The Fine Wine Safari Top 10 Most Memorable South African Red Wines of 2017…

South Africa must possess some of the most distinguished and diverse high quality white wines in the world. But some how it seems that consumers, connoisseurs and collectors judge a country or region’s prestige almost exclusively based on the quality of the red wines produced. In 2017 South Africa fortuitously released many of its truly greatest 2015 red wines making it a bumper year for red wine ratings and reviews internationally.

My top 10 selection of reds and whites is based on wines that I tasted and drank through the year and that I considered supremely memorable as well as very high in quality. They were not selected purely based on scores.

So again, in no specific order…here is my Top 10 Most Memorable South African Red Wines of 2017.

MR de Compostella Bordeaux Blend 2015, Stellenboch – 98/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Bruwer Raats may be known as the Chenin King but it has to be his incredible red wines that have truly cemented his global reputation as an iconic fine wine producer. There can be no doubting the quality of his amazing Cabernet Franc reds which he is so proud of. Indeed, who can forget the high powered tasting in Europe where his 2001 Cabernet Franc trumped Cheval Blanc 2001 and was lauded by Jancis Robinson OBE MW as one of the greatest varietal Cabernet Francs in the world. But for me, it is another wine that has always captured my heart.

As a consummate Bordeaux lover, the MR de Compostella has been an absolute eye opener since the maiden 2004 was released. Tasted again recently, the 2004 is still youthfully dense, taught, concentrated and utterly majestic with another 20+ years of life left ahead of it. Having tasted every vintage pre-release since 2004, I like to think I have an intimate knowledge of this wine. So when Bruwer did a pre-release vertical tasting in London earlier this year, we got to see the 2015 in all its noble splendour. I received a few raised eye brows for scoring this wine 98 points, but my argument was simple… When tasted along side critically acclaimed MR vintages that scored 95 or 96 points internationally, the 2015 was considered 15% to 20% better. So I had no hesitation in scoring this wine 98 points and declaring it my 🍷🍷 South African Red Wine of the Year 2017.  

Congratulations Bruwer Raats and team.

Raats Family Wines Eden Single Vineyard High Density Cabernet Franc 2015, Stellenbosch – 97/100 Greg Sherwood MW 

As if making one of the highest rated reds in South Africa wasn’t enough, Bruwer has continued to pursue his passion for all things Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc related, launching the first Raats Eden High Density red and white releases last year to great acclaim. The Eden Cabernet Franc has seduced journalists from far and wide, astounding drinkers with the quality achieved from 6 year old vines. ‘Quality by Design’ is the buzz phrase attributed to these fascinating wines that have been recognised locally in South Africa and internationally as outstanding examples of Cabernet Franc varietal purity and precision. Made in tiny quantities, this is a red wine designed to impress the most accomplished and educated palates. I sense there will be very little disagreement on the inclusion of this wine.

Beeslaar Pinotage 2015, Stellenbosch – 96+/100 Greg Sherwood MW 

I recently attended the International Wines & Spirits Competition awards ceremony in London a few weeks ago and sat at the neighbouring table to Abrie Beeslaar and Johan Krige, to witness them being awarded the “International Winery of the Year” for the third year in a row and “Winemaker of the Year” for their outstanding wines at Kanonkop. What an honour. But Abrie also has a small project on the side producing limited amounts of this eponymously named wine from some exceptional Pinotage grapes. Only in its fourth vintage, this impressive Pinotage comes from a 22 year old single block close to Simonsig planted on shale soils. Seeing less new oak than the super premium Kanonkop Black Label, this expression is an opulent, sleek, textured glassful of brilliance with the most incredible harmony, purity and balance. This is exceptional Pinotage that really puts this unique variety on the world wine map. An outstanding effort from Abrie Beeslaar.

Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines Roundstone Schist Syrah 2015, Swartland – 95+/100 Greg Sherwood MW  

In March I paid a long awaited visit to Chris and Andrea at their Roundstone farm in the Swartland to taste the new releases of their Mullineux and the Leeu Passant wines. The Schist Syrah, sourced from grapes grown on the Roundstone farm,  has become one of their most sought after wines internationally due to its opulence, fragrance and balanced blueberry fruit intensity that harks back to the great icon wines of the northern Rhone in every way. I do have an inkling that their Granite or Iron Syrah Cuvées may age better over the very long term, but over the medium term, the Schist Syrah represents one of the most outstanding expressions of Syrah coming out of South Africa at the moment.

Duncan Savage Follow the Line 2016 – 95+/100 Greg Sherwood MW 

Of all the new red wine creations that have come out of the Cape in the past five years, few can rival Follow the Line for its mantel of most delicious cult wine! This wonderful Cinsault / Grenache / Syrah blend from Duncan Savage is a wine that effectively captured the mood of a new generation of wine drinkers looking for characterful, vibrant, energetic, crunchy fresh reds that could be drunk on release or cellared for 10+ years. Since the maiden 2014 release, this wine has got better and better and now that Duncan is settling into his own new urban winery in Salt River in Cape Town, you can expect all his whites and reds to become even more focused and distinguished. One of my favourite red wines from one of my favourite South African winemakers. If you have not tried this wine yet, get your skates on!

Sadie Family Wines Columella Red Blend 2015, Swartland – 96+/100 Greg Sherwood MW 

What a year it has been for Eben Sadie! Winemaker awards, sell out wines, continued growing cult status internationally, and high quality wines that seem to get better and better every year despite vintage conditions. With already two whites making my top 10, this has got to be the wine that Eben takes the most pride in producing. He has always been aware of the hype that surrounds the micro vinifications in the Old Vine Series, but the Palladius and Columella are his “day job” and his bread and butter and most certainly his pride and joy. So to have released two of the greatest ever expressions of both of these wines is a true testament to the upward trajectory that Eben continues to travel on. One of the truly great winemakers of the world and one of the greatest wineries. What an accolade to make South African’s proud.

Brian Smith & Niels Verburg The Cabernet Franc 2014, Bot River – 96+/100 Greg Sherwood MW 

While neither Brian Smith or Niels Verburg are newcomers to the South African wine scene, their new joint venture red certainly ruffled a few feathers in the local South African wine scene with the release of the THE Cabernet Franc sourced from a small vineyard in the Bot River region. Classy, polished, opulent, and distinguished, this wine has all the attributes of a Napa Valley cult wine including the matching price tag. The greatest thing about this wine has been the discussion and open debate that has resulted after its release… which was one of its primary aims to be fair. The contents is certainly very sexy and luxurious and drinking my first bottle was undoubtedly a very memorable moment.

Boschkloof Epilogue Syrah 2015, Stellenbsoch – 97/100 Greg Sherwood MW 

I remember seeing my Swartland based Rhone junkie friends Ryan Mostert and Samantha Suddons drinking bottles of Boschkloof Syrah and occasionally Epilogue Syrah years ago and thinking that I need to get to grips with these wines (I grew up drinking father Jacques Bormans’ wines!) When Jamet junkies are raving about them, they must be serious. Last Christmas I reviewed the Epilogue 2014 Syrah and rated it as one of my top reds of the year. Surely the epic 2015 vintage would have to be better!? Well, I would say it is equally as good but not better. It is the perennial trap we fall into thinking that block buster vintages always make better wines. For most producers they do, but for the likes of Reenen Borman, his real talents are revealed in the less than perfect vintages (2014 or 2016). But splitting hairs aside, this is one of the most profound northern Rhone, Cote Rotie’esque  expressions of Syrah available in the New World. Well done Reenen!

Naude Family Wines Grenache 2014 – 95+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

What a year of change it has been for Ian Naude. After years of serving other masters, he has finally gone solo and become his own boss. Under the Naude Family wines label he will now seduce us with his very best talents in the form of Old Vine Chenin Blanc, Cinsault and Semillon. But just like last year when I included his “older” Chenin Blanc 2013, this year I have found myself simply unable to exclude his most profound, complex and impressive Grenache 2014. Such is the intrigue surrounding this wine that we felt compelled to repeat the “Wine Cellar / Roland Peens” Rayas blind show down again in London at one of the top Michelin star restaurants. Yet again, this fabulous wine beat off the competition and trounced some of the world’s greatest Grenache reds with ease. Sadly, this vineyard grape contract was subsequently lost and has not been made again since. So it is now not only one of the great red wines of South Africa, but it is firmly moving into the Unicorn ranks of collectability. We stand in hope that Ian will venture back into the Grenache minefield and attempt to craft another gem from this temperamental Rhone grape. Meantime, if you find any of the 2014, snap it up immediately!

Vilafonte Series C 2015, Paarl – 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW 

This is another winery project that I have been following closely since its maiden vintage release in 2003. This joint venture between Warwick Estate’s Mike Ratcliffe and Californian wine guru power couple Phil Freese and Zelma long, unashamedly set out to produce the most precise, polished, high quality expressions of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot possible from their manicured vineyards in Paarl. There is a subtle gloss to the wines, there is incredible polish, and the wines are quite international in style in many ways, but above all, there is a sense that the end goal is extreme quality without compromise. Ok, this approach may not work quite as well with wilder Syrah, Grenache or Cinsault, but for international varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec… it is surely the path to greatness. Add to the ingredients a 5 star block buster vintage and hey presto, the Series C 2015 miraculously resembles some of the iconic high scoring Chateaux of Pauillac and St Julien from a riper left bank vintage in Bordeaux but with the precision and polish of Napa Valley.

Craig Hawkins Pushing the Boundries at His New Testalonga El Bandito Winery…

“Craig Hawkins has long been experimenting, pushing the boundaries and finding new ways to bring us wine in its most unadulterated form.” A wonderful sound bite pinched from Roland Peens at Wine Cellar, one of Craig’s biggest retail sellers in South Africa. So it’s not surprising that his wines have an insatiable cult following among consumers, connoisseurs and sommeliers around the world primarily because the wines excel at representing site, terroir and authenticity.

‘Natural wine is simple: organically farmed at the very least in the vineyard, no added yeast or acid or tannin, in fact, nothing added except small amounts of SO2 if need be… and no fining/filtration.’ – Craig Hawkins

Testalonga El Bandito Monkey Gone to Heaven 2016, WO Swartland, 13 Abv.

This 15 year old vineyard has yielded some delicious Mourvèdre fruit from this dry 2016 vintage. But of course this variety is normally very at home with hot dry conditions and prospers successfully in the hot South of France where it needs warmth to ripen fully. This expression from the Swartland has an appealing nose of dried potpourri, black chocolate and peppermint crisp combining with aromatics of garrigue, dried herbs, thyme, sweet green peppercorns and dry fynbos. But there is also plenty of complex black berry fruit on the palate mixing with black olive tapenade, chalky mineral spice, hints of graphite and a tantalising fresh black currant herbal tea infusion on the finish. Another classic over achieving wine from Craig Hawkins. Drink now to 2028+.

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

South African Grenache for Collectors & Connoisseurs ~ Tasting the Seriously Structured Raaigras 2015 from Adi Badenhorst…

One of the original young gun pioneers of the Swartland, Adi Badenhorst is making some startling single vineyard wines from Palomino, Chenin Blanc and Grenache. They are all very impressive examples of specific varieties that seem to be excelling in the hot, dry vineyards of the Cape. 


The Raaigras Grenache is made from possibly the oldest registered vineyard of this varietal in the Cape on his Kalmoesfontein farm and the 2015 is only his second release of this single vineyard old vine red. 


Where Adi’s version differs from many of the others on the market, is the level of minerality, tannin and structure he illicit from his old vine fruit while managing to retain a modest alcohol of only 12.5 Abv. Quantities produced are tiny, so if you manage to track this one down, snap it up and pop it in your cellar.


AA Badenhorst Family Wines Raaigras Grenache 2015, WO Swartland 12.5 Abv.

This is must be one of South Africa’s best Grenache reds. Coming from old vines planted on Adi Badenhorst’s farm on the decomposed granite hills of the Paardeberg, Swartland in 1951, this wine shows such Grenache purity, power and authenticity. Made using only old oak and 30% whole bunches, the fragrant perfume is intoxicating, showing fraises des bois, parma violets, lavender, dried rose petals, bramble berry fruits, garrigue, and a delicious, savoury bresaola cured meat complexity. Plenty of textural precision, the more this wine opens up, the more minerally pronounced the tannins become, finishing with an intense, rasping granitic dry grip. Plenty of mineral tension, the finish remains very pure with great clarity and purpose together with the most alluring vermouth botanical herbal complexity. Drink now with food or age for another 3 to 5 years before cracking into your case. This one promises a long drinking curve, 10 to 15+ years. Well done Adi. 

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

Chris and Andrea Mullineux Capture the Essence of the 2015 Vintage with Their Impressive Single Terroir Granite Chenin Blanc…

Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines is on top of its game at the moment. Inspired by the successful range extension with their uber premium but equally high quality Leeu Passant wines, it seems Chris and Andrea can do no wrong. But of course their phenomenal success globally is purely down to good old hard work in the vineyards and the winery. When you make outstanding wines, marketing and selling them becomes an altogether easier, more enjoyable endeavour.


Grapes for their 2015 Granite Chenin were sourced from 2 parcels of sustainably farmed old vine, dry farmed bush vines planted in the decomposed Granite soils of the Paardeberg. The vineyards are 39 and 43 years old. These very deep decomposed Granite soils tend to produce wines with great acidity and a flinty, stony aromatic profile. Grapes were harvested between the 29th January and 6th February 2015 with a yield of 6 tons/ha (30HL/ha).

Chris showing me their Granite, Schist and Quartz Chenin Old Vine vineyards in March.

Grapes were first chilled in their cold room then pressed whole-bunch and the juice allowed to settle overnight. Minimal SO2 is added and, as with all their wines, no further additions are made. The juice is then racked to barrel for fermentation which is with indigenous yeasts and lasts for about 4 weeks. The wine is left in barrels, on its lees, until spring, during which time malolactic fermentation has completed. The barrels are then racked and blended just before the following vintage and bottled unfiltered. 12 months in 3rd and 4th fill French oak barrels. Alcohol 13.5%, RS 1.6 g/l, TA 5.6 g/l, pH 3.3.


Mullineux Granite Chenin Blanc 2015, WO Swartland, 13.5 Abv

A beautifully crafted wine from the Mullineuxs, this single terroir expression of Chenin Blanc shows incredibly flinty minerality and salinity. The nose bursts with crushed granite dust, lemon grass, dried herbs, and dried orange peel. I love the austerity and dried grass spice. The aromatic breadth and complexity follows to the palate except the volume is turned up a few notches. Pin point purity, intense electric acids and amplified tangerine and orange citrus zest cloak the palate and almost overwhelm the senses. A very measured, well proportioned wine with extra concentration and acid intensity to suggest a long life lies ahead if we’ll cellared. Drink now to 2030+

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

With Chris in an old vine Chenin vineyard near Siebrietskloof on the decomposed Granite slopes of the Paardeberg

David & Nadia Hoe Steen Old Vine Swartland Chenin Blanc Proves Its Pedigree Yet Again…

David Sadie was born and bred in the Swartland and studied viticulture and oenology at the University of Stellenbosch. It was there that he met and later married Nadia, a qualified soil scientist and viticulturalist. Together, they have crafted some of the most profound wines coming out of South Africa. 


I became acquainted with the single vineyard wines a few years back when David was making 3 different versions. Last year, the 2015 Hoe Steen Chenin Blanc trounced all before it in the annual Decanter Magazine Blind South African Chenin Blanc Tasting, scoring an eye watering 98 point consensus with all three judges. Well yes, I was one of the three judges and I stand by my score, blind or sighted.

With David Sadie and my fellow 98 point Decanter Magazine judge, Tim Atkin MW

Sadly, the 2015 stock disappeared like a small rain puddle evaporating in the midday heat of the Karoo dessert. But what do you expect when only just over 300 bottles or one barrel were produced. In 2016, David bottled two single vineyard wines, the Hoe Steen and the Skaliekop Chenin Blanc. 

Made from dry land farmed bush vines planted in 1968 on decomposed granite based soils with Koffee Klip and Quartz on top, on the western side of Malmesbury. The grapes were wholebunch pressed using minimal sulphur during the short cold settling for the juice before being wracked into barrel for spontaneous fermentation and malolactic fermentation. The wine ages for around 12 months in two old 400 litre French oak barrels. In 2016, production was upped to a massive 530 bottles. pH 3.41, RS 3.0 g/l, TA 5.5 g/l, total SO2 127 mg/l.


David & Nadie Hoe Steen Chenin Blanc 2016, WO Swartland, 13.39 Abv.

Like many of the 2016 Chenin Blancs, this wine displays more subtlety, restraint, elegance and finesse with a slightly more refined, fine boned structure than the big, broad, intense 2015 expressions. The nose is more delicate and soft spoken, showing white peach, crunchy green pear, tangerine peel, fynbos, baking herbs, and incredible dusty, crushed granite mineral lift. The palate is electric and fresh with a dry lemon, rasping mineral intensity, subtle smoky reduction and picante spice notes. Like the 2015, there are beautiful, beguiling saline maritime notes that spar with the bold zippy acids. This vintage is all about speaking intelligently with authority and sophistication rather than preaching in a loud, punchy, doctrinal style. The extra restraint, twinned with balance, harmony and inner core tension make for another profound Chenin Blanc expression. Drink now or keep for 8 to 15+ years.

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

Sadie Family Old Vines Series ‘T Voetpad 2016 ~ South Africa’s Grand Cru of White Blends…

Every few weeks I get a phone call from an UK journalist looking for commentary for an upcoming piece in one journal / supplement or another. How is the premium South African category faring? What are South Africa’s best USP’s? (unique selling points), What are the most exciting regions or varietals etc? While Chenin Blanc and more latterly, Cinsaut, have become two of South Africa’s trendiest “calling cards”, there is still only one true wine category in South Africa (other than Pinotage perhaps), that remains completely unrivalled in the global world of fine wine… the great Cape White Blend.


There can be few doubts that the Sadie Family Wines Palladius White Blend is one of the best white blends in South Africa at the moment, however, the truth remains that it is the small production, almost unobtainable ‘T Voetpad from the Sadie Old Vine Series that has emerged in the last few years as the most coveted white blend for collectors. An exquisite field blend of Semillon Blanc, Semillon Gris, Palomino, Chenin Blanc and Muscat d’Alexandrie, the name refers to ‘the footpath’ and is one of South Africa’s most remote vineyards, a 1.4 hectare site planted on their own rootstocks between 1900 and 1928, which are picked together and fermented together in old wooden casks.

The Cape White Blend in all its forms remains a very special category because the greatest expressions are not just conjured up creations, they are formidable, thoughtful wines with a sense of confidence, terroir, balance, and delicious synergistic flavours. Varietals you’d expect to be incongruous marry seamlessly and genuinely create a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. This synergy factor is the Holy Grail that other international producers have found almost impossible to replicate. The South African wine industry is truly blessed to have this joker in its marketing hand.

Sadie Family Old Vines Series ‘T Voetpad 2016, Swartland, 13.5 Abv.

This eclectic 2016 white blend of Semillon Blanc, Semillon Gris, Chenin Blanc, Palomino and Muscat d’Alexandrie has a wonderfully dusty, aromatic, complex nose of stony, pithy, crunchy yellow pears, pineapple pastille, pear drop bon bons, lemon rind, sea breeze and nutty, piquant nuances. The palate shows such wonderful salty, briney intensity without any heavy, unctuous weight of fruit. Plenty of richness certainly, with a fine grained pithy, grippy texture and impressively fresh acids. I love the purity and inner energy of this wine. The finish is fresh, precise, full of vigour and long, with hints of lemon butter, lanolin, hazelnut and pear skins. This may be the product of a warm, dry, slightly awkward vintage, but the finished results in the bottle are every bit as impressive as the wine’s reputation. Drink now to 2028+

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

“The amazing thing about ‘T Voetpad is the fact that it is our most diverse co-planted vineyard with 5 varieties, but it is usually our most harmonious wine at bottling; something that is nearly impossible to comprehend. Our only explanation is that when vines grow together for more than 100 years, they all become one ‘mind’!” ~ Eben Sadie

The Sadie Family Old Vine Series Treinspoor 2016 from the Swartland Strikes the Grand Jackpot…

Having just tasted Duncan Savage’s new 2016 Are We There Yet? Touriga Nacional based blend, reinforced again what great potential these “alternative” warm climate varieties have in a future South African wine landscape. While this was Duncan’s first release, Eben Sadie on the other hand is already half a decade into the Treinspoor releases.


Made from 42 year old Tinta Barocca sourced from a vineyard in the Swartland, the 2016 new release appears to have reached a nouveau of quality not seen before for this variety in South Africa. This latest bottling rides on a wave of lifted perfumed perfection, with intense red cherry pastille, parma violets, rose water and sweet jasmine all mingling with seductive, piecing red and black bramble berry fruits. The palate shows a vibrant focus and purity of fruit I don’t recall ever seeing to this degree on this wine before. There are lashings of sweet cherry sherbet bon bons, pink musk sweets, red currant confit , purple nastergal (African nightshade berry), and tart Victoria plums. Wonderful concentration, palate tingling acidity freshness and superb harmonious depth. The ‘poor cousin’ in the Old Vine Series has just hit the jackpot and is riding high. Drink now to 2030+

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

The new Sadie Family Cellar in the Swartland

I guess it makes complete sense then when Eben says he feels that this red grape Tinta Barocca “might well transport the Swartland Terroir best into liquid form, purely because it captures the soils and the earthiness of the place.” 

New mixed plantings at the winery including Grenache, Carignan, Cinsaut, Counnoise, Terret Noir, Alicante Bouchet, Pontac, and Tinta Barocca.

Eben regarded his 2015 as the most refined version ever, but for me, the 2016 I tasted surpasses even this monumental achievement.
Visiting Eden Sadie in March 2017