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 heathy 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)

A Wine Of Rarity and Beauty ~ Tasting the Sadie Family Old Vine Series Kokerboom 2015…

Within the Sadie Old Vine Series range, the Kokerboom white is probably the most enigmatic and mysterious. But in an intense, near perfect vintage like 2015, this wine’s full potential is revealed in all its regal glory. The biggest challenge then becomes actually getting hold of some to drink!


Made from fruit sourced in the Trekpoort Kloof in the Olifants River Region, this old vine vineyard Semillon was planted in the 1930s on decomposed Table Mountain sandstone and includes a mix of both white and red-skinned versions of this grape once very common in the Cape winelands. A pristine old vineyard, no herbicides or artificial fertilizers have been used on it, and it has been perfectly pruned and cared for over the years. The downside is that it is a very small and low-yielding vineyard. 


The white and red Semillon (approximately a 70 / 30 split), ripen at the same time and are picked and pressed together. The juice is taken from the basket press in buckets to an old cask for natural fermentation, and spends around 18 months on its lees before being bottled from the cask unfined and unfiltered, yielding not much more than 150 cases of 6 per vintage. TA 6.4 g/l and RS 1.8 g/l with a 3.00 pH.


Sadie Family Old Vine Series Kokerboom 2015, WO Olifantsrivier, 14 Abv.

The aromatics grow in the glass showing intense lime, white pepper, lemon herbs, lime peel, soap stone and grey slate. A really intriguing mineral melange of dusty stony complexity mixes with notes of boxwood, fynbos, and beechwood spice. The palate is full and expansive and ethereally complex. Flavours are still tightly wound, taught, and require a little coaxing to reveal a tart, briney, saline palate bite, complex citrus zest and deliciously fresh glassy acids and picante mineral cut. So many layers of lemon grass, tangerine peel, pithy green apple and sweet, freshly cut raw fennel develop. Texturally profound and so beautifully balanced, this wine teases the senses giving the drinker a fleeting glimpse of what’s still to come with further bottle age. World class and eye-opening, the Kokerboom 2015 is most certainly right up there with other sought after white icon wines from around the globe.

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

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)


Thorne & Daughters Paper Kite Semillon 2016 ~ Another Contender for One of My Top 10 South African Whites of the Year…

A few weeks ago, on a visit to see Peter Allan Finlayson at Gabrielskloof, I managed to also meet up with John Seccombe to taste his new vintages. John has been based at Gabrielskloof for a while now, leasing cellar space to produce his fantastic range of wines.


Last year, the Paperkite Semillon 2015 achieved one of my highest scores for a South African white and flew straight into my top 10, not an easy feat considering all the amazing 2015s that were on the market at the time. This year sees more of the same… and the 2016 version is another cracker!


Thorne & Daughters Paperkite Semillon 2016, 13.2 Abv.

A blend of 85 year old Semillon and 56 year old Semillon Gris from Siebrietskloof in the Paardeberg, the beauty has a rich opulent aromatic lift of lime peel, waxy lemons, white peach and tangerine peel. There are lovely dried herb nuances of thyme combined with sappy crushed leaves. The palate is creamy and intense, brimming with sweet pineapple pastille fruit concentration, tangy fig confit, granitic stoney minerality, finishing with a massively long finish that resonates around the back palate. Wow… A really profound, expressive fine wine. Chase it… buy it… drink it!

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