Starting 2022 In Style – Reviewing the Sensational New Thelema Estate Rabelais 2019…

The Thelema Rabelais red blend originally started out as the prestigious Thelema Cape Winemakers Guild blend before evolving into 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 at approximately a 90% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Petit Verdot mix. The Rabelais represents the very best Bordeaux components from the Thelema range where the wines clearly show concentration, polished ripe tannins and undeniable refinement.

As with so many Cape Bordeaux Blends of this quality, the Rabelais cuvee has now earned itself an impressive following, both at home and globally, making the wine increasingly sought after and necessitating tighter and tighter allocations at the estate. If you missed the impressive 2015 or the eye wateringly great 2017, it’s time to track down some of the delicious 2019.

Thelema Mountain Vineyards Rabelais 2019, WO Stellenbosch, 13.5% Abv.

The 2019 Thelema Rabelais is another incredibly refined creation being a blend of 90% Simonsberg Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Petit Verdot. Since the 2015 vintage, this flagship wine has shifted into a sixth gear and is now hitting some exceptionally high quality notes. Always classical and composed, the aromatics boast notes of perfumed violets, dried herbs, black cherry and seductive hints of crème de cassis with undertones of sweet cedar wood spice, brûléed coffee beans, brown toast and some dusty mineral strands of crushed slate and graphite. The palate is silky soft, predictably sleek and polished and displays impressive textural elegance with fine filigree tannins, fresh acids, subtle complex layers of black currant, cherry cola, capsicum and breakfast espresso. This is another head-turning, eye-opening wine that displays wonderful balance and harmony. Fabulously pure, precise and regal on so many levels. Simply outstanding. Drink from 2024 to 2040+.

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

John Seccombe Fast Establishing his Thorne & Daughters Rocking Horse White Blend as One of the Best in the Cape – Tasting the 2020 Release…

Writing about and reviewing Cape White Blends has got to be one of my favourite pastimes. Why you may ask? Well, it’s all about the unique ability of the Cape producers to mix and match some truly expressive varieties to produce incredible wines that despite being a fruit salad of varieties, continue to display their own unique sense of terroir and place while producing wines of incredible quality with impressive age worthy credentials. Oh, and of course they are impossible to imitate and copy. Some countries like Chile and New Zealand have tried their hand at producing similar esoteric white blends but I think it’s safe to say none have gained an international following and quality reputation equal to any of the great brands from the Cape.

John Seccombe has been producing his unique Rocking Horse Cape White Blend since the 2013 vintage and every subsequent vintage seems to get more sophisticated and refined. As well as being one of the most exciting white blends in the Cape, it also represents incredible value for money, something that is becoming less and less common in the world of fine wine these days. This is most definitely a wine you would want in your cellar.

Thorne & Daughters Rocking Horse 2020 Cape White Blend, WO Western Cape, 13.5% Abv.

A complex blend of 35% Semillon from Franschhoek, 28% Roussanne from both Stellenbosch and the Paardeberg, 16% Chardonnay from the Ceres Plateau, 15% Chenin Blanc from the Paardeberg and 6% Clairette Blanche from the Swartland. The aromatics display a seductive melange of white peach, green pear, freshly squeezed lime, tangerine peel and delicate hints of roasted pistachio nuts. Still embryonic in its youth, the palate reveals impressive linearity and tension, a fresh acid frame and delicious lingering notes of green apple, savoury yellow orchard fruits and bees wax complexity. There is more an educated sense of intensity and concentration on the palate rather than an overt unctuousness. But everything points to a very impressive wine with a fabulous stony minerality and a classically harmonious finish. Drink now over a couple of days or bury in the cellar for 3 to 5 years minimum.

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

Naudé Family Wines Releases the Long-Awaited Old Vine Werfdans Cinsault 2016…

If Chenin Blanc has become Ian Naude’s white wine calling card, then there is no doubt whatsoever that Old Vine Cinsault is his red equivalent despite the cult following for his incredible Grenache wines. Ian Naudé was recently over in London to launch a comprehensive selection of his new vintage releases including his Platter 5 Star Langpad Colombard 2021, his Platter 5 Star Oupa Willem 2019 Cape Heritage Blend, his Grenache 2019, and of course his long awaited Old Vine Cinsault 2016.

This benchmark expression of Darling / Swartland Old Vine Cinsault has now been labelled the Werfdans, an Afrikaans name for the small dust whirlwinds that spin and dance around the dusty coastal vineyards of the Swartland. If you are not familiar with Ian Naude’s Old Vine Cinsault wines, be sure not to miss this new creation that rivals the greatest expressions produced in South Africa from the likes of Eben Sadie, Duncan Savage, Donovan Rall and Mullineux Family Wines’ Leeu Passant venture.

Naude Family Wines Werfdans Old Vine Cinsault 2016, WO Darling, 12.5% Abv.

The fruit for this 100% Darling 43+ year old vine Cinsault was sourced from the late Boetie van Reenen’s farm in the Swartland. While the 2014 vintage was a slow burner that sizzled invitingly until it finally exploded with exuberance after a few years in bottle, the 2015 release was and is a long-standing icon wine that came close to redefining premium Cinsault in South Africa. In the 2016, Ian Naudé has shifted into sixth gear, coaxing some of the most seductive textures and flavours out of his old vine fruit. The aromatics are positively brimming with marzipan, Turkish delight, dried coriander seeds, violets and rose petal perfume with a subtle kiss of lychee exoticism. On the palate the quality shift is witnessed in full focus with a beguiling combination of sweet seductive red berry fruits, harmoniously textured concentration and a long, full, persistent finish that simply crashes the senses mainframe and announces something very very special indeed. This certainly is next level seductive Cinsault quality from the old vine master himself. Drink the 2016 now and over the next 10+ years.

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

Available in the UK from Museum Wines, Handford Wines and Vino SA.

Stark Conde Releases Another Dazzling Pair of Premium 2018 Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignons..

There is a lot of uncertainly in the world these days but one thing you can be sure of is that during the year, the top Stellenbosch boutique wine producers will create magic and release some of the most tantalising Cabernet Sauvignon wines imaginable.

The Three Pines single-vineyard iconic Cabernet Sauvignon is based on a high elevation vineyard site (350m). The finely textured decomposed granite soil, cooler temperatures, and ample winter rainfall creates perfect growing conditions for premium Cabernet. The wine is characterized by its silky tannin structure and unique floral notes. Since its maiden vintage in 2000, this has been one of South Africa’s most consistently awarded Cabernets.

Stark Conde Three Pines Cabernet Sauvignon 2018, WO Jonkershoek Valley, 14% abv.

A 4.5 hectare vineyard from Stark Conde named after where the grapes are grown, the 2018 Three Pines combines Cabernet Sauvignon with 10% Petit Verdot and Malbec to reveal plenty of dark saline black berry fruits, tart black plum, blueberry and complex maritime kelp hints with subtle liquorice notes. The palate is sleek, glassy and super polished with very precise tight knit tannins, a firm structured acid frame and embracing saline black cherry and black berry fruits that lend a lot of mouth-watering pleasure already but leave you in no doubt that this is certainly a wine that will age and improve gracefully for atleast 10 to 12+ years or more. Simply a delight to drink.

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

The Oude Nektar wine is based around the highest elevation vineyard on the Stark Conde estate, which at 550m is arguably one of Stellenbosch’s highest Cabernet vineyards. The site has very stoney decomposed granite soils, and a perfect aspect toward the afternoon sun. Although this vineyard gets a cooling breeze, it averages 45 minutes more sunlight each day which allows for a slower ripening period. This Bordeaux-style blend is matured for about 20 months in French oak barrel (70% new) before being bottled with no fining and no filtration.

Stark Conde Oude Nektar Cabernet Sauvignon 2018, WO Jonkershoek Valley, 14% abv.

This is another really impressive expression of a Cabernet Sauvignon based wine from one of South Africa’s preeminent Stellenbosch proponents. The aromatics are spectacularly lifted and intense with perfumed notes of saline black liquorice, oyster shell, lilac, cassis leaf, black currant and hints of fresh mint, wet tobacco and buttered brown toast. The palate shows incredible precision framed by crisp linear acids that add to both a tightly knit steely texture and wound-spring tension. Lacking no amount of saline black fruit, the wine is also mineral and focused with hints of graphite, sweet cedar spice and a broody, stony veneer on the finish. This wine is all about sinewy tension, complex gravelly minerality and restrained, classical fruit intensity. Stellenbosch and the Jonkershoek Valley excel yet again! Drink from 2022 to 2035+.

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

Imported into the UK by Museum Wines.

Anthonij Rupert Wyne Pays Tribute to the Huguenot Founder of L’Ormarins with their Premium Jean Roi Rose 2020…

Rose remains one of the most popular and fastest growing wine categories globally and several things all the very best examples have in common is subtlety, balance, freshness and supreme drinkability. The Jean Roi Cap Provincial 2020 joins the growing global ranks of premium dry Roses and impresses from the word go.

The Riebeeksrivier farm is situated on the slopes of the Kasteelberg, over-looking the Swartland towards the iconic Table Mountain. Its unique terroir, especially with the brown friable shale soils, expresses itself strongly in the wine with unique varietal characteristics. The vines for this blend are all planted on south facing slopes at elevations of 350 – 400m above sea level. The Cinsaut and Grenache bushvines were planted in 1990 and 2017 respectively, and the higher density échalas trellised (vines trained on its own wooden stake) Shiraz vineyard was planted in 2011.

Grapes were hand-picked and packed into lug boxes before being transported to the cellar in refrigerated trucks. Great care was taken to minimise the amount of colour extraction from the grapes through gentle pressing, before settling and fermentation in stainless steel tanks. The wine was blended and kept on its fine lees for 9 months before being bottled.

Jean Roi Cap Provincial Rose 2020, WO Riebeeksrivier, 13.5% Abv.

5.4g/l TA | 2.6g/l RS | 3.22pH

Based on a classic Southern French Provençal blend of Cinsaut (48%), Grenache (43%) and Shiraz (9%), the aromatics are delicate and restrained showing fine nuances of savoury red berry compote, dried guava roll, rose petals, dried strawberries, complex pink rock candy and a dusty stony minerality. On the palate, the wine is crystalline and fresh but also harmonious and cool with purity and finesse. The finish is focused and long displaying mouth-watering acidity and delicate red cherry, cut apple and white peach fruits. But the true measure of a great Rose is of course drinkability and a wine’s ability to deliver hedonistic pleasure – this wine excels on both counts. Perfect for a summer of indulgence!

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

Stellenbosch’s Icon Warwick Winery Releases an Eye Catching New Old Vine Chenin Blanc 2019…

Warwick Winery is a key player in the premium South African wine landscape so when the Ratcliffe family sold the winery a few years ago, there was a lot of concern among wine lovers that the new American owners would push the brand in a more commercial direction and eventually compromise on range quality. However, one of the earliest reassuring signs of confidence was the appointment of JD Pretorius as head winemaker after the departure of the talented Nic van Aarde to Oldenburg Winery. So at least the winemaking would be in safe hands!

Roll on several years and the wines are thankfully as good as they ever were with even more premium raw material available to JD from their Simonsberg neighbour, the Uitkyk winery, which was also purchased by Warwick’s new owners. Most impressively, the new releases of the ‘classic wines’ at Warwick including the Trilogy red Cape Bordeaux blend, the Blue Lady Cabernet Sauvignon and their excellent Cabernet Franc are all superb and firing on all cylinders. But exciting new labels have also been created like the impressive Professor Black Pitch Black red blend as well as a new release Chenin Blanc made from old vines situated on the Uitkyk estate.

Made from a single vineyard Chenin Blanc planted in 1978 on the lower slopes of the Simonsberg, these lovely old bush vines yielded a small harvest of exceptionally high-quality fruit coaxed to perfection by winemaker JD Pretorius. The Grapes were handpicked in the cool early morning and then whole bunch pressed with the juice being allowed to clarify naturally before fermentation took place in 400 litre French oak barrels. After fermentation, the barrels were rolled once a month for nine months before blending in January 2020 and bottling in February 2020.

Warwick Old Vine Single Vineyard Chenin Blanc 2019, WO Simonsberg-Stellenbosch, 13.5% Abv.

1.65g/l RS | 5.73 TA | 3.38pH

This Chenin Blanc made from grapes planted in 1978 shows expressive and nuanced aromatics boasting layers of pear puree, wet straw, honied white peaches and a compelling stony minerality. On the palate, the wine reveals an explosive depth of fruit, rich glycerol layers of tangy tangerine glacé and candied yellow fruits, quince, and honied yellow plum. There is plenty of showy breadth and depth but it’s the intensity of the old vine fruit that
really impresses most. This is top drawer quality and a delightful addition to a very accomplished range of Warwick Wines. Drink on release or bury in the cellar for 10 to 12+ years.

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

New Release Review – Tasting the Rueda Family Wines Carignan 2021 from Wellington…

Carignan is a red grape variety of Spanish origin that is more commonly found in French wine but is widely planted throughout the western Mediterranean in the Languedoc-Roussillon, Sardinia, and Catalonia. Carignan (also known as Mazuelo, Cariñena, Carinyena, Samsó, Carignane, and Carignano) is believed to have originated in Carinena, Aragon, Spain and was later transplanted to Sardinia, elsewhere in Italy, France, Algeria, and much of the New World. Carignan is a late budding and ripening grape which requires a warm climate in order to achieve full physiological ripeness making countries like South Africa suitable bedfellows for quality grape growing.

The fruit for this small boutique wine is sourced from 22-year-old Carignan vines nestled in a picturesque valley in Wellington, Western Cape. The wine was made with a minimal intervention philosophy employing a light cap management and eight to ten days of skin maceration with manual punch downs and pump overs. Thereafter, the wine spent eight months in old oak barrels and was bottled in September 2021 using only small amounts of sulphur. Total production was a mere 800 bottles.

Rueda Family Wines Torero and the Suit of Lights Carignan 2021, WO Wellington. 12.5% Abv.

1.94g/l RS | 6.89g/l TA | 3.43pH

A very individual expression of Carignan that shows a touch of spicy, flinty reduction over sea breeze, dried kelp, salty cassis, sour black plum and exotic complexing layers of graphite and crushed granite minerality. The palate is cool, penetrating but impressively punchy with zippy intense glassy acids, more sour black plum, tart spiced cranberry notes and a linear mouthfeel of intelligently early picked fruit. An accomplished, well-made wine that is ready to drink now after a short decant or good to cellar for another 5 to 8+ years. This is artisanal winemaking done very well. If you are a lover of Rhone varieties, snap up a case of this new release with confidence.

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

Available in South Africa from www.ruedawine.com for circa R295 per bottle (£14). Contact fernando@ruedawine.com

Tasting Berene Saul’s New 2020 Tesselaarsdal Pinot Noir from the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge…

In a recent review of some of my top wine trends of 2020/21, I happily identified the onward rise of classic Cape Chardonnay and Pinot Noir quality. While exceptional wines made from Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah are actually now quite plentiful, Pinot Noir had hit somewhat of a glass ceiling of late with many skilful producers at a bit of a loss as to how exactly they could increase the quality, tension and intensity of the wines without compromising elegance, finesse and purity.

Thankfully, 2020 was a fruitful year for the premium Pinot Noir producers with new and old talent up and down the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley releasing some excellent examples. For Berene Sauls, her unique and inspiring journey continues unabated with her eye catching 2020 Pinot Noir release. If you are not yet acquainted with her delicious expressions from the higher altitude Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, then her small production 2020 Pinot Noir is the perfect wine to start with.

Tesselaarsdal Pinot Noir 2020, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, 13% Abv.

Already the sixth vintage release from talented Berene Sauls, her new 2020 Pinot Noir displays an elegant mid-weighted palate texture and exhibits attractive lifted aromatics of raspberries and rose petal potpourri, orange peel, bramble berries and hints of pomegranates and blood orange. The palate is cool, sleek and texturally very polished with impressively fine-grained sappy tannins, soft harmonious acids and a layered finish boasting succulent smoky wild berry fruits, hints of stewed strawberries and exotic Christmas spices. Simply put, this is another very promising offering from Berene. Drink now and over the next 5 to 8+ years.

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

Wine Safari New Release Review – Tasting the KWV Roodeberg 1949 Second Release…

The 1949 Roodeberg Red Blend is a return to the original premium Roodeberg tradition and philosophy attempting to create a wine with universal fine wine appeal. The excellent maiden 2017 vintage was produced from premium Stellenbosch grapes grown on the Grondves Farm, one of the primary sites for the development of mother plant material for the South African wine industry. The 2018 is another very impressive creation and a very worthy follow-up blend.

Roodeberg 1949 embraces the revival of exciting French and Spanish varieties – Cabernet Sauvignon forms the foundation of the blend supported by Tempranillo, Carignan and Carménère. After fermentation, the different components were left to mature for circa 18 months in new French oak barrels with only the best barrels selected for blending and bottling for this commemorative wine.

KWV 1949 Roodeberg Red Blend 2018, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5% Abv.

A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo, Carignan and Carménère. Much like the maiden release 2017, the new Roodeberg 1949 displays wonderfully seductive aromatics of violets and lilac, lush ripe red and black berry fruits and a creamy, bruleed top note of brown toast and roasted coffee beans. While the bouquet is certainly very inviting, the palate texture is simply drop dead gorgeous with a cool, fleshy, dreamy harmony of tart black plum, black cherry, black currant, salty black liquorice and a subtle leafy sapidity on the finish that adds plenty of interest. This is a wine that never lacks acidity but always shows an impressive balance, superb depth of flavour and plenty of poise. Stylistically, this is South Africa’s very own Ribera del Duero red that is masterfully crafted and blended. Quite simply, if you missed the incredible maiden release 2017 that sold out almost before customers could hear about it, then you have been warned. The 2018 second release is coming and it’s a cracker too. Drink on release and over 8 to 10+ years.

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

Breaking the Glass Ceiling – Tasting the Impressive Restless River Ava Marie Chardonnay 2019…

The picturesque Restless River farm is situated in the cool Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley. The soils are granite based and the vineyards are positioned mid-slope at an elevation of 850ft. The cold South Atlantic Ocean is only 5km away and acts as a dominant cooling influence which contributes to fruit purity and fresh acidities. Craig and Anne Wessel’s site-specific Chardonnay bears the name of its 2.06 hectare vineyard and is registered as an official Single Vineyard site. The slopes are mostly south and east facing with shallow top soils which vary from iron rich rocks to a light, sandy gravel. Below this is decomposed granite, clay and quartz crystals which all help shape the unique minerality of the wine.

Specific parcels within the vineyard were hand-picked over a period of three weeks in February. The grapes were immediately placed, whole bunch, into an old Vaslin basket press. After a gentle four hour squeeze, the oxidised juice was settled overnight, then racked into a variety of different sized French oak barrels (10% new) and unlined terracotta amphora from Tuscany. Natural fermentation took up to 30 days, after which sulphur was added for the first time and the wine was then aged, sur lie, for 11 months. The wine was given a light fining before being racked into a stainless steel tank, where it rested for a further three months before bottling. The wine was bottle aged for 18 months before release.

Restless River Ava Marie Chardonnay 2019, WO Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, 13% Abv.

6.53 TA | 1.47 RS | 3.20 pH | 0.38 VA

The 2019 Ava Marie is a very impressive creation indeed. While many of the earlier vintages were a little more honied and resinous quite early in their evolution, the last few vintages have firmly moved in a direction that favours textural tension and a stonier minerality led by aromatics loaded with smoky, flinty, struck match reduction nuances, waxy lemon peel, wet chalk and subtle oat meal leesy notes. On the palate there is a very keen line of acidity together with an ample, fleshy, yellow citrus fruit freshness that boast layers of pithy yellow grapefruit, lemon cordial, crunchy white peaches and hints of sophisticated wet river pebble liquid minerality. One of Craig’s most Burgundian expressions to date, this wine combines fabulous tension with sublime balance. If you are a Chardonnay lover, not a liker, track this one down while you can. Drink now and over the next 8 to 10 years. (9,634 bottles produced.)

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