DeMorgenzon Enters the Race Early Doors for Best Chardonnay Release of Vintage 2018…

DeMorgenzon, or ‘the morning sun,’ was so named as it is the first part of the Stellenboschkloof valley to see the sun because of its high altitude and aspects which cover the top southern and eastern slopes of Ribbokkop, overlooking the famous pinnacle of Kanonkop from where a cannon used to be fired to alert the farms in the region that a ship had arrived into Table Bay. The first road from Cape Town to Stellenbosch ran through the Stellenbosch Kloof.

DeMorgenzon farm has a very long history and was originally a section of Uiterwyk, one of the oldest farms in South Africa. In 1682 Uiterwyk, the ‘outer ward,’ was let to Dirk Cauchet before finally being granted to him by Governor Willem Adriaan van der Stel in 1699. Fast forward 300 years to 2003 when Wendy and Hylton Appelbaum bought DeMorgenzon and have since transformed it into a 90 hectare wine farm.

Under the expert winemaking guidance of Carl van der Merwe, DeMorgenzon has re-emerged as one of the top wineries in South Africa producing a wide range of white and red wines which is spearheaded by their Reserve Range of wines which includes a Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay and Syrah together with the wineries iconic Divas Chenin Blanc.

DeMorgenzon Chardonnay Reserve 2018, WO Stellenbosch, 13.5 Abv.

The super expressive 2018 Reserve Chardonnay was hand-picked and whole-bunch-pressed before being matured in French oak barrels, 30% of which were new with the rest second passage and older. The nose hooks you from the very start, beginning an inescapable sensorial seduction. Fabulous layers of bitter lemon, orange peel zest, grapefruit marmalade, green apple and subtle cream soda lift are impressively tightly knit together with the most gentle, mineral suggestion of struck match reduction. The palate displays a notable clarity and purity together with harmony, finesse and a crystalline texture. Waves of orange zest, smokey lemon pastille, ruby grapefruit and yellow plum notes mix with a dusting of vanilla pod spice on a long, dreamy, lingering finish. This is benchmark premium Chardonnay from one of South Africa’s most talented winemakers. Drink now and over 5-8+ years.

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

Reenen Borman’s Collaborative Sons of Sugarland Syrah 2018 Puts This Vintage Well and Truly On the Map…

The Sons of Sugarland Syrah forms part of the Ron Burgundy Wines collaboration that includes young winemaking talent Reenen Borman and his business partners Henk Kotze and Fritz Schoon. These Syrah grapes are sourced from the granite hills of Stellenbosch which is perfectly situated close to False Bay just outside of Cape Town. The Sons of Sugarland Syrah 2018 is produced from the supposedly “superior” pure SH99 Syrah clone using 100% whole-bunch fermentation for the grapes.

 

This is a wine that has received rave reviews since its very first vintage and while the epic 2015 and 2017 releases raised a lot of excitement in Syrah-loving circles, the 2018 has some how managed to move the quality bar yet higher harnessing the purity, elegance, finesse and perfume of top Stellenbosch Syrah. If you have an expensive penchant for top Northern Rhone Cote Rotie wines but are starting to baulk at paying the ever increasing prices, this could be the wine for you!

 

Sons of Sugarland SH99 Syrah 2018, WO Stellenbosch, 14 Abv.

100% whole-bunch fermented and aged in concrete with no oak used at all, this 2018 Syrah is certainly a profound wine marked by its incredible perfume and aromatic complexity. Dark and inky in colour, the nose boasts seductive notes of violets, sweet jasmine, sappy crushed leaves, wood smoke and polished sandalwood that combine with promising aromas of asphalt, melted tar, black olives, cured meats and luscious black berry fruits. The palate is beautifully trim and toned with perfect proportions and silky, elegant savoury tannins that hark back to some of the finest Cote Roties of the Northern Rhone. Medium bodied and seamlessly harmonious in texture, this wine finishes with notes of graphite, black currant herbal tea and crushed blueberries dusted with roughly ground black peppercorn spice. Classical Stellenbosch Syrah delivered with incredible precision, purity and subtlety. A true wine of beauty and thoroughly delicious. Drink now and over the next 8 to 10+ years.

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

The Fine Wine Safari’s Top 10 Most Memorable South African Red Wines of 2019…

What a great year of fine wine it has been yet again. I am in such a fortunate position to be able to no only taste the greatest wines of the world in a regular basis here in London and on my travels, but also taste the finest wines produced in South Africa on a regular basis while retaining a very measured, objective outlook in terms of where they really fit in the pecking order of international fine wine.

For my red top 10 selection, I have not merely selected my highest scoring wines of the year as that would be a little bit predictable, but I have selected wines that I found not only outstanding in quality terms but also memorable and thrilling to drink.

Also, I’d like to offer a special thanks to all the producers, many of them who are very good friends, that have offered me their time for my regular visits, tastings and importantly, lots of joyous eating and drinking together. Your hospitality is never taken for granted and greatly appreciated!

Happy New Year 2019. I believe 2020 is going to be an exceptional year of success.

Top 10 Reds (in no particular order):

Naude Family Wines Old Vine Series Oupa Willem 2018 – 96/100 GSMW

MR de Compostella Red Blend 2017- 98/100 GSMW

Vilafonte Series C Red Blend 2017 – 96+/100 GSMW

Mullineux and Leeu Family Wines Iron Syrah 2017 – 97/100 GSMW

Raats Family Eden Single Vineyard High Density Cabernet Franc 2017 – 98/100 GSMW

Thelema Rabelais Red Blend 2015 – 96+/100 GSMW

Savage Red Blend 2017 – 96/100 GSMW

Kanonkop Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – 97/100 GSMW

Porseleinberg Syrah 2017 – 97/100 GSMW

Creation Emma Pinot Noir 2018 – 96/100 GSMW

Thelema Estate Prepares to Release Another Collectable Benchmark Cabernet Sauvignon with the 2017 Vintage…

Thelema Mountain Vineyards is a true Cape icon estate, located high on the slopes of the picturesque Simonsberg Mountain in the heart of Stellenbosch, the true South African Kingdom of Cabernet. With vineyards grown at elevations of between 370m and 530m above sea level, Thelema is one of the highest and coolest estates in the area with 100 percent of the fruit used coming from their own vineyards.

After the numerous block buster releases from the incredible 2015 vintage, including probably their greatest ever wine produced, the Thelema Rabelais 2015 Bordeaux blend, predictably all eyes have been on this estate as they prepare to offer their highly anticipated offerings from the lauded 2017 vintage. My recent review of the Merlot Reserve 2017 gave a snap shot view into the quality that connoisseurs and collectors have been expecting to see from this fine vintage.

But whatever heights South African Merlot can reach, it pales in comparison to the classic benchmark quality expected from the very best Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignons and Bordeaux blends. Make space in your cellar now – You are going to need it for this new release!

Thelema Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, Stellenbosch, 14.5 Abv.

This is a fabulous expression of pure Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon in a style true to the 2017 vintage. The aromatics are perfumed and seductive showing nuances of tart black cherries, crushed black berries and warm brown toast spread with black currant jam. But it’s the saline cassis lift that melts into notes of kelp, graphite, sweet cedar, cigar box, crushed violet petals and iodine that really add some thrilling complexity. Like many 2017s, the palate fruit and concentration is sleek, elegant and super light on its feet without compromising any focus or intensity. The tannins are powder soft, sweet and ripe leaving the crisp bright acids to act as the main backbone and frame to the wine. Lovely cool fresh tart black berry preserve and black cherry fruits are so vital and pure, lingering long on a truly classical, Bordeaux-styled left bank leaning Cabernet finish. A very impressive wine in its youth that will undoubtedly age with great harmony and finesse if cellared for 15-20+ years.

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

Thelema Estate Making the Most of Merlot – Tasting the Merlot Reserve 2017…

There is no doubt what so ever that when you taste a new vintage of Thelema, whatever the cuvee, you just know that the estate is on the ascendancy again with wine quality rising to match its historical reputation as one of South Africa’s most famous and revered producers. This wine certainly is a real surprise for a South African Merlot and exhibits a taut, fresh palate texture and classism that has more in common with the great old Thelema Merlots from 1994 and 1995 than with more recent expressions from the early 2000s.

 

When I speak of Thelema on the ascendancy, I speak purely from a UK centric stand point as I am confident to say that in the home market, the Thelema brand has never been more revered or admired. This Merlot is yet another step in the right direction for Thelema as they strive to cement their rightful place in the international world of fine wine.

 

Thelema Estate Merlot Reserve 2017, Stellenbosch, 14 Abv.

This wine exhibits alluring aromatics of dark pithy black plum, black berry spice, sweet leaf, earthy red currants, plum sauce and a cornucopia of led pencil wood spice, dried herbs and sweet cedar notes. Texturally, the palate weight is super sleek and taut harking back to the classical styles from the mid 1990s despite the elevated alcohol level at 14 abv. The tension, verve and stony minerality wash across the palate finishing with a long lingering note of sweet black bramble berry spice and a subtle cedar complexity. I love the linearity, precision and focus that is often absent in the majority of other South African single varietal Merlots. This wine’s crystalline acids bring an energy and crispness that frame the wine in such a classical manner. While I have never claimed to be a massive fan of single varietal Merlot unless from California, the Right Bank of Bordeaux or from pockets of Tuscany, I fail to see how much better this variety can perform solo in a South African context unless you blend in other grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc or Petit Verdot. This 2017 Reserve certainly tastes like a keeper. For the record, the 1994 and 1995 Thelema Merlots are still going strong! Maybe it’s time to drink up and replace with a few bottles of this impressive new wine?

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

When It Comes to White Bordeaux Blends, Vergelegen and Andre van Rensburg Can Do No Wrong…

By 2016, the famous Michel Rolland had already been working with Vergelegen Estate on a consulting basis for three years. But as anyone who knows Andre van Rensburg can confirm, Michel was not there to teach Andre how to make wine. He would have had better luck teaching granny how to suck eggs! No indeed, Michel’s influence was felt the most in the cellar when it came to barrel selection and blending as well as, surprisingly to many, Michel’s viticultural guidance in the vineyards…. and for the sceptics, NO, that did not mean just picking dates.

 

The two originally spent time together at Harlan Estate where Michel Rolland also consulted, where after Andre Van Rensburg invited Michel to South Africa where Michel ended up playing an important role in blending the Vergelegen G.V.B white blend 2013, officially marking the start of his consultancy from the 2014 vintage onwards.

 

Vergelegen G.V.B. White Blend 2016, Stellenosch, 14 Abv.

This really is a sensational expression from Andre and the team at Vergelegen. A blend of 20% Sauvignon and 80% Semillon, this wine screams premium white Bordeaux from the minute you smell the alluring aromatics. All the classical white Bordeaux hallmark notes are there including a crunchy white citrus, grapefruit zest, pineapple pastille fruits, lime peel, dried coconut and reductive hints of black currant and vinyl. The palate is broad and powerful with a leading edge of sweet and sour grapefruit acidity, tangerine juice, green mango flesh and white citrus fruit intensity. Slightly pithy with hints of dried grass, this wine is a never ending profusion of fruit concentration, minerality and dried herb complexity all knitted together in a very tight, intense, classical package. This wine would go down an absolute treat blind with the Bordelaise producers in the Graves or Pessac-Leognan. With pyrazines well and truly conquered in this wine, this expression is lined up for a long and successful ageing period. Drink from release and for another 12 to 15+ years.

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

Another Valiant Effort From De Toren – Tasting the Fusion V 2016 Bordeaux Blend…

We all know that 2016 in the Cape was the second consecutive warm, dry, challenging vintage for grape growing. Nevertheless, top producers like Meerlust, Kanonkop, Raats Family, Vilafonte and De Toren succeeded in producing seductive Cabernet Sauvignon led Bordeaux blend reds.

We are fortunate enough to still be drinking many top 2015s here in the UK market while the 2017s are already starting to seduce local drinkers in the home market. But 2016 should certainly not be written off as quality focused producers stood up to the challenge of the vintage and delivered the goods in many circumstances, producing wines for slightly earlier drinking.

De Toren 2016 Fusion V Bordeaux Blend, Stellenbosch, 14.5 Abv.

While the 2016 Stellenbosch reds don’t quite have the same fruit purity and aromatic precision as the 2015s or 2017s, many of the top examples like this De Toren Fusion V 2016 make for very attractive wines with wonderful opulence and plushness. A 52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Malbec, 14% Cabernet Franc, 11% Merlot and 7% Petit Verdot blend matured in French and American oak, 50% new. The nose is full of black chai tea complexity, lead pencil, graphite, sweet cedar, black currant, desiccated black cherry and notes of savoury hoisin plum sauce. The palate is supple and fleshy with ample chalky grippy textured tannins, raisined black plum, sweet fig and a subtle earthy Christmas pudding and wintery dried prune note on the finish. An all round delicious Bordeaux blend exuding freshness, palate vigour and vinous excitement. Drink over the next 6 to 8+ years.

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