Extreme Passion and Precision – Exploring the Cult Wines of Paul Lato from Santa Maria, California…

From his experience of tasting the finest wines from around the world when he was a head sommelier, Paul Lato realised all the greatest wines possessed characteristics of authenticity, harmony, and of course elegance. These are the qualities he set about trying to achieve when he started making wines in California. His ultimate goal was to create wines that are seamless and textural but with enough structure and balance to complement fine cuisine.


In order to make wines of the highest calibre, Paul selected unique vineyards that are cared for by talented growers and vineyard managers committed to excellence. He sought to locate and source from not only the best vineyards but also the best blocks within each of these vineyards, a tough ask with demand outstripping supply from the very best growers. During the growing season, yields are restricted to achieve maximum concentration of flavour. Harvesting is always based on physiological ripeness, which changes depending on the vintage characteristics.

Cellar work is based on minimal intervention, cleanliness and purity of intention. Because every vintage is different, he does not believe in recipe winemaking. With due respect to science, Paul believes that “true artisanal winemaking is based on intuition, sensitivity and passion”. Keeping the lots small allows for gentle handling throughout the winemaking process.

Making only 4000 cases per year, Paul wants his wines to give pleasure and keep the drinkers palate interested until the very last drop from the bottle. Inevitably, with his high level of attention to detail and quality focus, his wines have garnered high scores from the critics and resulted in a massive cult following, with 90% of his wines produced being sold exclusively through his Paul Lato Wine Club.

Paul Lato Le Souvenir Sierra Madre Vineyard Chardonnay 2015, 13.9 Abv.

A classic Chardonnay which comes from 22 year old Wente clone vines, shows subtle creamy lemon and nutty brûléed citrus fruit lift. Lemon blossom, grapefruit confit and caramel peanut brittle and vanilla bean complexity are all there just teasing the senses. A youthful palate shows nerve, intensity, creamy barley sugar and toffee apple freshness. Intense flavours but nothing over done. Beautiful texture, deliciously vibrant acids, and a subtle minerality lurking beneath the fruit. A very serious multi-dimensional wine that’s also very finely focused. 

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

 

Paul Lato Atticus John Sebastiano Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015, Santa Rita Hills, 14.2 Abv.

Tight intense focused aromatics of black cherry, pomegranate, red tart plums, cranberry and savoury baking spice. Plenty of exotic brûléed notes, intense red fruit layers and peppery, seductive flavours. Sleek, elegant mouthfeel, mouth watering fresh acids, a sweet & sour plummy touch, blood oranges and plenty of bright salty, bramble berry fruit nuances. The ethereal Burgundian lacy texture is most impressive. Fabulous wine.

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

 

Paul Lato il Padrino Bien Nacido Vineyard Syrah 2014, Santa Rita Hills, 15.4 Abv.

Dense, opulent show stopper style immediately evident. Massive intensity, perfume and fragrance showing cherry blossom, sweet jasmine, blueberry muffin, coffee bean, sweet expensive oak spice and dusty, mineral limestone complexity. Super plush, broad and intense, the acids build a sturdy frame from which the exotic fruit finery is displayed. Big, bold, well executed expression with incredible finesse, polish and precision.

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

 

Tasting the Perfect Bohemian Bank Holiday Syrah from Schalk Burger & Son’s Welbedacht Wine Estate in Wellington…

There can be no doubting the pedigree of the Syrah fruit grown at the Welbedacht Estate in Wellington. Some of the best grapes have been siphoned off quietly for other “premium” WO Western Cape Syrah for years. The large Welbedacht Estate (pronounced “well-be-duct”) is situated in one of the Cape’s most picturesque landscapes near Wellington, a warm climate region which seems ideally suited to the cultivation and production of world class Rhone varieties like Syrah.


Welbedacht is also home to the Burger family, surely one of the country’s most recognised sporting names. Schalk Senior was a formidable Springbok rugby player back in his day (and his handshake still is), and son Schalk Junior has followed in his father’s size 14 footsteps representing South Africa multiple times as a Springbok and who is now playing out the twilight of his career at Saracens in the UK. Second son, Tiaan, hung up his provincial rugby boots a few years ago and now heads up the cellar’s marketing operations.


In 1995, Schalk bought his first farm, Af-en-Toe, and started farming with 40 hectares of Cinsaut and Chenin Blanc. This was followed by the purchase of Welbedacht in 1997. Dating back to 1830s, it was a bit run down, but the water and the established old trees may have led to the decision to buy it. Welbedacht means “well thought out” in Dutch, and this is precisely how the Burger family approached the extensive restoration of this gracious property to its previous glory.


Schalk Burger & Sons Welbedacht Wine Estate Bohemian Syrah 2015, WO Wellington, 14.5 Abv.

The 2015 Syrah is probably one of the best I have tried from the Estate. There is a seductively rich intense nose of blueberry crumble, ripe black berries, mulberries and an alluring lift of vanilla pod mixed with violets, cherry blossom and sweet oak spice. Despite the 14.5 Abv, this lush rich wine is light on its feet, vibrant and thoroughly vital, with lovely clean linear acids and powdery tannins that punctuate the palate texture perfectly. The nose continues to open up in the glass revealing subtle bruleed coffee bean notes, fynbos, savoury cured meats, sweet black peppercorns, and a ripe black cherry kirsch intensity on the finish. The wine is drinking so beautifully now it would be a shame to bury it away in the cellar. Opulent, expressively dark fruited, this delicious purity should be enjoyed now and over as many stages of development as possible. Drink now to 2028+.

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

Exclusive Wine Safari Tasting Review of the Exciting New Savage 2016 Wine Releases…

Yet again we are approaching one of the most exciting moments of the year… the launch of the new releases of Duncan Savage’s sought after wines. It was only after I started compiling an archive list of all the past Savage wine scores, featured below, that I realised how quickly time passes and why so many winemakers feel under so much pressure to learn, grow and utilise their incremental knowledge in each consecutive vintage release. After all, we don’t measure winemakers in age, we measure them in how many vintages they’ve made and how many more they realistically have left, all going well.


But as I write this post, our fleeting, finite time on this planet is made all the more stark as I learnt today of the sad passing of Boetie van Reenen, one of the young vineyard owners and growers responsible for much of the fruit that goes into many of Duncan Savage’s wines. Let’s hope his memory lives on in the age worthy wines of Duncan and his fellow winemakers.


On a more cheerful note, 2017 was the year that Savage Wines found a permanent home in a wonderful winery space in Salt River, just outside the city bowl suburbs of central Cape Town. Securing these premises was a massive coup for Duncan and his future growth plans. Quality can only get better with the extra focus his own winery will afford him.


Savage Wines’ 2017 Releases:

Savage White Blend 2016

After producing one of the most memorable Savage white blends in the 2015 vintage, the 2016 offering was always going to come under ever closer scrutiny. From the second of the drought vintages, this white from Duncan Savage is a blend of 54% Sauvignon Blanc, 29% Semillon and 17% Chenin Blanc with a 14% Abv. A brilliant lime straw yellow, this wine has a bold and expressive aromatic profile of pithy grated lemon peel, pineapple pastille fruits, crushed limestone minerality, pear drops and sugar dusted marshmallows. Pause for too long to appreciate the complexity in the glass and before you know it the wine has evolved further, offering up yet more intricate notes of white citrus blossom, crunchy green pears and dried baking spices of basil and thyme. With the sizeable chunk of 17% Chenin Blanc asserting itself in the blend, the 2016 has a much more distinctive Cape feel rather than the white Bordeaux Graves expression of previous vintages. There is an intense, piercing concentration to the palate, with powerful glycerol notes of white citrus, yellow grapefruit, crunchy white peaches, and tangerine peel, underpinned by a herby, dusty, wet chalk minerality. Rich, unctuous and roundly textured, this wine coats every corner of the drinker’s palate and asserts its exceptional quality, complexity and winemaking pedigree. Drink now to 2027.

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


Savage Follow the Line Red Blend 2016

For the previous two vintages of this wine, one could wonder whether perhaps it’s exceptional quality and intensity was perhaps the result of a lucky synergistic blend or the product of a very complex, generous vintage. But this 2016 is probably the vintage that looks set to impress the critics yet again and seduce the consumer even more so than the crunchy 2015 vintage. A blend of 44% Cinsaut, 37% Grenache and 19% Syrah at 13% Abv, this wine sings a lofty melodic chorus the moment the cork is pulled. The riper, dryer vintage evidently plays to the strengths of these red varieties with the most seductive perfumed nose of parma violets, sweet cherry blossom, bathroom soaps, rose petals and potpourri sweet spice. The brilliance of this wine lies in the synergy created marrying the vibrant marzipan laden Cinsaut with the sappy, mineral, red fruited Grenache, leaving the Syrah to lend a tantalising depth of structure and peppery savouriness. The palate is so seamless, harmonious and elegant with sweet boiled raspberry bon bons, red current herbal tea infusions, ripe cranberries, and a crunchy, vibrant, strawberry fruited finale. Such sweet, silky, fleshy tannins linger on a creamy, opulent, energetic finish. Perhaps less of the exotic, crunchy hubris of the 2015, but the 2016 is certainly a far more self assured, confident red wine that looks set to once and for all, cement its global icon status as one of the truly great fine wines to follow, year in, year out. Drink now to 2030+.

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


Savage Are We There Yet? Red Blend 2016

A new wine in the Savage range, anyone who knows Duncan well will know that Touriga Nacional is a grape that has impressed him more and more over the years. Starting with small amounts blended into his Savage red, this new expression is a bold blend of 85% Touriga Nacional, 8% Cinsaut and 7% Grenache at 14.5 Abv. The dominant variety of the Douro Valley in Portugal, this big bold red shows a heady, lifted nose of violets, earthy mulberry, red currants, liquorice, and macerated damson plums, with complexing notes of tannery leather, sappy hedgerow, and sweet cedar and clove spice. Despite the opulent, seductive, confit fruit notes, there is a dusty, crushed grey slate mineral vein that starts on the nose and continues right through the palate. Full and fleshy, the Touriga Nacional from Malgas is supple, opulent and sweetly fruited. The Cinsaut lends both an exotic, marzipan and violet fragrant lift, but more importantly adds freshness and extra acidity cut. An intriguing wine from a very warm, dry vintage, this wine could become the natural counter-foil to the Savage Follow the Line and its crunchy, nervy energy. This bold red will find a large, welcoming audience in both the local and international markets when released. Drink now to 2026+.

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

Tasting barrel samples with Duncan in March 2017.
Savage Red Blend 2016

If there is one wine in the Savage range that would have embraced the warm, dry growing conditions of 2016, then it must surely be the Savage red. In 2016, it is comprised of 81% Syrah, 11% Grenache and 8% Cinsaut at 13.5 Abv. Perhaps the most classically proportioned of all the Savage reds, this Syrah dominated blend has a beautifully complex nose of perfumed dried roses, black berry fruits, grilled herbs, cured meats, garrigue, fynbos and dusty granitic minerality. Very forward and opulent, the 2016’s are showing wonderful overt confidence and composure already at this early stage. Indeed the Savage red is often the one specific wine that demands a few extra years in bottle before showing you its full potential. The palate is so fleshy and forward with accessibly soft, harmonious tannins and sleek vibrant acids that elevate the red cranberry and strawberry fruit flavours and highlight the wines impressive palate concentration and depth. This seductive Savage red is going to be a hard one to keep away from your corkscrew! Drink now to 2030+.

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


The South African launch of these wines is scheduled for 1st August 2017. You can email info@savagewines.com or ring +27 21 785 4019 to request an allocation.

The Savage Wines Score Archive Since Maiden Release:

Savage White Blend 2016 – 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW

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

Savage Are We There Yet Red Blend 2016 – 92+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Savage Red Blend 2016 – 94/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Savage White Blend 2015 – 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Savage Red Blend 2014 – 95+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Savage Follow the Line Red Blend 2015 – 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Savage Girl Next Door Syrah 2015 – 94/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Savage White Blend 2014 – 93+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Savage Red Blend 2013 – 94+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Savage Follow the Line Red Blend 2014 – 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Savage Girl Next Door Syrah 2014 – 93/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Savage Red Blend 2012 – 94+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Savage White Blend 2013 – 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Savage Red Blend 2011 – 94/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Savage White Blend 2012 – 94-95/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Enjoying some French classics over dinner with Duncan in March 2017

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) 

My First Encounters at Roundstone, the Mullineux Family Farm in the Swartland

The Swartland is a beautiful and wild spot off the beaten track. The landscape is a series of dry rolling hills with a few significant outcrops of rock that form the Paardeberg, Kasteelberg and Piketberg mountains. This is also the region winemakers Chris and Andrea Mullineux chose to make their home.

The 7 – 8 year old Grenache Blanc vines being returned to bush vines after being trellised to begin with.

This is my first visit to Roundstone, the original farm from where Chris and Andrea started buying the famous fruit for their iconic Schist Syrah in 2007. This fruit has now also become a key component of their award winning “signature range” Mullineux Syrah. Roundstone’s own vineyards now represent around 30% of their Syrah production. 

On a clear bright day like today, you can see all the way to Table Mountain, around one and a half hours away heading south down the N7.



Chris and Andrea finally acquired the property in 2014 and, together with their viticulturist Rosa Kruger and farm manager Jeandre, started an exciting planting program that will run until 2018. 

They will be planting more Syrah, and also Chenin blanc, Grenache (noir and blanc), Cinsault, Clairette Blanche, Carignan, Semillon Gris, Roussanne, Maccabeu, and some more esoteric varieties.


I look forward to tasting their new Leeu Passant wines tomorrow. Very exciting. Now it’s time for a cold glass of Chenin! 

Sons of Sugarland Syrah 2015 Reviewed ~ Sometimes, Less is Definitely More…

In 2016, so many new micro brands and single vineyard / single site wines were launched in South Africa. I consider myself relatively up to date with all the new offerings visiting South Africa several times a year. But last year, after four visits, even I was running just to keep up at times. Some of these eye catching wines including Andre Bruyn’s City on a Hill Chenin Blanc, Bruwer Raats’ Eden range, and Chris Alheit’s Hemelrand Vine Garden white blend were launched with great acclaim. 


Another one of these wines was the Sons of Sugarland Syrah 2015 produced from “superior” pure SH99 clone 100% Whole-bunch fermented Syrah grapes sourced from a vineyard in Stellenbosch. I reviewed many wines from Stellenbosch young gun Reenen Borman, and this red is another one of his collaborative works falling under the Patatsfontein joint project. 


Tasting Note: Sons of Sugarland Syrah 2015, 14 Abv. ~ Beautiful vibrant purple red cherry colour. The nose is delicately perfumed with bruised black plums, macerated red cherries, sandalwood, wood spice, dried black and green pepper corns, sweet savoury cured meats and a honeysuckle twist. The palate is medium bodied and elegantly classical, very much in the mould of the Northern Rhone masters like Rene Rostaing, where Syrah takes on the weight, focus and texture of Pinot Noir rather than full blown ripe Rhoney Syrah. There are beautifully fine glassy acids elevating the majestic fine, soft silky tannins. This wine is all about subtlety, finesse and femininity and never tries to shout, but rather talks softly with a voice of confident winemaking. The finish is deceptively long, concentrated and suave. Testament to the philosophy that sometimes less is more. (Wine Safari Score: 94/100 Greg Sherwood MW)


Post Script: I opened this bottled, allowed it to breath (in bottle) for 20-30 mins, tasted and wrote my notes. Initially I was around the 93-93+ score mark, but after enjoying this wine subsequently with beautiful organic Welsh lamb chops, I upped my score to 94. Wines cannot just be enjoyed in some kind of clinical isolation. They are part of our daily lives, and primarily made to be enjoyed with food. So I’m going stick with my latter rating of this elegant, classical, food friendly wine.

Armstrong’s of Richmond’s finest lamb chops…

Tasting Vignoble Jean-Luc Jamet Cotes-du-Rhone Hautes Vignes 2014…

Jamet is a name synonymous with Cote Rotie. Many Rhone collectors and connoisseurs have treasured bottles from the brothers Jean-Luc and Jean-Paul Jamet in their cellars. 


Meeting with wine suppliers last year, heads hung heavily with the news that Domaine Jamet had announced a change in the direction of the estate with the brothers going their own separate ways in Cote Rotie. Jean-Luc Jamet would be creating his own domaine using fruit from the families vines in the Lancement lieux-dit. Jean-Paul Jamet would be remaining with the property and would, with wife Corinne, continue making the “Domaine” wines from 7 hectares of vines comprising 17 lieux-dits in 25 parcels scattered all over Cote Rotie.


The 2012 and 2013 Cote Brune wines were already labeled Domaine de Jean-Paul & Corinne Jamet Cote Rotie Cote Brune, taking this portion of the estate into a new era.


Jean-Luc Jamet had by now, created his own wines with my own personal experiences starting with his 2013 Cotes-du-Rhone Blanc and his 2014 Cotes-du-Rhone Red. As yet, I have not tasted any Jean-Luc Jamet Cote Rotie reds.


Vignoble Jean-Luc Jamet Cotes-du-Rhone Hautes Vignes 2014, 12.5 Abv. 

Tasting Note: Beautifully seductive ruby plum colour. From the outset, there’s a defined salty blackcurrant, cassis reduction, and liquorice intensity to the nose with hints of sweet red apple and purple earthy beetroot. Still massively youthful, the palate shows a pedigree not akin to your average Cotes-du-Rhone wine quality. There are layers of plum confit, sweet tart black cherry, caramelised blueberries and picante peppercorn spice with raw meat nuances. A taught, linear and vital, saline finish suggests that ageing this “modest” wine for another 8 to 10 years might yield something very special indeed. (Wine Safari Score: 92+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

For all the Rhone snobbery out there, all the wines I’ve tasted from Jean-Luc have been intense, precise, fresh, characterful Rhone expressions… and eminently affordable. Don’t fall for the detracting chatter, these wines are every bit as smart as Jean-Paul’s releases.