Fine Wine Safari Regional Masterclass Tasting with the Top Wine of Origin Breedekloof Wineries…

I was recently asked to participate in an interesting Wine of Origin Breedekloof masterclass featuring 10 Chenin Blanc wines and another 5 alternative varieties such as Semillon, Grenache Blanc, Clairette Blanche and Pinot Blanc. A big thank you to winemaker Attie Louw from Opstal Winery for heading up the winemaker group from the valley and also Emile Joubert for acting as facilitator during the online tasting.

“It has been four years since a group of winemakers from the Breedekloof Wine Valley decided to band together to collectively showcase South Africa’s greatest white grape, Chenin Blanc, under the Breedekloof Makers banner. What started out as a dream in 2015, has since established firm roots with a collection of individual Chenin Blancs that perfectly illustrate the quality of the Breedekloof terroir. Although the humble nature of this group of winemakers remain unshakeable, their Chenin Blanc continue to draw plenty of local and international praise to boast about.” ~ Breedekloof Makers

The international panel discussing the Breedekloof wines.

If these 15 producers represent 95% of the wine produced in the Breedekloof and Slanghoek areas, then the future is undoubtedly bright for this region. The quality of wines across the board is exceptionally high and the attention to detail noticeable. The region really has its own terroir feel and fruit character allowing for the region to really hone its own wine style and expression further.

If the producers can stick together and jointly promote and market their region and its best wines in the future, which will surely be challenging for the entire South African wine industry due to the Coronavirus pandemic, then I see a bright future ahead. It won’t necessarily be easy, but these lovely wines certainly deserve wider exposure and international attention. So if you are an importer in the USA or Europe, here is a bunch of cracking wines with fantastic consumer appeal.

Botha Amyah Chenin Blanc 2018, WO Breedekloof, 13.5% Abv.

Fermentation: 25-28 days barrel fermented. 42% Natural fermentation, 58% Inoculated yeast: QA23, CY3079. 20% in barrels and maturation on lees in barrels for 10 months. Normal bâtonnage (once every week for 4 weeks). Malolactic fermentation. Oak maturation was in 35% new 500 litre French oak barrels.

Soil: Fernwood – sandy with medium organic content (adjacent to the Breede River). Elevation: 200m above sea level. Trellis System: Bush Vines (planted east –west orientation) 2.7m x 1.2m. Age of vines: 30 years. RS 5.6 g/l.

The aromatics display a distinct dusty, biscuity, leesy note with ripe lemon peel zest, fresh straw and dried herbs. There is a noticeable pithy tension and structure to the wine, a finely balanced acidity and earthy, savoury yellow stone fruit length. Considering this wine has seen malo, it has lovely round depth, vibrant intensity and concentration.       

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

Merwida Winery Family Vintners Chenin Blanc 2017, WO Breedekloof, 13.97% Abv.

Fermented in stainless steel and transferred to barrel at 18 balling. Fermentation with inoculated Vin 7, Anchor Exotics yeasts). No malolactic fermentation. Lees contact / bâtonnage: Regular bâtonnage for one month post fermentation. Oak maturation was 9 months in older French oak barrels on gross lees.

Soil:  Glenrosa and Sandstone. Elevation: 200m above sea level. Trellis: 6 wire extended Perold. Age of vines:  15 years. Clone:  SN 1064. RS 2.4 g/l.

This shows a lovely delicate complexity of lemon herb butter, warm white toast, tangerine peel, pronounced petrichor mineral notes of rain on sun baked granite. The palate benefits from plenty of air to reveal ripe lemon and white citrus notes, pithy pear and a cool, taut herbal mineral finish with just the faintest hint of phenolic grip. The extra spice and tension from the 2017 vintage is clearly noticeable. A fine effort.

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

Opstal Estate Carl Everson Chenin Blanc 2018, WO Slanghoek, 12.95% Abv.

Fermented in old French oak 400 and 500 litre barrels which lasted 10 weeks. 100% malolactic fermentation with wine kept on gross lees entire time of ageing with only occasional bâtonnage to finish fermentation.

Soil: Ancient Sand stone. Elevation:  275m. Trellis:  Low Trellised, 3 wire. Age of vines: 37 years old. Clone: SN1061. RS 3.5 g/l.

One of the most confident and intense expressions of Chenin Blanc in the region. The precision, poise and complexity on the palate is truly impressive. The aromatics show sweet yellow citrus, exotic banana rock candy and sweet grassy wet thatch notes. There is such a lovely balance between stony minerality and pithy herby spice and white citrus and green apple persistence. The oak is so integrated and subtle making it a footnote in the overall greatness of this wine. A real benchmark for the region.

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

Jason’s Hill Beatrix Chenin Blanc 2019, WO Breedekloof, 13.40% Abv.

Fermented in 500 litre amphorae and Hungarian oak barrels. Fermentation was all natural with 1/3 whole bunch, skin fermentation in amphorae. No malolactic but with lees contact for 5 months, no bâtonnage. Oak maturation was in Hungarian oak, 1st and 3rd fill barrels of 300 litres.

Soil: Terrace gravels, deep stony soils & micro jets are being used for irrigation purposes. Elevation: 360m. Trellis: Perold system. Age of vines: 16 year old vines from the SN24 clone grafted on Richter 99 rootstock. RS 3.36 g/l.

This really opens up with some air to fan its tail. There are lush complex notes of sweet lemon cordial, crunchy yellow peaches, Seville oranges and a stony, dusty dried herb mineral lift. The palate is cool, focused and quite precise with a crystalline purity, tart tangerine acids and a long, stony, wet river pebble finish. Lovely classical restraint.

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

Badsberg Barrel Fermented Chenin Blanc 2019, WO Breedekloof, 13.28% Abv.

Fermented in barrel for 25 days. Fermentation was with no malolactic. Wine aged on its lees for 3 month with monthly bâtonnage. Oak maturation lasted 3 months after fermentation.

Soil: Rocky and alluvial. Elevation: 225m. Trellis system: Extended Perold. Age of vines:  30 years old. RS 3.52 g/l.

The nose shows attractive notes of dried straw, lemon peel, tangerine and white citrus with an underlying mineral, dried herb and mint leaf complexity. The palate is cool and sleek, with dusty minerality, pithy green apple peel and a fairly elegant, light weight palate concentration. There is something very attractive about this wine.

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

Bergsig Estate Patmos Reserve Chenin Blanc 2017, WO Breedekloof, 14.2% Abv.

Fermented in 300 litre French oak first and second fill barrels (50/50%). Fermentation started in stainless steel tank then racked in to barrel and slow fermented for 4-6 weeks. Natural malolactic fermentation. Lees contact / bâtonnage: 4 weeks bâtonnage and left on lees for 60 days. Oak maturation for 12 months in barrel.

Soil: Mostly alluvial topsoil. The vineyard is planted on the Worcester fault line. Underground is partly Cape sandstone and partly Malmesbury Shale. Elevation: 230m above sea level. Trellis: 2 wire Perold. Age of vines: 35 years old. RS 3.58 g/l.

This is a big bold aromatic expression with plenty of bruised yellow orchard fruit complexity, savoury lemon and dried herbs, orange peel and sweet peachy notes. The palate is impressively opulent and concentrated with white citrus, yellow stone fruits and a dusty, gravelly minerality. Again, the 2017 vintage intensity and tension defines this wine.

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

Lateganskop Zahir Chenin Blanc 2017, WO Breedekloof, 12,5% Abv.

Fermented in tank and 225 litre French oak barrels. Fermentation started in tank and then wine was transferred to barrel with no malolactic fermentation. Lees contact / bâtonnage for 3 months with oak maturation for 12 months.

Soil:  Sandy clay. Elevation: 248m. Trellis: Bush vines with high density. Age of vines: 24 years old (planted 1993). RS 3.65 g/l.

This wine shows a distinctly different aromatic profile with sweet lemon oil, grilled herbs, sweet lemon cordial and an almost Mosel Riesling like note of white peach, apple bon bons and grey slate minerality. The palate is cool and steely with delicious Clementine citrus zesty acids, crunchy white peach and a linear mouth-watering liquid mineral finish. Very impressive wine.

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

Slanghoek Cellar Legends Barrel Fermented Chenin Blanc 2017, WO Slanghoek, 13.16% Abv.

Fermented in stainless steel with cooling at 16°C  for 5 days then transferred to barrels. No malolactic with lees contact / bâtonnage for 20 months. Oak maturation in 50 % new 225 litre French oak + 50% 2nd fill French oak barrels.

Soil:  Deep, rocky terrace. Trellis system: 5 wire extended Perold system. Age of vines: 30 years old. RS 3.45 g/l.

This shows a lush, intense exotic expression of waxy orange peel, yellow peach stone fruits, cigar smoke, crushed gravel and a long, rich textural mouthfeel with a very fine balance of peach and orange citrus fruits and sappy, spicy, mineral notes and an unctuous, vibrant, concentrated finish that bristles with vivacity and piercing intensity.

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

Mountain Ridge Romansrivier Chenin Blanc 2019, WO Breedekloof, 13.5% Abv.

Fermented in stainless steel with no malolactic fermentation allowed. Lees contact / bâtonnage lasted 9 months with oak maturation of 95% new 225 litre + 5% 500 litre old oak.

Soil: Deep rocky alluvial. Elevation: 230 m. Trellis: 4 wire wedge. Age of vines: 13 years old. RS 3.43 g/l.

This is a rather exotic version of Chenin with lush sweet fruited yellow peach notes, white pepper, dried mint leaf, yellow citrus and hints of hedgerow spice. The palate is cool and linear with iced tea notes, tart peach and green apple pastille complexity and an impressive overall concentration. Really quite enticing.

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

Du Toitskloof Wines Quest Chenin Blanc 2019, WO Breedekloof, 13.5% Abv.

Fermented in French oak barrels. Fermentation was started in stainless steel tanks at 15°C. When sugar levels reached 10 balling the wine was transferred to barrels. No malolactic. Lees contact / bâtonnage for 3 months and overall oak maturation for 8 months.

Soil: Relatively dry sandy deep alluvial soils, highly weathered with mostly fine to medium sand fractions. Well drained without any major limiting factors. Elevation: 270m. Trellis: 5 wire lengthened Perold. Age of vines: 16 years old. RS 3.19 g/l.

This shows a decidedly biscuity aromatics with lemon tart, custard cream and tarte tatin caramelised apple richness punctuated with saline mineral notes, hints of brine, dried herbs and a cool, intense concentrated finish. Rather impressive indeed.

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

Stofberg Estate Borderstone Semillon 2018, WO Breedekloof, 13% Abv.

Fermented in stainless steel. Fermentation was inoculated with Yeast Alchemy 2. No malolactic. Bâtonnage once a week for 5 weeks and lees contact 10 months during oak maturation in French oak.

Soil: Sandy loam. Elevation: 220m above sea level. Trellis: 4 Wire extended Perold. Age: 26 years old. Clone: 317. RS 3.4 g/l.

The aromatics show a leesy, buttery, creamy white citrus complexity with notes of grilled herbs, lemon peel and white toast. The palate is pithy and fresh with pronounced orange peel zest, grassy spice and a piquant, bitter lemon creamy lanolin finish.

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

Daschbosch Avon Clairette Blanche 2019, WO Breedekloof, 13.14% Abv.

Fermented in barrel using wild and commercial yeasts. The wine saw malolactic fermentation with lees contact and bâtonnage for 4 months and oak maturation for 6 months.

Soil: Longlands / Westleigh. Elevation: 270 metre. Trellis: Bush vines of 43 years old. RS 3.16 g/l.

This has a powerful overt aromatic nose with dried green herbs, lemon peel, green apple and a chalky crushed gravel minerality. The palate is crystalline and fresh with a beautiful vein of acidity, tart green pear, white peach, and a sweet / sour stony finish. This really is an exciting expression of this variety expertly handled. Very smart indeed.

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

Le Belle Rebelle Mariette Pinot Blanc 2018, WO Breedekloof, 14.26% Abv.

Fermentation vessel were 225 litre French oak barrels using wild yeasts. No malolactic fermentation with lees contact for 9 months with first 3 months also bâtonnage. Oak maturation was 9 months in second and third fill French oak.

Soil: Primarily clay to loam with sandy alluvial soils sections. Sandstone rocks also present. Elevation: 208m. Trellis: 5 wire guyot trellis. Age of vines: 33 years old.  Clone: Mutation from Pinot noir. RS 3.31 g/l.

The nose shows a waxy apple, herby, white citrus complexity with a smoky, waxy soap stone minerality. The palate is cool, crisp and bright with a certain vivacity and generosity of crystalline pure white peach and white citrus fruits. Lovely linear precision and focus.

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

Olifantsberg Grenache Blanc 2018, WO Breedekloof, 13% Abv.

Fermentation vessel was a 2000 litre foudre, 300 and 500 litre barrels. Fermentation used natural yeasts with a subsequent portion of malolactic occurring naturally. Lees contact on full fermentation lees for 10 months. Oak maturation for 10 months in foudre and barrels.

Soil: Clay-shale with quartz. Elevation: 460m. Trellis: Stok-by-paaltjie. Age of vines: 5 years old. RS 3.22 g/l.

This wine reveals a bold, stony mineral aromatics of crush gravel, grey slate and piquant white citrus peel and dried herbs. The palate is cool and generous, loose knit and fresh with orange peel, lemon rind zest and a charmingly bitter lemon pithy finish. There is a lot of interest packed into this bottle.

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

Deetlefs Estate Family White Semillon 2018, WO Breedekloof, 13.96% Abv.

Ferment in barrel with 60% of must inoculated with cultured yeast while 40% underwent spontaneous wild fermentation. 5% skin fermented Sémillon adds complexity and texture to the palate. The grapes are destemmed and given six hours skin contact before a light pressing. Oak maturation lasted a total of nine months in 300 litre French oak barrels. 16% first fill, 16% second fill and balance in older seasoned oak. The best barrels are selected for this special and rare take on Sémillon.

Soil: cultivated on Sandy loam soils. Elevation: 400m above sea level. Trellis: Three-wire Perold. Age of vines: 27 years old. Clone: The clone is GD 121 and is grafted on Richter 99. Cultivated on an open canopy basis to allow for at least 85% sunlight penetration to enhance photosynthesis and thus bettering berry development. High density planting, which is 25% more vines per hectares then the norm, allows for better competition of rootstocks and thus building a healthy branched root system. RS 3.38 g/l.

This reveals a charming aromatic nose of honey suckle and sweet white blossom perfume, honeycomb and sweet grilled herb spices. There is a lovely soap stone, dusty minerality that carries to the palate with spicy yellow peach, sappy baking herbs, wet river pebbles and a stony graphite finish. A very serious expression of Semillon without doubt.

(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)

When It Comes to White Bordeaux Blends, Vergelegen and Andre van Rensburg Can Do No Wrong…

By 2016, the famous Michel Rolland had already been working with Vergelegen Estate on a consulting basis for three years. But as anyone who knows Andre van Rensburg can confirm, Michel was not there to teach Andre how to make wine. He would have had better luck teaching granny how to suck eggs! No indeed, Michel’s influence was felt the most in the cellar when it came to barrel selection and blending as well as, surprisingly to many, Michel’s viticultural guidance in the vineyards…. and for the sceptics, NO, that did not mean just picking dates.

 

The two originally spent time together at Harlan Estate where Michel Rolland also consulted, where after Andre Van Rensburg invited Michel to South Africa where Michel ended up playing an important role in blending the Vergelegen G.V.B white blend 2013, officially marking the start of his consultancy from the 2014 vintage onwards.

 

Vergelegen G.V.B. White Blend 2016, Stellenosch, 14 Abv.

This really is a sensational expression from Andre and the team at Vergelegen. A blend of 20% Sauvignon and 80% Semillon, this wine screams premium white Bordeaux from the minute you smell the alluring aromatics. All the classical white Bordeaux hallmark notes are there including a crunchy white citrus, grapefruit zest, pineapple pastille fruits, lime peel, dried coconut and reductive hints of black currant and vinyl. The palate is broad and powerful with a leading edge of sweet and sour grapefruit acidity, tangerine juice, green mango flesh and white citrus fruit intensity. Slightly pithy with hints of dried grass, this wine is a never ending profusion of fruit concentration, minerality and dried herb complexity all knitted together in a very tight, intense, classical package. This wine would go down an absolute treat blind with the Bordelaise producers in the Graves or Pessac-Leognan. With pyrazines well and truly conquered in this wine, this expression is lined up for a long and successful ageing period. Drink from release and for another 12 to 15+ years.

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

One of the Finest Semillons On the Market – Tasting the Dark Side of the Vine Semillon 2016 From Jacques Wentzel…

Semillon has always been a grape that has struggled to resonate with the consumer. Yes, fabulous dry versions from Tyrrells and other Hunter Valley producers in Australia have made the headlines globally, but in South Africa, I think it is fair to say that this variety has historically not been very popular.

However, things are changing. A new generation of winemakers has cracked the Semillon code and worked out how to produce styles that show great appeal. What all the top producers’ expressions have in common, from Chris Alheit to John Seccombe, Marc Kent to Eben Sadie, is exceptional fruit from historic old vine vineyards.

 

Jacques Wentzel from Black Elephant Vintners is another producer accessing fruit from one such vineyard for his Dark Side of the Vine cuvee. Basil Landau’s old vine Semillon block in the Bo-Hoek area of the Franschhoek Ward was planted in 1905 and is one of the oldest white wine vineyards in South Africa. The grapes see around 24 hours of skin contact before being fermented with natural indigenous yeasts followed by 12 months ageing in 500 litre French oak barrels. The results are exceptional and this wine now joins the ranks as one of South Africa’s very finest expressions of dry Semillon.

Black Elephant Vintners The Dark Side of the Vine 2016 Semillon, WO Franschhoek, 13 Abv.

The 2016 Semillon leans more towards fruit and flesh and less towards spice and herbal complexity like the 2015 vintage.  The wine displays a wonderfully intense aromatic nose with sensational lemon and lime zest and perfume. It unfurls wave upon wave of lemon confit, fresh peach juice, dried herbs, crushed walnut, nutmeg, tangerine peel, wet stones and dry thatch nuances. The palate is beautifully full and fleshy, almost unctuous but framed with the most delicious piercing, mouth-watering acidity. Super concentrated and broad but profoundly sensual and textural, the wine finishes with pure white citrus, black currant leaf and yellow tropical fruit candy notes. A joy to taste a wine that really does full justice to these centenary old vines from this famous vineyard in Franschhoek. Drink now or age for 8 to 10+ years.

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

Wines are distributed in the UK by Red Squirrel Wines. Approximate retail price £55.99 per bottle.

The Fine Wine Safari Top 10 South African White Wines of the Year 2018…

What a fabulous year for South African wine it has been! Of course for many 2018 was extra special because a lot of people who may not normally go to South Africa regularly made the pilgrimage down to Cape Wine 2018 in September. Personally, I made four separate visits to South Africa this year including a mammoth 10 day mega session that covered both the Nederburg Auction and the entire week of the Cape Wine trade fair.

— 🥁🥁🥁🥁🥁 …. drum roll ….

So for 2018, my Top 10 South African White Wines of the Year are as follows:

Alheit Family Wines Huilkrans Chenin Blanc 2017, Swartland – 97+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Sadie Family Wines Old Vines Series ‘T Voetpad 2017, Swartland – 97/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Lukas Van Loggerenberg Kameraderie Chenin Blanc 2017 – 96+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Sadie Family Wines Palladius White Blend 2016, Swartland – 96+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Alheit Family Wines Magnetic North Chenin Blanc 2017, Skurfberg – 96+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

David & Nadia Hoe Steen Chenin Blanc 2017, Swartland – 96+/100 GregSherwood MW

Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines Radicales Libres White Blend 2012, Swartland – 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Restless River Ava Maria Chardonnay 2016, Hemel-en-Aarde Valley – 95+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Naude Family Wines Old Vines Semillon 2016, Western Cape – 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Klein Constantia Vin de Constance 2015, Constantia – 97+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

A huge heartfelt congratulations to all the distinguished producers who made my Top 10 Whites this year. Merry Christmas! 🎄🍷

Coming up next before the New Year… the ultimate Fine Wine Safari Top 10 South African Red Wines of the Year 2018. Definitely not to be missed!

The Old Vine Project Hits London Again to Seduce Us with Some Profound Old Vine Whites and Reds from South Africa…

I’m very excited to be attending the Alheit Family Wines new release 2017 tasting tomorrow in London at the offices of the Institute of Masters of Wine with Chris Alheit. Indeed it was Rosa Kruger and Andre Morgenthal’s recent Old Vines Project Masterclass Tasting a few weeks ago that reignited the excitement surrounding old vines, old vine culture and the changes in philosophy with regards to viticulture and vine growing taking place in South Africa.

A pair of Chris Alheit’s superb 2017 wines featured prominently on the July tasting and certainly helped set the scene for yet another SA tasting of old vine wines that promises to display some of the most exciting dry Chenin Blanc’s produced anywhere in the world. Just reading through the below Old Vine Masterclass tasting notes has already got me salivating.

Below are my raw notes taken from the Masterclass with Andre and Rosa.

Old Vine Project team Andre Morgenthal and Rosa Kruger in front of London’s Millennium Bridge.

Huis van Chevallerie Filia Brut Kap Klassiek 2014, Swartland – Vines Planted 1974

Savoury apple purée, honey and sun dried peaches, vermouth botanicals and sweet fynbos herby spice. Beautiful richness, peachy, leesy autolysis and a gravelly, mineral length.

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

Huis van Chevallerie Nuwedam Chenin Blanc 2017, Swartland – Vines Planted 1974

Rich, deep, earthy, mealy character, hairy yellow peaches, honey, lanolin, peach purée and a solid vein of gravelly, granitic minerality. Creamy and texturally very fine showing piercing white citrus and crunchy yellow fruit intensity, white peach pastille and a kiss of pineapple. Very impressive.

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

Waterford Estate Library Collection Chenin Blanc 2017, Stellenbosch – Vines Planted 1982

Beautifully nuanced nose with pronounced minerality, dusty granite and limestone, where the fruit component of the wine takes a back seat to the terroir minerality. Hints of struck match and tart fresh acids give way to lemon and lime pith, flinty white peaches and savoury pineapple. A really excellent expression.

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

Gabrielskloof Elodie Chenin Blanc 2016, Swartland – Vines Planted 1977

Rich perfumed nose showing soap stone, white citrus, green apple zest, creamy white peach and liquid minerality. Beautifully textured palate, complex and very harmonious. Very classy indeed.

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

Alheit family Huilkrans Chenin Blanc 2017, Swartland – Vines Planted 1976 and 1986

Wonderful melange of pure mineral, granite, grated apple, white peach and crunchy green pear with hints of orange blossom, tangerine and dried herb spice. Incredible harmony and balance, precise textural focus, sleek concentration and liquid mineral depth. A thought provoking wine, confounding the senses, stimulating the palate. Grand Cru texture, focus and precision.

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

Cartology Chenin Blanc / Semillon Blend, WO Western Cape 2017 – Vines aged between 32 and 82 years old from multiple plots, mostly 40 years old

Big, broad expansive yellow orchard fruit aromatics, subtle yellow blossom and then an overriding dusty gravel quarry minerality. The palate shows amazing depth, typical Alheit pineapple fruit pastille concentration, lemon grass and an incredible saline, grassy, herbal pithy length. Another epic effort from Butch.

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

Alheit Fire By Night 2017, Swartland, 13 Abv. – Vines planted in 1938, 1940 and 1944

Bright, crystalline and intense, wonderfully taut and intense, loaded with liquid minerals, limestone and green gauge, green apple and white pears. Pithy phenolic notes, spicy, pear purée expression and such clarity and focus. Mouth watering acidity, this wine tells an amazing story and delivers on so many levels with subtlety.

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

David & Nadia Perdekamp Semillon 2014, Swartland – Vines Planted 1972

Dusty granitic mineral aromatics, powdered sandstone, white citrus, white pepper and hints of orange blossom. So textural, intense and expertly finessed into a really profound version of Semillon.

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

Boekenhoutskloof Semillon 2005, Franschhoek – Vines Planted in 1902, 1936 and 1942

Complex aromatics reveal notes of capsicum, white citrus and chalky granitic herbal green spice aromatics. Plenty of honied lemon, herbal fynbos notes and subtle oxidative, honied, lanolin length. Very expressive and complex.

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

Boekenhoutskloof Semillon 2015, Franschhoek – Vines Planted in 1902, 1936 and 1942

Crunchy white peaches, citrus, crushed gravel and white pepper dominate the nose. Palate is packed full of lime peel complexity, vibrant bright acids, textural linearity and a long, wonderfully focused finish. Exceptional.

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

Mullineux & Leeu Dry Red 2015, WO Western Cape – Vines planted in 1932 and 1900

Lovely peppery, spicy leafy nose of plum, peppercorns, sweet bramble berries, hedgerow, bergamot and sappy cherry spice. There’s a real opulent confit fruit character, impressive ripeness, fragrant but simultaneously mineral and restrained. There is also a real dusty granitic vein, a chalky, spicy texture and sweet red currant and raspberry sappy fruit. Punchy, intense, really focused but with real mouthwatering drinkability. Beautifully fine harmonious texture, and tight polished tannins. A very classy wine indeed.

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

Naude Cinsault 2015, Darling – Vines Planted 1980

Wonderfully open, fragrant and exotic nose showing salted cherries, rose petals, lychees and Turkish delight. Palate is incredibly sleek and creamy but impressively intense and focused. Delicious palate complexity of waxy orange peel, naartjie juice and earthy sappy cranberry sauce. Such a very pretty expression.

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

Jamie Goode tasting with Rosa Kruger at the Old Vine Project Masterclass held at High Timber Restaurant in July 2018.

The Alternative Face of Elgin – Tasting the Shannon Vineyards Wines with Co-Owner Stuart Downes…

Elgin is famous for cool climate expressions of both red and white wines. While most producers are focusing on Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, Shannon Vineyards have spent a lot of time and effort fine tuning their Semillon and Merlot, two varieties that have arguably had variable single varietal bottling success in South Africa until more recently. But I think it’s fair to say times have changed and consumers and wine merchants are more sympathetic to these varieties in their different guises.

Brothers Stuart and James Downes are the current owners and their focus has been on producing exceptional fruit from cool mountain hillside vineyards combined with minimal intervention winemaking. Stuart recently passed through London on the way back from the USA and presented his current releases.

Shannon Vineyards Semillon 2015, Elgin, 13.5 Abv.

0.5 Hectares of GD1 Australian Semillon clone with 15 years vine age. Shows real lift, dusty, spicy complexity with cut grass, lemon spice, crushed gravel, rain on dry grey slate petrichor characteristics. Definite herbaceous pyrazine hint but deliciously balanced by bright, creamy, ultra fresh yellow fruits, white citrus and a mouth watering grassy, piquant finish.

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

Shannon Vineyards Sanctuary Peak Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Elgin, 13 Abv

Bright fragrant notes of cut grass, stable straw, pithy yellow citrus, white pepper and crushed gooseberries. Acids are tart, crystalline and bright with spicy green apple, crunchy tart peach and lemon grass notes. Fresh, laser like focus and tension. Great example of cool climate Sauvignon.

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

Shannon Vineyards Rockview Ridge Pinot Noir 2014, Elgin, 13 Abv.

Using 667 & 777 clones, also 115 & 113. Dusty, sappy, spicy, cedary aromatic profile with notes of crushed gravel and subtle smokey charcoal embers. Palate is sleek, elegant, light weight but retains a fleshy red cherry and sappy bramble berry concentration with hints of Asian spices. Quite a subtle feminine style with a complexing white truffle earthiness on the finish.

(Wine Safari Score: 88+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Shannon Vineyards Merlot 2015, Elgin, 14 Abv.

Dark, warming, enticing nose of black damson plums, cut grass, black berry and baking spice herbaceousness with a dusting of milk chocolate gloss. Palate is soft and fruit driven with hints of mint leaf, supple creamy black brambly fruits, cedar spice and an overlay of graphite minerality. Fleshy and plummy, accessible and supple style.

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

Shannon Vineyards Mount Bullet Merlot 2013, Elgin, 14 Abv.

On average 22 months in barrel with a low 3.2 pH. Rich complex blend of 5 Merlot clones, 2 French and 3 Italian. Plush, restrained and very classical profile with black cherry, creamy black plum, cinnamon biscuits and an attractive sappy spice. Beautifully fleshy and sleek textured with incredibly bright cherry acids, black cherry spice, liquorice and a real Italian Tuscan feel. Fine precision, some tension and tautness, finishing with an alluring red cranberry and dusty graphite complexity. A rare distinguished example of one of the Cape’s most difficult grapes to master.

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

Benchmark Cool Climate Constantia – Tasting Boela Gerber’s Groot Constantia Gouverneurs Reserve White 2017…

One of the classic blends of the Constantia Valley made by one of its best Winemakers. Boela Gerber is the consummate winemaker’s winemaker… now also the current Chairman of the Cape Winemakers Guild.

This is always one of Boela’s pride and joy wines, the quintessential cool climate, pithy, grassy Sauvignon / Semillon blend. True to form, the nose bristles with sweet lemon grass, wet straw, salty brine and crunchy white peach nuances. An excellent white vintage in the Cape, the 2017 affords Constantia whites an impressive herbaceous depth of cut grass, dusty, herby capsicum, Cape gooseberry complexity and a bright, crunchy yellow orchard fruit length. A really fine aromatic vintage for whites and Boela delivers here once again. Drink now or cellar past 2030+

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

The Dawning of a New Era – Tasting the Tantalising Old Vine Treats of Naude Family Wines…

One of my life long mantras has always been that nice people make nice wines. Well, in Ian Naude’s case, you can add chocolate sprinkles and icing sugar to his delicious treats. A veteran of 11 years hard graft at Adoro Wines, in 2018 Ian has finally grasped the prickly chalice and branched out with his own venture, Naude Family Wines.

After much politics, multiple accounting headaches and a lot of strategic and logistic planning, the boat is back on the water and the sails are gathering a healthy turn of speed. Naude Family Wines has graduated and is now in the big ivy league.

A lot of work and many marketing challenges still lie ahead, but the true essence of decades of Ian’s hard work, sweet and tears have established a watertight quality reputation on par with rock star Eben Sadie when it comes to quality Old Vine Cinsault, Grenache, Chenin Blanc and Semillon. Watch this space… the godfather of South Africa’s white blends is back! With a bang!!

The new garagist operation is still bedding in but already shows great excitement.

Naude Family Wines White Blend 2006, WO Western Cape, 13 Abv.

54% Chenin Blanc – Durbanville, Stellenbosch, Agter Paarl, 37% Semillon – Durbanville and Stellenbosch, 9% Sauvignon Blanc – Stellenbosch, Darling, Paarl, Elgin, Elim. RS 1.6 g/l, pH 3.4, SO2 Free 30ppm / 70 total

A rich expressive nose packed full of exotic fragrance. Evolving beautifully, there are layers of green quince, apple pastille, pineapple and tarte tatin notes. The palate is ripe, concentrated and characterful, brimming with gooseberry confit, spiced pears and complex, textural lanolin notes. The finish is dry and powerful, punchy, disguising it’s 12 years of age masterfully. Drinking well now, this wine still has plenty of legs.

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

Naude Family Wines White Blend 2007, WO Western Cape, 11.5 Abv.

72% Chenin Blanc – Durbanville, Stellenbosch, Agter Paarl, 19% Semillon – Durbanville and Stellenbosch, 9% Sauvignon Blanc – Stellenbosch, Darling, Paarl, Elgin, Elim. RS 1.7, pH 3.16, SO2 Free 52ppm

What a difference one year can make. The 2007 Naude white blend comes from an altogether more complicated vintage for aromatic whites yet with 11 years in bottle this wine is still very impressive. Taut, fresh and lean, there is a wonderful linearity to the wine allied to cool green crunchy fruits and brazen liquid minerality. With an exotic boxwood spice kiss, the palate shows excellent purity of gooseberry, green apple and lime cordial, finishing with plenty of energy and spice. The lower alcohol is just the cherry on the cake. Drink this beauty now with seafood or allow it to age further in your cellar because it gets better every time I taste it.

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

Naude Family Wines Semillon 2016, WO Western Cape, 12 Abv.

Made from Durbanville and Stellenbosch fruit, Semillon gives a much smaller window to pick if you want to capture the seductive green apple, lemon & lime zest vigour. The nose is full of green apple, white peach pastille fruit and delicate orange blossom notes. In the mouth it is full, broad and glycerol with the most delicious texture, twinned with lime cordial, citrus blossom, green apple, white pepper and vanilla pod spice. A wonderfully harmonious, generous wine that retains the intensity and linearity of Semillon but with extra concentration and almost Chardonnay palate power. A real triumph. Drink from release and over 20+ years. One of the best current examples of this variety on the South African market. Snap this up on release in South Africa in June.

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

Naude Family Wines Cinsault 2015, WO Darling, 12 Abv.

100% Darling 37 year old vine Cinsault from the late Boetie van Reenen’s farm, a more classical and characterful varietal Cinsault you won’t find. The nose is all marzipan, Turkish delight, violets and dried rose petals. Wonderfully fragrant and perfumed, there is just the faintest hint of cracked black peppercorns and cedar wood spice notes. The palate is bright and vibrant with the most delicious salty blackberry, Victoria plum and black cherry pastille fruit notes that linger and coat the mouth. So expressive but also impressively classical and restrained. This wine has earned a massive, well deserved following with its superb quality and is known to be one of Old Vine Guru Rosa Kruger’s favourite Cinsault’s in the whole of South Africa.

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

One Of Bordeaux’s Best Kept Secrets ~ The Elusive Dry White Wines of the Medoc…

Interestingly, if you ask most people what they think of Bordeaux Blanc dry whites, anecdotally, the majority will probably tell you they have never bought or drunk one knowingly. Quite surprising really when you think how mainstream Sauvignon Blanc is or even Sauvignon / Semillon blends from other wine regions around the world.

The French realised a long time ago that premium Bordeaux appellations actually have a lot of wine to sell and perhaps it’s not the best idea to confuse the consumer and distract their purchasing power away from red Bordeaux and sweet white Sauternes style wines. Other than a few “lesser” regarded appellations like Entre-Deux-Mers, most sub-regions of Bordeaux produce very little premium dry white other than perhaps Pessac-Leognan and the Graves.

So every moment I get to drink a top dry white Bordeaux, I savour the opportunity and revel in the wines’ utter deliciousness and relative obscurity. Tonight was one such moment. Sadly for enthusiasts, this obscurity does not equal lower prices. The Bordelaise are too savvy for that!

Cos d’Estournel Blanc 2012, AOC Bordeaux, 13.5 Abv.

White Bordeaux can certainly be one of the most delicious white wines produced. This Cos Blanc, made from 77% Sauvignon Blanc and 23% Semillon cropped at 25 hl/ha from the Northern Medoc, shows impressive pedigree with a lifted aromatic nose of white blossom, lemon and lime cordial, vanilla essence, green gauge, waxy yellow apples, tangerine peel, and a subtle earthy root veg note. The aromas melt away into one another and reveal just a modest lick of creamy, buttery oak spice. The palate is full, round and fleshy but also saline and pithy, showing wonderful texture, depth of fruit and crunchy acids. Not necessarily the most complex of wines, but then even this 2012 should be regarded as a baby in nappies still. An opulent style, the wine finishes with lovely yellow grapefruit, a honeyed balance, some dusty crushed gravel minerality and again more pithy, zesty, white pepper and coriander spice on the opulent finish. Drink now to 2025+

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