Duncan Savage’s Follow-up Salt River Sauvignon Blanc 2021 Release Hits the Thirsty UK Market…

Last year Duncan Savage agreed to produce a special release single varietal Sauvignon Blanc made from 32-year-old vines from a Stellenbosch vineyard that was originally destined primarily for on-trade by the glass wine sales. Of course, the pandemic and lockdown hit and much of the wine found alternative routes to market through select independent wine merchants as well as some restaurants in London, New York and across the US East Coast. The small production wine was an instant hit, appealing to all the most committed and fervent of Savage wine fans. So, it was inevitable that a follow up vintage would be forthcoming for this growing brand.

The 2021 vintage is another cracker of a wine with an increased production coming from roughly 50% Stellenbosch fruit and 50% Stanford fruit. This Sauvignon Blanc was fermented in a combination of stainless-steel tanks, concrete eggs and old barrels. The wine spent four months in these vessels before being bottled, followed by a further two months in bottle prior to release. Approximately 30,000 bottles were produced for export to the UK and USA.

Speaking to Duncan Savage, he tells me that the project has simply taken on a life of its own and in 2022, he plans to incorporate addition fruit material into the blend sourced from Danie Carinus’s vineyards in the Polkadraai Hills and also some fruit from the Karibib vineyards where producers like Bernard Bredell and Mick & Jeanine Craven source much of their fruit.

Savage Salt River Sauvignon Blanc 2021, WO Western Cape, 13.5% Abv.

Due to the increased production, the bottling of the 2021 Salt River Sauvignon Blanc will necessitate multiple bottling runs. The sample I tasted was from the initial bottling while additional stock will be released from slightly later bottled wine which has spent additional beneficial time on its fine lees in tank. But already, the wine shows a wonderfully expressive textural balance with attractive aromatics of honey suckle, green pear, camomile iced tea, pineapple pastille and crunchy white peaches. The palate is soft, fresh and seamless with a caressing mouthfeel, tangy tangerine citrus acids, notes of white peaches, yellow grapefruit and pithy, stony mineral tannins. Another beautiful creation that benefits from being open and given plenty of air. Drink this delicious Sauvignon Blanc on release but don’t be shy to age a few sneaky bottles for 3 to 5 years.

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

The Resurrection of the Meerlust Red Blend – Tasting the 2019 Vintage Release…

I have made no secret over the years that I love the concept of premium second wines, whether from Bordeaux, Napa Valley or Cape Town. The Meerlust Estate Red Blend last made a local South African market appearance back in 2011, when the Meerlust Estate declassified their Rubicon flagship wine. To avoid confusion, a ‘Meerlust Red’ is made every vintage but only for the international export market where second wines are well entrenched as viable alternatives for mid-week drinking or for less serious occasions but do not cannibalise the sales of the premium cuvee. However, this wine is not normally sold in the home market unless a specific vintage of Rubicon is declassified into the Red Blend like in 2011, 2002, 1990 and 1985.

Inevitably, when the wider market realises that the premium Rubicon Red Blend has not been released, the Meerlust Red acquires a massive and immediate following, such is the pedigree and reputation of the Meerlust Estate. Sold in the local home market for half the price of the Rubicon, the Red Blend is always an exceptional value wine and drinkers would be well advised to fill their cellars to pad out their drinking of the more age worthy vintages of Meerlust Rubicon.

Meerlust Red 2019, WO Stellenbosch

The 2019 Meerlust Red is a blend of 43% Cabernet Sauvignon, 31% Merlot, 21% Cabernet Franc and 5% Petit Verdot. Initially a little reticent on opening, this wine quickly sheds its broody, sulky, spicy veil to reveal a wonderfully complex aromatic array of black plum, black berry compote, orange peel, Christmas pudding over hints of pressed violets, sweet cedar spice and graphite nuances. The palate is plush and fleshy from the word go, showing an open knit, expressive opulence of red currant, bramble berry, black currant, sweet oak spice, black tea and a sleek texture that simply embraces the palate and makes you go back again and again for another sip. Refreshingly vibrant and impressively generous, I suspect this wine will age surprisingly well for over 10+ years even though it’s simply a cracking drinker right now on release. Hats off to the entire Meerlust crew.

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

Iconic Kanonkop Wine Estate Prepares for the 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon Release…

A wine always released several months after the famed Paul Sauer Cape Bordeaux blend, the 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon is yet another highly anticipated wine based on the clear established pedigree of the vintage. I am fortunate enough to have drunk several bottles of the 2015 and 2016 Kanonkop Cabernet Sauvignon over the past few months in preparation for the 2017 release together with enjoying yet another blind 1994 Paul Sauer vs 1994 Cabernet Sauvignon taste-off recently.

With production levels for the Cabernet roughly double that of the now highly allocated Paul Sauer blend, at circa 12,000 cases of 6 compared to 6,000, the new release of the Kanonkop Cabernet Sauvignon does present a slighty wider opportunity for fine wine drinkers and collectors alike to secure some bottles for their cellar. Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon is riding high and demand across all international markets for the top producers’ wines has never been higher thanks to not only a strong run of quality vintages but also the renewed promotional work of a cohesive group of premium producers.

The preceding winter was the 3rd dry one in a row, with less rain than the previous one and warmer day and night temperatures. A warm spring resulted in early budding and regular rain showers during flowering and berry set saw a high presence of pests. The picking season was very dry with limited water for irrigation, but with cooler nigh-time temperatures during February. Fermentation took place in open top concrete fermenters at 29c. The cap was punched down by hand every 2 hours during fermentation. The juice was then drawn off the skins after 5 days. After malolactic fermentation, the wine was matured for 24 months in 50% new and 50% second fill 225L French Nevers oak barrels.

Kanonkop Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, WO Simonsberg-Stellenbosch, 14.97% Abv.

2.7 g/l RS | 6.3 g/l TA | 3.47 pH | VA 0.51 g/l

This certainly is a deep, broody exotic expression of Cabernet Sauvignon that is more reminiscent of a cool vintage Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon than anything from Bordeaux or the Cape. Opened and tasted over 4 to 5 hours, the wine hits its stride surprisingly quickly with plenty of perfumed purple flowers, violets, bruleed black berries, baked blueberry crumble, crème de cassis and a pleasing note of mocha and vanilla pod spice. Initial notes of kelp and maritime seashore salinity quickly give way to a more weighty, sensual melange of black berry compote nuances and hints of cherry kirsch liquor. While this wine certainly shows all the deft elegance and finesse we associate with the 2017 vintage, it also displays a certain extra gravitas, power and weight of fruit concentration combined with great poise, density and a seamlessly textured mineral graphite finish. This is a dark horse that will drink well on release and age deceptively well for 20+ years.

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

Imported into the UK wine trade by Seckford Wine Agencies.

Ps. This review is dedicated to the mighty South African Springbok Rugby World Champions who scored a historic victory against New Zealand in Australia in their 101st test match contest. 🙏🏼

Anwilka Winery Reaching New Heights of Quality With the 2017 Vintage Release…

Anwilka is a winery based at the south end of Stellenbosch with views of False Bay and the 40 hectare red wine property is planted with Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Petit Verdot. It’s proximity to the sea provides a genuinely specific microclimate that, together with the old ferricrete soils, are perfect for producing rich opulent wines with freshness and balance.

Under the guidance of internationally well-known Bordeaux wine personalities Hubert de Boüard (co-owner of Château Angélus in Saint-Emilion) and Bruno Prats (former owner of Château Cos d’Estournel in Saint-Estèphe), Anwilka has established a worldwide reputation for its flagship red blend which has in years gone by been famously described by international wine critic Robert Parker Jr. as “…the finest red wine I have ever had from South Africa”.

For this release, Anwilka had a cold and wet winter allowing for a 2017 vintage that will certainly be remembered as one of the all-time great red wine vintages in Stellenbosch – a warm summer followed by a cooler maturation period allowed for optimal grape ripeness, weightless concentration and intense fruit flavours. It was a vintage that was made entirely in the vineyards as the old adage goes, requiring the winemakers to merely preserve the essence of what the vines and the vintage had to offer.

Anwilka 2017, WO Stellenbosch, 14% Abv.

A blend of 47% Cabernet Sauvignon, 46% Syrah and 7% Petit Verdot which was aged for 19 months in French oak, 50% new 400 litre barrels and 50% second fill. A seductively perfumed vintage, the aromatics show alluring notes of violets, potpourri and hits of lily over dark bramble berry fruits with hints of mocha espresso notes that combine with subtle buttered brown toast nuances. The palate shows fabulous elegance and finesse with a soft touch concentration of black currant, Christmas pudding, savoury plum compote and black cherry. The tannins are powdery and fine grained but also structured and drying, combining well with a fresh glossy acidity that keeps the finish focused, vibrant and bright. An impressive wine that not only shows off another great vintage in the Cape but also what is increasingly possible with the superb Anwilka Stellenbosch terroir.

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

Tasting the New Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2018 Release from Christo Le Riche…

Now established as one of South Africa’s true first growth Cabernet Sauvignons, Christo Le Riche has certainly had a jolly old time of late with an incredible run of form with the Le Riche Reserve 2015, 2016 and 2017 all rated outstanding. This new release 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon combines grapes from vineyards in Firgrove (31%), the Jonkershoek Valley (31%), Raithby (24%) and the Simonsberg (12%) which were aged for 24 months in 76% new French oak barriques to create another notable flagship red worthy of global recognition.

The hand selected grapes from older, lower yielding vines were used and fermentation was done with a selected inoculated yeast strain under controlled temperatures. Manual plunging during this period ensured optimal colour extraction. After five days the tanks were closed and allowed to macerate for a further period of around 10-14 days. Pressing followed and the wine was transferred into barrel for the secondary malolactic fermentation. On completion, a final quality check and analysis was performed and then the Reserve cuvee was prepared for barrel ageing. Bottling was followed by hand labelling and further bottle maturation before release.

Le Riche Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2018, WO Stellenbosch, 14.87% Abv.

1.4 g/l RS | 5.6 g/l TA | 3.77 pH

Another very impressive Cabernet Sauvignon, the aromatics are pure and classy, dominated by cool dark maritime saline notes of salty crème de cassis, kelp, picante black cherry and vibrant scents of crushed blackberries, star anise, cardamom, salty black liquorice and hints of creamy vanilla oak spice. The palate is super sleek, supple and lithe with a fabulously elegant texture, silky soft mineral graphite tannins, a loose knit mid-palate fleshy black fruit generosity and tons of vibrant acid freshness on the finish. This is a classical Le Riche Reserve Cabernet at its most seductive, although it is, rather amazingly, so approachable, expressive and absolutely delicious right now on release but undoubtedly capable of another good 15+ years of prime cellaring.

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

Tasting a Fine & Rare Line up of Aged South African Icon Wines…

During the past 18 months of the pandemic there has been far too little sharing of great bottles among fine wine lovers. But with many determined to make up for lost time, South African fine lover and uber SA wine supporter, Thor Gudmundsson organised a fantastic old South African wine tasting lunch at one of his two excellent wine bar / restaurants in London, the Brackenbury Wine Rooms.

With most of the bottles generously supplied by Thor, it was a bit of a challenge for me to come up with some interesting bottles to add a little extra interest and excitement. Perhaps a bit predictably, I decided to bring the fabled Kanonkop pairing of Paul Sauer 1994 and Cabernet Sauvignon 1994 to compare and contrast blind. I have done this exercise twice before and both times it has been a challenging yet thoroughly enjoyable affair. Just to add an extra level of excitement, Thor had a bottle of the iconic Meerlust Rubicon 1994 to throw into the mix with the Kanonkop 1994 pairing.

Silvervis Chenin Blanc 2015, 12.5% Abv.

Rich, honied nose like a dry botrytis Sauternes wine. Peaches and dried apricot notes, subtle hints of salinity and a mellow, evolved honied finish.

(Wine Safari Score: 88/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Silvervis Chenin Blanc 2017, 13% Abv.

Zippy and zesty with layers of sweet & sour yellow plum, dried pear and peach, tangy tangerine acidity and a vibrant fresh saline finish. Ryan Mostert at his best. 😉

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

Rust en Vrede Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 1987, 12.5% Abv.

Showing complexing evolution, this has layers of dried leather, mechanic’s diesel rag, dried tobacco and smoked cigars. Tannins are fully resolved bolstered by a sweet core of brambly fruit, savoury prune and plum pudding and a cool lean finish.

(Wine Safari Score: 87/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Lanzerac Cabernet Sauvignon 1968

Dark, savoury broody nose with aromatics of sweet, stewed strawberries, raspberry compote and hints of Christmas pudding. Retains a fresh attractive tangy sweetness dominated by red fruits with sweet silky tannins and a long mellow finish with just the slightest hint of diesel rag.

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

Kanonkop Cabernet Sauvignon 1994, 13% Abv.

Wonderfully perfumed, sleek and elegant on the nose with pressed violets, cherry tobacco and sweet red currant fruits. This wine is pure, precise and quite ethereal. Plenty of shape and structure in the mouth still. Impressive linearity and focus. Beautiful.

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

Kanonkop Paul Sauer 1994, 12.5% Abv.

Slightly evolved earthy nose, black currant coulis, tobacco, stewed red berry fruits. Palate is superbly fresh, saline, and incredibly well balanced, complex, silky and profound. Nose and palate slightly detached suggesting some bottle variation. A superb wine nevertheless, but I have tasted fresher bottles.

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

Meerlust Rubicon 1994, 12.5 Abv.

Initially very pure and tight with focused aromatics of savoury leather, black currant and violets, the nose evolves to show smokey graphite, railway yard, wood smoke and savoury berry fruit. The palate is incredibly vibrant, explosive and intense with savoury black currant, tangy acids and a mellow stewed winter berry fruit compote note on the finish. Spectacular wine.

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

Cape Winemakers Guild Cordoba 2001 Auction Reserve, 14% Abv.

Very cedary and spicy with bell pepper, green leaf, dried herbs, coffee beans and black currant fruits. A classical style that is slightly hard work now but with further evolution, could blossom into something legendary. Leave in your cellar for now is my advice. In a slightly awkward stage of evolution.

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

Taaibosch Crescendo 2018, 13.5% Abv.

This is of course the first release of the rejuvenated and replanted Cordoba estate under the watchful eye of Schalk Willem Joubert. Shows a dark dense nose of brûléed black berry fruits, coffee bean, espresso and sweet cedar spice. The palate is elegant but robust and powerful with grippy tannins, graphite spice, concentrated black currant fruit and an impressive stony mineral length. Bury this in your cellar for 10 years minimum. It will reward patience!

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

Vergelegen Cabernet Sauvignon 2003, 14.5% Abv.

Quite a classically proportioned wine with a nose of black berry fruits, saline cassis, wet tobacco, cedar wood and espresso spice. Texturally sleek and full, creamy and well balanced with just a slight leafy peppery note on the finish. A fine expression for a warm vintage and drinking exceptionally well at the moment.

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

Niepoort & Sadie Cape Tawny 2008, 21% Abv.

Rich, nutty and expressive with layers of burnt caramel, orange rind, old malmsey Madeira and salty nutty notes. The palate is very intense, rich but not overly sweet, more nutty and pithy than unctuous. Tannins are spicy and slightly raw but sufficiently balanced with the acid freshness that is perfect for the expected level of complexity and intensity. A very attractive offering with massive drinkability and certainly plenty of unicorn wow factor!

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

Franschhoek’s La Motte Winery Continues to Strive for Vinous Excellence…

I first met CEO of La Motte, Hein Koegelenberg, in London of all places in mid-March 2018. Tasting through their impressive range of wines with their newly appointed importer, The Wine Treasury, was most enjoyable and enlightening. These were after all some of the wines I had cut my teeth on in the early 1990s when I was working as a commodity trader in Johannesburg spending my hard-earned cash filling up my newly established wine cellar in Pretoria with some of South Africa’s finest red wines. Scratch on the shelves today and you might find some of my treasured bottles of La Motte Shiraz from 1993, 1994 and 1995 or maybe even one of my last bottles of La Motte Millennium 1990 red blend. These are historic wines that hold a special place in my wine development landscape as well as for many South Africans.

With lockdown looming hard and large, we have certainly missed all our regular South African winemaking tourists passing through London to taste the new vintage releases. But as they say, if Mohammed can’t go to the mountain, well then, the mountain must come to Mohammed… and I recently had a wonderful opportunity to taste through the current releases from the stunning La Motte Franschhoek Estate and was impressed with the all-round quality as ever.

La Motte Sauvignon Blanc 2021, WO Western Cape, 12.5% Abv.

3.0 g/l RS | 7.3 g/l TA | 3.39 pH

This 2021 Sauvignon Blanc was made from a blend of grapes sourced in Franschhoek (25%), Stellenbosch (50%) and the Cape South Coast (25%). With multiple vineyards grown in different microclimates and on different terroirs, the final wine in bottle has been expertly blended to ensure ample ripeness with juicy freshness, no overt leafy pyrazine characters but certainly plenty of attractive cool climate purity. A reductive fermentation process in stainless steel was carried out with the wine being left on its fine lees to enhance the tropical flavours. To further add to the complexity, 8% of Semillon was blended into the wine before bottling on the 10th April 2021.

A deliciously vibrant, expressive style of Cape Sauvignon Blanc, this wine displays an impressive purity and crystalline cool vintage clarity of green citrus fruits, green apple, lemon and lime zest and a subtle suggestion of Cape gooseberry. There is just enough fleshy tropical complexity to make this wine very appealing to lovers of fine New Zealand style Sauvignon Blanc with a cool 12.5% alcohol supporting an electric acidity and energetic depth of fruit. There is plenty of mouth coating richness, a fleshy glycerol opulence and a long, cool, spicy green herb-tinged finish with tangy acids that keep you coming back again and again for another sip. I’m not sure what more you could want from a young, fresh, unoaked Sauvignon Blanc? Delicious! Drink now and over the next 2 to 3 years.

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

La Motte The Pierneef Collection Sauvignon Blanc 2020, WO Cape South Coast, 12.62% Abv.

1.8 g/l RS | 6.8 TA | 3.25 pH

The Pierneef Collection is a range of wines from La Motte forming a part of their more premium range as a tribute to the famous South African artist Jacob Hendrik Pierneef (1886-1957), one of South Africa’s most collectable artists, with each new bottling labelled with a different piece of his art. The 2020 Pierneef Collection Sauvignon Blanc is a blend of 94% Sauvignon Blanc from Elim, Napier and Elgin and 6% Semillon from Elim, all vineyards that now fall under the Cape South Coast region. After four drought vintages from 2015 to 2018, the 2019 season was much more moderate and saw the Cape’s vineyards build up their water reserves which boded well for the follow up 2020 crop. The grapes were afforded 16 hours of skin contact before fermentation and then another 5 months post-fermentation ageing on fine lees before blending. The wine was bottled in August 2020 and 30,000 bottles were produced.

On the nose, this wine is unmistakably cool climate Sauvignon Blanc with all the herby, pithy, spicy, saline notes you’d expect to find on cooler, Coastal Cape Sauvignon. Together with classic Thiol notes of white citrus, Cape Gooseberry and bell pepper, there is an attractive underlying dusty crushed limestone minerality, hints of green apple pastille, lime peel and lemon grass spices. Medium bodied with bright glassy acids but also a wonderfully harmonious textural balance, this is a serious offering for more serious Sauvignon Blanc connoisseurs that celebrates the diversity of premium cool climate coastal maritime styles. Drink on release or cellar for 6 to 8+ years.

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

La Motte Franschhoek Chardonnay 2019, WO Franschhoek, 13.4% Abv.

2.2 g/l RS | 6.0 g/l TA | 3.37 pH

While many of Franschhoek’s top wines are produced from grapes sourced from all over the Cape, this Chardonnay is made from fruit grown on the La Motte farm in Franschhoek from vineyards located at 200 metres above sea-level on south and southwestern facing slopes. The vineyard soils are mostly sandstone and granite in origin with the oldest blocks planted in 1997. For the 2019 Chardonnay, 100% the grapes were whole bunch pressed with 66% fermented in 300 litre French oak barrels with malo and 33% in stainless steel without malolactic fermentation. Post ferment, the wines saw regular lees stirring while ageing 12 months in 25% new French oak. After ageing, the wines were blended and bottled in May 2020.

The aromatics on this 2019 Chardonnay boast luxurious zesty notes of tangerine peel, pressed oranges and fragrant citrus blossom together with notes of vanilla pod spice, dried pistachio nuts and lemon butterscotch. The palate is round, creamy and harmonious with a fine textural balance of tangy orange and yellow citrus fruits, succulent white peach and green apple pastille. There is a lovely finesse and fine-tuned elegance to the wine that shows impressive persistence of flavour and a complex leesy, savoury lemon bon bon finish. Enjoy this ‘ready-to-go’ Chardonnay now and over the next 2 to 3+ years.

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

La Motte Cabernet Sauvignon 2018, WO Western Cape, 13% Abv.

3.2 g/l RS | 6 g/l TA | 3.39 pH

The grapes for this 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon are sourced from two regions including 67% from Stellenbosch and 33% from Franschhoek. 2018 was of course the fourth in a series of drought vintages and resulted in a small, concentrated crop of grapes -15% down on 2017 or the lowest crop in a decade and a half. The Stellenbosch portion of fruit was machine harvested before being transported to the La Motte cellar in Franschhoek while the Franschhoek grapes were hand harvested. All grape batches were fermented separately in stainless steel before being aged for 16 months in 300 litre French oak barrels, 33% new, 33% second fill and 34% older barrels. After blending, the wine was bottled in November 2019. 84,000 bottles were produced.

This Cabernet Sauvignon displays classical aromatics of saline cassis, sweet cedar spice, dried mint leaf, iodine, seashore kelp and subtle hints of graphite, iron and blood. Youthfully piquant but also lush on the palate, like a true 2018 Cabernet, this wine takes a little bit of time to open its shoulders before revealing its full potential. The palate shows an attractive opulence and a fleshy, creamy black cocoa powder complexity with notes of tart black currant, black cherry, crunchy sour plum and a long, mouth-watering finish marked by wonderfully subtle integrated oak spice characters and a delicate kiss of salty liquorice. Ample minerality and more than sufficient structure suggest you can drink this now with a short decant or else cellar for at least 5 to 8+ years.

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

La Motte Syrah 2017, WO Franschhoek, 13.69% abv.

2.3 g/l RS | 5.6 g/l TA | 3.44 pH

The Syrah grapes for this wine are all sourced from the La Motte Wine Estate in Franschhoek from vines that are between 10 and 30 years old, situated on varying sandstone and granitic soils at between 200 and 300 metres altitude. While 2017 was the third of the drought vintages in the Cape, it also managed to somehow deliver the raw materials to make some of the greatest red wines ever seen in the Cape. Following a lower than average rainfall in the preceding winter, flowering and fruit set conditions were favourable and followed by a long, dry ripening season with cool nights and a distinct lack of heat waves resulting in very healthy grapes with excellent concentration. For this Syrah, the grapes were 100% destemmed and the whole berries fermented in stainless steel tanks. The finished wine was matured in 300 litre French oak barrels for 14 months, 30% of which were new. Unusually, to add some extra colour to the wine, a 15% portion of Durif (Petit Syrah) was added to the blend. It seems the phenomenally successful 2017 vintage was equally as generous to the quality of premium Syrah wines as it was to top Cabernet Sauvignon and Cape Bordeaux Blends that have lit up critical wine ratings globally.

This is an attractive wine that reveals a wonderfully seductive, generous and elegant expression of Franschhoek Syrah. Dense, dark and opaque, though some of this might be due to a little extra Petit Syrah turbo charging, the aromatics show perfumed notes of earthy lily flowers, black plum, salty black liquorice, black olive tapenade and bruleed Christmas pudding nuances. Complex and layered, there is a sleek meaty, savoury stratum with sweet peppercorn nuances and hints of molasses spice. For all the ripeness, the palate lacks no freshness and is brimming with blue berry and black currant fruits buffered by a subtle chalky mineral tannin and a cool, long oregano and thyme-tinged dried herb finish. A serious effort for the money.

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

La Motte The Pierneef Collection Syrah 2017, WO Western Cape, 13.8% Abv.

2.8 g/l RS | 6.0 g/l TA | 3.46 pH

Though not part of the ultra-premium range from La Motte, this wine still has got to be one of the estate’s most impressive quality red offerings. The fruit for this blend originates from 90% Syrah from Elim, 5% Syrah from Walker Bay and 5% Viognier from Franschhoek. Small berries with thick skins and intense fruit flavours in 2017 made for a very serious vintage offering. Some of the Syrah batches were harvested at the same time as the Viognier, sourced in Franschhoek, in order for the grapes to be co-fermented together. After fermentation, the wine was matured for 14 months in 55% new French oak barrels after which time the components were all blended together and then returned to barrel for a further 4 months of ‘marriage’. The wine was bottled in November 2018.

Based on the classical Cote Rotie blend of red and white grapes, this really is a spectacularly well-made wine delivered with intensity, complexity and balance. The aromatics are instantaneously recognizable as being different with the extra tell-tale perfumed lift and peachy bon bon rock candy aromatics from the Viognier that melt into the dark, saline, salty liquorice and black currant fruit nuances of the intense, maritime Elim Syrah. Dark, seductive and decidedly cool and coastal in its profile, this wine sucks up the new oak portion to leave an almost imperceptible purity of tart black berry fruits with just the most subtle lick of creamy warm buttered brown toast smothered in black currant and watermelon preserve on the long finish. Cool, dense, weightlessly concentrated and texturally compact with a high degree of finesse and polish make for a real ‘wow’ wine. Drink this wine now after a good 2 hour decant or else cellar for a further 10 to 12+ years.

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

(Wines are distributed to trade in the UK by The Wine Treasury.)

Reviewing The New Release Thelema Cabernet Sauvignon 2018…

Always one of the more notable single varietal Cabernet Sauvignon releases of the year, this 2018 vintage from Thelema Mountain Vineyards is certainly a wine that is going to appeal to collectors of premium Stellenbosch Cabernet. With some of the most exceptional terroir in the Western Cape, Thelema have rightly resurrected and restored their premier league standing as one of the most sought after and age worthy wine producers in the Cape, a position they held throughout the 1990s and early 2000s.

This 100% Cabernet Sauvignon is produced from three clones of Cabernet, namely 46c, 169A and 338c which were planted at 2,000 to 2,300 vines per hectare in 2002, 2003 and 2008 on decomposed granitic Hutton soils. 2018 was a warm dry vintage with a late start resulting in a smaller crop yield of well structured, intense grapes. All fruit was destemmed, crushed and pumped into stainless steel tanks and saw two aerated pump-overs per day during fermentation before being racked into barrels for malolactic fermentation and an additional 18 months of ageing in French oak barrels, 40% of which were new.

A lot of consumers have stocked up their cellars with a good proportion of wines from the 2015 and 2017 vintages and quite rightfully so. These were probably the two greatest vintages modern-era winemaking has ever seen in South Africa. But I would caution consumers on tucking into these two great vintages too early in the same way many European consumers did with the opulent and seductive 2009 and 2010 Bordeaux reds. Indeed, they were very hard to resist such was their immediate overt appeal. My advice would be to buy into the 2018s and 2019s that are being released in South Africa at the moment to allow the more coveted 2015s and 2017s to be savoured on more special occasions in the future.

Thelema Mountain Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2018, WO Stellenbosch, 13.83% Abv.

2.1g/l RS | 3.48pH | 5.7g/l TA

On opening the 2018 Thelema Cabernet Sauvignon, it is clear to see that this is a cooler, leaner vintage style. The aromatics are about as classic as you’ll find for premium Stellenbosch Cabernet with an initially high toned exuberance of pressed violets, tilled earth, iodine, kelp, black currant together with very well integrated notes of sweet sandal wood, cedar spice with the obligatory broody baritone graphite nuances never far away. On the palate the wine begins with a steely textural sternness with plenty of tightly wound spring tension, saline cassis, black berry and bright crunchy acids. Allowed to breath for 5 to 6 hours, this serious wine starts to shed some of its linearity to gain extra palate layers of sweet fleshy black berry fruits, complex spicy tannins and a long dark chocolate and black currant finish. Cellar this classic vintage for ideally 2-3+ years more before revisiting and drink comfortably over the next 10-15 years.

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

Stark Condé’s Flagship Oude Nektar Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 Dazzles and Shines…

I recently reviewed the Three Pines Cabernet Sauvignon from the Stark-Condé Winery that was launched in Stellenbosch in 1998 by Hans and Midori Schroder with a focus on producing hand-crafted premium wines. Located in the picturesque and ever so dramatic Jonkershoek Valley in Stellenbosch, it is a site with steep changes in vineyard elevation ranging from 150 to 600 metres making for a range of terroirs with distinct characteristics.

At Stark-Condé they stick to traditional winemaking methods using open tank fermentation, meticulous sorting of grapes, hand-punch downs, basket pressing and maturation in small French oak barrels.

With a very limited availability of this superb single vineyard wine, I thought I couldn’t pass on reviewing one of the most exciting Cabernet Sauvignons I have tasted from Stellenbosch in a long time. The vineyard is situated on a south-westerly aspect on decomposed granitic soils and was replanted after tragic bush fires in 2009. The 2017 vintage is of course synonymous with weightless intensity, piercing concentration and sublime elegance and this wine is yet another flag bearer for this iconic vintage and region. The wine was aged for 20 months in 70% new French oak barrels and bottled unfiltered and unfined.

Stark Condé Oude Nektar 2017 Red Blend, WO Jonkershoek Valley, 14% Abv.

6.7g/l TA | 1.9 RS | 32.3 g/l Total Extract

This utterly seductive wine is a bottling of 95% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Petit Verdot and 2% Malbec. Despite the salt and pepper additions, this is a wonderfully pure classical Cabernet Sauvignon with archetypal aromatics of pressed violets and tilled earth, crushed gravel, graphite, freshly brewed espresso and sweet cedary spice. There is an irony, bloody, iodine and black olive complexity that lends that extra dimension to the wine making it just that little bit more special. The palate is pinpoint 2017 elegance personified with piercing fresh acids, powder puff tannins, weightless saline black currant and black cherry fruit concentration and a wonderfully long, harmonious finish of melted Belgian chocolates, salty kelp, black liquorice and warm buttered brown toast. Just quite simply spellbinding. Drink now and over the next 15+ years. (Only 4,617 bottles produced)

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

Thelema Mountain Vineyards Releases Another Very Impressive Merlot Reserve 2019…

It is kind of ironic that while single varietal Merlot wines are by no means my favourite red expressions, I do get very excited for three new releases every year. One is Masseto from Bolgheri, one of my all time favourite red wines, another is Chateau Petrus, though it might be more sensible and affordable to broaden this group to top-end Pomerols. The final Merlot release that is always highly anticipated, if indeed it is even produced in a certain year, is the Thelema Merlot Reserve.

A limited release wine using only the finest Merlot grapes of the vintage from the best parcels on the Thelema estate. Normally a straight Merlot release will be produced if the quality of the vintage does not merit the Reserve selection. Whether it is the use of the Clone 102 Merlot grown on Richter 99 rootstocks in Hutton and decomposed granite soils or perhaps the age of the vines, planted in 1988, this is certainly a Stellenbosch wine that really impresses and with a cooler vintage producing smaller more concentrated berries, the finished expression possesses great natural acidity and an array of intense berry fruit flavours. The grapes were destalked, hand sorted and fermented in stainless steel before being aged for 18 months in 100% new French oak barrels.

Thelema Estate Merlot Reserve 2019, WO Stellenbosch, 13.64% Abv.

2.4 g/l RS | 3.68 pH | 5.3 g/l TA

It always amazes me how Thelema manages to coax such an incredible amount of complexity out of their Merlot Reserve wine. This 2019 is certainly a coin with two sides though. On one hand, the aromatics are super cool, restrained and classical with text book right bank Bordeaux notes of violets, sweet piquant plummy black fruits, sandalwood, rose hip, bramble berries, coffee beans and a wonderful undertone of graphite. On the palate, all caution and classicism is thrown to the wind to reveal a bold, fleshy, dense unctuous wine with an incredibly textural harmonious mouthfeel. There are layers upon layers of black and blue berry fruits, hoisin plum sauce, brûléed espresso notes and fabulous depth. Think 2017 vintage’s weightless concentration and balance combined with 2015s dry extract, flesh and muscle. Like any great Merlot should be, this wine is eminently drinkable in its youth but should age gracefully for at least 10-15+ years. The world of fine Merlot has another exciting wine to seduce drinkers.

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