Another New Super Impressive White Release From Larger Than Life Winemaker Donovan Rall…

I recently caught up with the Viking giant Donovan Rall to taste his exciting new release whites and reds. I first met Donovan at the White Blend Seminar in 2009 where I co-presented a seminar at Forest44 in Stellenbosch with Eben Sadie. He was attending with a broad who’s who of the younger generation of the South African wine industry. 


He pulled me over at the end and offered up two rare bottles of his sold out first vintage Rall White Blend that had just won 5 stars in the Platter Guide. Unbeknownst to me at the time, Donovan had previously worked at premium London retailer Harvey Nichols with our Handford General Manager, Gavin Deaville. Donovan asked me to take the bottles back to London and enjoy them with Gavin and let him know what I thought of the wine.


Fast forward almost 8 years and Donovan is an established producer of some very fine whites and reds from multiple regions. But it was this unusual, saline, fresh Grenache Blanc 2016 that caught my eye at our recent tasting and made me sit up and pay closer attention.


(The only previous South African Grenache Blanc I’ve enjoyed this much was Chris Williams’s Foundry 2013 that garnered a sizeable amount of praise in the UK media, including very favourable commentary from Tim Atkin MW and Victoria Moore of The Telegraph broadsheet newspaper.)


Rall Grenache Blanc 2016, W.O. Piekenierskloof, 12.5 Abv.

Partially skin Fermented in a combination of open top wood fermenters (20%) and Eggs (80%), then aged in concrete and old oak, this compelling white has a very pronounced saline, sea breeze, briney salinity mixed with yellow stone fruits, white flowers and crunchy white peaches. The palate is taught, displaying a zippy freshness, and a dusty, granitic, alka seltzer mineral complexity. There are some waxy phenolics adding texture and extra depth, but the wine retains great tension and remains fine and focused from start to finish. A genuinely impressive, high achieving expression of Grenache Blanc. Chapeau Donovan!

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

Getting In the Mood For the Real Wine Fair with Testalonga El Bandito Cortez Chenin Blanc…

Craig Hawkins’ interpretation of Chenin Blanc can divide opinion. Well, I love his wines. He always seems to somehow capture extra nerve, wound spring tension and vibrant freshness. There’s much more to it than merely explaining it as a result of earlier picking having tasted a lot of early picked versions that are hard, tart, one dimensional and lacking in texture and flavour complexity. No such problems for Craig’s wines.


I’ve never made a white wine myself, only red, but having followed Craig’s evolution as a winemaker, you can really see the subtle tricks he’s learnt along the way while making some “funky” whites with up to 2 years skin contact. As he always told me… “I wasn’t looking for any particular result with all the experimentation with skin contact, I just wanted to see how far I could push things … and learn something in the process.”


Well, Craig has certainly reined things in a little over the past few years, a clear sign that he has matured into a high quality, thoughtful, considerate winemaker. But importantly, he has never compromised his flair or his wines characterful natural purity and textural style. With his 2015 El Bandito Cortez, Craig has hit his zenith with Chenin Blanc.


Testalonga El Bandito Cortez Chenin Blanc 2015, 12.5 Abv.

This Chenin Blanc has a beautifully bright pale golden colour with aromas of baked crab apples, white bread drizzled with honey, incense, and tinned white peaches in syrup. Superbly expressive and complex. The palate is cool, taught and intense with Craig’s hallmark low pH feel and vibrant tension, but with perhaps a few extra layers thanks to the sublime 2015 vintage character. Plenty of racy freshness, white citrus, pithy river pebble minerality, waxy tangerine peel, fresh fennel and beautiful briney, salty sea breeze zest. This wine typifies low intervention winemaking at its very best. Decant before serving for best results. Drink from 2017 to 2030+.

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


Tasting Andre Bruyns’ Superb Second Vintage of City On A Hill 2016 in the Swartland…

So yesterday, after a very hectic weekend of vineyard exploration and tasting in the Swartland, I headed back to Stellenbosch stopping enroute at David Sadie’s leased cellar at the Paardebosch farm in the Paardeberg area of the Swartland where decomposed granitic soils rule the roost.


I have to say this was a double appointment as I also came to taste David’s assistant, Andre Bruyns’ second vintage release of his City On A Hill 2016 from 36 year old Chenin Blanc vines. Sourced from two old vine vineyards planted 1981, the 2016 incorporates 8% of Viognier in this 92% Chenin Blanc blend, producing 2,600 bottles.

(David Sadie’s new 2016 releases will be reviewed separately.)

Looking out across Dassenbosch towards Adi Badenhorst winery

Tasting Note: City On A Hill 2016 Chenin Blanc, Swartland, 12.5 Abv.

This is an alluring wine with complex dried herbs, dried mint leaf, garrigue and baking spices. So much oregano and thyme beautifully melded with dry yellow stone fruits and white citrus. I just love the nuances of pithy tart yellow peaches and the rich but linear taught structure that defines this and so many other 2016 wines. The palate seems to move into a 6th gear, where the impressive 2015 only had 5. Vibrant crunchy yellow citrus fruits, peach stone, and peppery, dusty slatey granitic minerality. This wine has energy and verve, massive intensity, pithy yellow pineapple and white peach concentration and a real dusty granitic finish that is direct, nervy, tightly wound and very focused. Well done Andre, not easy to make a better wine than you did in 2015, but I believe you succeeded in doing so. 

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

Tasting the Profound Sadie Family Old Vine Series Treinspoor 2013 Tinta Barroca… 

Eben Sadie is a super intelligent, obsessive winemaker who has always focused on mastering the terroir in his individual vineyards, believing that ultimately, great wine will be easier to make if you pay detailed attention to the farming of your vines. 


The Sadie Family Old Vine Series Treinspoor 2013, named after the railway line that runs alongside the vineyard, is 100% Tinta Barocca from 40+ year old vines. Eben noted that “In 2013 the Treinspoor, with cooler weather, a bit of rain and later ripening just seemed to be a perfect fit to this parcel.” As a result, he succeeded in making one of the best Treinspoor vintages to date.


Tasting Note: With already 4 years age, the colour remains a vibrant bright cherry red with a black plum core. The nose is also still very youthful showing a pronounced cherry sherbet bon bon zesty lift, freshly crushed red currants, fragrant rose petals, strawberry shortbread, and pretty parma violets. There is such wonderful, profound aromatic complexity that has developed in bottle since I first tasted this wine on release in 2014. The palate reveals an incredibly sleek fleshy balance, showing textured layers of mulberry and raspberry fruits, powdery slatey mineral tannins in perfect harmony and fine acids with great definition. After a little more time in the glass, darker, spicy sappy hedgerow notes develop adding to this beautiful wine’s complexity. Incredibly pure in character, this 13 Abv wine is a very special expression of the Swartland.

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


Testalonga El Bandito Queen of Spades 2016 Tinta Amarela – Perfect Saturday Quaffing…

Tonight I’m enjoying an easy drinking red from Craig Hawkins of Testalonga. This new Cuvee made from Tinta Amarela (or Trincadeira) is just perfect to accompany the opening matches of the 6 Nations Rugby Championship. 


A red wine grape that is commonly used in Port wine production. This grape is often noted for its dark colouring and its use in the Douro region has certainly been increasing in recent years as still wine production increases at the expense of Port.


Not sure what inspired Craig to make this wine as I’ve not had a chance to ask him but I’d hazard a guess it’s got something to do with his time spent making wine in the Douro and also because of his love of the fresh, vibrant red varieties found in the Iberian Peninsula. 


Indeed, this wine does have a dark purple black plum colour and a nose jam packed with red and black fruits, cranberries, brambley perfume, black forest berries and savoury hedgerow spice notes. There is also a lovely wild, earthy complexity. This is a super quaffable, characterful style revealing a lighter, medium bodied texture, sleek soft sweet sappy tannins and modest complexity. The finish is fresh and earthy with an attractive crushed gravel mineral note. I’m certain a little extra time in bottle for this 2016 red has benefited the wines elegance and tannin balance greatly. At the moment, it delivers lovely drinking pleasure but I suspect another 12 months in bottle will benefit this very oldy-worldly style further.

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

Chenin Blanc ~ South Africa’s New International Calling Card…

Yesterday I attended a fascinating tasting and lunch featuring an incredible array of iconic red and white wines. But tucked into the selection was a threesome of premium South African Chenin Blancs, made by some of South Africa’s hottest, most talented, rising star winemakers.

The flight consisted of the Patatsfontein 2015 Montagu Old Vine Chenin Blanc, the David & Nadia Skaliekop 2014 Swartland Chenin Blanc and the Johan “Stompie” Meyer Mother Rock Liquid Skin 2015 Chenin Blanc. Three vastly differing expressions of Chenin Blanc from three very individual, innovative winemakers.

More importantly, the three wines illustrated both the terroir versatility of the Chenin Blanc grape as well as the stylistic winemaking versatility present in South Africa. It is now impossible to pigeon hole Chenin Blanc within a generic context. The styles, expressions, and interpretations are so varied.

Chenin Blanc is now doing for South Africa, what Chardonnay has done so clearly for Burgundy in France. There is a style to suit all palates and a price point to suit all pockets. This diversity needs to be celebrated as it’s the fuel that continues to power the whole category forward internationally.
Patatsfontein Chenin Blanc 2015, Montagu

This Chenin Blanc ferment features a 40% portion with malolactic conversion and is then aged 11 months in old oak barrels. The nose bursts with lifted sweet white blossom, rich honeycomb, white peach, yellow citrus and vanilla pod spice. The palate is beautifully layered and elegantly textured with impressive concentration that grows as the wine sits in the glass. Light on its feet, there is a fabulous vein of acidity that melts into the fruit, harmonising beautifully with dusty mineral notes on the long, focused finish. Incredible class and precision, but oh so characterful all at once. A wine that is growing in stature and quality with each subsequent release. (Wine Safari Score: 94+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)


David & Nadie Skaliekop Chenin Blanc 2014, Swartland

Another standout wine from David Sadie. We all know the heights that have been reached with his 2015 single vineyard wines, but this 2014, from a vineyard planted in 1985 on shale soils yields a beautifully opulent, exotic nose of lemon oil, yellow peaches, honeysuckle, orange blossom, pithy lemon marmalade and dusty, chalky notes. This wine is full bodied, unctuous, richly textured and full flavoured with oxidative honey notes, sweet lemongrass, stem ginger and a long, leesy oak spice finish. A wine with plenty of gravitas. (Wine Safari Score: 93+/100 Greg Sherwood MW) 


Mother Rock Liquid Skin Chenin Blanc 2015, Swartland

This Chenin Blanc was sourced from an organic single vineyard on the outskirts of Malmesbury, planted with dry farmed bush vines grown on koffieklip, decomposed granite and clay soils. Grapes underwent 9 weeks of skin contact and the result is a truly impressive wine style. A deep golden orange colour, the wine has complex aromas of orange blossom, exotic fruits, apricot, old honey, barley sugar and grey slate liquid minerality. Such a vibrant, pithy acidity with plenty of freshness and depth on the palate. This wine is seriously complex and structured, but also incredibly drinkable. Not perhaps for novices, but to say this wine is some sort of acquired taste would not be doing the wine justice. Majestically executed within its style. (Wine Safari Score: 94/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Revisiting the Profound Mullineux Old Vines White Blend 2013…

The Swartland is fortunate to have a wealth of old vine Chenin Blanc, so it’s no surprise that Mullineux & Leeuw Family Wines, one of the region’s and country’s finest producers, bases their estate white blend on normally at least 60% old vine Chenin Blanc. 


The grapes come from vineyard parcels in different parts of the Swartland, including stony shale soils, schist soils of the Kasteelberg, decomposed granite soils of the Paardeberg, and iron-rich soils in the hills west of Malmesbury. Winemaking is firmly based on the classical old masters of France, with fermentation in barrel using only indigenous yeasts, then aging the wine in French oak barrels (20% new), for 11 months approximately before being bottled unfiltered and unfined with minimal sulphur additions.


Mullineux & Leeuw Family Old Vines White Blend 2013, 13.5 Abv.

Tasting Note: Mesmerising green gold colour in the glass, this wine is as seductive and expressive on the nose as the day it was bottled. It just bursts forth with complex layers of floral white peach, white honeysuckle blossom, peach skins, lemon peel and a hint of buttered white toast. There is more green apple, pear and yellow pastille fruit concentration now than when I last tasted this wine, so it is evolving, however slowly, unfurling a few extra layers to tempt the drinker. The palate too is superbly balanced and incredibly intense with such vibrant tart acidity and piercing length. The wine has lost none of its youthful wound-spring tension, suggesting this vintage will be a fine example of Swartland Chenin Blanc Blends to lie down in ones cellar for a few more years. A little extra complexity of lemon grass, stem ginger and exotic spice starts to develop on the nose once the wine sits in the glass for a few moments longer. The finish is long, precise, and texturally seamless. A benchmark of quality for the Swartland and indeed the whole of the South African wine industry. (Wine Safari Score: 93/100 Greg Sherwood MW) – Tasted 29/12/2016


Accolades from the world’s wine critics:

2010 – 5 Stars Platter, 91/100 Wine Advocate, 17.5/20 Jancis Robinson

2011 – 4.5 Stars Platter, 94/100 Tim Atkin, 92/100 Steve Tanzer

2012 – 4.5 Stars Platter, 91/100 Wine Advocate, 18/20 Jancis Robinson

2013 – 4.5 Stars Platter, 92/100 Wine Advocate, 17/20 Jancis Robinson

2014 – 5 Stars Platter, 93/100 Wine Advocate

2015 – 4.5 Stars Platter