Adam Mason Making Some of South Africa’s Most Exciting Wines – Tasting The New Raised By Wolves Releases and Barrel Samples…

While I was out in South Africa recently for Cape Wine 2018, I had the great privilege to meet up with Adam Mason at Mulderbosch winery where he carries out his “day job”. But in the twilight hours, Adam can be found forging some of the most exciting and innovative wines in South Africa under his Raised By Wolves label.

Together with Adam’s UK importer, Andrew Johnson from Woodwinters UK, we tasted through his entire 2018 range of whites and reds En-primeur before tasting all the new releases in bottle. An incredible array of individual, characterful, high quality wines. If you are looking to add some spice and variety to your South African selection, look no further than these epic wines from master winemaker Adam Mason.

Adam Mason tasting through his 2018 barrel samples.

Raised By Wolves Barrel Selection:


Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, 13.5 Abv.

The Cabernet component of the old school red, with 300 cases produced from vines planted in the 1980s. Rich, expressive nose of mulberry, cassis, black berry and mocha oak spice. Palate shows power and concentration, classical grip and fabulous purity and berry freshness. Lovely focus.

(Wine Safari Score: 92-94/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Old School Red Blend 2017, 13 Abv.

2/3 Cinsault & 1/3 Cabernet Sauvignon

Beautiful aromatics of black plum and blackberry, roses,Turkish delight and rosemary bushes on a warm summers day. There is superb freshness and delicious bright red berry crunch, soft supple tannins and lovely energy and verve all packaged with a comforting harmony and balance. 

(Wine Safari Score: 91-93+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Pinot Meunier 2018, 11.5 Abv. 

Fermented in 500 litre barrels, Grapes from Newlands, a hilltop property that overlooks Spier winery and False Bay. Whole bunch pressed, early picked, natural ferment. The nose is warming and round, quite earthy and savoury with leafy resinous, sappy depth and subtle red berry notes. Fine balancing freshness, cool spicy plum skin nuances with a  long, savoury liquid mineral finish. Halfway house between Rose and a white wine.

(Wine Safari Score: 90-91/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

La Colline Semillon Gris 2018, 10.6 Abv. 

Famous Franschhoek vineyard made famous by Chris Alheit. Natural ferment, hole bunch, carbonique maceration with 10 days skin contact including fermentation. Aromatics of greengage, sour plum, lemon biscuits and red cherry. Cool, very fine, impressive texture and a superb liquid minerality.

(Wine Safari Score: 92-94/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Semillon La Colline 2017, 13.08 Abv.

Green grapes picked separately from the La Colline vineyard. Broad, savoury aromatics with lanolin, creamy lemon butter, white citrus and green apple purée. Lovely cool crystalline purity, soft elegant harmony, piquant spice and vibrant yellow citrus and waxy green apple depth. Delicious acid freshness and a long gravelly mineral finish.

(Wine Safari Score: 91-93/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Cuvee 777 Chardonnay 2018, 13 Abv.

Grapes from the Piekenierskloof. Picked at 22.8 Brix, the wine has wonderful steely, mineral linearity showing crisp appleskins, white peach, melon and taut white citrus intensity with tart pineapple and white peach pastille finish with a delicate oak kiss. Wow. Very nice indeed.

(Wine Safari Score: 93-94+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Chenin Blanc 2018, 12.5 Abv.

Montpellier Chenin Blanc clone in Stellenbosch but will be Adam’s last Vintage from this vineyard that unfortunately is likely to be grubbed up soon. The nose is full of green apple, greengage, white citrus, amazing tension and linearity. Acids are cool and steely framing the palate beautifully. Very different take to Cape Chenin.

(Wine Safari Score: 93-94/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Sauvignon Blanc 2018, 13 Abv.

140 cases of 12 produced from Elgin grapes picked at 22.8 brix. Classic cool climate Sauvignon aromatics with green apple, pear drops, fynbos spice, dry straw and subtle lemon / lime citrus peel. Palate is dry and mineral with a subtle barrel fermented oak spice adding salt and pepper complexity to the green apple pastille fruits and also lending beautiful texture to the wine. Very impressive.

(Wine Safari Score: 92-94/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Raised By Wolves Bottled Selection: 

Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, 12.85 Abv.

1,181 bottles produced. Earthy, slightly mealy savoury nose on this pure Cabernet. Develops sun raisined black berry notes, violets, sweet wet tobacco. subtle cedar spice and hints of Christmas cake. Palate is ultra light, fresh and sleek, very light on its feet showing powdery mineral tannins, a chalky texture and a bright spicy, graphite-laden finish.

(Wine Safari Score: 90/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Old School Red 2016, 12.77 Abv. 

Cabernet planted in the 1980s and a Cinsault block planted in 1965. Attractive notes of roasted herbs, grilled meats, violets, rosemary,  pine needles and black currant. Palate is full and fleshy but exhibits finely polished, ripe tannins, sweet tobacco spice and cool, sweet / sour plummy finish. Delicious wine.

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

Pinot Meunier 2017, 12.7 Abv. 

Whole bunch pressed, Barrel fermented in 500 and 300 litre barrels. Savoury, gravelly red berry nose, liquid minerals, dried herbs, sour plum and wonderful dried herb finish.

(Wine Safari Score: 90/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Semillon Rooi Groen Druif 2017, La Colline, 11.8 Abv. 

Dark salmon, copper colour, this expression show spectacular notes of cantaloupe, watermelon, crushed gravel, vinyl and hints of lime peel. Palate is broad and plush, softly textured but surprisingly pithy and mineral with chalk, cherry spice and dry irony, graphite finish. Very serious expression. Not for novices.

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

Semillon La Colline 2017, 12.87 Abv.

Dried herbs and dusty mineral, liquid chalk, lime peel, lanolin and creamy, vanilla kissed white peach. Fabulous freshness, lovely bite and crunch and a spectacularly long, intense finish. Very impressive.

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

Cuvee 777 Chardonnay 2017, 13.10 Abv. 

First vintage from Piekenierskloof fruit from Shelley Sandell at Tierhoek. Quite a taut, mineral, restrained nose revealing previously little at the moment. A bit of coaxing reveals hints of lime peel, vinyl, lemon cordial and tart melon. Lovely palate depth, fine creamy texture embellished with cedar and vanilla pod spice and finishing with verve and vigorous.

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

Chenin Blanc 2017, 13.53 Abv.

A fine aromatic melange of creamy lemon biscuits, honied peaches and white toast. Palate shows that classic fruit intensity, crunchy white peach depth, sour plum and a dried herb laced depth. Very impressive.

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

Bonniemile Muscat 2017, 10.5 Abv. 

Wonderful exotic, expressive nose of lychee, pineapple chutney, ginger, curried peaches, raisins, and exotic yellow fruits. Palate is sleek, fleshy, aromatic and piquant with hints of curry powder, wood spice and sun dried peaches. Very expressive, super exotic and wonderfully expressive.

(Wine Safari Score: 90+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

With Adam Mason, UK importer Andrew Johnson from Woodwinters UK and Brian Smith from Elgin Ridge.

A Pot of Gold Waiting For The Consumer at the End of the Meerkat Rainbow – Tasting the Burrow Blend 2016… One of the Best Value Reds On the Market.

With the ongoing drive towards premiumisation of wine, it becomes harder and harder to find great value, authentic, high quality, unadulterated wine expressions. So the market almost relies indirectly on the “philanthropy” of people and producers like Schalk Burger Snr.

With expansive old vine vineyards, the Welbedacht Estate has been the envy of the Cape wine scene for not only growing a plethora of diverse grape varieties but also by being able to produce good volumes of high quality premium wine. The Meerkat Pinotage is already a legendary wine having featured on the Nederburg Auction in the past. But I was impressed to hear that the Meerkat Burrow Blend has now become one of their biggest selling wines in the range. But I guess wine consumers know a good thing when they taste it!

Schalk Burger & Sons Meerkat Burrow Blend 2016, WO Wellington, 13.5 Abv. 

A gregarious red blend made up of mostly Pinotage and Merlot but which also includes up to 7 varieties from the Welbedacht Estate on the Groenberg in the final blend. This “value” red is a triumph of intelligent winemaking displaying an impressive vibrancy and fragrant lift with a delicious mouth watering bouquet of damson plums, mulberries, bramble berries and earthy red currants all topped with a generous dusting of mocha powder and vanilla pod spice. The texture is silky soft, beautifully weighted, generously fruited without being sweet or unctuous but always attractively fleshy and alluring. The opulent Pinotage blueberry notes are chaperoned by the plummy, milk chocolate spice of the Merlot allowing the wine to finish with an attractive accessibility and more’ish crunch. Who would have thought this could be an improvement on the delicious 2015!? Drink now to 2022+

(Wine Safari Score: 89/100 Greg Sherwood MW) 

Tasting the Superb Van Biljon Cinq 2014 Red Blend from Stellenbosch…

The 2013 bottling of the Cinq was a triumphant wine for the vintage with Chris Keet spinning his magic within the context of a more difficult year that included a very late harvest and delivered one of the largest grape crops on record in South Africa. The 2014 vintage was another cooler year but also a much wetter year that some top producers managed to create more elegant European-styled wines with careful picking and fruit selection.

Van Biljon Cinq 2014, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5 Abv.

A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot from vines grown on ancient decomposed granite soils of the Tarentaal Farm on the Polka Draai Road in Stellenbosch. The bouquet is effusive, building in the glass with great promise. There are gorgeously opulent notes of blueberry, blackberry and black cherry kirsch liquor interspersed with hedonistic notes of incense, cedar wood spice, vanilla pod and a subtle stony, graphite minerality. The palate is medium bodied and sleek showing a confident line of fresh linear acidity, very fine precise tannins and plenty of pithy, spicy crisp black fruit with nuances of sweet cherry tobacco, cassis and tart black currant. The precision on the wine is a true marvel with impressive balance, a certain amount of sensual elegance and an intense, pure finish that is superbly focused and finely polished. A wonderful red blend from some of the best terroir in the Cape wine lands. Drink this on release with food or hide it in your cellar for 6 to 8+ years.

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

South African Grand Marque Rust en Vrede Estate Back to Its Best Again…

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.

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

Tasting Vin de Constance 2015 at the London Launch – Moving Greatness to the Next Level…

For the past 8 years, Matt Day has come to London to launch the new vintages of Vin de Constance, one of the greatest sweet wines in existence. Usually there is a formula of showing a few older rare vintages before revealing the newest release. But after Matt pulled barrel samples 6 months ago from multiple component parts of the 2015 blend… and recently discovered the bottles in the lab, he thought it would be the perfect way to introduce one of the finest expressions of Vin de Constance to date… by showing a deconstructed version with multiple component parts.

This is a wine that needs no introduction, and as Matt pointed out, we all know about the famous historical dignitaries that have consumed this delicious sweet wine over the years. But more important to him and the estate owners now is making great wines that represent their terroir to the fullest and represent the vision of where Vin de Constance is going in the future.

As if there was any need for further compliments, it was the great Steven Spurrier who proclaimed at the tasting that “the 2015 Vin de Constance was every bit as impressive as the 2016 Chateau d’Yquem”… where Matt actually worked a harvest two years ago.

For me, this wine shows a focus, a precision and a clarity of purpose not seen on any recent vintages of Vin de Constance. If you want Chateau d’Yquem buyers to buy your wine, this is what they are going to have to taste like! Bravo Matt!

Component Tasting:

Component I6 – Precision

Wonderfully perfumed and fresh, orange blossom, marmalade on white toast, crushed grapefruit and barley sugar. Very fragrant, pure and precise. Quite full and unctuous on the palate, massive mouth coating depth, creamy and powerful with impressive purity of fruit.

Component I7 – Flesh

Quite neutral, mineral and restrained aromatics, showing more a leafy, sappy, resinous side of Muscat with subtle orange and tangerine peel spice. Texturally full, fleshy and harmonious with a wonderfully plush lemon cream biscuit core of yellow orchard fruits. Soft acids, dreamy harmonious balance.

Component I8 – Harmony

Containing a small part of 2016 Vin de Constance, this wine shows aromatics of an almost more complete wine with fine balance between fruit and sappy resinous notes, minerality and wood spice. Palate is slightly fresher and more ‘teenager gawky’ than the others with plenty of power and depth but unlike the nose, the palate feels much more incomplete and more like a blend component.

MDF Green 2018 Component – Frame

Harvested green end of January 2018. Lean spicy and green with stalky sappy notes, peppered green figs, white pepper, grapefruit confit and waxy green apples. Wine is bone dry, less than 2 g/l RS. Sleek, fresh, very juicy. Could certainly be bottled as a hipster still wine but going to be a perfect component of a blend. Delicious backbone and freshness.

Component Essencia 2015 – Richness

A whopping of 655 g/l RS in the component with next to no alcohol. Fantastically rich and opulent, hedonistic notes of orange marmalade, grapefruit preserve and caramelised hairy yellow peaches. Palate texture is dense with a treacly weight, tasting it akin to sucking on a big teaspoon of honey. An important component piece in the Vin de Constance blend.

Vin de Constance 2012, WO Constantia, 14.3 Abv.

Matt Day’s first vintage in charge of winemaking after taking over from the phenomenal talent of Adam Mason. So no pressure! The RS is 160 g/l, pH 3.6, TA 7 g/l with the wine aged for 2.5 years in a combination of 60% new French oak, Hungarian oak and French acacia before racking out, blending and ageing for a further 6 months in tank before bottling. Aromatics show crystalline white peaches, yellow citrus, orange blossom and subtle tangerine peel spice. Palate is so sleek and taut with an appealing salinity and spicy marmalade, fleshy texture and an intensity that lingers long in the mouth. An exceptional maiden vintage for Matt.

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

Vin de Constance 2015, WO Constantia, 14 Abv.

Very pure crystalline and fragrant nose with a really complex aromatic profile seamlessly knitted together. Beautiful peppered white peaches, honey suckle, yellow grapefruit, pear purée, barley sugar and a most enchanting under vein of chalky minerality. The palate is crystalline and pure, taut and polished with absolute harmony and balance. The incredible blending precision delivers an amazing texture, impressive tension, mid palate restraint and a finished wine that is perfectly proportion and finely chiselled and near faultless. A very grown up Vin de Constance that flirts with lightness, freshness and elegance.

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

Putting South Africa’s Finest Wine Offerings Into Perspective – Tasting Australia’s Penfold’s Bin 620 Cabernet Shiraz 2008….

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.

Penfold’s Bin 620 Cabernet Sauvignon – Shiraz 2008, Coonawarra, 14 Abv.

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.

Elgin Ridge Winery Resurrects Their Impressive Biodynamic Elgin Chardonnay…

Organic and Demeter Biodynamic certified winery Elgin Ridge produced a 2010 and 2011 unwooded Chardonnay and then ceased production in 2012 when all their Chardonnay juice was redirected into their Method Cap Classique (MCC) bubbly.

However, the wine was finally resurrected in 2016 with a wooded version. The 2017 is due to hit select markets in Spring 2019. Limited to only 1,300 bottles, the wine was aged 10 months in 20% new French barrels.

Elgin Ridge 282 Chardonnay 2017, WO Elgin, 13 Abv.

True to it’s terroir, this wine has Elgin written all over it with a superb crystallinity, purity and brightness. The nose is youthful and primary but already shows lashings of white citrus, green fig, green apple pastille, lemon-lime cordial, smokey minerality and mouth watering vanilla pod spice. The palate is super intense with bracing acidity but also more than sufficient backing yellow grapefruit, pineapple and tart green apple fruit concentration to balance. Still a baby, this wine should blossom into an ultra focused, finely honed cool climate expression of Chardonnay. Really delicious already but will be worth ageing it for 3 to 6+ years.

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