The Fine Wine Safari’s Top 10 Most Memorable “Off-Piste” White Wines of the Year 2018…

The Fine Wine Safari Top 10 Whites and Reds of the Year was a modest attempt to illustrate South Africa’s finest benchmark wines and styles for all to see and to give international collectors and drinkers a handful of names and labels to look out for. However, one of the absolute cornerstones of the recent global success of the South African wine category has been its incredible diversity and in many cases its inspired eccentricity combined with outright wine quality.

So in an attempt to show the more experimental and alternative “off-piste” face of South African wine, I have enjoyed compiling my Top 10 list of most memorable whites and reds of truly outstanding wines produced by producers who do not necessarily aspire to 100 point ratings or mass market appeal. Nevertheless, these wines are all more than worthy of a valued slot in your cellar!

(In the true spirit of these wines, they are not scored here and are presented in no particular order of preference!)

Alheit Family Wines Vote For Pedro 2017

Francois Bezuidenhout Leenders Baviaan White Blend 2018, 13 Abv.

Pieter Walser Blank Bottle Winery Epileptic Inspiration Semillon 2016, Elgin

Terracura Smiley V4 Chenin Blanc NV, Swartland

Donovan Rall Grenache Blanc 2017, Swartland

Andre Bruyns City on a Hill Dry Muscat de Alexandrie 2017, Swartland

Bosman Family Wines Fides Skin Contact Grenache Blanc 2016, Wellington

Iona 8 + 8 Riesling 2017, Elgin

A.A.Badendorst Family Wines Geelkapel Dry Muscat de Frontignan 2017, Swartland

Momento Grenache Gris 2017, Voor-Paardeberg

Indulging In The Exotic Complexity of Dry Skin Contact Muscats – Tasting the A.A.Badenhorst Geelkapel 2017…

I recently caught up with UK based journalist /wine show organiser / winemaker Christelle Guibert at a trade tasting in London and was super excited to hear that she was working on a follow up release to her first 2,000 bottle sell out 42 day skin contact Muscat orange wine made from 150 year old vines in the Itata Valley in southern Chile. See my review here… https://gregsherwoodmw.com/2018/03/27/new-wines-and-new-horizons-tasting-christelle-guiberts-tierra-del-itata-muscat-orange-wine-2016/

For those that have never tasted skin contact dry Muscat, it really is a wonderful style that is quite common in northern Italy but less so around the world, with many producers instead choosing to make sweeter dessert styles from their grapes. But thankfully, we have a few new additions to this global category including from South Africa, Craig Hawkins’s Sweet Cheeks and also Adi Badenhorst’s Geelkapel.

I first tasted this expression made by Adi Badenhorst last year (or was it 2016?) when Andrea Mullineux presented a selection of the Cape Wine Makers Guild wines at High Timber Restaurant in London with attendees including the legend Hugh Johnson and UK journalists Matthew Jukes and Neal Martin. The wine has now gone “mainstream” and looks set to be a regular offering in the Badenhorst selection. Track it down, it’s a fascinating wine that is truly delicious and characterful.

A.A.Badenhorst Geelkapel Wit Muskadel Single Vineyard 2017, Moutonshoek Farm, Swartland, 13.5 Abv.

This dry Muscat expression shows an alluring dark golden honey yellow colour with aromatics that are equally seductive. Spending 10 days on its skins during fermentation, there are wonderfully complex layers of spicy dried peaches, fresh ginger, bitter orange peel and freshly torn rose petals. The palate is ultra sleek, fresh and polished with impressively spicy notes of freshly brewed beer and toasty hops, tangerine peel, ginger biscuits and crunchy white peaches. Very reminiscent of the superb dry examples of Zibibbo (Muscat) whites of northern Italy or the skin contact expressions from Itata in Chile, this wine style is far less unconventional and obscure than many local commentators would have you believe. But I guess it’s all about context, point of reference and one’s personal experience of global wine styles. Drink this characterful wine with an array of spicy and aromatic cuisines or a fine Bobotie from the Cape.

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

Tasting the Kelley Fox Skin Contact Pinot Gris 2017 – An Exciting Benchmark Example From Oregon…

2017 finally broke the pattern of the unusually warm vintages in Oregon since 2011. The winter rainfall and snowpack were excellent and the spring was generally wetter and cooler than average. Bud bloom in the Maresh Vineyard began around 22nd June and most of July was warm and even with morning clouds burned off by the afternoon. One could feel the ocean coolness behind the summer warmth. 

By 23rd August, veraison had begun in most of the blocks and by 28th August, during the return of hot weather, it was 80-100% complete. Mid-September brought cooling and some pre-harvest rain with the average highs being 19.4 degrees C the last ten days. Blocks at Maresh were picked in early October.

Kelley reduced the usual whole cluster usage to 0% for the Maresh Vineyard Pinot Gris in 2017 making the wines extra elegant, bright and perfumed with low alcohols.

Kelley Fox Wines Maresh Vineyard Pinot Gris, Dundee Hills, Oregon, 12.8 Abv. 

A fascinating copper blood orange tinted Pinot Gris produced from the fruit of vines planted on their own rootstock in 1991 in the northeast corner of the Maresh Vineyard. The wine saw 14 to 16 days of skin contact and elevage in a concrete amphora tank for 5 months with malolactic completed. The bouquet is loaded with dusty minerality of volcanic basalt, wet slate and crushed rocks complexed by pithy strawberry, red cherry skin aromatics, ripe quince and sweet ripe figs. Beautifully fresh, vibrant and light on its feet, the wine tiptoes across the palate with smokey sappy spice, resinous blood orange nuances, quince purée and wet river pebble minerality. There are delicate pithy phenolics from a fortnight of skin contact but also such a bright purity and crisp linearity. More complex and vinous than a lookalike Rose wine, this is a wonderful creation with an earthy savoury salinity that finishes with a long lasting complexity and intrigue. Lovely wine.

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

New Wines and New Horizons – Tasting Christelle Guibert’s Tierra del Itata Muscat Orange Wine 2016…

I have been very fortunate to have shared a friendship with Christelle Guibert for almost two decades. Her sterling work at Decanter Magazine and at the Decanter World Wine Awards as Tasting Director has helped elevate these two entities for many years. Christelle recently announced that she will be moving on to newer, greener pastures just over the proverbial bridge. I just hope her new travails and new role allow her time to continue with her secret double life as a vigneron / winemaker.

Indeed, few outside the wine trade know that Loire originating Christelle owns, grows and makes fabulous white wines in Muscadet under her Vine Revival Terre de Gneiss label with the help of vigneron Vincent Caille. The vines are situated in the village of Monnieres, where the fruit is vinified using biodynamic principles, hand harvested and fermented in an egg. But there is none this year due to adverse weather conditions so Christelle has moved her attentions temporarily to producing a fabulous Muscat orange wine made from 150 year old vines in the Itata Valley in Chile. With the valuable assistance of Leo Erazo, 2000 bottles of the maiden 2016 vintage were produced.

This is a unique, delicious, characterful wine that reminds me of some of the finest natural style skin contact white wines made from Zebbibo (Muscat) in northern Italy. The grapes are organicly grown in bush vines on steep granitic hill side vineyards and are ungrafted and dry-farmed. The wine spent 42 days on its skins in concrete spherical shaped tanks. Only natural yeasts were employed and the wine was bottled bone dry, unfiltered. Stylistically, I would even go as far as to say this is one of the best dry orange wine Muscats I have ever tasted. Track this rare unicorn down quickly before it’s all gone. 🇫🇷 🍷 🇨🇱

Christelle Guibert Tierra del Itata Muscat Orange Wine 2016, 13 Abv. Chile

Seductive dark yellow straw colour, there is a slight haze to remind you of this wine’s natural, minimalist winemaking aspirations. Raised in a concrete sphere, the nose is reminiscent of the most seductive Zebbibo wines, positively overflowing with sweet quince, rose water, lychees, barley sugar, Thai basil, marzipan and pithy new season bitter marmalade on buttered brown toast. The amazing depth and complexity follows to the palate that is full bodied, intensely concentrated, superbly fresh with a vibrant acidity and a piquant, sweet / sour peachy depth. The key to this wine remains its mouth watering freshness allied to its pithy, bone dry liquid mineral finish. Once again, this is a triumph of old vine fruit intensity and passionate artisanal winemaking. Drink now and over the next 3 to 5+ years.

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

Castellari Isola del Giglio ~ The Italian White Wine Treasure Off the Tuscan Coast…

Castellari Isola del Giglio is the realisation of the viticultural dream of South African Manfred Ing, better know as the head winemaker for Tuscan winery Querciabella in Gaiole. Together with joint venture partner Simone Ghelli, who had been visiting the island since the 1990s, Manfred started this sideline wine project on this ancient Tuscan granitic island of Giglio in the Mediterranean. 


Manfred’s love of the land lead him to rediscover the ancient, abandoned vineyards on the steep terraced hillside slopes of Giglio, and so he set about producing fine wine from the indigenous Ansonica grapes. This labour of love started with their first vintage in 2013 and has slowly grown to a production of just over 900 bottles for the 2015 vintage.


“Calzo della Vignia” originates in the Castellari and Finocchio vineyards on this windswept island, characterized by its loose granitic soils. The wine attempts to respect the traditional ways of winemaking in Giglio, using only 100% Ansonica grapes that were hand picked from two vineyards in early September. Back in the cellar, once destemmed, the Ansonica was fermented naturally on its skins for up to 3 months. The wine was then pressed off into old French oak barrels where maturation continued for several months before bottling.


Castellari Isola del Giglio Calzo della Vignia Toscana Bianco IGT 2015, 12 Abv.

The dark gold, straw yellow colour reveals this wine’s 3 months ageing on its skins. This really is a tantalising gourmet wine, and one taste would be enough to make the most seasoned sommelier week at the knees. But this wine is certainly not so esoteric so as to only appeal to wine geeks, foodies, and hipsters. The aromatics are profound, displaying complex notes of lime zest, pineapple pastille, white pepper, yellow grapefruit pith, and dusty pear drops. There are also plenty of attractive phenolic nuances melting into a complex melange of peach skins, orchard fruits, baked apple skins and pithy, wet stone minerality. The aromatic components lift out the glass in perfect harmony. The palate too is very fine, focused and intense, with vibrant white peach fruit, soft bright acids, pithy grippy sherbet powder tannins, sun dried pineapples and mangoes, dedicated coconut, and a dry, saltly Sauternes-like finish. Heady and evocative, this wine shows great elegance, power and terroir specificity. A wine for food as well as contemplation. Utterly delicious.

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