Tasting a 2013 Vintage Horizontal with Thomas Webb of Iconic Thelema Mountain Vineyards…

Thelema Mountain Vineyards is an absolute Cape classic, located high on the slopes of the picturesque Simonsberg Mountain in the heart of Stellenbosch, the true 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.


For the last few years, Thomas Webb has taken over the reigns from his father Gyles Webb, who established Thelema in 1983 by purchasing a run down fruit farm. The first wines were released in 1988 and they soon became some of the most sought after wines in the Cape winelands and pretty soon came to typify the new quality and modern style parameters that were being pursued in the post 1990 South Africa, ahead of the first democratic elections in 1994.

Chatting to Thomas at our recent 2013 red vintage horizontal tasting, I recalled how in the mid 1990’s I used to battle to secure even just a few bottles of their Chardonnay, Merlot Reserve and their famous Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon. The wines, despite their fame, we’re not produced in huge quantities and were actually quite a defined, limited boutique offering. Today, Thelema still sells a healthy 70 percent of their wines in the local home market, a revealing sign of their continued fame and fashion among local South African fine wine consumers.


Thelema Merlot 2013, Stellenbosch, 14.5 Abv.

Cool dark spicy nose showing black fruits, dried herbs, baking spices and macerated black plums. Also a noticeable dried bush veld and cherry skin pithiness. The palate is sleek, tight knit and cool, packed with fleshy black berry fruits, black plum, and black current. There is tension here and classical fine grained mineral tannins lurking underneath the elegant creamy texture. A Merlot definitely on the more serious end of the spectrum. 

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


Thelema Merlot Reserve 2013, Stellenbosch, 14.5 Abv.

This wine shows evidence of a step up in quality and intensity with 100% new French oak being used for maturation. The nose is sweet and savoury revealing an alluring earthy vein along with blueberries, tannery leather, dried herbs, and a Cabernet-like cedary oak spice lift. The palate is rich and intense, showing very polished, textured and suave luxurious sweet tannins. There is extra power here and harmonious fleshy depth with cassis leaf, subtle herbal notes and sweet tobacco on the long vibrant finish. Impressive wine with only approximately 3000 bottles produced from vines planted in the mid-1980’s.

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


Thelema Cabernet Sauvignon The Mint 2013, Stellenbosch, 14 Abv. 

A really individual style with a dusty lift of pronounced peppermint and sweet cassis spice together with cedary, mineral spice and boiled black currant sweets, pastille, and herbal mint tea notes. The palate is full and fleshy, rich and round, with fine purity and creamy, caressed tannins. The finish is modern and opulent, with black currant leaf, reductive saline cassis notes and that characteristic eucalyptus lick. Very enjoyable to drink. A real crowd pleaser.

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

Thomas Webb pouring a glass of the CWG 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, the predecessor of the Rabelais

Thelema Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Stellenbosch, 14 Abv. 

There is officially no reserve Cabernet Sauvignon in the Thelema range, but this classic black label Cabernet Sauvignon is a serious piece of kit. Aged 20 months in 40% new French oak, there is lovely varietal typicity here (despite the sneaky splash of Petit Verdot in the blend), with a dusty mineral nose of dried basil and thyme, hints of fynbos, graphite, and perfumed potpourri dried herb spice. Beautifully textured, the palate shows great purity and precision and intelligent winemaking. Like all the Thelema wines, there are fine polished tannins, real elegance, focus and finesse. Classy and classical, this is an impressive expression of Stellenbosch Cabernet with complexity, age-ability, and confidence of style. Benchmark in everyday.

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


Thelema Rabelais Blend 2013, Stellenbosch, 14 Abv. 

Alternatively called the Thelema Cape Winemakers Guild blend, this wine changed to the Rabelais label with the 2007 vintage, being produced originally from only Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. From 2009, Petit Verdot started to replace the Merlot portion and now the blend appears fairly settled on a 90% Cab / 10% PV mix. Dark, cool, broody black fruits reveal hints of cassis leaf, saline oyster shell, graphite, iodine and blueberry crumble. Palate is taught and fresh, with real precision and incredibly fine, pin point velvety tannins. A very elegant package, the acids give this wine extra tension and real steely cut. Classy and restrained, the Rabelais will improve immeasurably with at least another 10 years in the cellar.

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

The stunning mountains at the Helshoogte Pass
A sneaky glass of the newly released Chardonnay 2015 to refresh the palate after a lovely horizontal tasting.

De Toren Z Blend 2016 ~ and the winner is…

In case you read my below write up of the De Toren Z blending session at 67 Pall Mall recently thinking it was a fun but slightly pointless affair… think again. 

The results are in, announced today and the vote of the people is final. Viva De Toren democracy….


Here is the official announcement released today:

Dear Greg

After months of meticulous crafting, duteous tweaking to the potential blends and the valued input from the tastings, the concluding results of the De Toren Z 2016 Blend Tastings are in…

As an honorary guest of De Toren at the recent De Toren Z 2016 Blend Tasting, we want to use this opportunity to personally inform you of the final results. 

We are proud to announce the outcome of the 2016 vintage of De Toren Z, for the very first time. The winner, i.e. the blend for the De Toren Z 2016 vintage is, blend number 7!

This blend scored exceptionally well in all three rounds of the Blend Tastings and stood out from the overall blend line-up with a stellar 8 more points and the least controversial comments or feedback.

Please see below the varietal breakdown of the De Toren Z 2016:

· Merlot 54%

· Cabernet Sauvignon 12%

· Malbec 12%

· Cabernet Franc 16%

· Petit Verdot 6%

Once again, we would like to thank you for being part of this integral process, in helping us define our De Toren Z blend for the 2016 vintage.

Your input and time are valued a great deal. We look forward to hearing your thoughts on the 2016 vintage, after some further ageing, when released in 2018. 

Kind Regards,
The De Toren Team

Read my write up of the blending tasting here:
https://gregsherwoodmw.com/2017/05/26/making-and-marketing-a-fine-wine-attending-the-inspirational-de-toren-z-blending-session-at-67-pall-mall/

Making and Marketing a Fine Wine ~ Attending the Inspirational De Toren Z Blending Session at 67 Pall Mall…

Marketing and selling fine wine successfully nowadays is all about connecting with your customers in a unique and dynamic way. Whether your customers are wine buyers, agents or end consumers, producers need to be able to think outside the box and educate as well as inspire. 


Yesterday’s De Toren Z 2016 blending session certainly ticked all these boxes and was both highly enjoyable, inspiring and educational all at once. With 10 to 12 buyers, customers, agents and sommeliers in attendance, we tasted and selected our favourite blind Z blends from nine possible 2016 variations. 


Below are my tasting notes for these blind wines for which no further blend information was furnished until after we had all delivered our top three wine choices as well as our least favourite. 


Z Blend 1 ~

Dense dark opulent nose of plum confit, mocha and milk chocolate. Subtle notes of red liquorice, crushed leaves, and hedgerow spice. Palate is soft, plump, fleshy with soft acids, and creamy spicy black fruit. Finish maybe lacks a little cut and tension. 89+/100

Z Blend 2 ~

Rich creamy nose of bruleed black fruit, caramelised cassis and black cherry. Hints of blueberry pie, condensed milk, and Creme brûlée. Shows a lifted cedar oak spice note, lead pencils and suave, sleek tannins. Fine balance, crunchy acids and very fine grained tannin finish. 93+/100

Z Blend 3 ~

(A blind ringer, actually being last years bottled 2015 Z Blend)

More exotic nose with raisined cassis, liquorice, touch of molasses and creamy raspberry crumble. Less overt fragrance and perfume. Palate is fleshy, full bodied but slightly less complex, a little soft and broad with perhaps insufficient definition and tension at the moment. But a lovely blend nonetheless. 92+/100


Z Blend 4 ~

Rich exotic nose of kirsch liquor, cherry confit, liquorice and blueberry pie. Hints of creamy molasses, sweet plum and freshly chiselled granite. Palate is fleshy, creamy, opulent, with dry grippy granitic mineral tannins, in a powerful, structured four square style. 91+/100

Z Blend 5 ~

Dense, dark creamy black fruits, Molasses, and caramelised plum. Develops classical notes of gravel, spice and chalk. Good freshness and grip, but the components are slightly disparate at the moment. Nice tension on the finish. Shows a lot of potential. 92+/100


Z Blend 6 ~

Dusty creamy bruleed oak, black plum, dense core, cherry pith, and a spicy lift. Violets, tobacco spice and sweet plum. Nice harmony, balance, and breadth. Shows good fine wine potential. 93/100

Z Blend 7 ~
Rich creamy opulent nose showing plenty of blueberry, cassis and aniseed root, liquorice stick and leafy cherry spice. Pretty dusty mocha powdered lift. Palate entry is tart, crunchy, vibrant and fresh with sour plum, cassis, graphite, gravelly tannin grip and a steely textural precision with a hint of cedary oak spice complexity on the finish. Very smart, very fine, great pedigree. 94/100


Z Blend 8 ~

Creamy dense, spicy cherry, black currant, and damson plum. Hints of raisined plum and blueberry. Palate is soft, creamy, dense and crunchy, with powder mineral grip, light weight supple elegance, and a very elegant texture. Suave, harmonious wine with good mid palate tension and freshness. 93+/100

Z Blend 9 ~

Overt nose of black plum, black cherry, spicy cedar as vanilla pod spice. Palate is very fleshy, sweet fruited, opulent and plush, showing good minerality. Finish is a touch shorter than some of the other Cuvees and does not quite fan its tail. A little more mid-palate tension and this could have been excellent. 89/100


My Blend Results:

After this challenging exercise, I settled on a top three list of Wine 7, Wine 8 and Wine 2, with my “least favourite” being Wine 9. Though I should add that all the blends were very fine and impressive, with some just a little more balanced, precise and complete in my mind. For such young wines I look for that extra intensity, tension and wound spring energy. Getting the right fruit, acid and tannin balance among the component blends can certainly deliver this. 


Results: Z Blending 2016

Emil Den Dulk’s selection:

7, 5, 6 and least 1

Sommelier Caroline from 67 Pall Mall: 
2, 5, 3 and least 7

Pretoria Tasting Session Selection: 

6, 3, 9 and least 1

Average Result Selection:

7, 3, 9 and least a tie 6,5,2

We were then treated to a fantastic lunch where we were able to discuss the blends while drinking an impressive Fusion V 2008 – 93+/100, Z Blend 2008 – 92/100 and Z Blend 2012 – 93/100. 


While the above tasting event may all seen a little bit academic if you weren’t actually there to taste the different wines’ subtlety and nuances, it nevertheless stands as a wonderful marketing exercise that gives a fascinating insight into the blending of a complex fine wine.

Like Father Like Son… Warren Ellis Continuing the Neil Ellis Legacy…

When you have to think of one or two words to sum up a winery and it’s wines, it can sometimes be quite difficult… but sometimes not. After tasting through a large swathe of the current Neil Ellis range with Warren Ellis, I felt the wines could all be quite succinctly described as wines with composure and finesse.


Composure and finesse are perhaps traits Warren has inherited from his legendary winemaker father, Neil Ellis. These labels also apply to Neil’s wines from the late 80s and early 90s. Who can forget the early vintages of Groenekloof Sauvignon Blanc from Darling, that set the world on fire, or indeed some of Neil’s Cape Independent Winemakers Guild Cabernet Sauvignons, as the CWG was called back then. Epic, age worthy wines. 


Thankfully, Warren’s wines are equally impressive with a quiet, soft spoken elegance and finesse. Don’t miss his impressive Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 available at a bargain price of £25-£26 per bottle in the UK, or indeed his 2014 that only this week was awarded 92 points and top honours in a recent SA Cabernet tasting.


Neil Ellis Vineyard Selection Jonkershoek Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, W.O. Stellenbosch, 14 Abv. 

Dense aromatic perfumed nose of small black berry fruits, saline cassis, black currant leaf and dusty graphite. This classical Cabernet is cool, elegant, and fine grained, impressively pure fruited with suave, sleek, polished mineral tannins. There is beautiful balance and finely composed complexity leading to a seamless, exotic, finish packed full of red cherry fruits, parma violets and pink musk. A beautifully individual style of Cabernet aged for 18 months in 300 litre mostly blond and medium toast French oak barrels. Pop this in the cellar for another 5 to 8 years to develop a little more tertiary complexity and drink for 10 to 15+. 

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

Summer’s Almost Here … Tasting the Kleinood Tamboerskloof Katharien Syrah Rose 2015, Stellenbosch, 13 Abv…

Cracking out the Rose trumpets the arrival of summer. For such an affordable category of wine style, these boutique dry wines deliver a disproportionate amount of joie de vivre and drinking pleasure.


Grapes for the 2015 Rose were handpicked between 22 and 25 degrees balling to obtain the full red fruit spectrum of the grape. The grapes were hand sorted across our sorting table before being de-stemmed into a stainless steel basket press. The juice settled overnight at 14 °C, where after the clear juice was racked off the lees and fermented in stainless steel tanks. 

WINE ANALYSIS

Alcohol 13.0 % volume, Total Acid 5.5 g/l, pH 3.35, Residual Sugar 1.2 g/l.


Tasting Note: This pure Syrah beauty is pale salmon pink and has a most seductive perfumed nose of wild forest strawberries, cranberries, rose petals, potpourri, dusty garrigue, dried herbs and fynbos complexity. The palate is sleek, lithe and silky with a light, fine boned feminine texture, gravelly mineral spice and a long elegant finish boasting rose water, tangerine peel, liquid minerals and spicy red bramble berries. Perfectly delicious on its own, but would certainly be killer with some tapas nibbles! 

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

Tasting Carl van der Merwe’s Impressive New White and Red Blends from Stellenbosch…

Carl joined award winning DeMorgenzon winery owned by Hilton and Wendy Applebaum in July 2010 after an 8 year stint at Quoin Rock Winery in Stellenbosch where he made a range of highly regarded wines which duly collected many trade accolades.


Whilst Carl’s extraordinary talent in the winery and genius in the cellar add immeasurably to DeMorgenzon, it is reassuring to see that the Applebaums have allowed Carl to experiment with his new venture… The Great White and The Great Red, two interesting blends.

The Great White Sauvignon Blanc / Semillon / Chenin Blanc 2015, 13.5 Abv.

This wine features Sauvignon and Semillon as well as 10% Chenin Blanc that was barrel fermented. There is plenty of lifted aromatics and grassy lime peel, lemon grass, and dusty white peach stone fruit. The palate is full and textural, one of Carl’s winemaking signatures, with lovely round harmonious, fleshy, creamy mouthfeel. This wine has impressive gravitas for its price point (£17-£18pb) and a complex, spicy granitic mineral finish with great lucidity.

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

The Great Red Cabernet Sauvignon / Cinsaut / Cabernet Franc / Petit Verdot 2015, 14 Abv.

A very attractive nose greets you on this well constructed, well proportioned red. There is plenty of sweet spicy red fruit, soft fleshy red currants, sweet leaf, earl grey tea, cedar and tobacco spice. There is an opulence and generosity to the wine brimming with sweet black berry and foresty bramble fruits. Full core of fruit, dense but precise and elegant with a very fine seamless texture and a soft, pithy red cherry skin finish. A fine effort.

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

Carl is currently working towards his British Master of Wine, for which we wish him the best of luck. South Africa is long overdue another MW in its ranks! 

Leeu Passant ~ The Most Exciting New Releases From South Africa in Years…

Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines have always been all about bottling the great vineyard expressions of site and soils of the Swartland. This week saw the first new vinous additions to the growing Mullineux legacy in the form of Leeu Passant. 


The new range consists of two terroir specific Chardonnays and a dry red blend, which is a deconstruction and reconstruction of the venerable Cape wines of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s with almost equal portions of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault and a “modern” twist of Cabernet Franc.With the European Launch of Leeu Passant set to take place in London on the 5th April, when I’ll be in Bordeaux tasting En-primeur 2016 wines, it was fortuitous that I was staying with Chris and Andrea in the Swartland at just the right moment to experience these wines pre-release.


Below are my initial impressions and ratings of this profound new threesome of whites and reds…


Leeu Passant Elandskloof Chardonnay 2015, 14 Abv.

Very rich intense opulent nose, layers of pineapple pastille fruits, green apple and green citrus crunch. All natural ferment with indigenous yeasts, and all natural malolactics. Complex sweet green fruits, subtle creamy oak from 12 months ageing and another 10 months in bottle. The palate is taught, fresh and crunchy, some waxy white peach notes, flinty minerality and a noticeably cool, restrained dry finish. Plenty of power with animated subtlety. 

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


Leeu Passant Stellenbosch Chardonnay 2015, 14 Abv.

This is a blockbuster wine. Sweet green quince, crunchy pears and pineapple pastille fruits, Bon Bon green apple crunch and subtle hints of struck match reductive complexity and gravelly, saline pithy fruit. Incredible acidity showing real power and drive, and incredible precision. High acid, bottled at 8 TA. Also such subtle, considerate oak use, fine integration of fruit and acids and again, like the Elandskloof version, finishes bone dry and elegantly restrained. A very impressive, complex Meursault’esque Stellenbosch Chardonnay illustrating the grandeur and terroir of this premium SA region. Superb… A must buy for Chardonnay obsessives! 

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


Leeu Passant Dry Red Blend 2015, 13.5 Abv.

36% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Cabernet Franc, 31% Cinsaut. 

The Wellington Cinsault at 117 years old is the oldest recorded Cinsault vineyard in SA, blended with a more youthful 91 year old vineyard from Franschhoek. The Helderberg Cabernet Sauvignon is 36 years old and the Cabernet Franc 18 to 20 years old. Lovely peppery, spicy leafy nose of plum, peppercorns, sweet bramble berries, hedgerow, bergamot and sappy cherry spice. There’s a real opulent confit fruit character, impressive ripeness, fragrant but simultaneously mineral and restrained. There is also a real dusty granitic vein, a chalky, spicy texture and sweet red currant and raspberry sappy fruit. Punchy, intense, really focused but with real mouthwatering drinkability. Beautifully fine harmonious texture, and tight polished tannins. A true testament to South Africa’s red winemaking heritage. A very classy wine.

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

Volumes PER wine: Elandskloof  Chardonnay ~ 2000 bottles, Stellenbosch Chardonnay ~ 3000 bottles, and 4,000 bottles of Leeu Passant Dry Red. 

 (UK RRP IS £72 – £75 pb Inc.)