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)