Revisiting a Unicorn Red – Tasting the Maiden Savage Wines Girl Next Door Syrah 2014…

Duncan Savage has just released his very impressive 2019 vintages to the market. Yet again he has created an impressive line up of whites and reds that continue to earn him new fine wine followers the world over.

To mark his new releases, I thought I’d pull something special out the cellar and revisit one of his rarest wines… the maiden vintage of the Girl Next Door Syrah 2014. Chatting to Duncan recently during lockdown, I tried to discover a little bit more about this fabled vineyard that produces one of the most profound expressions of Syrah in South Africa.

Tasting the Savage Girl Next Door 2014 along side a Jean-Luc Jamet Syrah 2017.

Running through recent vintages… “2015 was super light and I had to pick early! The birds totally fucked us…” Duncan explains in his own gregarious style. “2017 probably delivered as good as this block gets and 2018 revealed a more black olive, savoury character with a much more overt saline note perhaps due to the smaller water stressed canopy. But in 2019 the vines looked great after a massive mulching exercise, and the finished wine is incredible. Looking ahead, 2020 is probably the best yet and will be released in June/July 2021. In my mind, quality definitely tracks the vineyard health, the vintage and ones overall understanding of the two” says Duncan.

From a vineyard yielding a notoriously tiny production volume of around 2 x 500L barrels, Duncan produced two barrels in 2014, similarly small amounts in 2015, nothing at all in 2016, only 700 bottles in 2017, just over 1000 bottles in 2018, 1400 odd bottles in 2019 and around 1600 bottles in 2020. “It’s slowly getting better with the use of nets to protect the fruit against the birds and as we get to know the block better and better. We also weened the vineyard off water from 2017 and it is completely dry-land grown now” explains Duncan.

Savage Girl Next Door Syrah 2014, WO Cape Peninsula, 12.5 % Abv.

A mythical wine in so many ways that creates extra expectations. When freshly opened, it shows a tight concertinaed aromatic profile. Slowly and gently, the wine unfurls to reveal notes of roasted Autumn chestnuts, savoury cured meats, liquorice and stewed winter berries. There’s a creamy, lactic, brûléed black berry compote note with spicy hints of sweet black pepper, olive tapenade, grilled herbs and pureed black berry fruits. The palate is tight knit, taut and supremely composed showing a classical, earthy, restrained fruit concentration and an elegance that only the great Syrah wines of Cote Rotie, Hermitage and the Northern Rhône can offer. With 6 years of age there is very little evolution to speak of and only the most subtle, complex suggestion of secondary tertiary evolution. In my cellar, I’d happily leave extra bottles to slumber for a further 5-8 years with full confidence this wine will continue to age elegantly for 10 to 15+ years or more. A true unicorn wine produced in such small quantities that I can only suppose that very few of the original 1,300 bottles produced are still hiding in collectors’ dark cellars.

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

The Fabulous New Releases From Duncan Savage – Some of His Best Ever?

With the new Savage Wines hitting the market, I’m pleased to release my Wine Safari notes on these superb bottlings. Produced in his new Salt River urban winery in Cape Town, these could possibly be the highest quality and most self assured releases from Duncan to date.

The product range has grown but quantities are still small, so you are going to have to be brisk to secure his top wines.

Savage 2017 White Blend, 14 Abv.

The 2017 Savage white is a masterful blend of 49% Sauvignon Blanc, 33% Semillon and carrying on the theme started in 2015, includes 18% of Chenin Blanc with a 14% Abv. Handled oxidatively in the cellar, the wine was barrel fermented and aged for 10 months in oak. With more malolactic fermentation seen in 2017 due to very slow ferments, the wine marries weight and intensity with purity, minerality and textural elegance. The nose is already very expressive with complex aromatics of freshly baked apple crumble drizzled in honey, orange blossom, tangerine peel, yellow orchard fruits and a delicious passion fruit twist. But like many 2017 whites, there is a real clarity and focus to the wine along with a defined core of dusty granitic minerality. The entry on the palate reveals the tart, vibrantly fresh characteristics of the Sauvignon Blanc and the Semillon, that awaken the palate with zesty yellow grapefruit, lanolin, honied white peaches and Granny Smith apple puree notes. Classic higher altitude vineyard nuances ensure this wine retains incredible intensity together with a fleshy, creamy lemon pie concentration underpinned by a cool, dusty, stony minerality. Powerful without being brutish, linear and focused without being lean. This is another wonderful flagship white blend from the Savage winery that continues the great run of form for this cuvee. Drink from 2018 to 2030+

(94/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Never Been Asked to Dance 2017 Chenin Blanc, 13.5 Abv.

The Savage portfolio has always mostly been about red and white blends. But when you chat to Duncan Savage and taste with him, you can see how eager he is to produce more single varietal wines especially after the cult success of the pure Syrah Girl Next Door. Previous Savage white blends have often included small percentages of Clairette Blanche, so when this vineyard was grubbed up, the search for an old vine vineyard replacement led Duncan to this slightly dishevelled 64 year old Chenin Blanc vineyard in Paarl. The 2017 bottling coming in at 13.5 Abv. sees a small addition of some Chenin Blanc from W.O. Malgas to augment the quantity but looks set to be W.O. Paarl only in future. Foot trodden and whole bunch fermented over 5 days with no malolactic fermentation, this wine has an alluring phenolic nose of dried basil and oregano, fynbos garrigue, apple cider, yellow orchard fruits, hairy yellow peaches and a crushed gravel minerality. This wine is less about obvious overt fruit but is a much more complex and complicated creature. There is richness, salinity and textured palate weight but also plenty of spicy, pithy, exotic phenolic grip. Still fairly tightly coiled and restrained in its youth, this old vine Chenin Blanc slowly reveals notes of crunchy peaches, orange blossom, pineapple pastille candy, old honey, apple puree and a very subtle kiss of vanilla pod spice. Finishing quite linear and precise with a rocky core of minerality, this wine challenges the senses, titillates the taste buds and promises much for those sensible enough to age it for a few more years after release. Drink from 2019 to 2030+

(93/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Follow the Line 2017 Red Blend, 13 Abv.

Every new release of Follow the Line is a cause for celebration. Indeed one could argue that this wine has such a unique cult following that you could hold a launch party every year just for this individual wine! A blend of 93% Cinsault and 7% Syrah, this 13 Abv. wine will be labelled as Cinsault this year. From the same beautiful 38 year old South-east facing Cinsault vineyard in Darling, the fruit was early picked and fermented using 50% whole bunch clusters. Malolactic fermentation was carried out in 500 litre French oak barrels with a further 9 months of ageing in large 1500 and 2000 litre foudre. Possessing a youthful red plum translucent colour, this wine has all the perfume lift and exuberance you would expect from old vine Cinsault. The nose is aromatically charged, brimming with fresh violets, cherry blossom, rose water, lychee skins, sun dried cranberries, potpourri and an exotic touch of Turkish delight. Wonderful purity and clarity are always hallmarks of this wine as are the radiant fresh acids and bright, crunchy, sappy red berry fruits. Once again, this wine is the epitome of elegance, walking quite lightly, shimmering all the way to the finish with illuminated brilliance. This really is an exceptional, mouth-watering delight. Drink from release but do cellar a few bottles for 5 to 8+ years.

(95+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Thief in the Night 2017 Red Blend, 13 Abv.

Probably one of my favourite names used in the Savage wine range, but I will let Duncan tell the story of how and why he was once called a ‘thief in the night’. Displaying little in direct relation to the wine other than being a great name… surprise surprise, this is also a delicious wine. Another new addition to the Savage range, this red is a blend of 48% Grenache, 46% Cinsault and 6% Syrah all sourced from vineyards in very close proximity to each other on the same property in the Piekenierskloof. At this youthful stage of evolution, the wine is more marked by the 42 year old vine Grenache fruit than the 17 year old Cinsault. Using 70% whole cluster, fermentation was carried out in a closed tank with aerated pump overs. Malolactic fermentation occurred in old 500 litre French oak barrels before the wine was aged for 9 months in large French oak foudre before being bottled. The wine shows a real individuality and personality with bright fragrant violet perfume, sappy spicy peppery raspberry and redcurrant confit complexity, hints of sun raisined cranberries, cured bresaola, boiled raspberry sweets and wild strawberry. The palate weight is soft and sensual, combining the best of both Grenache and Cinsault to form an impressively harmonious, silky soft sappy red blend. The wine seems to grow exponentially in the glass, unfurling and unravelling to reveal layers of strawberry jam, raspberry compote and Turkish delight all framed with bright crystalline acids that really amplify the wines purity, minerality and sense of place. Such a pretty wine with the sleekest and most polished tannins and a mellow fruit intensity. Despite its eminent drinkability in youth, this is no frivolous ‘vin de soif’ and could just maybe, over time, acquire a similar cult following to that of Duncan’s excellent Cinsault-dominated Follow The Line red blend from Darling. A very confident debut! Drink from 2018 to 2028+.

(93+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Girl Next Door Syrah 2017, 13.5 Abv.

A wine very close to Duncan’s heart, it is produced from pure Syrah grapes grown on a 0.34 hectare vineyard overlooking the Atlantic Ocean that was originally planted for ornamental purposes. These 12 year old vines, lovingly tended and rejuvenated by Duncan, survive in extreme conditions, perpetually being battered by the South Easterly winds of the Cape Peninsula. But very often, some of the most profound grapes comes from some of the most marginal vineyards. Fermented in open top fermenters using 50% whole bunch clusters, the wine was then aged in an old demi-muid (600 litre) barrel with bottling after 11 months of aging. With little more than 700 bottles produced, this Syrah shows a beautifully rich, broody nose packed full of savoury black berry fruits, earthy black currant, pithy black cherry, iron filings, black olive tapenade and a chalky, dusty mineral lift. Cool and restrained, this wine displays an overt Old World character and would not look out of place in a Cote Rotie tasting. Densely fruited, deep and richly textured, the tannins eventually rein in the wine and throw a veil of sappy, peppery, spicy graphite restraint over the bruleed black berry opulence. I have often said that this wine must surely be one of a small select group of pure Syrah reds produced in the Cape that show this variety at its classical, Francophile best. Cellar for a few years after release before drinking or age this distinguished beauty for 15 to 20+ years.

(95+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Are We There Yet 2017, 13 Abv.

Only the second release of this exciting 13 Abv. Wine of Origin Malgas red, the 2017 expression is a blend of 50% Touriga Nacional and 50% Syrah from young rocky vineyards along the Breede River near Swellendam. Both red varieties were picked on the same day and co-fermented in open top fermenters with the Syrah kept as whole bunch clusters while the Touriga Nacional was destemmed. Aged in 500 litre French oak barrels for 11 months before bottling, you can already see in the space of only two vintages how Duncan as tweaked both picking times and the winemaking to create a seriously exciting expression. Dark black purple in colour, the Syrah and the Touriga make very comfortable bed fellows and the superb synergy of these varieties is laid bare for all to see and taste. Deeper, darker and more powerful than Cinsault or Grenache, Duncan has succeeded in harnessing the power, concentration and intensity of these two noble red varieties and using his own brand of vinous alchemy, crafted a wine so full of energy, minerality and fruit concentration. Compared to the 2016, this vintage seems to unfurl a few extra layers of concentration and fruit brightness, turning up the volume but with much tighter orchestration. The nose is deliciously rocky and mineral revealing dusty river gravel, graphite and grey slate nuances that intermingle with perfumed Parma violet lift, blueberry opulence, sweet red cherry confit, boiled strawberry bon bons and purple rock candy confectionary notes. Mouth-filling and fleshy with impressive black berry and fraises des bois fruit weight and chalky graphite tannins, the palate remains impressively lithe and elegant, harmoniously focused and confident with the most alluring savoury, sappy bramble berry finish. Drink this beauty on release but do allow the age worthy credentials of the Syrah and Touriga to show their full potential with 6 to 8+ years of aging.

(94/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Savage Red Blend 2015, 13.5 Abv.

This wine has perhaps been more of an enigma than any of Duncan Savage’s wines produced to date. The last Savage Red to be released as a blend, the 2017 and 2018 will revert to being pure Syrah from initially Stellenbosch and the Swartland, and then solely Stellenbosch, as new vineyard contracts come onstream. A blend of 67% Syrah, 9% Touriga Nacional, 9% Cinsault and 6% Grenache, this 13.5 Abv. red has certainly built up a very strong, more traditional, slightly less eclectic following than the other red blends like Follow the Line. Fermented in open top fermenters using 50% whole bunches, the wine was aged for an extended 30 months in old oak and foudre prior to bottling. This dark horse has always been backward and restrained, broody and slightly sulky, but bearing in mind it comes from one of the best red vintages in the Cape in a generation, it can be forgiven for being initially shy and ungiving. With some coaxing, the nose slowly starts to reveal its secrets, showing notes of salty red liquorice spice, aniseed root, cassis leaf, grenadine, blood oranges and vermouth botanicals. The palate is taut and very precise, linear and crisply textured with vivacious notes of tangerine, naartjie peel, ruby grapefruit, sour red cranberry and earthy red plums, all dusted with a liberal dose of crushed black peppercorns and mineral graphite spice. Tantalisingly complex, it is almost impossible to unravel the intricacies of this classy red and identify traits of individual varieties. With the extra aging, the tannins are starting to become a little more supple and pliable, yet continue to lend great textural gravitas, power and focus to this blend. I’d say it has been worth the wait… but just don’t wait to put in your order for this impressive red blend as it signals the end of one era and the dawning of a new and exciting chapter in the history of the Savage winery. Drink on release and age this beauty for 10 to 15+ years comfortably.

(96/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Wines are available direct to the wine trade in the UK on allocation from importer Swig Wines

The True Brilliance of Winemaker Duncan Savage Revealed in His Savage White Blend 2015…

On the eve of the imminent arrival of the 2016 Savage White Blend in the UK, I had the opportunity to present the iconic 2015 White Blend to 25 management consultants at the offices of Boston Consulting Group last night. It went down a storm. In fact, it was so good I bought another bottle to drink at home tonight with my Sicilian style herbed pork caponata. 


Savage White Blend 2015, WO Western Cape, 14 Abv.

There is no doubt that Duncan Savage is one of the best white wine winemakers in South Africa. His track record speaks for itself. Taming Sauvignon Blanc and more so, Semillon, from cool climate sites on the peninsula, has revealed the real potential of these varietals in a blend to a whole new generation of winemakers and consumers. The 2015 however, was one of Duncan’s most anticipated releases with the vintage lauded as possibly the best ever in SA for red and white wines. This Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon based blend incorporates small amounts of Clairette Blanche and Chenin Blanc this vintage. This slightly bigger blend perhaps explains the wines broader aromatic profile. There is still the dusty lemon and herb spice, yellow grapefruit and lime peel freshness, but also extra notes of white pear, white pepper, white crunchy peaches and green apple zest. Once again, the pithy minerality of crushed gravel underpins both the nose and palate and there’s an almost German, Pfalz-like strawberries and vanilla ice cream exotism in play. The palate is bold, intense and concentrated with pithy gravelly notes balanced by massive fruit concentration and length. The vintage’s sublime quality is indeed standing up to be counted! Duncan has perfectly captured the essence of 2015’s greatness. But the wine remains classical, measured, restrained and fresh and finally unlocks its hallmark lemon and pineapple pastille fruit character on the long, intense finish. This is a truly grand expression, a wine that will demand its place in your cellar. Could this be Duncan’s greatest white expression to date? Drink now to 2028+ 

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


Exclusive Wine Safari Tasting Review of the Exciting New Savage 2016 Wine Releases…

Yet again we are approaching one of the most exciting moments of the year… the launch of the new releases of Duncan Savage’s sought after wines. It was only after I started compiling an archive list of all the past Savage wine scores, featured below, that I realised how quickly time passes and why so many winemakers feel under so much pressure to learn, grow and utilise their incremental knowledge in each consecutive vintage release. After all, we don’t measure winemakers in age, we measure them in how many vintages they’ve made and how many more they realistically have left, all going well.


But as I write this post, our fleeting, finite time on this planet is made all the more stark as I learnt today of the sad passing of Boetie van Reenen, one of the young vineyard owners and growers responsible for much of the fruit that goes into many of Duncan Savage’s wines. Let’s hope his memory lives on in the age worthy wines of Duncan and his fellow winemakers.


On a more cheerful note, 2017 was the year that Savage Wines found a permanent home in a wonderful winery space in Salt River, just outside the city bowl suburbs of central Cape Town. Securing these premises was a massive coup for Duncan and his future growth plans. Quality can only get better with the extra focus his own winery will afford him.


Savage Wines’ 2017 Releases:

Savage White Blend 2016

After producing one of the most memorable Savage white blends in the 2015 vintage, the 2016 offering was always going to come under ever closer scrutiny. From the second of the drought vintages, this white from Duncan Savage is a blend of 54% Sauvignon Blanc, 29% Semillon and 17% Chenin Blanc with a 14% Abv. A brilliant lime straw yellow, this wine has a bold and expressive aromatic profile of pithy grated lemon peel, pineapple pastille fruits, crushed limestone minerality, pear drops and sugar dusted marshmallows. Pause for too long to appreciate the complexity in the glass and before you know it the wine has evolved further, offering up yet more intricate notes of white citrus blossom, crunchy green pears and dried baking spices of basil and thyme. With the sizeable chunk of 17% Chenin Blanc asserting itself in the blend, the 2016 has a much more distinctive Cape feel rather than the white Bordeaux Graves expression of previous vintages. There is an intense, piercing concentration to the palate, with powerful glycerol notes of white citrus, yellow grapefruit, crunchy white peaches, and tangerine peel, underpinned by a herby, dusty, wet chalk minerality. Rich, unctuous and roundly textured, this wine coats every corner of the drinker’s palate and asserts its exceptional quality, complexity and winemaking pedigree. Drink now to 2027.

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


Savage Follow the Line Red Blend 2016

For the previous two vintages of this wine, one could wonder whether perhaps it’s exceptional quality and intensity was perhaps the result of a lucky synergistic blend or the product of a very complex, generous vintage. But this 2016 is probably the vintage that looks set to impress the critics yet again and seduce the consumer even more so than the crunchy 2015 vintage. A blend of 44% Cinsaut, 37% Grenache and 19% Syrah at 13% Abv, this wine sings a lofty melodic chorus the moment the cork is pulled. The riper, dryer vintage evidently plays to the strengths of these red varieties with the most seductive perfumed nose of parma violets, sweet cherry blossom, bathroom soaps, rose petals and potpourri sweet spice. The brilliance of this wine lies in the synergy created marrying the vibrant marzipan laden Cinsaut with the sappy, mineral, red fruited Grenache, leaving the Syrah to lend a tantalising depth of structure and peppery savouriness. The palate is so seamless, harmonious and elegant with sweet boiled raspberry bon bons, red current herbal tea infusions, ripe cranberries, and a crunchy, vibrant, strawberry fruited finale. Such sweet, silky, fleshy tannins linger on a creamy, opulent, energetic finish. Perhaps less of the exotic, crunchy hubris of the 2015, but the 2016 is certainly a far more self assured, confident red wine that looks set to once and for all, cement its global icon status as one of the truly great fine wines to follow, year in, year out. Drink now to 2030+.

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


Savage Are We There Yet? Red Blend 2016

A new wine in the Savage range, anyone who knows Duncan well will know that Touriga Nacional is a grape that has impressed him more and more over the years. Starting with small amounts blended into his Savage red, this new expression is a bold blend of 85% Touriga Nacional, 8% Cinsaut and 7% Grenache at 14.5 Abv. The dominant variety of the Douro Valley in Portugal, this big bold red shows a heady, lifted nose of violets, earthy mulberry, red currants, liquorice, and macerated damson plums, with complexing notes of tannery leather, sappy hedgerow, and sweet cedar and clove spice. Despite the opulent, seductive, confit fruit notes, there is a dusty, crushed grey slate mineral vein that starts on the nose and continues right through the palate. Full and fleshy, the Touriga Nacional from Malgas is supple, opulent and sweetly fruited. The Cinsaut lends both an exotic, marzipan and violet fragrant lift, but more importantly adds freshness and extra acidity cut. An intriguing wine from a very warm, dry vintage, this wine could become the natural counter-foil to the Savage Follow the Line and its crunchy, nervy energy. This bold red will find a large, welcoming audience in both the local and international markets when released. Drink now to 2026+.

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

Tasting barrel samples with Duncan in March 2017.
Savage Red Blend 2016

If there is one wine in the Savage range that would have embraced the warm, dry growing conditions of 2016, then it must surely be the Savage red. In 2016, it is comprised of 81% Syrah, 11% Grenache and 8% Cinsaut at 13.5 Abv. Perhaps the most classically proportioned of all the Savage reds, this Syrah dominated blend has a beautifully complex nose of perfumed dried roses, black berry fruits, grilled herbs, cured meats, garrigue, fynbos and dusty granitic minerality. Very forward and opulent, the 2016’s are showing wonderful overt confidence and composure already at this early stage. Indeed the Savage red is often the one specific wine that demands a few extra years in bottle before showing you its full potential. The palate is so fleshy and forward with accessibly soft, harmonious tannins and sleek vibrant acids that elevate the red cranberry and strawberry fruit flavours and highlight the wines impressive palate concentration and depth. This seductive Savage red is going to be a hard one to keep away from your corkscrew! Drink now to 2030+.

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


The South African launch of these wines is scheduled for 1st August 2017. You can email info@savagewines.com or ring +27 21 785 4019 to request an allocation.

The Savage Wines Score Archive Since Maiden Release:

Savage White Blend 2016 – 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Savage Follow the Line Red Blend 2016 – 95+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Savage Are We There Yet Red Blend 2016 – 92+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Savage Red Blend 2016 – 94/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Savage White Blend 2015 – 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Savage Red Blend 2014 – 95+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Savage Follow the Line Red Blend 2015 – 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Savage Girl Next Door Syrah 2015 – 94/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Savage White Blend 2014 – 93+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Savage Red Blend 2013 – 94+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Savage Follow the Line Red Blend 2014 – 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Savage Girl Next Door Syrah 2014 – 93/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Savage Red Blend 2012 – 94+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Savage White Blend 2013 – 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Savage Red Blend 2011 – 94/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Savage White Blend 2012 – 94-95/100 Greg Sherwood MW

 

Enjoying some French classics over dinner with Duncan in March 2017