Restless River’s New 2020 Releases Raise the Quality Bar Yet Again…

Craig Wessels took the South African wine scene by storm with his first 2012/2013 red and white releases. Although his range has grown to include a spectacular 2019 Pinot Noir and a superb Grenache and Sauvignon Blanc, it has always been the Restless River Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon that have been the stand out wines that have helped redefine quality in the entire Hemel-en-Aarde Valley.

With the 2017 vintage yielding a blockbuster Chardonnay last year, this year it’s the moment for Craig’s spectacular Cabernet Sauvignon to take centre stage. From the moment Hemel-en-Aarde nobility Anthony Hamilton Russell shared some of his father’s early 1980’s Grand Vin Noir Bordeaux blends from the valley, I knew many producers were missing a real trick forgetting the cool climate opportunities for Bordeaux varieties in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley. The 2017 Main Road & Dignity Cabernet from Craig captures all the grandeur possible in this region renowned for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Restless River Main Road & Dignity Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, WO Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, 14% Abv.

This attractive Hemel-en-Aarde Cabernet Sauvignon is fabulously dense and textured with multiple layers of creamy tannins coating the opulent fruit concentration. Full and glycerol in the mouth with refreshing acids, bright creme de cassis, black cherry and earthy baked plum fruit nuances. This vintage shows all the classic 2017 vintage elegance, focus and intensity with impressive mouthfeel and superb balance. You know this is something very special from the very first sip and certainly could be Craig Wessel’s finest Cabernet effort to date. Drink now and over 15+ years.

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

Restless River Ava Marie Chardonnay 2018, WO Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, 13% Abv.

This is a classically structured Ava Marie 2018 with crystalline tangy acids, generous green and yellow citrus fruit flesh, intricate mineral flintiness and an intensity of lemon and green melon candy on the long, persistent, noticeably concentrated finish. Less steely, malic and severe in style than the impressively taut 2017 (96/100 GSMW), but certainly carries on the Ava Marie tradition of freshness, bright acidity and wonderfully focused purity. Drink now and over the next 10-15+ years.

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

(Tasted 27th November 2020)

Tasting the Exceptional Sumaridge Estate Chardonnay 2017 from the Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley…

Owner Simon Turner and his wife Holly Bellingham bought the fine Sumaridge Estate in 2008 after having been lucky enough to enjoy a family holiday home in Hermanus for several years before that. I met Simon in London several times through his UK importer Sporting Wine Club and enjoyed many of his winery’s fine wines alongside some great sporting personalities in the International world of cricket and rugby.

Perhaps not one of the most famous of the Hemel-en-Aarde wineries, Sumaridge has slowly but surely risen to new heights in the last few years under wine maker Walter Prestorius who has utilised the exceptional terroir of the region to make some very exciting wines.

A typical feature of the Upper Hemel en Aarde Valley in the Walker Bay region is the maritime fog that enters along the valley floor in the evening and exits in the early morning, just exactly where Chardonnay vineyards from Sumaridge are located. Along the banks of the On Rus river the soils are ancient decomposed granite loam with quartzite inclusions located on North West orientations from 180 to 196 metres above sea level approximately 8km from the cooling Atlantic Ocean.

Sumaridge Chardonnay 2017, WO Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, 13.5% Abv.

Another fantastic vintage in the Cape delivers a predictably expressive white wine. The aromatics show impressive richness of fruit and a fine focus with layers of brûléed lemon citrus, freshly baked baguette, creamy green melon confit and a hint of coconut and vanilla pod spice. Very inviting, this 2017 shows flesh and concentration, intensity and vibrant depth. The rich citrus density coats the palate and lingers long on the finish. What power, what persistence! With no shortage of ripeness, the final badge of success of this delicious wine is marked by its tangy acidity and mouthwatering freshness. A very fine, complete package that oozes Hemel-en-Aarde Valley pedigree. Drinking now but will evolve over the next 4-6 years.

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

Wines available in the UK from the Sporting Wine Club at http://www.sportingwineclub.com or from regional stockists.

The Fairytale White Wine Variety From Galicia – Tasting the Newton Johnson Vineyards Albariño 2018…

Albariño… a vibrant Spanish/Portuguese grape variety that is undoubtedly characterised by a uniquely palate-tingling freshness, a light-bodied purity and a crystalline clarity. Saline, zingy and always zippy, where ever grown, it’s the natural partner of a raw ceviche, sushi or any classic seafood pairings. But who would have thought it would settle into South Africa so well!? Assyrtiko… ok, that seemed a no brainer, but this cool climate variety has yielded fantastic results for not only Newton Johnson but also Springfield Estate.

Albariño is a thick skinned grape variety that can thrive in moist, high-altitude vineyards by the sea – in a Spanish context that means the Galician region of Rías Baixas in the North West near Santiago de Compostela – without succumbing to mould or rot unlike some other more delicate varieties. Higher altitude vineyards generally means a cooler climate, stopping the grapes from over-ripening in the Spanish heat but instead allowing them to retain their own fresh, bright acidity that gives this grape its own characteristic mouth-watering style.

First planted in South Africa by Newton Johnson Vineyards in the Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, the first unofficial bottling was, I believe, the 2014 vintage which was served at an “alternative varieties seminar” at Cape Wine 2015, and since then, this grape has continued to impress meriting more producers to invest in plantings.

Bevan Newton Johnson in jovial mood at the 2019 New Wave Tasting in London.

Newton Johnson Vineyards Albariño 2018, Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, 13 Abv.

The 2018 Albariño was matured in 55% stainless steel together with a concrete egg portion with some also in 2,000 litre foudres. Another outstanding Albariño effort, this 2018 shows fabulous crystalline vintage purity and minerality that’s finely embellished and enhanced by notes of crunchy white peaches, lime peel, wet river pebbles and ruby grapefruit zest. The palate shows an impressive harmony and fleshy balance enlivened by beautiful saline notes of the sea shore, bitter yellow grapefruit confit and complex Riesling-like kerosene hints. Fresh but not tart and deliciously piquant. Drink now and over the next 3 to 5 years.

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

Marc Kent and Gottfried Mocke Extending Their Winemaking Portfolio in the Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley – Tasting the New Cap Maritime 2017 Releases…

The Hemel-en-Aarde Valley seems to be a popular region for brand extensions. Producers like Wellington based Bosman Family Wines has recently branched out there and now so too has Franschhoek / Swartland based producer Boekenhoutskloof under the Cap Maritime label.

With no vineyards currently in the ground, viticulturist Rosa Kruger has been tasked with designing and planting the new Cap Maritime vineyards for Marc Kent and winemaker Gottfried Mocke, who will lease vineyards nearby until their own plantings come on stream. In the meantime, the 2017 and 2018 vintages have already been vinified at their Franschhoek winery, although there will be no brand association of Cap Maritime with the parent company, in a similar way to which Porseleinberg operates and is marketed separately.

Cap Maritime Chardonnay 2017, Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, 13.5 Abv.

Making great Chardonnay and Pinot Noir come naturally to Gottfried Mocke and however successful he is at Boekenhoutskloof with Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, it is Chardonnay specifically that shows off his true talents. The new release Cap Maritime Chardonnay is overtly mineral and stony with layers of limestone, crushed rocks and wet river pebble nuances melting into a melange of yellow citrus, white blossom, grape jelly, green melon preserve and the most sublte kiss of French oak spice. The palate displays a full plump mouthful with hints of ginger bread, grapefruit peel, wet chalk, green honeydew melon, pithy apple skins and a complex vanilla pod spice finish. Seamless and fresh with a harmonious texture from start to finish, this wine shows great refinement and would not look out of place standing amongst some of the finest young Pouilly Fuisses of Burgundy. Drink on release or cellar for 2 to 3+ years before opening.

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

Cap Maritime Pinot Noir 2017, Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, 14 Abv.

This 2017 release is a wonderfully classically proportioned Pinot Noir true to its terroir of the Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley. Sensual and fleshy, sleek and beautifully perfumed, the aromatics are lifted and opulent, brimming with crushed maraschino cherries, pink musk, parma violets, dusty limestone and a sappy resinous complexity. There is none of the structural tannic frame as seen on many 2016 Hemel-en-Aarde Pinot Noir wines but rather more elegant mineral laden red and black berry fruits that show delicious purity together with mouth watering acidity. I don’t think you would confuse this expression for Old World Burgundy, like you could for the Chardonnay, but there is nevertheless all the tell tail hallmarks of a very fine terroir combined with intelligent winemaking. Drink this on release and over the next 6 to 8 years.

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

Another Bright Young Winemaker to Watch in the Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley – Tasting Natasha Williams Signature Wines Chardonnay…

After many years of industry employers frowning upon winemakers and assistant winemakers doing their own creative side projects, it has thankfully now almost become the norm with employees free to experiment and let their creative juices flow while the employer not only retains the winemaker but undoubtedly benefits from the extra knowledge and creative inspiration spawned by these side projects.

The latest one on my radar is the highly talented Natasha Williams who by day works at the Bosman Winery’s Hemel-en-Aarde property but “after hours” makes some delicious Chardonnay under Natasha Williams Signature Wines. I recently acquired a sample of her new 2017 Chardonnay and what a cracker it is!

Produced from grapes originating in the Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, a specially selected high density (6667 vines per HA) block from the DeBos Farm was vinified to produce 1,060 bottles. Picked early in the morning, the grapes were trucked to the Lelienfontein Cellar in Wellington where they were basket pressed and the juice allowed to start a spontaneous natural yeast fermentation lasting 2 months with 50% in concrete tanks and 50% in older 300 litre French oak barrels. The wine spent 10 months on fine lees in 3rd and 4th fill barrels before being racked and aged a total of 16 months in French oak. (13 Abv., 3.31 pH, 5.84 TA, 2.2 RS).

Natasha Williams Chardonnay 2017, Upper Hemel en Aarde Valley, 13 Abv.

An attractive cooler climate expression of Chardonnay is always a vinous treat from South Africa. In the glass you can indulge in a wonderful bouquet of pithy lemon and lime peel, limestone minerality, dusty crushed gravel, white pepper and yellow grapefruit preserve with just the most subtle salted toffee vanilla oak kiss. On the palate, the wine is classically steely and linear as you’d expect but with an incredibly fine accompanying textural balance, waxy soap stone minerality, grated lemon rind, more limestone, caramelised green fig and succulent ripe honeydew melon notes on the finish. I love the purity, crystallinity and elegance that is ever present with the wine never straying too far into the reductive spectrum while retaining a wonderful sense of restraint. A very impressive solo debut from winemaker Natasha Williams.

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