Jessica Saurwein Applying Her Feminine Touch to Another Great Kaaimansgat Pinot Noir…

I have known Roland Peens, head of one of South Africa’s top wine merchant / importers for many years, starting when he was embroiled in his gruelling Master of Wine studies. But as they say, behind every successful man is a woman. In this case, the woman in question is his wife Jessica Saurwein, who after working as the Marketing Manager for wine farm Kleinood / Tamboerskloof for many years, decided to branch out and swop selling for making wine. The result is Saurwein Pinot Noir with the 2015 her maiden vintage.

This new Pinot Noir addition to the Cape Wine scene is made from fruit sourced from a Kaaimansgat (Crocodile’s Lair) vineyard near Villiersdorp. There was a portion of whole bunch fruit employed in the fermentation and the wine was aged for approximately 9 months in French oak barrels. I am not sure how much 2016 was made, but only 3 barrels of the maiden 2015 were produced. Nom stands for the nombulelo, or gratitude in South Africa’s native Xhosa language and also Nomkhubulwane, a forgotten African goddess of agriculture.

This is an impressive Pinot Noir that has been reviewed in the local market to fairly high acclaim. After tasting both the 2015 and the 2016, it is fair to say the 2016 is definitely the more distinguished and classically proportioned of the two vintages. Already carrying a cult following, I fell in love with the 2016 and drank a bottle over two days to give it a proper chance to display all its wares. Well done Jessica. I would be very happy to make a Pinot Noir of this quality and I suspect the wine will only improve with extra time in bottle. I look forward to tasting the 2017 soon!

Saurwein Nom Pinot Noir 2016, WO Western Cape, 13.5 Abv.

This Pinot Noir possesses the most clear translucent ruby red colour almost resembling a glass of cranberry juice. But what lies in the glass is far more seductive and complex than mere fruit juice! The aromatics are perfumed and beautifully lifted, slowly revealing notes of sun dried cranberries, red cherries, pithy red plum skins, bloed lemoen and a hint of dusty crushed gravel with a pinch of wood spice seasoning. The mouthfeel too shows great precision, seamless purity and finesse but not at the expense of intensity and core tension. The melange of pure crystalline red fruits follows to the palate, all delivered with great restraint and subtlety. The 2016 shows the character of the dry vintage with more core tannin structure, dry extract and mineral nuances than the lush, opulent, more fruit forward 2015 maiden release. But this is no bad thing. The wine is delicious but serious, bordering on intellectual even, and allows the drinker time to ponder its breadth and depth. The finish is super elegant, dare I say feminine?, leaving your mouth savouring the most succulent earthy red cherry, ruby grapefruit and pomegranate fruit notes on the finish. Give this wine a few more years in the cellar to unwind a little more and then drink comfortably over 10 to 12+ years.

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


Mick and Jeanine Craven Blazing Their Own New Wave Trail In Old School Stellenbosch…

Mick and Jeanine Craven of Craven Wines have been creating some deliciously contemporary wines from single vineyards in one of South Africa’s oldest and grandest appellations, Stellenbosch. Wines are confidently modern and ‘new-wave’ in style, picking early and often using whole-bunch fruit in the natural fermentations. Their Pinot Noir is made from grapes grown in Faure, Stellenbosch and is consistently one of their most popular reds. Before she was a Craven, she was Jeanine Faure and the 650 hectare Faure farm was previously part of Jeanine’s family holdings where she grew up.

450 of the 650 hectares are planted to vines where Mick and Jeanine currently source their Syrah and Pinot Noir grapes. The Faure Pinot Noir block is one of the coolest sites in Stellenbosch on a south-westerly aspect only 4 kilometres away from the ocean and was planted exclusively with clone 115 in 1998 on decomposed granite and sand.

Stellenbosch is not an area synonymous with Pinot Noir, and outside of Meerlust’s excellent example, most people would probably struggle to name more than one or two more wineries successfully making notable wines from this variety. Mick and Jeanine have blazed their own trail and their own style of early picked, sappy, spicy, crunchy Stellenbosch Pinot Noir that should taste decidedly Burgundian once it is aged in bottle for 5 to 6 years.

Craven Wines Faure Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016, WO Stellenbosch, 12 Abv.

A Pinot Noir definitely made in a “less is more kind of style”. The distinctive nose shows sappy red raspberry fruits, raisined cranberries, pithy strawberry, wet chalk, crushed gravel, resinous wood and stalk spice and complex dried flower notes. Whole bunch pressed, the 2016 was also 70% foot trodden leaving some grapes intact. The palate walks lightly buts carries plenty of concentration and sappy, strawberry and raspberry fruit weight dusted with exotic Asian spice complexity. I’ve seen this wine described before as atypical or sometimes idiosyncratic, but I find the purity impressively focused, classically charming with a mouthfeel delicately textured revealing dusty chalky tannins. Made in an earlier picked style, this slightly sinewy bramble berry fruited wine is a really characterful cracker. Drink now and over the next 3 to 5+ years.

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

Another Great Vintage Performance From Hamilton Russell Vineyards – Tasting the New Release Pinot Noir 2017…

Hamilton Russell Vineyards’ wines have been on fire the past three vintages with young talent Emul Ross at the winemaking helm. In early March I caught up with Walker Bay royalty, Anthony and Olive Hamilton-Russell to taste the new Chardonnay and Pinot Noir releases from the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, one year later to the day precisely after tasting them in barrel with Anthony and Emul.

The 2017 harvest was back to normal timings after particularly early 2015 and 2016 harvests. The 2017 harvest was short with all fruit coming in before the end of February. Based on average temperatures, 2017 was a warm harvest at 0.53 centigrade above average. Rainfall was only 10mm below the long term average, so conditions could not be described as particularly dry. Yields were well under 35 hl/ha. The Pinot Noir was fermented in stainless steel and then barrel aged for 10 months with full malolactic fermentation in 37% new French oak, 35% second fill, and 28% third fill barrels.

Hamilton Russell Vineyards Pinot Noir 2017, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, Walker Bay, Abv 13.31

First tasted from barrel in March 2017, I was excited to get another look at this finished wine in bottle. Already very showy, perfumed and quite generous on the nose with layers of sun dried cranberries, strawberry confit, logan berry, pomegranate and earthy red plum notes wafting uninhibitedly out the glass. Beyond the pretty aromatics lurk seductive notes of peppermint crisp, dark chocolate and subtle vanilla pod and wood spice. The palate is equally seductive, vibrant and bright on the entry with the most mouth watering complexity of sweet cranberry, blood orange, caramelised red cherries and delicate cherry cola vermouth botanical nuances. Impressively elegant and balanced, this wine is only just starting to blossom. Surely destined to be a real beauty. Drink now to 2030+

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

Clos Saint Jacques 2016 Shoot Out – Domaine Armand Rousseau versus Domaine Jean Marie Fourrier…

Clos Saint Jacques is one of Burgundies most famous Premier Cru vineyards situated in the village of Gevrey Chambertin. The vineyard was named after a statue of Saint James that had been placed in the area, as it was a resting point on the way to Santiago de Compostella, the destination of the ‘Way of St. James’ pilgrimage.

It was split up and sold in 1954 by the Comte de Moucheron to four producers. One of these producers was Henri Esmonin, who at the time of the sale was the metayage for the vineyard and bought 1.6 hectares. The other producers were Armand Rousseau, who purchased 2.20 hectares, the Fourrier family who purchased approximate 1 hectare, and Domaine Clair-Dau who purchased 2 hectares.

Clos Saint Jacques vineyard directly north of the village.

Today, this 6.7 hectare vineyard with five strips running from the top to the bottom of the vineyard, are currently owned by five different producers. Sylvie Esmonin, the granddaughter of Henri Esmonin, holds 1.60 hectares. Bruno Clair and Maison Louis Jadot own 1 hectare each, which was split between them from the land purchased by Domaine Clair-Dau. Domaine Fourrier holds 0.89 hectares.

(Both bottles tasted were barrel samples)

Armand Rousseau Gevrey Chambertin 1er Cru Clos Saint Jacques 2016, Burgundy

A wine that is wonderfully bright, lifted and perfumed, loaded with red cherry, cranberry, pink musk, cherry candy and sappy lipstick spice. Classically proportioned, this profound wine’s palate is dense and concentrated, packed with cherry pith, red plum and red bramble berry depth. Impressive classic finesse and textured, balanced length highlight this wine’s pedigree and signature class that is rarely surpassed within this appellation. Another breathtaking example from this Domaine. Drink from 2022 to 2045+

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

Domaine Jean Marie Fourrier Gevrey Chambertin 1er Cru Clos Saint Jacques 2016, Burgundy

Always a dense, fleshy expression, this 2016 retains a more classically weighted style, showing cool graphite, earthy red berries, bruised red plums, cherry coulis and a sweet, saline liquorice spice. The palate has all the hallmark Fourrier concentration, opulence and overt fruit flesh, yet the wine never looses its coiled spring tension and nerve. Lovely balance and a fine tannic core, this is a delicious Clos Saint Jacques expression with impressive depth and breadth. A very impressive wine. Drink from 2020 to 2038+

(Wine Safari Score: 95-96/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Verdict: Two very impressive wines, both almost as good as any Grand Cru’s tasted from the 2016 vintage. For me the Armand Rousseau remains unsurpassed, combining freshness, precision, structure, and depth. Some how they manage to marry amazing concentration of fruit and classical liquid mineral intensity. Not a cheap wine, but worth every penny. Rousseau takes it by a head…

The Magnificence of Pinot Noir Exemplified by the Storm Brothers – Tasting Ernst Storm’s Californian Range…

The Storm brothers, Hannes, 41, and Ernst, 38, grew up in the Western Cape of South Africa, where as teens, they moved to Hermanus in the famed wine growing region of Walker Bay. Fast forward 2 decades and incredibly, both are established winemakers producing high quality, evocative, terroir focused wines.

While Walker Bay based Hannes Storms’ wines have been featured on the Fine Wine Safari before, this is my first encounter with brother Ernst’s exciting wines. Ernst’s career includes successful stints making wine in South Africa at Amani Winery and in the Sierra Foothills of California. He later settled down in California’s Santa Barbara County, where he was winemaker at Curtis Winery while slowly developing his own brand over the past 15 years. With ten vintages of his own wines now under his belt, he is now focusing on his own winemaking project full time.

Rooted in the hills of Santa Barbara County, Storm Wines emphasizes old world influences using new world winemaking techniques. The Mediterranean climate, diverse soils, and exciting new opportunities in this flourishing Central Coast wine region have combined to drive Ernst’s passion for producing his wines.

Ernst’s wines are authentically handcrafted using a combination of Old and New World winemaking techniques. From being present while picking the grapes in the early morning hours, to basket pressing, to only using gravity on the red wines. Fining and filtration is only utilised when absolutely necessary in the reds and occasionally on the whites, making sure the wines express the unique qualities of the fruit’s origin.

Notary Public White Wine Santa Ynez Valley 2014, 13.5 Abv

A Chenin Blanc / Chardonnay blend focusing on the $25-$30 in USA or £35 in the UK. Bright dusty granitic lemon line zesty nose, lime peel and white citrus. Almost Chablis like minerality and restraint. Stony, intense saline freshness, sleek fine boned cool climate texture and an attractive leanness and seductive, alluring pithy austerity.

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

Notary Public Santa Ynez Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, 13 Abv. 

Sweet sour plum nose with intense fragrant lift with cassis and black currant leafy spice. Pretty cherry pith, pink musk and delicious cherry sherbet mineral pithy spice. Thoroughly delicious expression, such energy and focus, I really love the purity and textural focus. Real character, real class. (Interestingly, this expression really reminded me of Craig Wessels’ Hemel-en-Aarde expression of Cabernet at Restless River, in Walker Bay.)

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

The fruit for this wine is 100% from the famous John Sebastiano Vineyard and only 200 cases were produced using Clone/Rootstock: 44%-115/101-14 and 56% -667/101-14 grown on Marina sand and Chamise shaly loam soils.

Picked between 8/22/14 – 8/24/14, the grapes saw a 5-7 day cold soak with 12 days on the skins. Grapes were basket pressed before fermentation and aged in new tight grained French oak after fermentation with no fining or filtration used.

Storm John Sebastiano Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Santa Rita Hills, 13.8 Abv. 

Savoury earthy bramble berry fruit nose showing quince, pomegranate, raisined cranberry, raspberry herbal tea infusions, and subtle sous bois and clove spice. Sweet fruited, opulent texture, dense and quite broad but retains a little more of a rustic, hearty, old world expression.

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

Produced from 100% Presqu’ile Vineyard fruit with only 220 cases produced from fruit grown on Clone/Rootstock: 667/own root on Marina sandy loam soils. 20% whole cluster used with a 6 day cold soak and 14 days on the skins. Wine was aged in 25% new French Oak for 10 months with ageing on lees, and no fining or filtration was utilised.

Storm Presqui’le Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Santa Rita Hills, 13 Abv.

Restrained, shy spicy earthy nose with wet earth, blood orange, raisined cherries, and a sprinkling of mineral, crushed river pebble dust. A very elegant, sleek, fresh Pinot Noir style with electrically fresh acids, a suave fleshy mouth feel, notes of black tea and plenty of sophistication on a long, lingering bramble berry laced finish. Very classy.

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

Storm Slide Hill Vineyard Syrah 2014, Edna Valley, 14.1 Abv. 

Perfumed, lifted blueberry, black currant and savoury peppery meaty spice. Dusty, smokey charcoal, creamy oak, blueberry crumble, and then develops a seductive strawberry coulis complexity. Plush, lush, savoury and beautifully vibrant with an alluring saline vein, and tantalising seashore, maritime black fruited finish. Really impressive.

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

Wines imported into the UK by Tiger Vines.

Peter-Allan Finlayson and Crystallum Release Their First 100% Whole Bunch Pinot Noir…

When I visited Peter-Allan Finlayson last March at his cellar we tasted through all his delicious 2016 whites and reds before finishing off with something very special… his first 100% whole bunch Pinot Noir 2016 made from a tiny portion of the grapes from his famed Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge Cuvee Cinema vineyard.

Only 629 bottles of this impressive wine were produced.

Crystallum Whole Bunch Pinot Noir 2016, Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, Walker Bay, 14% Abv.

Quite a broody, almost opaque black cherry colour, this wine is certainly stand apart from Peter-Allan’s other Pinot Noirs. The aromatics are piercing, intensely lifted, and positively fill the room with notes of sappy black cherry, leafy black current, cigar ash, dusty minerality and a resinous, lapsang black tea pungency. The smokey fruit opulence is embellished by attractively fragrant notes of musk, pink stick candy and sugar dusted strawberry bon bons. The palate is beautifully relaxed and at ease, showing wonderful sappy, spicy, brambly red fruits, cherry herbal tea infusions, waxy ruby grapefruit skins, a hint of pleasantly piquant vermouth bitterness and a long, fleshy, creamy finish. There is more tension, sappy stalk spice and peppery textural notes than the other cuvees, but it is pulled off so expertly that one wonders why Peter-Allan does not make all his wines in this style. This is a slightly more sophisticated expression of Pinot Noir that will hold massive appeal for Burghounds and Pinotphiles. Enjoy this deliciously complex wine now with food, or age for another 10 to 12+ years. This is going to be a future unicorn wine for sure! Bury a few bottles away.

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

The Jewel of the Pfalz ~ Tasting Reichsrat von Buhl’s Stunning New Release 2015 Pinot Noir…

Reichsrat von Buhl has been a family-owned winery for more than 150 years, and has belonged to the circle of the most prestigious wineries in Germany for just as long. Since it was founded in 1849, Reichsrat von Buhl has made its wines in a terroir-dominated style, focusing on using the best vineyard sites around Deidesheim and Forst.

Reichsrat von Buhl is also certified organic, and is an active ambassador of both natural, sustainable viticulture. Since 2013, it has been led by a new team including managing director Richard Grosche and technical director Mathieu Kauffmann. Long term viticultural manager Werner Sebastian remains responsible for the vineyards.

The 2015 Vintage

The region had already experienced a comparatively dry end-of-year 2014 in the vineyards of the Mittelhaardt. Then slightly above average rainfall in January 2015 brought some relief, but unfortunately was followed by seven straight months of very little rain.

Looking at long term averages, the region should have been experiencing a good 120mm of rainfall during the same period. Plenty of sunshine, warm temperatures and no rain – winegrowers could easily react to this trio of conditions with impatience. Finally, on the 18th of June a much hoped for downpour brought a good 10mm of rain, with subsequent showers on both the 22nd and the 27th of June, each delivering another 10mm of rain. Harvesting commenced on the 31st of August in one of the cleanest, highest quality, disease free vintages in recent memory.

Reichstrat Von Buhl Spatburgunder Trocken 2015, Pfalz, 13 Abv.

Vibrant ruby red colour, the nose of this serious 2015 is deep, broad, aromatically expressive and plush showing plenty of earthy black berry and red currant fruit, strawberry confit and subtle hints of pomegranate and ruby grapefruit citrus. The palate possesses all the seamless rich depth and textural weight of fruit you’d expect from a prestigious vintage like 2015, but impressively, remains quite defined, focused, elegantly balanced and deliciously pure with a subtle mineral lick. The oak is very much a backing melody, supporting fleshy red and black berry fruit concentration and a long, plush, layered raisined cranberry and caramelised red cherry finish. Powdery tannins, sublime harmony and thoroughly seductive. This is what top quality German Pinot Noir is all about. Drink now to 2028+.

(Wine Safari Score: 93+/00 Greg Sherwood MW)