A South African Chenin Blanc for Fine Wine Connoisseurs – Tasting the Profound Raats Eden Chenin Blanc 2015…

When Bruwer Raats released the first vintage of his high density planted Montpellier Clone Chenin Blanc in 2014, the wine represented a culmination of years of planning and work to produce a wine unlike anything else produced in South Africa. What Bruwer, the Chenin King achieved with his young vines is genuinely astonishing.

With the UK release of the third vintage imminent, I thought it would be fascinating to revisit the second vintage produced from the seriously stellar 2015 vintage to remind myself just how impressive this wine really is.

Raats Family Wines Eden Chenin Blanc 2015, WO Stellenbosch, 14 Abv.

Only 1,176 bottles produced from this young, high density vineyard planted to the Montpellier Chenin Blanc clone. The 2015 is an incredibly tight, serious, mineral and aromatic white with visceral tension and intensity and fruit slightly masked by vintage restraint. The aromatics are super complex with crushed gravel, wet grey slate, oyster shell, dry bush veld, white citrus blossom and crunchy yellow peaches. Restraint and reserve continues on the palate that is linear and slightly closed up, broody and restrained but with underlying generosity and depth temporarily bound up by tight fresh acids, tart lemon and pineapple fruit depth. This is a wine that needs to be tucked away in a dark cellar for 6 to 8+ years before reexamination! A profound expression of this variety.

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

Kanonkop 2017 Black Label Pinotage – A Wine for the Most Intellectual of Palates… we

“The 100pt rating was most certainly a terrific boost for the brand,” says Johann Krige, co-proprietor of Kanonkop. “We have never experienced such a demand for the Paul Sauer and it looks as though the interest is spilling over into our next release, namely the Black Label Pinotage 2017 of which only 6 900 bottles are available – far less than the Paul Sauer 2015.”

Black Label is made from one of the oldest Pinotage vineyards in South Africa, one planted in 1953 on a site that has over the years proved to produce fruit of specific excellence and deemed special enough to be bottled under an own label. According to Kanonkop cellarmaster Abrie Beeslaar, the 2017 vintage was truly excellent for the Black Label. “It did not initially look as if this was going to be the case, as 2017 was the third very dry year in a row on the farm,” he says. “We only had 500mm of rain, 250mm less than the long-term average.” But the final results are captured in the bottle and are results worthy of adoration.

Kanonkop Black Label Pinotage 2017, Stellenbosch, 14.5 Abv.

When it comes to Pinotage, there may certainly be bigger wines, bolder opulent wines or more funky wines on the market but nothing ticks all the fine wine boxes like Kanonkop Black Label. The 2017 release marks the dawning of a new era where the local sales in the home market are properly mirrored with an enthusiastic international collector market pre-release offer for the first time. And what better way to do this with than with the 2017 expression which now comes from noble 67 year old vines which create a majestic elixir matured entirely in new French oak for 18 months before release. What Abrie Beeslaar has created in this vintage is a marvel to behold marrying new world hedonistic opulence with old world, Bordeaux’esque delineation and structure. This is a block buster that tantalises and teases the palate in the most intellectual sense and rewards the palate with a cornucopia of stimulation. The bouquet is positively bursting with lifted maraschino cherry, kirsch liquor, clove spice, blueberry, earthy mulberry and plum coulis. But it doesn’t stop there, before this block buster even gets out the starting blocks and close to your palate there are complex notes of sweet cloves, wood shavings, branded oak, iced tea and fresh oregano, sage and rose petal to behold. The palate is equally complex and alluring, exotically seductive in the most sensual sense of the word, showing the succulent delineation you would hope for and expect from a wine of this pedigree and price point but also a complexity of sweet bramble berry fruits, cut hedgerow, freshly tilled Stellenbosch earth and cherry kirsch liquor chocolates. But the stand out quality of this wine is undoubtedly the bright, crunchy yet sultry saline acidity that leaves you coming back for one sip after another. The lasting impression of this wine on the palate is the vitality, precision, knowhow and authority that beam from the glass akin to facing down a glass of Romanée Conti Burgundy. But I’ll stop there… the rest is up to you… the consumer! Dive in now or over the next 20+ years.

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

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.

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)

It’s Cabernet Sauvignon But Not As You Know It – Tasting the Craven Wines Maiden Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 “En-primeur”…

I love it when wineries make varietal wines that you would least expect them to. This is exactly what Mick and Jeanine Craven have done with their new Cabernet Sauvignon 2018.

I know Mick and Jeanine are not massive fans of wine ratings per se but as a critic, I’d certainly be remiss not to write about this epic wine and sing it’s praises as there was next to nothing produced from the 1.2 tons of fruit. Only for release probably early next year, put it in your diary else you’ll miss out! 😭

Mick Craven, one half of this dynamic wine making duo at Craven Wines

Cabernet Sauvignon 2018, 12.5 Abv.

(Barrel Sample)

Sourced from a vineyard in the Polkadraai, Stellenbosch. Currently still in cask with an envisaged ageing in barrel of 10 to 12 months before bottling. First thing that strikes you about this wine is how ripe and juicy it is without being 14-15 degrees Abv. The nose boasts the most delicious, mouth-watering aromatics of red cherry, cranberry, crunchy cassis, rose petals and an almost Cinsault’esque kiss of Turkish delight. Palate is lean and lithe, wonderfully linear and precise with Parma violets, cherry bon bons and Victoria plums a la Mick’s Adelaide roots. Not a jot of greeness in sight. Vibrant, expressive and firmly a smashable vin de soif style but certainly no frivolity in evidence. So crystalline, pure, unadulterated Cabernet fruit at its very best.

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

Mastering New Vintage Angst – Tasting the New Release MR de Compostella 2016 Red Blend…

I’m looking forward to writing up my summary of the best South African red wines of 2018 as the list should feature a tantalising tussle between the last few late release 2015 vintage red creations and some of the follow up 2016 new release challengers. One of the most iconic releases of 2017 was undoubtedly the 2015 MR de Compostella, still arguably the most sought after and collectable Bordeaux-styled fine wine produced in South Africa and one of the very few stalwarts that regularly trades on the Liv-ex International Fine Wine Exchange in London.

Bruwer Raats and his MR de Compostella partner Mzokhona Mvemve state that the “aim with the MR de Compostella wine is to take each of the five components and make a varietal wine in it’s own right. The wines are then tasted blind after one year in barrel. The wines that scored less than 90/100 points are then not considered for the final blend”. This is a very rigorous and ruthless process no doubt but also one which has assured that the final component blend release has never scored lower than 93/100 from international critics since the maiden vintage in 2004. So if you want a track record for your fine wine, there you have it!

The 2016 vintage was the second of the drought vintages and while 2015 was also very hot and dry, it did have the added benefit of plenty of ground water reserves after a wet 2014 winter. So an altogether more challenging set of conditions for the 2016 vintage that puts the achievements of Bruwer and Mzokhona into greater context with the magical new release of MR de Compostella.

MR de Compostella 2016 Bordeaux Blend, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5 Abv.

It happens in all fine classical regions… the angst and agony of a successor vintage following on from a block buster release like… 2015 Bordeaux, 2015 Super Tuscans or indeed 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon based blends in South Africa. Made from grapes from Stellenbosch grown on decomposed dolomite granitic soils, what immediately strikes you is the large percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon that makes up the final blend in 2016. So renowned for his exceptional Cabernet Franc creations, many of Bruwer Raats’ past MR de Compostella red blend releases have had a dominant percentage of Cabernet Franc which can leave a real signature imprint on the final wine.

The 2016 however is a blend of 63% Cabernet Sauvignon; 17% Cabernet Franc; 12% Malbec; 6% Petit Verdot and 2% Merlot with a 14.5 Abv, 3.59 pH, and a 5.7 TA. The aromatics are cool, perfumed and spicy showing plenty of overt violet fragrance, cedar spice, cinnamon stick, pencil box and dried mint leaf with an overall tendency towards elegance and classism rather than overt decadence. There is no shortage of sultry black berry fruit complexity with seductive nuances of black currant, pithy black cherry and sun raisined cranberries but they do require a bit of coaxing out the glass. Medium bodied, the palate is wonderfully understated and elegant, quite feminine but very precise and slightly more linear than some of the bigger more opulent, masculine vintages from MR, but is equally beguiling and sophisticated, teasing the senses with delicious notes of blood orange, raspberry coulis, earthy red currant, salty cassis and a sumptuous milk chocolate harmony. A thoroughly enchanting and engaging wine, the 2016 is a little more elegant and light on its feet, more ballerina than gymnast, retaining a keen line of acidity and freshness, impressive subtlety and awesome textural finesse. This has all the markings of another truly great expression. In the end, the wine does not feel Cabernet Sauvignon-dominated at all … with the sum of the component parts greatly surpassed by the finished blend. Drink this beauty from release and over the next 15+ years. Well done boys!

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

Drinking An Iconic South African Red – Unravelling the Meerlust Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 1976 and the South African Fine Wine Investment Market…

In the week that Wine Cellar South Africa launched (and sold out of) its first fine wine investment fund built around (physical) iconic South African wines from the 2015 vintage, I thought it was fitting to drink a wine that illustrates the true greatness of South Africa’s best red wines. In light of the Wine Cellar VIP 2015 offering, many international commentators less intimately connected to the fine wine market have stated that “few South African wines improve appreciably with extended ageing” and thus the fine wine investment model is built on a sandy foundation.

Firstly, one needs to clarify what extended ageing implies. From a wine trade / merchant point of view, one could reasonably expect the quality of wines included in the VIP 2015 Fund to age and certainly improve incrementally for easily 10+ years… and many on the list for certainly 20 years plus. Secondly, to say that there is no secondary market for aged South African fine wine is blatantly wrong. There is massive demand but merely little to no supply… and the older stock that does make it to market commercially is either small parcels kindly released by the wineries themselves from archive stocks as more of a marketing endeavour or the stock is from provenanced private collections. Either way, it is an insignificant, non commercial quantity unable to influence the market in any meaningful way and adds no liquidity.

I have been involved in the top end of the UK fine wine trade for 20 years now, many of which I have actively been promoting and selling the very best wines from South Africa to international collectors and connoisseurs. Admittedly, you need to sell the best names from the best vintages, but that is certainly no different anywhere else in the fine wine world. Many top South African red (and white) wines clearly age very very well and while you always need to be selective and take professional advise, this fact is now indisputable.

To many, the term or idea of investing in a wonderful agricultural product like wine is sacrilege, a dirty word, a dirty concept. But for time immemorial, the concept of “investing in wine” implied buying double your requirements, with money you did not always readily have, and then selling half the wine several years later when more scarce to finance the drinking of the other half. In essence, this is still the model many fine wine investors (drinkers) that I deal with on a day to day basis follow. Indeed, I cannot name one private client on my books who is tea total and who only invests in wine for the hard cold cash returns. They are all passionate about wine.

One thing is very clear to me however. For South African fine wine to gain a genuinely fluid and dynamic foothold in the fine wine investment market globally, there has to be a strong and confident “wine investment culture” locally in the home market of the wines in question. The demand for older vintages needs to begin at home and then ripple out to international markets. For far too long it has been international buyers piling into the Nederburg Auction wines, the Cape Wine Makers Guild Wines or the odd rare fine wine older vintage auction offering. This Wine Cellar VIP 2015 Fund marks the turning of a corner, where locals put their money where their mouths are and invest in iconic wines from possibly a once in a generation quality vintage. With over 12,000 bottles included in this fund, we should over the coming years, see stocks of these perfectly cellared older vintages released onto the market for local and international consumption at a premium that is commensurate to the quality and rarity of the given wine. Supply and demand will decide that premium.

For what it’s worth, I bought this wonderful Meerlust Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 1976 from the winery in March 2018 and drank it recently at a South African themed fine wine lunch in London. Poured sighted, there wasn’t a taster on the table of seven that did not sit in awe of its youthful elegance. A true testament to the ageability and longevity of classical Cabernet Sauvignon produced by one of South Africa’s top estates. The message now disseminating out of the South African fine wine scene is not whether the country is able to produce age worthy wines of super premium quality, but whether the industry as a whole has the skills and knowhow to market these wines globally in a proper confident manner, for the correct premium price tag and importantly, to the correct target market segments? Time for everyone to up their game in the South African fine wine trade.

Meerlust Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 1976, W.O. Stellenbosch

A beautiful mahogany colour, the nose is initially tight and cedary, spicy and quite restrained, but 20 minutes of air in a decanter after the cork is pulled allows this grand old wine to open its shoulders. Wonderfully mellow but still vibrantly youthful, beguilingly complex, fragrant and intriguing. The palate is loaded with lovely sweet raisined cranberries, violets, sweet tobacco, black tea and an earthy red currant sappy depth. Texturally this is so fine, initially quite piquant and spicy but also beautifully elegant. Incredible to think this wine is 42 years olds and still going strong. A bold, powerful and elegantly regal red showing the real potential of South Africa’s greatest terroirs and the true premium standing of great Cabernet Sauvignon. What a treat!

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