Alheit Family Wines Hereafter Here 2020 – Tasting the Impressive New Chenin Blanc…

Never one to rest on his laurels, Chris Alheit is probably one of the hardest working winemakers in South Africa and, rightly so, one of the most successful too. After recovering from his mid-life crisis speed wobble a few years ago when he threatened to terminate the Cartology project, Chris has knuckled down to refocus on not only the quality of his sought-after single vineyard wines but has also continued to increase the quality of his mega-brand Cartology.

So with everything on his plate, Chris of course decided to create yet another SKU in his portfolio, this time a young bush vine Chenin Blanc at a slightly more accessible price point. Certainly not another Flotsam & Jetsam revival brand… the grapes for this new edition come from two young blocks in Stellenbosch, 70% from Polkadraai Hills and 30% from the Upper Blaauwklippen Valley. The juice was spontaneously fermented and matured in used oak barrels before bottling.

Alheit Family Wines Hereafter Here Chenin Blanc 2020, WO Western Cape, 13.5% Abv.

This is definitely an exciting Chenin Blanc and initially on opening showed some of the opulent, fruity, fleshy exuberance that I remember tasting on the very first Cartology 2011. The aromatics are loaded with ripe pear, quince, peach, apple purée and hints of melted honey on warm white toast with sweet dried herb nuances. The palate is tangy and bright with a fleshy mouthfeel, a creamy rich texture that shows an impressively savoury yellow orchard fruit concentration with deliciously fresh acids that lend structure and balance. This is an impressive debut for this new young vine cuvee from Chris Alheit. Drink now to enjoy its youthful opulence and over the next 3 to 6+ years. (9,036 bottles produced)

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

Tesselaarsdal Releases Their Most Impressive Chardonnay Vintage Yet…

The Tesselaarsdal wine brand was founded in 2015 by long-standing Hamilton Russell Vineyards employee Berene Sauls and was named after the historic Overberg farming hamlet of Tesselaarsdal, which lies inland from the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge wine appellation where Berene sources all her grapes.

The maiden release of the Tesselaarsdal Chardonnay was only the 2019 and already within three vintages, Berene has managed to fine tune the style of this wine to show the best of a very fine, cool vintage in 2021. Extreme care is taken to ensure that this small-production classically Old World-styled Chardonnay expresses the terroir of the cool maritime Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge fruit sourced from un-irrigated vines grown at elevation on stony clay and iron-rich soils.

Tesselaarsdal Chardonnay 2021, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, 13% Abv.

This is a supremely elegant, taut mineral expression of cool climate Chardonnay with classically restrained aromatics of green pear, Granny Smith apple, crushed gravel, dried green herbs and hints of white citrus and tangerine peel. Like the subtle aromatics, the palate shows incredible tension and vibrancy but again without overt obvious opulence. This wine is a masterclass in elegance and restraint showing a cool, lean, crystalline palate built around minerality, electric acids, and a lean old world elegance. This is undoubtedly next level quality and intensity for the Tesselaarsdal Chardonnay. Drink this taut focused effort now and over the next 8+ years. Really impressive.

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

Crystallum Prepares for the Release of Two Eye-Catching Premium Chardonnays in Mid-2022…

I was lucky enough to catch up with Peter-Allan Finlayson for a lovely tasting and lunch last year on his spontaneous blink-of-an-eye visit to the UK to touch base with the wine trade (and also take in the Springboks versus Scotland rugby game at Murrayfield). So it was an extra special treat to hear that Peter-Allan would be over again in January to preview a few new vintages due to be released onto the market in May/June 2022.

Peter-Allan’s Crystallum wines are in the enviable position of being quite tightly allocated to start with and generally selling out nationally four to five months into the 12 month calendar. But his wines have earnt their quality reputation vintage after vintage and are sold at very moderate prices considering the quality and market demand. Getting an early look-in at new vintages thus becomes a very valuable exercise every year.

Crystallum Agnes Chardonnay 2021, WO Western Cape, 13% Abv.

Peter-Allan Finlayson describes the 2021 Agnes as a wine with great delicacy, elegance and a lithe light touch crystalline purity. Indeed, this wine is incredibly sleek with fabulous zesty aromatics of lemon and lime biscuits, dusty grey slate and hints of honeydew melon. On the palate, the wine is beautifully elegant and pure boasting boiled lemon bon bons candy, white peach and a subtle salty, leesy, savoury complexity on the finish. Lovely precision, light-touch intensity and concentration of flavour on the long, linear, persistent finish. An understated wine that will appeal to sophisticated drinkers. Drink on release and over 5 to 8+ years.

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

Crystallum Single Vineyard Ferrum Chardonnay 2021, WO Overberg, 13% Abv.

The grapes for the second release of Ferrum Chardonnay are sourced from a one hectare slice of 12 year old vines located within a seven hectare vineyard block on iron rich soils that lies just three kilometres beyond the Creation Winery (in the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge) at Shaw’s Mountain in the Overberg. The other six hectares were planted by Peter-Allan more recently and currently go into the Agnes Chardonnay cuvee. The original part of the vineyard was based around Sauvignon Blanc vines that were field grafted over to Chardonnay. The aromatics show seductive lactic lemony tangerine notes of yellow citrus pastille, subtle salted toffee and delicate vanilla wood spice nuances over a flinty minerality. The palate is full, crystalline and finely balanced with a plush textural glycerol mouthfeel displaying hints of caramelised lemons, lime peel, lemon biscuits and salted vanilla ice cream on the finish. Another very impressive pinpoint, seamless expression of Chardonnay from Crystallum. Production is tiny so the challenge is always to track down a few precious bottles that you can drink on release or over 10+ years.

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

Draaiboek Wines Releases Their Second Vintage of the Onskuld Chardonnay 2020 From the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge…

Draaiboek wines is a name that might be new to many. Though I did review the maiden release 2019, this is essentially a new wine company that was created by five friends who met while studying at the University of Stellenbosch in the early 2000s. The foundations of their friendship were formed during the frequent wine tastings and wine routing jollies indulged in as students. After graduating, everyone eventually headed out to write their own stories. Yet, despite different borders and time zones, they always checked in with every changing chapter of each others lives. Now, after many years of friendship, the different characters have come together once again to produce Draaiboek Wines, born out of a love for wine and the stories that it tells.

Draaiboek means script in Afrikaans, and as Pieter Lemmer, one of the London based partners tells me, “…we believe every wine has a story to tell. We released our first wine in September 2020, a 2019 Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge Chardonnay. We chose the name Onskuld (meaning innocence) for our first wine to represent our innocent naivety in starting this journey (many lessons were learned in the process!). We operate essentially as a negociant buying in fruit, and so far, we’ve sourced all our grapes from a single block of 10-year-old north-east facing Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge vines at 300 metres altitude planted on Bokkeveld shale with a high clay content”.

The Draaiboek wines are made by another good friend of theirs, Stephanie Wiid from the well know Thistle and Weed winery, who they have also known for many years. Stephanie, along with viticulturalist Etienne Terblanche, have sourced and selected the fruit from a specific single block at La Vierge in the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge although in 2021, a second block of Chardonnay has been added to increase the volume of wine produced. For the maiden 2019 vintage only 200 x 6 were produced, rising to 300 x 6 for the 2020 vintage. Watch out for their 2021 Pinot Noir also made from Ridge fruit that is still in the cellar but should be released in 2022.

I recently tasted a sample of the 2020 Onskuld Chardonnay which was aged on its fine lees for 11 months and saw 30% new oak in the final blend, aiming to give the wine more structure than the 2019 while still showing all the hallmarks of Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge minerality. Draaiboek Wines follows a philosophy of minimal intervention in the cellar, allowing the quality of the terroir to express itself. This certainly seems to be a new boutique name to watch.

Draaiboek Wines Onskuld Chardonnay 2020, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, 13.5% Abv.

2.4 g/l RS | 6.2 TA | 3.38 pH

In 2020 this Chardonnay is all still sourced from one single Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge block. Mindful of the wine’s youth, I opened my sample and tasted over two days to give the wine the full benefit of oxygen. This certainly is a very impressive wine and a considerable step up on the delicious maiden 2019. The aromatics show complex multi-dimensional layers of sea spray, white flowers, orange citrus oil, freshly baked buttered croissants and pithy lemon rind notes. Very pure and precise, the palate reveals an incredibly elegant, creamy leesy texture with no shortage of tension and minerality, all supported by an intense but seamless concentration of green and yellow fruits, pineapple pastille and lemon bon bons nuances. The length is truly striking, lingering then very slowing fading gradually on the long finish as if someone was slowing turning down the taste volume. The acids are fresh as you’d expect from Ridge fruit but also fabulously tangy and bright. Like a great work of art, this 2020 requires a measure of reflection and contemplation to fully appreciate its beautiful construction, pristine balance and superb harmony. Give the wine plenty of air, decanting if necessary, and don’t serve too cold. A wonderfully complete wine that should drink well from release and over 6 to 8+ years.

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

Some Exciting New Sauvignon Blanc Releases from 2020 – Tasting the Painted Wolf Lightning…

After eight days of extensive tastings for the Decanter World Wine Awards in 2021 as the South African panel chair, it became very apparent that the 2020 vintage Sauvignon Blancs being released at the moment offer up a real treasure trove of styles and expressions, but all exceptional quality from entry level pricing all the way up to premium single vineyard releases.

This excellent Painted Wolf Sauvignon Blanc made by the talented Jeremy Borg, is named after Lightning, thought to be one of the most famous endangered wild dogs living in the Kruger National Park in South Africa. Made from pristine cool climate Walker Bay coastal fruit, this wine exemplifies the quality of many of the premium examples hitting the retail shelves now. Don’t miss out!

(Other cool climate Sauvignon Blanc expressions from nearby to watch out for include Wild Air from Hannes Storm, Southern Right and Creation.)

Painted Wolf Lightning Sauvignon Blanc 2020, WO Walker Bay, 12.5% Abv.

The grapes for this wine were hand picked, hand sorted and whole bunch pressed then fermented in large French oak barrels and a solitary concrete egg using only natural wild yeasts. The aromatics are beautifully pure and high toned with spicy notes of fresh lemon grass, pithy white citrus peel, capsicum and hints of crushed gooseberries. Any oak notes are incredibly delicate and seamlessly integrated highlighting the extreme precision with which this classy Sauvignon Blanc was assembled. The palate is fabulously cool, crystalline and pure laced with crunchy green fruits, subtle green herbs, yellow grapefruit, hints of bell pepper spice and finishes with a stony, flinty, wet river pebble length. Compact, vibrantly cool climate with crunchy acids and wonderfully balanced, this is another class act from Jeremy Borg. Drink now until 2025+.

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

Tasting the Tantalising New Releases from Jessica Saurwein – Part 2: Om Pinot Noir 2020…

The third wine in Jessica Saurwein’s impressive range after her Elgin Chi Riesling and Nom Pinot Noir from WO Elandskloof is her Om Pinot Noir made from fruit grown in the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge in Walker Bay, Hermanus.

Sourced from a dryland grown vineyard situated just 12 kilometres from the sea which lies at 300 metres above sea-level, the soils are granitic in origin with a significant portion of clay. The Burgundian Pinot Noir clones planted in 2006 are 115 and 667.

The grapes were hand-picked and cold soaked prior to fermentation which began spontaneously with natural yeasts. Post fermentation, the wine spent 10 months in a combination of new and older 228 litre French oak barrels.

The new home of Saurwein Wines at Waterval farm in Stanford, Walker Bay.

As if two new stellar Pinot Noir releases wasn’t enough, Saurwein Wines has now found a exciting new home at Waterval farm in Stanford. Jessica and family recently moved to the farm and will embark on a regenerative agricultural farming venture including the establishment of a small vineyard over the next year or two.

Saurwein Om Pinot Noir 2020, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, 13.5% Abv.

While the Saurwein Nom and Om cuvees exhibit similar youthful foresty aromatics of savoury red and black berry fruits, bramble berry spice and a roasted cashew nut complexity, it’s on the palate that the real brilliance of the Om cuvee is revealed. Utterly vivacious and vibrant, refreshingly tart and fresh, boasting notes of cranberry, red cherries, pomegranates and blood oranges with a beguiling stony mineral tannin seam running through the wine. The wine finishes with hints of espresso, exotic sweet baking spices and a supremely sleek harmonious length. This is a class act, both sophisticated and seamlessly balanced. A new benchmark for Jessica. Bravo! Drink now and over 10-15 years.

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

Hamilton Russell Vineyards Release an Impressively Sophisticated New 2020 Chardonnay…

Hamilton Russell Vineyards run under the watchful eye of Anthony and Olive Hamilton Russell are well established as one of the most respected Chardonnay and Pinot Noir producers in South Africa. With their winery retaining an obsessive and loyal legion of drinkers and collectors only matched by the likes of fellow icon brands like Meerlust Rubicon or Kanonkop Paul Sauer, quality and consistency has always been the Hamilton Russell calling card.

With Emul Ross firmly in control of winemaking since the 2015 vintage, it is incredible to think that after 30+ years, this estate’s finest wines may lie in future vintages still to be born.

Winemaker Emul Ross and Anthony Hamilton Russell at the barrel cellar.

The 2020 vintage was a touch earlier than usual beginning in the first week of February and was also wetter than the previous few vintages. A standout feature of 2020 was however the exceptional phenolic ripeness at lower-than-normal alcohol levels which helped produce a wine that is taut, tight, minerally expressive and texturally very classical showing the usual Hemel-en-Aarde Valley cool climate length and complexity.

95% of the wine underwent malolactic fermentation in 228 litre Francois Freres French oak barrels before being aged for a total of 9 months in 24% new French oak with 5% aged in foudre.

Hamilton Russell Vineyards Chardonnay 2020, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, 12.9% Abv.

3.45pH | 6.90 TA | 2.20 RS

If 2018 produced a super taut, reductive serious expression and 2019 showed a lusher, more forward, accessible opulence, then 2020 is perhaps a marriage of these two styles. This is a wine full of confidence and composure, brimming with taut white citrus pith, green pear and lime peel, bruised green apples, white blossom and a complexing saline oyster shell minerality. On the palate there is a feel of density, dry extract, concentration and a really precise harmonious balance with layers of green melon, sweet lime jelly, melted butter and a full glycerol finish with just the faintest hint of butterscotch, lime cordial and vanilla pod spice. Seemless and sleek, the layers just melt into each other leaving a sensation of utter completeness. What a truly fabulous wine, resplendent in its mellow classical restraint, intense concentration and harmonious length. A big high five for Emul Ross!! Drink on release and over the next 10-12+ years. (51,516 bottles produced)

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

Tasting The Crystallum Whole Bunch Pinot Noir 2019 – A Truly Characterful Expression…

We all know Peter-Allan and Andrew Finlayson make some of the prettiest and accomplished Pinot Noirs in South Africa. With their family heritage and know how engendered in them by their father Peter Finlayson, top Pinot and Chardonnay has always been part of their DNA.

But when it comes to their Whole Bunch Pinot Noir cuvee, this small production endeavour has always been a vehicle for experimentation. Some drinkers, like myself, have certainly become besotted with previous vintages like the 2016 and 2018, but equally, I do realise it can be quite a divisive wine stylistically. In my mind, it probably comes down to how much French Burgundy one drinks and also from which domaines, which will decide your proclivity.

The 2019 was fermented using only native yeasts in small open top vessels. 100% whole bunches were employed. The wine spent a total of six weeks on the skins after which it went into French and Hungarian oak barrels (25% new) for 11 months ageing.

Crystallum Whole Bunch Pinot Noir 2019, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, 13.6% Abv.

pH 3.52 | TA 5.3 g/l | Total SO2 46 mg/l | RS 2.5 g/l | Only 1219 bottles

What a complex and intricate wine with aromatics that combine the best of the local terroir with fabulous whole bunch sapidity and minerality. Combine these notes with wild strawberry, cranberry, sun-dried cherry, bramble berry and sappy wood spice and you have the makings of a wonderful Pinot. The palate starts off a little raw, grippy and tight but with a little air quickly shows round supple notes of delicious black cherry, hoisin plum sauce, fresh fennel and spicy bramble berry fruits. The Whole Bunch has always been a bit of an outlier but wow, what an incredibly characterful wine. All the Whole Bunch wines normally need a bit of extra time to come around but in 2019, yet again, Peter-Allan knocks it out the park! Drink from 2022 to 2032+

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

The Crystallum wines are distributed in the UK by Liberty Wines.

Creation Estate’s New Release Emma Pinot Noir Battles it out for Supremacy with the New Art of Pinot Noir 2019 Cuvee…

The beautiful Creation Winery in the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge region of Walker Bay has established itself in a relatively short period of time as one of the quality benchmark producers for both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in South Africa. Originally from Switzerland, owner JC Martin together with his South African wife Carolyn (nee Finlayson), bought their original 22 hectares of virgin land in the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge and completed their cellar in time for their 2007 harvest. Their Walker Bay estate now encompasses 50 hectares planted with over 11 varieties, but focusing mainly on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Every year there is a mega battle of wills and palates (and maybe egos?) as JC Martin fights it out with his daughter Emma to see who will take the spoils with the international critics for the best rated Creation Pinot Noir between the Emma Cuvee and the Art of Pinot Noir Cuvee from their Creation estate. I love the competitiveness and the resulting quality realised every vintage. Last year the 2018 Emma excelled and was clearly a more intense, complex, mesmerising expression on release. But 2019 was a different beast of a vintage offering up a lot more structure, tension, minerality and sapidity. So it was all to play for!

Game on! I recently tasted these two exceptional wines over two days and the results were as follows…

Creation Emma Pinot Noir 2019, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge

A barrel selection by Emma – JC and Caroline’s 18+ year old daughter from the Art of Pinot Noir vineyard barrels. This is certainly a very serious glassful of premium Pinot Noir. Opened on Boxing Day 2020, it was taut and spicy showing some overt oak notes over savoury bramble berry fruits and hints of black plum and sous bois. But tasting this wine over two days really does it justice as not only is it super youthful, but it’s one of the most serious and luxurious expressions of Pinot Noir in South Africa. Day two and this wine blossoms with true Pinot Noir grandeur, unfurling layers of strawberry, cranberry, dusty limestone chalk, sappy stalky spice, red cherry pastille and an underlying structure of crunchy acids, graphite minerality and spicy polished tannins. This is definitely a keeper and will require a few years in the cellar to do it justice. Very impressive yet again.

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

Creation Art of Pinot Noir 2019, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge

Like the Emma, the aromatics of this young wine are a little disjointed straight after pulling the cork but allowed a bit of air and time, this wine also comes together impressively. The aromatics are markedly different with more sappy red berry, sour cranberry, sour plum and a savoury, earthy red berry core. There are complexing notes of crushed leaves, sous bois and sour cherry but on the palate the density and concentration is harmonious and polished, pithy and chalky merging with an irony, bloody, red berry tartness and a long, stony, brambly finish. Intense, captivating and thoroughly delicious. Give this 3-5 years before enjoying.

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

So the final verdict sees the Emma, the defending champion, retain the title of Best Creation Pinot with punch! But of course, they do say anything a man can do, a woman can do better!

Nothing More Fun Than the Second Time – Tasting the New Tesselaarsdal Chardonnay 2020 Release…

Berene Sauls is a testament to hard work, belief, faith, and a simmering vision for greatness. I feel so utterly privileged to be one of the wine trade professionals who tasted her early vintages and identified her passion and vision.

But making a top Pinot Noir was never going to be enough for her so roll on the challenge of making a premium Chardonnay. The maiden 2019 was pretty impressive with its steely tension and crystalline purity. But of course it’s always the second release, the second album, that is always the hardest challenge. I recently tasted the second release from Berene and was suitably impressed!

Tesselaarsdal Chardonnay 2020, WO Hemel en Aarde Ridge

This is another accomplished Chardonnay from Tesselaarsdal that boasts a breath and depth of textural opulence making the maiden 2019 vintage look more like a chiselled Premier Cru Chablis in comparison. The 2020 nose boasts classic notes of spicy yellow citrus, green honeydew melon, white peach and a bold limestone mineral vein. The wine coats your mouth with a fine glycerol weight and delicious mouth-watering green apple pastille notes enlivened with pronounced tangy acids. Seamless and harmonious, Berene Sauls has created another attractive expression of premium Chardonnay that is ready to drink on release.

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