One of the most luxurious 100% Shiraz produced in South Africa, the Black Lion is a finely crafted wine cultivated from specially selected vines that are nurtured by special ‘hand manicuring’ and individual attention to produce grapes for a truly modern premium international wine, positioned to stand proudly amongst its global peers. A mere 1000 – 1300 individually numbered bottles are produced annually with the maiden vintage being the 2012, when only 608 bottles were produced.
I remember visiting the De Toren Stellenbosch winery in the Polkadraai Hills when the maiden Book XVII Bordeaux blend 2010 had just been released and the maiden 2012 Black Lion Shiraz was still ageing in barrel, made up of components of pure Shiraz grown on three different vineyard sites including the Swartland and the Helderberg, but importantly, made using the same extreme precision viticulture as the Book XVII Series, albeit with less barrel rotation and slightly different barrel cooperage. The 2020 Black Lion edition is made from fruit from one site in the Swartland and one site in Stellenbosch.
With the new 2020 release hitting the market, it was time to put this extraordinary Shiraz through its paces. Using 200% new oak ageing, there is always going to be a certain overt opulence to the wine, a hedonistic indulgence, but with stylistic perfection always front and foremost in the cellar master Charles Williams’ mind, the end product is always going to be eye-catching. More Napa Valley than Rhone Valley undoubted, but certainly a unique expression of premium luxury South African Shiraz.
De Toren Private Cellar Black Lion Shiraz 2020, WO Coastal Region, 15.5% Abv.
Three things strike you when you nose and taste this premium wine for the first time… firstly that it’s incredibly youthful as you’d expect from a 2020 vintage, secondly, the integration of the new oak on such a young wine is simply exceptional, and lastly, the all round creamy, dense intensity, harmony and balance of fruit and structure points to something very serious in the bottle. Without any obfuscation of oak, the aromatics are laid out regally like crown jewels on display, showing a deliciously rich black berry, blue berry and mulberry complexity, with hints of grilled herbs, sweet roasted peppercorns, sweet tobacco leaf and seductive notes of cured bresaola. Texturally, this wine is faultless, revealing a suave, opulent, richly layered palate that leaves little to the imagination. Sleek, fine grained, broad in the mouth, the palate shows black cherry and liquorice, black currant and black stewed plums with sweet savoury herbs, vanilla pod spice and a seductively long finish. Perhaps a little modern in style for hemp shirt wearing Syrah traditionalists, but for everyone else, this iconic red is the product of modern precision viticulture at its very best. A truly extraordinary wine. Drink from 2024 to 2038+. (Only 1,215 bottles produced)
(Wine Safari Score: 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
The De Toren wines are imported into the UK by The Wine Treasury and retails for circa £250 per bottle.
As we await the new 2022 releases from Lukas Van Loggerenberg, I thought I would revisit three wines that I tried with him in the UK a few months ago. While his Kameraderie Chenin Blanc drew all the early market attention in the first few vintages, Lukas’s Trust Your Gut Chenin Blanc has now found its own comfortable quality niche and following among old vine Chenin Blanc lovers making this wine a real steal within the range.
But if it’s Rosé wine you are looking for, the 6th vintage of Break a Leg Cinsault will charm you with its subtle reductive flintiness, hints of dried herbs, fynbos and stony minerality. Certainly one of the more serious Rosé expressions produced in the South African market. But if very fine reds, and Northern Rhône style Syrah is your preference, the Graft Syrah is simply drop dead gorgeous and well worth the effort to track down a bottle. Alternatively, get in quick when the 2022s are released in the coming months. Lukas remains one of the most exciting winemakers plying his trade in the Cape at the moment.
Lukas Van Loggerenberg Break a Leg Cinsault Rosé 2021, WO Stellenbosch 12% Abv.
The sixth vintage of this sophisticated Rosé but the first use of this 29-year-old Helderberg located vineyard planted on soft, sandy decomposed granite just above the Craven Cinsault vineyard owned by Pieter Bredell. Several pickings make up the final wine which is fermented in old oak which removes the New World tooty fruity Rosé character to expose the more grown-up serious side of the wine a la Provençal Rosé wines. The nose if loaded with aromatics of wet granite, sun dried strawberries, oyster shells and pithy red cherry with a saline, dusty dried herb sapidity. Cool, textured and quite glycerol in the mouth, this wine has lovely intensity and a fine precision, finishing with purity and a dry minerality. Another fabulous gastronomic Rosé wine.
(Wine Safari Score: 92+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Lukas Van Loggerenberg Trust Your Gut Chenin Blanc 2021, WO Western Cape, 13% Abv.
About 60% of the grapes for this superb wine were sourced from the Paardeberg and 40% from the Polkadraai Hills ward in Stellenbosch. The aromatics display a notable crushed gravel minerality with hints of struck-match reduction before notes of pineapple, ripe pears, white peach, wet straw and dried herb nuances. As always, the palate is beautifully intense and concentrated possessing impressive phenolic structure together with a bright vibrant acidity. It is striking how Lukas harnesses such power, intensity and depth of flavour at a modest 13% alcohol, reaffirming his real mastery of the Chenin Blanc grape. Drink this on release or cellar for 8 to 10+ years.
(Wine Safari Score: 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Lukas Van Loggerenberg Graft Syrah 2021, WO Stellenbosch, 13.5% Abv.
Made from higher altitude grapes sourced in the Karibib vineyard, this 2021 is an incredibly special Syrah creation with complex perfumed aromatics of violets, lilies, sweet red cherries, crushed raspberries over spicy black pepper, dried herbs, fynbos and savoury black berries. This is a spellbinding wine with overt precision, translucent purity of fruit, fabulous focus and seamless tannins. A really classy, chiselled wine displaying effortless balance and power. Very, very impressive indeed.
(Wine Safari Score: 98/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
The Lukas Van Loggerenberg wines are available to the UK trade from importer Dreyfus Ashby or to retail customers fromspecialist South African merchant Museum Wines. http://www.museumwines.co.uk
I was recently asked why no one had reviewed the 2020 Stars in the Dark Syrah from the dynamic young talent Sam Lambson. I replied that the wine had arrived in the UK basically all pre-sold and there was none “to be had” for general drinking. And then, as if by magic, a friend joined me for lunch and brought along a bottle of the 2020, the third vintage release from Minimalist Wines.
This fabulous red comes from Cape Agulhas, one of the coldest and most inhospitable wine regions in the Western Cape … so certainly not an easy spot to grow vines. There is very little rain, the winds howl incessantly and the shallow, layered shales and koffieklip-littered soils of Elim provide little nourishment for the vines. The ripening season is cool and lengthy yet, with their roots driven deep, the tenacious Syrah vines on this 21-year old parcel yields minute, concentrated berries with electric natural acidity. As Sam Lambson often points out, “some of the best things in life emerge from tough times and dark places.”
The 2020 growing season began with a balmy spring which ensured both a successful budburst and flowering. A moderate summer then settled in bringing fine winds through the vineyards, which helped keep the vines fresh and disease-free while the steady heat helped concentrate the grapes. Although temperatures were definitely warm, they seldom spiked, which helped keep drought conditions in check. Towards the harvest, some welcome rain fell providing a respite from what had been a period of intense drought, although the humid conditions did then see a surge of rot and disease, which producers had to work hard to mitigate.
Minimalist Wines Stars in the Dark Syrah 2020, WO Cape Agulhas, 13.5% Abv.
A 100% pure Syrah red, the 2020 once again reveals a piercing black berry fruit aromatic profile that shares so much with the greatest Syrah examples from the Northern Rhone and Cote Rotie in particular. With the complex melange of black berry fruits come nuances of dried violets, potpourri and lavender together with dried herbs, garrigue, peppercorns and pithy cherry spice. The palate shows wonderful poise and precision, real intensity of fruit together with purity, minerality and telltale coastal salinity expressed with a kelpy, oyster shell reductive hint. Still tightly coiled and full of tension, this will be a fine Syrah to bury in the cellar for 5+ years but can be coaxed to display some of its finery with an hour or so in a decanter. A truly splendid wine that builds on the successes of the previous two drought affected vintages.
Now recognised as one of the Swartland’s leading quality producers, tasting the new releases of the Mullineux single terroir wines is always a special occasion. With an incredibly strong and loyal following in the USA, Andrea’s mother country, as well as in the UK, the Mullineux’s have seen their hard work both in the winery and out on the marketing road start to pay off in reputation as well as collectability over the past few years.
I caught up with Chris Mullineux recently in London and tasted the delicious new red single terroir releases face to face while quizzing him on vintage and vineyard conditions. I’m sure this is exactly the grilling he would have wanted after a long five week family holiday in the USA! As usual, the wines are exceptional, even benchmark for the vintage and will command a lot of attention when they hit the market fully.
Mullineux Granite Syrah 2019, WO Swartland, 13.6% Abv.
RS 2.0 g/l | TA 5.2 g/l | pH 3.8
Now sourced from a single parcel of 25-year-old dry land grown Syrah planted on decomposed granite on the Jakalsfontein farm now owned by Adi Badenhorst in the Paardeberg, the grapes picked at 24 Hl/Ha, were foot trodden in 500 litre French oak barrels to break the berries. After 4 days of macerating, the fermentation began naturally with indigenous yeasts and lasted for around 10 to 14 days. After fermentation, the wine saw a further 4 weeks of skin maceration before being pressed into barrel to complete malolactic fermentation. Pigeage was performed once a day before, during and after fermentation. In the Spring, the wine was racked after 21 months in barrel and was bottled unfiltered and unfined. The wine saw 12 months in French oak 500 litre barrels, 50% new, followed by 10 months in 2,000 litre foudre. A final 9 months of ageing in bottle was carried out before release.
True to form, the Mullineux Granite Syrah is once again exquisitely perfumed and fragrant with a wonderfully lifted aromatic complexity of violets, lilac, peach blossom and subtle hints of white pepper, crushed red cherries and a delicately dusty, herby, fynbos garrigue character. The palate is texturally pinpoint and fabulously composed and precise with incredible harmony and balance but also the true taut granitic acid frame that makes this wine so distinct from its Schist and Iron siblings. Wonderfully cool, concentrated and savoury, there are delicious notes of cured meats, pink musk, red berries, mulberries and classic Swartland chalky talcum powder tannins. While this wine may not always be the most fruity and obvious style of Syrah, its aromatics and perfume are intoxicating and the acid frame steely and forceful. Hard not to love this wine! (4,560 bottles produced.)
(Wine Safari Score: 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Mullineux Schist Roundstone Syrah 2019, WO Swartland, 13% Abv.
RS 1.9g/l | TA 4.9 g/l | pH 3.72
The grapes for the 2019 Schist Syrah were sourced from 22-year-old vines planted on stony shale and schist soils on the Roundstone farm where the Mullineux winery is based next door to the Kasteelberg. As with the Granite and Iron cuvees, the grapes were foot trodden in 500 litre French oak barrels to break the berries and release the juices. After 4 days of macerating, the fermentation begun naturally with indigenous yeasts and lasted around 10 days. After fermentation, the wine saw a further 4 weeks of skin maceration before being pressed into barrel to complete malolactic fermentation. The wine saw 12 months in French oak 500 litre barrels, 50% new, followed by 10 months in 2000 litre foudre. A final 9 months of ageing in bottle was carried out before release.
The vines for the 2019 Schist Syrah were planted in 1999 on the Roundstone farm and originally used for the Mullineux estate Syrah, with the top 10 rows of the same block historically going into Eben Sadie’s famed Columella red blend. While there is irrigation available, the vineyard is now fully dry farmed. I always talk about this wine as being the consumers’ ‘darling wine’ in the single terroir range with seductive, alluring aromatics of pomegranate, blood orange, red currant, Earl Grey tea and crushed slate minerality nuances. Always supremely elegant and approachable, the 2019 shows a truly magical balance of concentrated, textural red and black fruit intensity together with sleek fresh acids and incredibly tight knit, polished, fine-grained tannins. This is an unbelievably complete wine that slowly but surely seduces you sip by sip. Tasted over two days, my impressions of this wine simply grew ever larger the longer the bottle was open. The novice fine wine drinker will love the Schist 2019 (as usual) while the discerning collector will perhaps acquire a new appreciation for this icon Swartland Syrah. (2,700 bottles produced. The only wine bottled every year since 2010.)
(Wine Safari Score: 97/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Mullineux Iron Syrah 2019, WO Swartland, 13.5% Abv.
RS 1.9 g/l | TA 5.2 g/l | pH 3.9
Grapes for the 2019 Iron Syrah were sourced from a single parcel of 20-year-old organically farmed dry land bush vines on the rolling iron-rich soils west of Malmesbury. This parcel of Syrah gives one of the best expressions of the “koffieklip” terroir – notably broadness and mid-palate concentration. As with the Granite and Schist cuvees, the grapes were foot trodden in 500 litre French oak barrels to break the berries and release the juices. After 4 days of macerating, the fermentation begun naturally with indigenous yeasts and lasted around 10 days. After fermentation, the wine saw a further 4 weeks of skin maceration before being pressed into barrel to complete malolactic fermentation. The wine saw 12 months in French oak 500 litre barrels, 50% new, followed by 10 months in 2,000 litre foudre. A final 9 months of ageing in bottle was carried out before release.
With always incredibly strict fruit selection, there was no 2016 Iron Syrah produced but it has been one of the most classically old world Syrah’s in the Mullineux’s single terroir range with the 2017 and 2018 ‘drought vintages’ being altogether more muscular, dense and powerful. In 2019, Chris Mullineux claims the wine returns to its roots with more elegance, polished harmony and a textured savoury Cotie Rotie northern Rhone finesse. The aromatics are packed with savoury black and blueberry fruits, crushed tomato leaf and herby hints of dried oregano and sage. On the palate, the wine is altogether more regal, light footed and elegant in a notable departure from the muscular recent vintages. The palate is deliciously classical and Rhone-like showing a broad savoury spectrum of red berry fruits, hints of Cornas style blood and iron, impressively sleek polished mineral stony tannins and a calmer, more velvety, sumptuous textured density on the finish. A wine that sometimes splits opinions stylistically, but never when it comes to agreeing on its exceptional quality. (3,300 bottles produced.)
Rose remains one of the most popular and fastest growing wine categories globally and several things all the very best examples have in common is subtlety, balance, freshness and supreme drinkability. The Jean Roi Cap Provincial 2020 joins the growing global ranks of premium dry Roses and impresses from the word go.
The Riebeeksrivier farm is situated on the slopes of the Kasteelberg, over-looking the Swartland towards the iconic Table Mountain. Its unique terroir, especially with the brown friable shale soils, expresses itself strongly in the wine with unique varietal characteristics. The vines for this blend are all planted on south facing slopes at elevations of 350 – 400m above sea level. The Cinsaut and Grenache bushvines were planted in 1990 and 2017 respectively, and the higher density échalas trellised (vines trained on its own wooden stake) Shiraz vineyard was planted in 2011.
Grapes were hand-picked and packed into lug boxes before being transported to the cellar in refrigerated trucks. Great care was taken to minimise the amount of colour extraction from the grapes through gentle pressing, before settling and fermentation in stainless steel tanks. The wine was blended and kept on its fine lees for 9 months before being bottled.
Jean Roi Cap Provincial Rose 2020, WO Riebeeksrivier, 13.5% Abv.
5.4g/l TA | 2.6g/l RS | 3.22pH
Based on a classic Southern French Provençal blend of Cinsaut (48%), Grenache (43%) and Shiraz (9%), the aromatics are delicate and restrained showing fine nuances of savoury red berry compote, dried guava roll, rose petals, dried strawberries, complex pink rock candy and a dusty stony minerality. On the palate, the wine is crystalline and fresh but also harmonious and cool with purity and finesse. The finish is focused and long displaying mouth-watering acidity and delicate red cherry, cut apple and white peach fruits. But the true measure of a great Rose is of course drinkability and a wine’s ability to deliver hedonistic pleasure – this wine excels on both counts. Perfect for a summer of indulgence!
The Proprietor’s Red Blend is a selection of six varieties all of which are sourced from the Ernie Els winery property. These vineyards are grown primarily on the warmer, north-facing slopes of the Helderberg within the Stellenbosch region.
These particular varieties thrive under these conditions and result in rich, full-bodied red wines with balancing freshness. At an altitude of approximately 250 metres above sea level, together with the cooling influence of the Atlantic Ocean, the ripening period or hang time of the grapes can be extended, resulting in wines with optimal phenolic ripeness and pure, bold, concentrated flavours. This of course is one of the reasons Stellenbosch has become so famous for successfully growing premium Bordeaux varieties as well as some excellent Syrah / Shiraz.
I recently tasted the Ernie Els Proprietor’s Blend and was pleased to see the pedigree of the 2017 vintage captured in this new release.
Ernie Els Proprietor’s Blend 2017, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5% Abv.
A premium red blend made up of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Shiraz, 5% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, 5% Malbec and 5% Petit Verdot. The result is a rich enticing blend with expressive aromatics laced with tannery leather, decomposing forest floor, sweet black berry compote, black currant pastille, graphite and nuances of freshly tilled earth. The palate is finely weighted with creamy round tannins, layers of crunchy black currant, black cherry and blueberry spice with delicately integrated cedar wood vanilla spice notes. This wine shows impressive density, power and concentration for a vintage renowned for having a more lithe, silky, weightless character. Here we see the elegance and textural finesse of 2017 but certainly with a little more dry extract, stuffing and grip. Nevertheless, this is a wine that can be enjoyed now on release or cellared for 10-12+ years comfortably. Another triumph for prime Stellenbosch terroir.
(Wine Safari Score: 93+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
The Ernie Els Wines are distributed in the UK by Seckford Wine Agencies.
Like many fine wine lovers in the UK, I probably don’t drink enough top end Australian wines these days because the best stuff is either difficult to get hold of or very expensive or both. Australia suffers from having a small number of very top end power brands that are incredibly sought after by locals and international buyers alike. So when considering the most famous quality wine brands, Henschke must be right up there with others like Penfold’s Grange, Jim Barry’s Armagh, Torbreck’s The Laird and of course the super sought after cult producer Wendouree’s Clare Valley Shiraz.
I recently got the opportunity to catch up with Stephen and Prue Henschke in Australia over Zoom to taste through an impressive array of their current releases. But it’s amazing to think that this “new world” estate first produced wine in 1868 and six generations later, the quality has never been higher.
As innovators, Henschke first adopted screwcap closures in 1996 starting with their Julius Riesling and more latterly, adopted the vinolock closure in 2004 for certain red wines. Henschke also only use organic and biodynamic viticulture and winemaking for their wines.
Henschke Croft Adelaide Hills Chardonnay 2018
Lovely yellow citrus driven aromatics with delicate notes of biscuits, leesy white toast, green apple pastille and gentle kiss of vanilla oak spice. Acids are crunchy, tangy and bright framing steely white citrus notes with stony minerality, pithy yellow grapefruit, hints of white peach and a taut, crystalline green apple finish. Lovely focus and purity.
(Wine Safari score: 92/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Henschke Giles Lenswood Pinot Noir 2018
First produced in 1989. Ripe generous nose packed full of baking spices, sweet exotic herbs, bramble berry, sun-dried cranberries, pink musk, candied strawberry, blood orange and subtle raspberry and pomegranate. The palate shows a polished, moderately dense texture with powdery tannins, chalky grip and a round, bold plummy red forest berry fruit character.
Named after Henry Evans who planted the first 7 acres of vineyards in Keyneton in 1853, the nose is packed with black fruits, black berries but also lovely complex notes of sage, black pepper and spicy plum. The palate is vibrant and grippy with attractive rustic hints, sweet savoury black currant intensity, finishing with focus and persistence. Very attractive.
Made from Low yielding old vine bush vines that are dry grown and trellised on limestone soils. This wine shows rich opulent characteristics of sweet Chinese five spice mixed with notes of blueberries, black berries and raspberry coulis. Palate texture is super bright and juicy, light on its feet but with delicious concentration, powdery tannins and a succulent blueberry crumble finish with a beguiling lick of grey slate dust. Compact and very complete.
(Wine Safari score: 94/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Henschke Keyneton Euphonium 2015
Previously called Keyneton Estate, this is a blend of 50 year old vine Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc from vineyards planted by Cyril Henschke in the Eden Valley in the 1960s. The aromatics are complex and dense, packed full of sage, baking herbs and earthy peppery spice. From the great 2015 vintage, the Cabernet Sauvignon reveals notes of sweet black tea, tannery leather, sweet cherry tobacco and bramble berry spice and combines beautifully with savoury Shiraz nuances and just a kiss of hoisin plum sauce on the finish.
(Wine Safari score: 93/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Henschke Mount Edelstone Eden Valley Shiraz 2015
From the historic Mt Edelstone vineyard planted in 1912. Low yielding, dry-grown Shiraz vines produced a wine first bottled in 1952 and is the longest consecutively produced single vineyard Shiraz in Australia. The nose boasts layers of Chinese five spice, dried violet perfume, sage, dried mint leaf, camphor and black plum with a sprinkling of black pepper spice. The palate is generously fruited but dense and muscular while remaining texturally polished and precise with fine supporting mineral tannins. The palate is very expressive with layers of creme de cassis, savoury sweet black plum and shows a fabulous harmony and balance together with power and poise. A class act yet again.
(Wine Safari score: 95+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Wines are available in the UK from importer Liberty Wines.
I first met the talented Sam Lambson in early 2018 in a corner of Bertus Basson’s Spec & Bone restaurant while out drinking one evening with a few winemakers. While chatting, he mentioned he was studying winemaking and had made his own first wine that was still in barrel. Roll forward 18 months and Sam is in his final year of a BSc Oenology degree at the University of Stellenbosch – the perfect place to meet, and learn from, many of the region’s most talented winemakers.
On our first meeting, I did not have the good fortune to taste a barrel sample of his wine but was impressed enough to pass on his details and story to fellow Master of Wine and SA wine importer Richard Kelley MW. Richard signed Sam up and imported a small amount of his tiny volume maiden release Syrah, Stars in the Dark 2018, made from fruit located in the extreme terroir of Elim.
Anyone who has been to the area will know how cold and inhospitable the Agulhas coast can be … not an easy spot for vines to grow. There’s little rain, the winds howl and the shallow, layered shales and koffieklip-littered soils of Elim provide little nourishment for vines.
The Elim Ward is located near Cape Agulhas which is the real Southern tip of African and not Cape Point like so many visitors believe.
The ripening season is cool and lengthy yet, with their roots driven deep, the tenacious Syrah vines on this 19-year old parcel bear minute, concentrated berries with electric natural acidity. As Sam says, “some of the best things in life emerge from tough times and dark places.” Coming out the other side of depression himself has certainly taught him that. “It’s a message no other place articulates quite as elegantly as Elim.”
This wine, already sold out in the local South African market, was one of the star attractions at the recent New Wave Tasting 2019 in London in early September. However there is a small amount of stock in the UK so get your hands on a few bottles of this excellent maiden release. It’s a unicorn wine waiting to happen!
Minimalist Wines Stars in the Dark Syrah 2018, WO Elim, 13.5 Abv.
A 100% pure Syrah red with piercing black fruit aromatics that chime with seductive cherry blossom, crushed violets and dried lavender perfume which rises imperiously out the glass before the nose reverts back to more traditional Northern Rhône Syrah notes of black olive tapenade, cured meats, German deli and a saline black currant fruit intensity. The palate shows ample stony mineral tannins that underpin the fresh, cool zippy coastal acids supported by a wonderful background note of kelp and ocean sea breeze. A really super classy maiden release red from this quality obsessive producer. Sam Lambson is definitely a star to watch. Pop some of these in your cellar for a couple of years and drink over the next 5 to 10+ years.
The history of this great estate reads like a classic novel in the same vein as many great Bordeaux chateaux. Highs and lows, controversy and family disputes and changes in winemakers and house style.
Tasting the latest creations of winemaker Coenie Snyman, it can be confirmed with a fair degree of certainty that this famous old South African grand marque is almost back to its very best again. This can only be good news for consumers and collectors alike.
Rust en Vrede Estate 2015, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5 Abv.
The 2015 Estate red is a blend of 57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 34% Syrah and 9% Merlot. This is the flagship wine of the estate and boasts astute winemaking to match. The bouquet offers up a fine perfume of dried potpourri, violets, cinnamon stick and an alluring melange of mulberry, black currant and savoury damson plum with a complexing top note of black Kalamata olives. Subtle mocha and vanilla pod nuances carry to the palate which is eminently refined and elegantly balanced, showing delicious spicy black currant, graphite, black liquorice, salty cassis and a subtle lick of salted caramel. Beautifully plush and textured, this is a seamless vinous package of fine wine enjoyment that speaks volumes about the very fine 2015 vintage twinned with re-energised, ambitious winemaking. A winery returning to its very best potential once again. Drink now or cellar for 10 to 15+ years.
I had a wonderful time in Cape Town at Cape Wine 2018 and before that at the Nederburg Auction of older South African wines. Of course Cape Wine 2018 will be remembered for Tim Atkin MW’s first personal 100 point SA wine score, an active debate surrounding scoring and score inflation both in South Africa and globally and also the prickly pear issue of where to price South Africa’s premium wines, many made from old vine heritage vineyards around the Western Cape that are super expensive to farm. Serious questions indeed.
Some of these questions were brought into a new perspective when I returned to my office to find a bottle of Penfold’s Bin 620 Cabernet Shiraz from Coonawarra freshly opened on a colleagues desk courtesy of a private client. This is a Wine Advocate 98/100 point wine as scored by Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW and retails currently in the UK market for £850 per bottle inc taxes (R16,575 pb). So we are talking serious kit here… and amazingly a wine that makes even the Penfold’s Grange look positively cheap!
Tasting the wine, it is a blend that pays homage to the 1966 Bin 620, a legendary Penfold’s show wine from a great vintage. Crafted from the uniquely Australian Cabernet Sauvignon – Shiraz blend, this wine is considered to be the personification of the Penfold’s house style and worthy of a Special Bin status. The wine was bottled by Penfold’s Wines at Nuriootpa, South Australia in July 2009. The 2008 vintage was produced from the low yielding Coonawarra Blocks 5, 10 and 20 and is considered to be made in a very similar style to the famous 1966 vintage. The wine was barrel fermented in new French and America oak and is classically structured and considered worthy of extended cellar aging for several decades.
The wine has a wonderfully deep ruby garnet opaque core and is a blend of 51% Cabernet Sauvignon and 49% Shiraz. Rich, lifted and hedonistic, the nose is brimming with earthy black berry, freshly torn mint leaf, camphor leaves, wood spice, dried tree bark, cassis and black cherry kirsch liquor notes with nuances of milk chocolate, bruleed coffee beans and exotic botanical herbal spices. The palate is dense, creamy and unctuous but retains a certain poise and posture supported by gravelly mineral tannins, graphite spice, crème de cassis and a fine vein of palate refreshing acidity. The finish is super long and intense with just the faintest hints of cherry cola, salty liquorice, black berry confit and freshly baked raspberry crumble. The vinous adjectives and descriptives positively drip out of ones mouth with this complex offering. It is a big wine that walks a very neat, classical line and will impress most fine wine connoisseurs.
(Wine Safari Score: 97+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
So how does this wine compare to some of South Africa’s finest? In wine terms, however delicious this wine is, it still has the taste of a lot of sunshine on the fruit and the creamy unctuous glycerol mouthfeel is perhaps not as conducive to matching with food other than perhaps with meaty barbeques. This is a micro-cuvee of only 900 cases so merits attention to detail and probably a big price tag. But I would argue there are many equally impressive South African benchmark reds every bit as alluring and complex and which are much more classically proportioned and suitable for a true gourmands palate. As for the price, well, the mind boggles. R16,000 Rand can buy quite a lot of very fine wine.
As I questioned at the Cape Wine 2018 Old Vine Seminar, the problem with South Africa’s premium wine offering is not their quality and certainly not their styles but more the fact that the wines are more appreciated overseas than they are in the local home market. South Africa’s finest crown jewels are all being exported because the local market, unlike Australia, USA or New Zealand is not comfortable paying the prices that these fine wines inevitably will need to sell for. Locals shy away from buying wines over R250 Rand (£12.99) a bottle let alone R16,000 Rand a bottle. The result is a two speed market where all the best offerings are exported to an appreciative, thirsty European audience while the home market scrapes the barrel like a fishy bottom feeder in a muddy pond trying to find the last undiscovered bargains. This needs to change before we can set about bringing better profitability to the local wine industry. A healthy fine wine market inevitably has to be driven primarily by strong local demand… then the rest will follow… a la Penfold’s top cuvees.