineyard wine but blended away into the very impressive Peter Max 2019. I can’t remember if I knew this fact or not earlier in the year when Peter-Allan hosted a new release tasting dinner in London on the banks of the Thames, but it certainly explains in hindsight the extra depth, precision and concentration evident on the Peter Max 2019!

The new Litigo Cuvee from the Overberg.

The maiden vintage Litigo is made from seven year old vines sourced from Crystallum’s very own Shaw’s Mountain Vineyard just outside the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley. The Litigo, meaning ‘discussion’ in legal terms, is a wine made in partnership with lawyer Eben van Wyk. Some cuvees come and go, such as the Paradisum Syrah from the Swartland, but I think this is certainly a wine to watch as the vines slowly notch up a little more age.

The wine was fermented using only native yeasts in stainless steel tanks using a 20% whole bunch component with the rest de-stemmed but left intact as whole berries. The wine spent a total of four weeks on the skins after which it went into French and Hungarian oak barrels (30% new) for 11 months before bottling.

Crystallum Litigo Pinot Noir 2019, WO Overberg, 13.6% Abv.

pH 3.60, 13.67% Abv., 5.0 g/l TA, Total sulphites 46 mg/l, Residual sugar 1.7 g/l.

When initially opened, the aromatics were rather broody and foresty, dominated by bramble berry fruits, red currants and wild strawberries. But chilling the bottle down ever so slightly and affording it a little more time to breath and open its shoulders, the wine really does blossom into something quite beautiful. The aromatics are slightly wild and spicy with notes of red cherries, strawberries and earthy mulberry notes embellished with hints of dried baking herbs. There is subtle spice nuances, an attractive violet and rose petal perfume but no real evidence of the 20% whole bunch component or any overt wood spice notes from the 30% new oak, just harmonious integration. The palate is impressively silky and sleek with beautifully pure refined tannins, a light to medium bodied mouthfeel weight and delicate, integrated earthy red berry and pomegranate fruit notes enlivened by soft fresh acids and a seamless finish. One can’t say this wine has the most mineral of profiles but certainly elegance and finesse are the order of the day. A really gentle, generous wine that speaks softly and is very amiable. Drink now and over the next 5 to 8+ years. (Only 1,264 bottles were produced)

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

The Duncan Family Release a Trio of Exceptional Wines from California – Tasting the New Release Wines from Twomey, Silver Oak and Ovid…

Twomey Cellars, Silver Oak and Ovid are three of California’s most iconic wineries brought together by their joint ownership under the Duncan family. The now iconic Silver Oak brand was established in 1972 by Ray Duncan and Justin Meyer and is currently operated by Ray’s sons David Duncan, who serves as the President and CEO, and his brother, Tim Duncan, who serves as Executive Vice President. The cult winery Ovid located on Pritchard Hill overlooking Napa Valley and the Silverado Trail is the most recent acquisition that was purchased in 2017 and continues to craft iconic and highly collectable wines under the ongoing stewardship of talented winemaker Austin Peterson.

Twomey Cellars Anderson Valley Pinot Noir 2017, 14.3% abv.

I visited California in 2017 and of course who could forget the strong winter rains that brought a welcome relief to many years of drought. After a late March budbreak, good flowering conditions followed setting up a healthy crop size. After an intensely hot summer with two extended heatwaves, the harvest was a fairly brief two week affair and slightly later than recent previous vintages. The warmer, more inland location of the Ferrington Vineyard coupled with its sandy, gravelly soils guaranteed fruit flavour and opulence while the more coastal Monument Tree Vineyard with its cooler clay soils retained moisture well allowing the fruit to be picked several weeks later. Blended together, these two vineyards made for an expressive Pinot Noir with its own unique Anderson Valley elegance, freshness and intensity. The wine was aged for 13 months in 100% French oak with 31% of new barrels.

A wonderfully deep seductive purple plum garnet colour, the Anderson Valley is always my favourite Pinot Noir in the Twomey range alongside the Bien Nacido and Russian River cuvees. Beautifully perfumed, the 2017 has fine lifted aromatics of crushed rose petals and sweet cherry blossoms along side alluring notes of demerara sugar, wet grey slate, pithy black cherry and wild fraises de bois fruit notes. The palate is fresh and pure with its usual elegance and translucence that always make it such a stand out wine. There is also a wonderful underlying depth and concentration all packaged up with a seamless texture, suave graphite mineral tannins and plenty of finesse. The finish bristles with notes of black cherry, sun raisined cranberries and red bramble berries from the forest floor making this another impressive release from Twomey Cellars. Drink now and over 8 to 10+ years.

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

Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, Alexander Valley, 13.9% Abv.

The 2016 vintage was of course the beginning of the end for the enduring drought that had plagued California. Ample rain in the winter months filled reservoirs and soil profiles allowing a strong start to the growing season. Warm weather in mid-February led to early budbreak which managed to avoid frost damage in spring time. The season was consistently warm throughout with two smaller heat spikes. Some cooler weeks in August followed bringing in plenty of coastal fog to protect the developing fruit. Ripening was steady and in balance resulting in a very healthy crop with intense flavours and concentration together with importantly a good fresh acidity backbone.

The 2016 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is comprised of 94.6% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Merlot, 0.5% Petit Verdot, 0.5% Cabernet Franc and 0.4% Malbec. The final blend was transferred to American oak barrels where it was aged for 24 months, with 50% of the barrels being new. The colour is a dark opaque ruby red and displays wonderfully ripe, exotic aromatics of violets, earthy crème de cassis, freshly baked blueberry muffins, dried baking herbs, sage, spearmint and vanilla pod spice. With a little more coaxing out the glass, evocative notes of creamy oak spice and black currant crumble start to emerge to reinforce this wines opulence and depth. The palate is fabulously dense and creamy with plush stony graphite tannins, a broad plump fleshy mid-palate weight and breadth that finishes with delicious notes of black currant, black cherry and raspberry confit. Just beautifully constructed and fine-tuned with balance, power and focus. Drink this from release and over the next 20 to 25+ years.

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

Ovid Proprietary Red 2016, Napa Valley, 14.8% Abv.

After the meagre yields from previous drought vintages at the Pritchard Hill estate, 2016 delivered normal crop levels. The last weeks of August brought a warm finish to the growing season and set the ball in motion for the creation of a wine with density and power, freshness and vibrancy. The 2016 proprietary red is made from a blend of 66% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Cabernet Franc, 8% Merlot and 3% Petit Verdot. The aromatics are indeed lifted and expansive from the start, displaying complex notes of graphite and violets, blueberry and mulberry, black bramble berries, saline cassis, and hedgerow spice. Lovely exotic notes of black salted liquorice, black currant and pithy black cherry melt on the palate that is luxurious and fleshy yet simultaneously vivacious, concentrated and beautifully fresh. It’s the attention to detail, the harmonious seamless flavours and the impressively fine grained tannins that steer this wine in a direction of greatness. The finish is long, hedonistic and intense and resonates with a super long, persistent mocha and espresso laden black fruited finish. Very classy indeed. Drink from release and over the next 10 to 15+ years.

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

The wines are available to the UK trade on allocation through importer The Wine Treasury.

Fine Wine Safari New Release Tasting Notes – Champagne Dom Perignon 2010 Cuvee…

The 2010 harvest in Champagne was a big contrast to the previous two massively successful vintages in 2008 and 2009 released from most major houses in Champagne.

In 2010, big rains hit the region in mid-August leading to some swelling in the berries and even possible botrytis. The crop then ripened very rapidly with serious worries about rot spreading especially among the more susceptible Pinot varieties as damp mild conditions persisted into mid-September. But the saving grace was the change in weather halfway through the harvest with very warm days and cool nights helping to ripen the cooler vineyards as well as restrict any further spread of rot.

“It was a year of contrasts with fragile, painstakingly-sorted Pinots and triumphant Chardonnay.”

Champagne Dom Perignon 2010, 12% Abv.

This fabulous 2010 release is a super complex and intricate expression showing an immediacy and upfront appeal with delicious brioche notes you just wish you could find on every bottle of Champagne you opened. Aromatics are intense and piercing with a real citric, briney sea breeze sour dough immersion followed by a zippy, rich nuanced palate that sings with a well orchestrated performance of pear purée, brioche hints, crisp acidity and a harmonious, comforting apple strudel finish. Leave the 2008 in your cellar and embrace this lovely 2010 Champagne now and over the next 10+ years.

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

Fine Wine Safari New Release Tasting Notes – Crystallum Cuvée Cinema Pinot Noir 2019…

This small boutique winery was established in 2007 by brothers Peter-Allan and Andrew Finlayson. Their father, Peter, was of course one of the pioneers in the production of cool climate Chardonnay and Pinot Noir at Bouchard Finlayson, laying the perfect foundations for Peter-Allan and Andrew to follow in his footsteps but with their own new label, Crystallum.

Crystallum is now regarded as one of the top wineries in South Africa with fruit sourced from some new vineyards. All of the wines are fermented using indigenous yeasts and new oak has gradually been reduced to focus on the wines’ brightness and fruit purity.

The 2019 Cuvée Cinema Pinot Noir was produced from fruit grown in a single vineyard – one of the highest in the Hemel-en-Aarde region. This region is characterised by a moderate climate which results in delayed ripening and a late harvest. The soils are clay and shale in composition, which allows optimum fruit development while naturally restricting vigour and keeping crop levels low.

Once a location for a film based on the life of Napoleon, the ‘Cuvée Cinema’ vineyard produces some of the most intense, age worthy Pinot Noir in South Africa from Dijon clones.

Crystallum Cuvée Cinema Pinot Noir 2019, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, 13.5% Abv.

This wine is always one of the most opulent and expressive wines in the Crystallum line up and this 2019 is another exceptional offering produced from 100% Ridge fruit with 70% whole-bunch fermentation. The bouquet is super fragrant and exotic with notes of Indian spices, violets and rose petals, dried leaves and subtle hints of forest floor and the most attractive melange of red currants, sour cherry and black bramble berries. The signature plushness and elegance of the palate is well measured and beautifully pure with marked notes of pink musk, red cherries, hints of cranberry brightness and a kiss of cinnamon spice on the finish. The tannins are suave and velvety lending enough structure and frame to give this wine a wonderful shape in the mouth. A really fabulous expression of Pinot Noir that could comfortably rub shoulders with some of Burgundy’s finest wines. Drink now and over the next 8 to 10+ years. (6,744 bottles produced)

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

Creation Wines Shining a Light On Premium Chardonnay Production in the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge…

I think it’s indisputable that only handful of producers in South Africa have well and truly cracked the winemaking code for producing top world class quality Chardonnay. So many commentators and consumers get confused between producers making good versus great expressions.

During some lockdown drinking, I thought I’d take the opportunity to revisit one of the wines I’ve found to consistently tick all the quality boxes when it comes to premium Chardonnay made in a style that is unquestionably world class.

Some of the accolades accrued by Creation’s Art of Chardonnay premium range.

Creation Wines are certainly one of the few South African wineries producing Chardonnay expressions that can be considered “next level” when tasted along side top international benchmarks from France, New Zealand, Australia or California. Originally from Switzerland, owner JC Martin together with his South African wife Carolyn (nee Finlayson), bought their original 22 hectares of virgin land in the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge and completed their cellar in time for their 2007 harvest. Their Walker Bay estate now encompasses 50 hectares planted with over 11 varieties, but focuses mainly on producing premium Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Creation Art of Chardonnay 2017, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, 13.5 Abv.

Made from an 18 year old single vineyard but also from specific vines within the site that show the most balanced growth. This wine has a more complex, creamy, deep, broody nose with delicate leesy biscuit notes, green melon preserve, grapefruit zest, crunchy green pear and lemon cordial. Incredible subtlety, freshness, and a steely 3.3 pH highlights the super taut acidity, intense piercing mid-palate and a suave, stylish finish punctuated by an attractive vanilla pod and oak spice kiss. A very ‘Grand Vin’ Chardonnay indeed that deserves recognition. 4,600 bottles produced. Drink it now and over the next 15+ years.

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

For other top examples of South African Chardonnay, look no further than Kershaw Wines, Leeu Passant, Meerlust, Hamilton Russell, Ataraxia, Restless River, Julien Schaal, Newton Johnson, Storm, Elgin Ridge, Paul Cluver, Crystallum, Bouchard Finlayson, De Morgenzon and Uva Mira. Buy all these wines with confidence.

Reimagining the Iona Elgin Wines – Tasting the Iona Monopole New Releases in London with Rosie Gunn…

I have been following Iona and their delicious cool climate wines for many years. So naturally, I was thrilled to be contacted in February 2020 by owner Andrew Gunn, who invited me to join him for an exciting new release tasting in London profiling their new single vineyard wines that have been vinified to specifically portray the unique micro climates and soil types of the Iona Elgin Highlands.

Just a few weeks before we were due to meet, I received an email from Rosie Gunn, Andrew’s wife and partner in the Iona winery, to inform me that Andrew had unfortunately had a terrible fall off a ladder on the farm and had broken a number of bones, so she would be making the trip to London in his place. On the 5th March, I met up with Rosie and Marketing Manager Brad Gold at Trivet, one of London’s most exciting new restaurant openings, to taste through their fantastic new range of wines.

Tasting with Rosie Gunn in London.

From each main red and white wine selection, Iona has teased out two single vineyard Pinot Noirs and two Chardonnays, with only 500 bottles of each wine produced. This range is also joined by the Iona Elgin Highlands range of whites and reds along with the Solace Syrah produced from the nearby Brocha farm, where Rosie used to live and which is farmed organically with its ultra rocky soils, warmer growing temperatures and a lower rainfall.

Iona Monopole Elgin Highlands Pinot Noir 2018, WO Elgin, 13.74 Abv.

10 barrels were produced from mostly younger vines. Using 115, 667, 777 Pinot Noir clones, the wine was aged 11 months in barrel with a low solids content to avoid too much racking.

Bright tart aromatic profile full of crushed cranberry and rose petals, Turkish delight and potpourri perfume. Pristine, linear and pin point in the mouth, the acids frame the palate beautifully with attractive red berry fruits, cherry and hints of pomegranate. Pure, intense but with sufficient open, accessible fruit depth and lovely complexing minerality on the finish.

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

The new single vineyard wines all come from the dry 2017 vintage. A cool winter ensured good vine dormancy and rainfall was low, similar to 2015 and 2016. Flowering took place a little earlier than usual in warm sunny conditions, with the vines cropping slightly higher than usual but producing exceptional fruit quality and concentration. Grapes were harvested from late February to mid-March and yielded exceptional quality with pristine fruit purity, high natural acidity, real intensity of fruit flavour and a signature elegance that marked all the wines of 2017.

Iona Monopole Kloof Limited Release Pinot Noir 2017, WO Elgin, 13.57 Abv.

Clones 667, 115 and 777. Around 5 to10% of whole bunches used from soils with large deposits of silica quartz with underlying clay with a North facing aspect and East / West row direction.

A more pronounced minerality of chalk board duster and crushed limestone that comes through on the aromatics as spice and complex sapidity. It melts into dried potpourri, raisined cranberry, pithy red cherry and wild strawberry notes. Cool, sleek, crystalline, this is grown up Pinot Noir that opens up in the glass to display beautiful notes of red cherry sherbet and pink musk together with struck quartz minerality. Polished texture, harmonious and super classy effort from a great vintage.

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

Iona Monopole Kroon Pinot Noir 2017, WO Elgin, 13.63 Abv.

Clones 115 and 777. Around 5 to10% of whole bunches used from soils with alluvial gravel beds, sandstone and ferrocrete (iron) with underlying clay with a South facing aspect and North / South row direction.

A slightly deeper, darker, bloodier aromatic expression with notes of pomegranate, blood orange, spiced red cherries with a fabulous mineral under vein of wet river stones. Hints of sweet and sour together with intense salinity meet your palate on the entry. This wine displays the same high pedigree polished marble tannins as the Kloof cuvee but with a touch more flesh and savoury, pithy red fruit on the finish. Another very impressive Pinot Noir expression.

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

Whites

Iona Monopole Elgin Highlands Chardonnay 2018, WO Elgin, 13.25 Abv.

Dusty, smoky, spicy yellow fruits blend into wet river stone minerality, rain on grey slate and pithy green apple and yellow grapefruit intensity. Fleshy, glycerol but fabulously concentrated, piercing and intense. The oaking is super intelligent and the integration of crystalline fruit and acidity vibrancy perfectly judged. A really delicious Chardonnay that will get a lot of drinkers very excited.

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

Iona Monopole Kloof Chardonnay 2017, WO Elgin, 13.64 Abv.

Clones CY95, CY96 and 548 from soils with large deposits of silica quartz with underlying clay with a North facing aspect and East / West row direction.

Classic complex mix of liquid minerality, struck flint and crushed gravel melt gently away into nuances of lemon citrus peel, spicy lemon grass and earthy papaya skins. Bold, brazen and super focused, this wine has wonderful lines of acidity and cool, white citrus tension backed by an enthralling chalky limestone mineral pithy complexity. Exquisite intensity and concentration make for a very serious glassful. A truly outstanding South African Chardonnay expression!

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

Iona Monopole Fynbos Chardonnay 2017, WO Elgin, 13.72 Abv.

Clones CY95, CY96 and Rustenburg from soils with alluvial gravel beds, sandstone with underlying clay with a North facing aspect and North West / South East row direction.

Made from grapes grown on a slightly heavier soil with more northerly aspect, this wine shows a bolder, richer, riper expression on the nose with lemon and lime cordial, lemon bon bons, apple pastille and green rock candy seduction. Plush and beautifully textured with more savoury, stony, green plum notes layered with lemon herbs, citrus spice and a splendidly long, concentrated green stone fruit finish. Very showy and confident.

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

Iona Solace Syrah 2017, WO Elgin, 14.1 Abv.

Saline, purple bright fruits full of black saline intensity, salty black liquorice and supple, glassy, tart savoury intensity. Classy, classical and very cool and refined packed with black cherry, black pepper corns and blueberry pie nuances. A real evolution in style that perhaps works better for Elgin’s cooler vineyards than previous bigger, more extracted styles of Solace. This wine seems perfectly judged on so many levels.

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

Iona Monopole Wild Ferment Sauvignon Blanc 2018, WO Elgin, 13.55 Abv.

A super exotic complex Sauvignon Blanc nose packed full of tangerine, grapefruit, dusty white peach, quince and a tropical papaya fruit finish. Fleshy, delicious and super distinguished, this wine ups the ante and delivers an impressively complex, serious glass of Sauvignon Blanc.

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

Iona Sauvignon Blanc 2019, WO Elgin, 13.63 Abv.

The aromatics are filled with lemon grass and tangerine peel complexity, this wine has mouth watering vigour and enthralling allure and focus. Fabulous notes of mango and papaya, yellow citrus and green apple blend imperiously, building to a vinous crescendo on the palate with delicious, bright, fresh Sauvignon Blanc grassy nuances. This is benchmark cool climate Elgin Sauvignon Blanc that really ticks all the pleasure boxes.

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

Pici pasta, Cornish crab and artichokes
Chicken with vinegar sauce
The delicious dessert – A house speciality!
Hokkaido PotatoBaked potato Mille feuille, sake and white chocolate mousse, butter and sake gelato.

The two main concerns you think about when producers shake up their range of wines in the way Iona have, is whether the new single vineyard wines will detract from the overall quality of the larger blends that came before them and whether the new single vineyard wines will be sufficiently different and interesting enough to merit the whole vineyard partitioning exercise. While I certainly had my favourites, I can confirm that the whole new range is very well conceived and the wines are truly unique in their own ways. They are also exceptionally good quality.

In London pricing, they are also not ridiculously priced, making them accessible to both restaurant buyers and Chardonnay aficionados alike. Exciting times indeed for Iona wines. By the time Andrew reads these reviews, I certainly hope he will be well on his way to recovery. Catch you in London on your next trip!

Triumph from Tragedy – Tasting the New Release Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir 2019…

It seems almost every year one corner of the Cape winelands or another is touched by bush fires. As a hangover of the long regional drought, wildfires have taken their toll in the Western Cape just as they have in California. Sadly, 2019 was no different and during this harvest, fires managed to wreak havoc across the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley.

The large wildfires which burnt along the borders of the Hamilton Russell Vineyards estate on January 11th 2019, necessitated the rejecting of almost all the 2019 Pinot Noir grown on site as a result of minor but noticeable smoke taint to the fruit.

In a testament to the true spirit of the wine trade, local neighbours rallied around Hamilton Russell to offer quality parcels of fruit from unaffected areas to allow a 2019 wine to be produced. Grapes came in from the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, the Upper Hemel-en-Aarde and the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley and were, for the first time ever, blended into a Hamilton Russell WO Walker Bay Pinot Noir cuvee by winemaker Emul Ross.

Those with a sharp eye will notice the subtle label change from Hamilton Russell Vineyards to merely Hamilton Russell together with a Walker Bay branded capsule over the closure. This is a fabulous wine that truly is a triumph forged out of tragedy. Anthony’s only worry is that consumers might enjoy the wine’s extra forward, showy opulence too much and demand more of the same next year. Nevertheless, this is definitely a deliciously pure Pinot Noir wine worth buying!

Tasting the new Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir with Anthony Hamilton Russell in London recently.

47% Ridge (Babylon / Creation)

37% Upper (Sumaridge)

16% Valley (Hamilton Russell)

Winemaking changes involved: Less skin contact; More gentle extraction; Inoculation with Hamilton Russell Sauvage wild yeast strain.

Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir 2019, WO Walker Bay, 13.5 Abv.

Having only been bottled a couple of months ago, this 2019 cuvee is wonderfully generous and opulent with layered aromatics of ripe blood oranges, bruleed wood spice, sun raisined red cherry, red bramble berries and subtle hints of pomegranate spice. The palate is perhaps more fleshy, supple and open than a normal Hamilton Russell Vineyards Pinot Noir would be at this youthful stage in its life but it is certainly no less juicy, mouth watering and seductive. The bright fruit forward expression, however attractive, does perhaps obscure some of the usual structure and mineral restraint found on most vintages of Hamilton Russell new releases, however as Anthony commented, “it’s almost like we have just changed coopers or barrel toasting as the fruit quality is still exceptional.” There is fabulous earthy red berry fruit complexity bolstered by fine creamy tannins and soft, tangy acids that steer the wine to a long, glycerol, textured finish packed with oodles of sex appeal. This may be a once-off cuvee born out of tragedy but it is certainly a triumphant wine with great character and upfront appeal. Drink from release or cellar for 6 to 8+ years.

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

Damascene Wines – New Kid on the Block Rocking the Cape Wine Scene…

I first heard about Damascene Wines last year when a few big scores in the local South African home market hit the headlines including a mammoth 97/100 from Winemag.co.za editor Christian Eedes. The young blood behind the venture focusing on producing high quality vinous expressions from unique Cape vineyards is Jean Smit, also known for his work at Boekenhoutskloof as well as a brief spell at Iona some years back.

Damascene Wines is now in the process of securing distribution in several key global markets including the UK for their limited volumes of fine wine, but as Jean was very quick to point out to me, “it is really important that global distribution partners share our attitude and philosophy that is the driving force behind the whole Damascene project.”

With a sell-out Semillon 2018 already in the bag, this white is joined in the range by a fine Pinot Noir, an accomplished Cabernet Franc and an exceptional benchmark Stellenbosch Syrah. Damascene is undoubtedly one of the most exciting new producers to come onto the South African wine seen for some time.

Damascene Semillon 2018, WO Franschhoek, 14 Abv.

The fruit for this vintage was picked from a venerable old vineyard in the Franschhoek valley. Planted in 1942 on alluvial soils of decomposed Table Mountain sandstone, a portion – roughly 15 percent – of the bush vines have naturally mutated into Semillon Gris. Both variants were harvested and co-fermented to add further complexity to the wine. Approximately one-third of the way through fermentation the grape must was transferred to second- and third-fill French oak barriques, for 11 months of sur lie barrel maturation. No lees stirring took place, and the prevention of malolactic fermentation ensured the wine retains its excellent natural acidity. Total production: 707 x 750ml | Bottling date: 8 February 2019 Alc: 14.06%Vol | pH: 3.32 | TA: 5.5 g/L | RS: 3.2 g/L | VA: 0.51 g/L.

Such beautiful subtle aromatics of white citrus, wet chalk and dusty grey slate lead to a fabulously sleek, creamy textured Semillon palate full of glycerol lanolin mouthfeel layered with pithy orange peel zest and tangerine oil complexity. The acids are supple and well integrated with spicy, piquant, mellow yellow fruits. Full, broad, super stony and mineral, this wine is beautifully harmonious, textural and focused! Keep it for 2-3 years before opening and then drink over 5 to 10.

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

Damascene Pinot Noir 2018, WO Elgin, 14.1 Abv.

When David and Genevieve Curl purchased an apple farm in the Elgin valley in 2010, they immediately planted a 3.12-hectare parcel of Pinot Noir on a ridge with ancient of clay-rich Bokkeveld shale. Clones 667 and 777 on rootstock 101-14 were chosen to capitalise on Elgin’s cool climate terroir. Focused on the ultimate goal of crafting small quantities of premium Pinot Noir, the vineyard’s planting density of 6250 vines per hectare encourages stiff competition between the vines, resulting in better flavour and concentration in the fruit. Low disease pressure in the vineyards assisted the desired spontaneous fermentation in the cellar, with only two batches inoculated with a locally isolated yeast strain to fully express the character of the two Pinot Noir clones. To capture the elegance of the fruit, and avoid excessive extraction, the wine spent just 10 days on the skins, with a combination of short pump-overs and punch-downs twice per day. Malolactic fermentation occurred spontaneously in 300- litre French oak barrels, 30% of which were new. The oak barrels were carefully selected from five leading Burgundian coopers, with a range of toasting levels – mostly Light and Blonde. Total production: 3600 x 750ml | Bottling date: 8 February 2019 Alc: 14.1 %Vol| pH: 3.39 | TA: 5.4 g/L | RS: 1.5 g/L | VA: 0.53 g/L.

Rich, character filled nose with plenty of promise. Opening in the glass, the wine reveals hints of mocha and chocolate, cherry liquor, black berries, savoury cured meats, forest floor, freshly tilled earth, black bramble berries with positive green aromatic complexing notes. Warming luxurious inviting style, the palate is obvious and generous with a fine plush glycerol texture, spicy pin point tannins, seductive wild strawberry, kirsch liquor and baking spices, before darker berry fruit nuances take over to carry this wine over the finishing line. 

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

Damascene Cabernet Franc 2018, WO Stellenbosch, 12.87 Abv.

Situated on the cooler east-facing slopes of the Bottelary Hills, this trellised vineyard was planted in 2004 with the CF1 clone of Cabernet Franc. On soils of decomposed granite, and at an altitude of 260-metres above sea level, this lowyielding vineyard produces smaller bunches that offer incredible concentration, structure and ripeness at lower sugar levels. Bunches were de-stemmed directly into stainless steel tanks where whole berries were coldsoaked for three days before being inoculated with a carefully selected yeast strain. For optimum extraction pump-overs took place up to three times per day, with fermentation temperatures peaking at 28˚C. Spontaneous malolactic fermentation took place during the 11 months of maturation in a single 1000-litre oak foudre. The wine was racked just once, two weeks prior to bottling. Total production: 1175 x 750ml | Bottling date: 8 February 2019 Alc: 12.87 %Vol| pH: 3.32 | TA: 4.9 g/L | RS: 1.5 g/L | VA: 0.46 g/L.

An inviting aromatic offering shows classic varietal Cabernet Franc perfume, spice and lift. The nose suggests delicious notes of black currant pastille, crushed black cherry, graphite and lead pencil complexity. The palate has a very focused black currant wine gums intensity with subtle vegetal, stemmy cedar spice notes. Despite the impressively low alcohol level, this wine has a beautiful texture and mouthfeel with a lithe elegance, bright acids and a superbly harmonious finish. Incredibly well designed, this wine shows a lot of appeal and will seduce a lot of Cabernet Franc lovers. 

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

Damascene Syrah 2018, WO Stellenbosch, 13.4 Abv. 

100% Syrah from Polkadraai and Bottelary Hills, Stellenbosch. While both vineyards are situated higher than 300-metres above sea level, planted with SH9 and SH22B Syrah clones, and with soils dominated by decomposed granite, they each bring their own nuance and complexity to the wine. The vineyard on the Polkadraai Hills was planted on a south-east slope in 1996, and contributes most of the perfume and spice. Structure and fruit intensity comes from a vineyard of low-yielding granitic soils in the Bottelary Hills, a ‘mother unit’ planted on a north-west aspect in 2001. To showcase the impact of site in Stellenbosch Syrah, the harvested fruit was separated into numerous smaller fermentation batches, with whole-cluster fraction of each batch ranging from nil to 100 percent per vessel. Open top fermenters and two 1000-litre oak foudres received a combination of pump-overs and pigéage (punch-downs) two or three times per day. The remaining two 1000-litre oak foudres were treated with the ‘submerged cap’ technique to enhance the body and fruit concentration of the wine.

A unique element in the final blend came from a portion kept as 100% intact whole clusters, that underwent carefully-controlled carbonic fermentation. These were sealed in a stainless steel tank and stored under pressure for 30 days before pressing. Without pump-overs or pigéage during fermentation, this carbonic macerated component contributes enormous purity of fruit and silky tannins to the final blend. All fermentations took place spontaneously with naturally occurring yeast. Malolactic fermentation also occurred spontaneously, with maturation in 1000-litre oak foudres for 11 months. The wine was bottled without fining, to ensure a more complex and authentic expression of Syrah. Total production: 2728 x 750ml | Bottling date: 8 February 2019 Alc: 13.4 %Vol| pH: 3.8 | TA: 5.4 g/L | RS: 1.5 g/L | VA: 0.65 g/L.

Beautiful intensity and perfume, the nose screams classism and aromatic complexity with an open inviting modern allure. This wine turns the volume up but there is no distortion, only purity and then more purity. Herbal and Rhoney, there are wonderful savoury earthy meaty notes loaded with black berry and blue berry fruits, olive tapenade and hints of German-deli smokey, meaty brilliance. The texture is incredibly fine and focused and personifies the ‘Jean Smit’ wine making style that shines right through his entire range of wines. This Syrah hits a special zenith of quality and brilliance that only a select few South Africa wineries manage to achieve. 

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

Tasting a Mixed Meerlust Vintage Line Up in London With Hannes Myburgh…

After the 2015 vintage, which Meerlust maintains was its fastest selling Rubicon release in the history of the brand, 2016 was always going to be up against it in outright quality terms. But this warm hot and dry drought vintage was tough on everyone but in the end, yielded soft, plush, forward, earlier drinking reds of excellent quality.

I reviewed the Rubicon 2016 recently but was certainly pleased to taste the entire Meerlust range again in London with owner Hannes Myburgh. What really struck me was the uniformity of quality and style and an overall opulence and accessibility that makes this a vintage ready to start cracking open now.

Tasting in London with Hannes Myburgh

I’ll be in the Cape again soon and look forward to getting a sneak peek at the already bottled 2017 Meerlust Rubicon who’s component parts I last tasted with Chris Williams in early 2019. Since then, Chris has of course decided to move on to his Foundry Winery project full time while still lending a stylistic ‘guiding hand’ to new wine maker Wim Truter while he settles in and learns the ins and outs of this historic Stellenbosch estate.

Meerlust Chardonnay 2018, WO Stellenbosch, 13 Abv

Classic youthful Chardonnay nose of lemon cream biscuits, puppy’s breath, vanilla pod and hints of oatmeal cookies. Fabulously cool, restrained and balanced, this has an incredible smokey Puligny meats Chassagne Montrachet nuttiness and minerality. Lovely freshness, definition and purity. Wow! This has Burgundy written all over it!!

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

Meerlust Pinot Noir 2017, WO Stellenbosch, 12.5 Abv

Spicy and intense with delicious foresty bramble berry notes, earthy sappy piquant red cherry and wild strawberry with hints of cedar and sappy spice. Palate is cool, sleek and light footed in a style built to accompany fine dining.

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

Meerlust Red 2017, WO Stellenbosch, 14 Abv.

Heavily orientated towards Cabernet Franc in this vintage with 55% supported by 33% Merlot and 12% Cabernet Sauvignon to lend extra back bone. As expected this wine embraces the aromatic cedar and clove spices of Franc together with red berry fruited elegance, wild bramble berries and a saline Cabernet cassis intensity that carries the finish and turbo charges the concentration. Fabulous value for money! Fill your cellar!!

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

Meerlust Merlot 2015, WO Stellenbosch, 14 Abv.

Dark, broody, exotic nose of brûléed coffee beans, black currant, earthy black plum and sandalwood spice. Texturally this is spot on with fabulous freshness, textural elegance and sleek creamy sweet tannins. One of the finer single varietal Merlots produced in SA.

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

Meerlust Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, WO Stellenbosch, 14 Abv.

Dark and richly black fruited Cabernet with nuances of graphite, sweet tobacco, violets and earthy black currant fruits. Tannins are sweet and sappy and the palate weight creamy and fleshly with a really friendly accessibility. A fine earlier drinking effort in this drought vintage.

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

Meerlust Rubicon 2016, WO Stellenbosch, 14 Abv.

Revisiting this classic wine after extra time in bottle helps it shine ever so brighter. There is sleek textural elegance, plush sweet polished tannins and earthy red and black currant fruit notes. Seamlessly assembled, this is a triumph for the vintage and shows a very agreeable early drinking opulence combined with palate breadth and depth. The cream always rises to the top. Ready to enjoy now!

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

Domaine Armand Rousseau’s New 2018 Pinot Noir En-primeur Releases Shine Brightly Once Again…

The En-primeur tasting season gives wine merchants and consumers a last look at the new Burgundy releases before most of them are bottled between March and May. After Domaine de la Romanee Conti, there is probably a small handful of Burgundy producers that every collector wants in their cellar. Close to the top of this list has to be the spectacular wines of Domaine Armand Rousseau.

Tightly allocated in every global market, buying Armand Rousseau’s wines on release at beneficial En-primeur prices is every collectors holy grail. So any opportunity to taste and assess these exceptional wines before they disappear into deep dark cellars must be considered a valuable learning experience whether you’re a novice or a professional Burgundy collector.

I recently had a snap shot tasting of three of this producer’s delicious wines drawn from barrel samples.

Domaine Armand Rousseau Gevrey Chambertin Clos du Chateau Monopole 2018

Showing a gently scented, sweet fruited nose with hints of Gevrey spice, earthy bramble berry, sweet clove and grilled herb spices. Palate is both opulent and plush yet softly textured with underlying Christmas spices and savoury red and black berries. An approachable, concentrated style that’s juicy and harmonious without being profound.

(Wine Safari Score: 92-93/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Domaine Armand Rousseau Charmes-Chambertin Grand Cru 2018

This opulent red shows plentiful notes of earthy bramble berry fruits, wood spice, grilled herbs, stewed winter fruits together with botanical herbs and incense spices. Supremely polished and elegant, there is a phenomenal core of sweet blue and black fruits, black cherry confit together with energetic acids that are beautifully harmonious and integrated into the concentrated palate fruit. Shows all the gentle, seductive understated Charmes Grand Cru elegance and finesse that this vineyard is so well known for. Very impressive.

(Wine Safari Score: 94-96/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Domaine Armand Rousseau Chambertin Grand Cru 2018

This grand vin shows distinctive aromatic notes of earthy winter fruits, bramble berries, Christmas pudding and sweet grilled herbs and botanical spices with an undertone of savoury cured meats. The palate is focused and elegant yet power packed and intense with more vibrancy, energy and acid freshness than the aromatics initially suggest. Sweetly fruited with a dreamy creamy palate texture, this wine finishes with a long, lingering persistence of kirsch liquor, macerated black plums and wild strawberries. A hugely impressive wine in its infancy but with a long promising regal future ahead.

(Wine Safari Score: 96-97/100 Greg Sherwood MW)