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)