Great Wines Are Born Through Innovation and Experimentation and Few New World Wines Illustrate This Better Than The Jem From Waterford Estate…

Named after Waterford Estate’s owner, Jeremy Ord, or Jem as he is known, this is a red blend that has often seduced but also confounded critics over the years in equal measure since its first release in 2004. Indeed visitors to Waterford Estate often wonder if the different varietals that go into The Jem are aged separately. “They aren’t,” says winemaker Mark Le Roux.

A slightly exotic blend in the South African context, shortly after undergoing malolactic fermentation, about 20 different batches of the eight various varietals are meticulously blended to make up The Jem. “This is done to give the wine the maximum amount of time to integrate and bond” says Mark.

It is certainly a wine I have grappled with over the years and is perhaps one I have often failed to fully understand. So when in doubt, crack another bottle and explore further is what they say! With noticeable style changes occurring under Mark Le Roux’s watch towards greater elegance and freshness with real changes really being effected over the past 3 to 5 years, it certainly was time to open and reflect on the contents of a bottle of the newest release – The Jem 2014.

 

Waterford The Jem Red Blend 2014, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5 Abv.

Made from a warm, moderate growing season, 2014 as a vintage is best remembered as the last normal year before four drought seasons. The 2014 Jem blend is made up of 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Shiraz, 14% Cabernet Franc, 6% Petit Verdot, 6% Merlot, 4% Mourvedre, 3% Sangiovese and 2% Barbera. According to winemaker Mark Le Roux, the Jem is based on both red and black berry fruits with spicy aromatic tones and a polished, textured mouthfeel. The nose does indeed reveal opulent layers of fruit and spice with pronounced notes of oregano, thyme and dusty stony minerality. It certainly invokes notes of high octane wine making that thrives on the exotic. This wine could so easily be another Bordeaux blend based around Cabernet Sauvignon and it would no doubt excel under the watchful eye of Mark Le Roux. But there is a higher striving involved with this wine and since its inception, it has never embraced the establishment but rather courted the esoteric. It is on the palate that the idiosyncratic blend components reveal themselves, showing spicy black olive, red cherry spice, red peppercorns and red currant bramble berry fruits that buffer a darker, denser core of earthy black currant and saline cassis depth. In the past, this wine was perhaps a little too big and bold for me but now with the more recent vintages I can see the evolving tannin elegance, the textured nuances, interwoven acidity and exotic herbal Italianesque spices that set this icon wine apart from its competitors. If you like bold, modern, adventurous red wines, I suggest you crack a couple of these with your Sunday roast beef. Satisfaction is guaranteed. Drink now to 2034+

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

If it’s Pure Hedonistic Pleasure You Are Looking For, the New Vilafonté Series M 2016 Release is Probably For You…

I recently tasted and reviewed the 2016 Vilafonté Series C Cabernet Sauvignon based blend in London before its acclaimed launch in South Africa. What struck me with this wine as well as the Series M 2016 which I am tasting ahead of its 1st March release, is the distinctive quality evident in the wine. We all know 2015 was a red wine block buster but we were somehow led to believe that the drought conditions perhaps got the better of the wines in 2016?

Indeed 2016 was characterized by substantial drought conditions through the preceding winter and into the growing season. Warm, dry conditions in Spring were extremely favourable for a compact one week bloom period, leading to outstanding evenness of maturity in all vineyard blocks. The hot pre-harvest weather conditions and early picking, combined with concerns of fire risk, made for a uniquely demanding vintage. The Simonsberg mountain suffered fire damage, but fortunately, Vilafonté was not directly affected by fire nor smoke. Strategies implemented by the Vilafonté team protected the vines against heat, resulting in a surprisingly healthy vineyard with bright green leaves through harvest.

Harvest commenced on the 3rd of February and concluded on the 8th of March. In mid-February, the weather cooled and the Cabernet Sauvignon ripened under consistently cooler, more favourable circumstances than the early-season Merlot and Malbec, resulting in an unusually extended picking window. Severe drought conditions led to Vilafonté’s smallest per-hectare crop on record.

Vilafonté Series M 2016 Red Blend, WO Paarl, 14 Abv.

This red blend saw 22 months in 21% new French oak barrique with the balance aged in older French oak. The 2016 blend consists of 50% Malbec, 36% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Sauvignon and 2% Cabernet Franc with 75 barrels or around 22,500 bottles produced. Lush and plush, this wine reveals a deep dark purple-garnet colour. While initially quite sweet, sappy and resinous on opening, a little time in glass allows the wine to gracefully compose itself and push its shoulders back to boldly reveal a beautiful nose of blackberry pie, cola, blueberry crumble, Ceylon tea, sweet cherry tobacco, sun raisined cranberry, a sweet toffee apple opulence and a gravelly, blackberry compote complexity. This wine is quite unlike many of the 2016 reds I have tasted, instead showing incredible aromatic lift, sweet berry fruited concentration, purity and a sense of utter winemaking control. With 50% of Malbec in the blend, the wine was always destined to resemble the more profound expressions of old vine La Consulta Malbecs from the Uco Valley in Argentina than any straight laced right bank blend dominated by Merlot or Cabernet Franc. But as I have learned over the last few years tasting the Vilafonté wines, this estate has taken Malbec to its heart and learnt to cherish the sappy sweet seductive opulence that this variety has offered as it has bedded into the local terroir. Indeed, its success can be regarded as one of the most significant fine wine phenomenons in the past 15 years and Vilafonté Series M personifies the potential of this grape married to the other classical Bordeaux varieties. My past experience of the Series M wines has taught me not to underestimate the satisfying underlying tension in the wines that sometimes take a few years to assert itself. This is no doubt an incredibly well crafted wine from one of the most up and coming wineries in South Africa and delivers a gorgeously honed hedonistic glass of vinous pleasure. Allow this wine to settle and gain more structural delineation with extra time in bottle, but if you simply can’t wait, pop it in a decanter for 2 hours and let the bouquet light up your life! Drink now to 2038+.

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

Watch out for the South African release on the 1st of March 2019. For further information, click here: https://www.vilafonte.com/members/

Kaapzicht Winery in Safe Hands with the Next Generation – Tasting with Winemaker Danie Steytler Junior…

Kaapzicht has been a family owned estate since 1946 producing high quality wines from their Bottelary Hills fruit. With the winemaking reins now firmly handed over from patriarch Danie Steytler Snr to next generation Danie Steytler Jnr, some incredibly exciting new wines are already being produced.

I recently caught up with Danie Steytler Jnr in London to talk wine, Stellenbosch politics, old vines, the future of Kaapzicht and also taste some of his exciting current releases.

Kaapzicht Estate Skuinsberg Bush Vine Cinsault 2017, WO Stellenbosch, 12.5 Abv.

80 to 380 metres aspect vineyard. All 1991 dry land bush vine on 3.3 hectares. Lovely dense earthy savoury sun dried strawberry and bramble berry fruit nose. Full and fleshy, this is showy, bright and mouth watering, displaying a crunchy edge, saline acidity and a fine sweet macerated red currant finish. Delicious.

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

Kaapzicht Estate The 1952 Bush Vine Cinsault 2016, WO Stellenbosch, 12.5 Abv.

This wine was made by Danie using grapes sourced from a 1952 block planted on Bellevue. One ton with 30% whole bunch in two 500 litre barrels for fermentation. A much more fragrant, lifted perfumed nose with sweet cherry, sun dried cranberry, rose petals and Turkish delight. Very pretty and deliciously complex with a tantalising sappy, stalk spice character. Palate speaks confidently but softly and is beautifully nuanced, vibrant and premium in feel. Another wine that shows the great potential of Cinsault.

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

Tasting with the talented winemaker Danie Steytler Junior.

Kaapzicht Estate Pinotage 2016, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5 Abv.

Dark deep depth of black plum with an opulent, slightly reductive nose of black cherry, mulberry and stewed plum. The oak is very subtle and integrated playing to the strengths of the fruit purity and precision emphasising the wines wild edge. Texturally there is impressive focus, balanced finesse and a classy, cool, elegant mouthfeel punctuated with soft supple black fruits and oak spice. This is an impressive expression of this uniquely South African variety.

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

Kaapzicht Estate Kliprug Chenin Blanc 2016, WO Stellenbosch, 14 Abv.

Grapes from Bottelary, Stellenbosch. 6000 bottles produced, 60% in 500 litre oak, 20% in concrete egg and 20% stainless steel tank. Rich, deep, complex nose of bruised yellow fruits, white peach, creamy and plush, showing honied pineapples, leesy yellow fruits. Plenty of gravitas, fruit weight, focus and textural complexity.

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

Kaapzicht Estate The 1947 Chenin Blanc, WO Stellenbosch, 14 Abv.

From 70 year old vines, the aromatics are super complex and spicy with lovely nuances of wet straw, dusty white citrus, honied yellow peaches, fynbos and sweet pineapple confit. There is such focused depth, full bodied plump texture and complexity with fabulous nuances of tangerine peel, naartjie pulp, lychee concentrate and a honied bon bon intensity. A super impressive wine with power, breadth and weight but a balancing harmonious acidity. The true personification of delicious old vine Chenin Blanc statesmanship. World class from every angle. Drink now and over the next 25 years.

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

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

The Fine Wine Safari Top 10 Red Wines 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 it’s inspired eccentricity combined with outright 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 reds, truly outstanding wines produced by producers that do not necessarily aspire to 100 point ratings or mass market appeal. Nevertheless, these wines are all more than worthy of a slot in your cellar!

Sadie Family Old Vine Series Treinspoor 2017, Swartland

Franco Lourens Howard John Red Blend 2017, WO Western Cape

David & Nadia Pinotage 2017, Swartland

Fram Grenache Gris 2017, Swartland

Kleine Zalze Amphora Grenache 2017

Craven Wines Cinsault 2017, Stellenbosch

Restless River Wanderlust Grenache 2017, Hemel-en-Aarde Valley

Scions of Sinai Feniks Pinotage 2017, Stellenbosch

Sutherland Petit Verdot Reserve 2015, Elgin

Welbedacht Estate Patriot Cape Blend 2014, Wellington

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

The Fine Wine Safari Top 10 South African Red Wines of the Year 2018…

What a fascinating and historical year 2018 was for red wines in South Africa. With the exception of only a few wineries, most premium producers released their incredible 2015 wines made from what is generally being regarded as probably the best quality vintage in South Africa’s modern post-apartheid era of winemaking.

Having already released the Fine Wine Safari Top 10 Whites of the Year, I have been overwhelmed with the comments of agreement and support for my selections. But then again, many will argue that the list included a multitude of excellent 2017 vintage wines and that the “white category” still remains South Africa’s strongest talent. While all of this may be true, 2018 saw the release of multiple red wines that pushed quality boundaries like never before. We’ll hand some of that to the vintage conditions of 2015 and 2017 but I’d also like to credit the growing confidence, expertise, knowhow and ambition of winemakers across the South African landscape.

If you are a seasoned veteran of premium South African wines, you will nod knowingly and expectantly at many of my red selections. If you are new to the South African category, perhaps living in the USA, Europe or Asia, make an effort to track these wines down now as many might still be available and all are definitely worth buying, even at their sometimes lofty price points! In my mind, they all represent relative value for money for what they are. Enjoy!

Kanonkop Paul Sauer Red Blend 2015, Stellenbosch – 98+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Meerlust Rubicon Red Blend 2015, Stellenbosch – 97+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Vilafonte Series C 2016 Red Blend, Paarl – 97+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Boekenhoutskloof Journeyman Red Blend 2015, WO Western Cape – 97+/100 GregSherwood MW

Donovan Rall Ava Syrah 2017, Swartland – 97/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Tokara Telos Red Blend 2015, Stellenbosch – 97/100 Greg Sherwood MW

MR de Compostella Red Blend 2016, Stellenbosch – 96+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines Iron Syrah 2016, Swartland – 96+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Le Riche Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, Stellenbosch – 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Duncan Savage Red Blend 2015, WO Western Cape – 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everyone who helped make 2018 such a memorable year! 🍷🎄 🦄

Don’t miss my “Year in Photographs” coming up before New Years Eve 2018.

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)