Wine Cellar Director Roland Peens shares his vinous highlights of 2015. 2015 was another spectacular year for South African wine producers. New and old producers are experimenting with different varieties,…

Wine Cellar Director Roland Peens shares his vinous highlights of 2015.

2015 was another spectacular year for South African wine producers. New and old producers are experimenting with different varieties, pushing the boundaries, perfecting their farming and refining their winemaking. The year also saw the release of the tricky 2014 vintage, which required deft handling across the Cape. Those producers that utilised a softer approach made delicious, lighter-styled 2014s for early-drinking. The 2015 vintage was a surprise in itself, starting 2 weeks earlier after hot and dry conditions. Bets are off for the moment, but the early-release 2015s are showing something extremely special.

In 5 years’ time, I hope that the list below will be dotted with other grape varieties. For the moment, the top wines are still produced from Chardonnay, Syrah, Cabernet and Chenin, with a smattering of great wines from Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot and Semillon.

Paul Cluver Seven Flags Chardonnay, Elgin 2014 – R 435
Rustenberg Peter Barlow 2009, Stellenbosch – R 295
Botanica Untitled No 1 Chenin Blanc, Skurfberg 2014 – R 210
Porseleinberg Syrah 2013, Swartland – R 500 (Sold Out)
Keermont Steepside Syrah 2012, Stellenbosch – R 375 (Sold Out)
Reyneke Syrah 2013, Stellenbosch – R 115
Naudé Old Vines Chenin Blanc 2013 – R 255
Sadie Family Mev Kirsten, Stellenbosch 2014 – R 755 (Sold Out)
Mullineux Olerasay, Swartland NV – R 435
Richard Kershaw Clonal Selection Chardonnay, Elgin 2014 – R 375
 

Vintage and international wines:

Alto Cabernet Sauvignon 1970, Stellenbosch – N/A
Pieve Santa Restituta Brunello di Montalcino 2010, Tuscany – R 600 (Sold Out)
Monis Collectors Port, Western Cape 1948 – R 4,950
Château Rayas Fonsalette Syrah 1999, Rhône – R 1,450 (Sold Out)
Klein Constantia Vin de Constance, Constantia 1987 – Not Available
Château L’Évangile, Pomerol 1998 – R 4,500 (On Request)
Boekenhoutskloof Noble Late Harvest, Franschhoek 2005 – R 450
Château d’Yquem 2005, Sauternes – R 3,500 (375ml)
GS Cabernet 1966, Durbanville – R 20,000
Taylor’s Vintage Port 1948 – R 18,950

 
seven flags

Paul Cluver Seven Flags Chardonnay, Elgin 2014 – R 435
The first vintage of Paul Cluver’s new flagship Chardonnay is without a doubt my wine of the year. Sourced partly from the 30-odd year old Wagon Trail (CWG wine) vineyard, it truly shows old-vine character, fantastic precision and phenomenal length. There are some Burgundian ‘struck-match’ and ‘almond flake’ notes, but it’s South African with its richness and style. And there shouldn’t be much argument here either; Platter, Prescient Chardonnay Report, Atkin and Martin have all agreed on its brilliance, and, at half the price of a Village Burgundy, it’s also incredible value.

Rustenberg Peter Barlow 2009, Stellenbosch – R 295
The 2009 Peter Barlow has been scoring highly with critics since early 2014, but it was only released in July this year. The compelling 2009 Stellenbosch vintage, combined with the oldest vineyard on the Rustenberg farm, has produced a bulletproof, utterly refined Simonsberg Cabernet Sauvignon. This seamless, brooding and majestic beauty could signal the revival of Stellenbosch as one of the world’s great Cabernet Sauvignon terroirs. I reckon we will be talking about the 2009 vintage and this Peter Barlow for decades to come. And Rand-for-Rand, it is also ridiculous value.

Botanica Untitled No 1 Chenin Blanc, Skurfberg 2014 – R 210
We have been spoiled this year with a stack of amazing Chenin Blancs. South African producers are now successfully nurturing our treasured old vines straight into bottle. Ginny Povell’s foray onto Skurfberg near Citrusdal has produced her best wines and the Mary Delany is now one of SA’s finest. In 2014 Ginny bought another small parcel of fruit on Skurfberg and it has something special to offer. Two barrels of an even finer, more mineral and nuanced single-vineyard Chenin were the result. We prefer its leaner, fresher style, and time will unfurl even more complexity and length. Exclusive to Wine Cellar.

Porseleinberg Syrah 2013, Swartland – R 500 (Sold Out)
It has been fascinating to watch the journey of Porseleinberg Syrah since the maiden 2010 vintage. The tiny production, low-key marketing and uniquely tannic style set it apart as one of SA’s authentic, terroir-driven wines. The 2013 is Callie Louw’s best so far, offering a better balance of earthy texture, chalky tannins and layers of olive tapenade, blackberry notes and grapefruit lift. This is a must-buy wine every year.

Keermont Steepside Syrah 2012, Stellenbosch – R 375 (Sold Out)
2015 has been a killer year for the Upper Blaauwklippen Valley, with foreign and international press highlighting its special character and impressive quality. And while I have found Alex Starey’s vintages outside 2012 a touch too alcoholic and rich for my palate, the 2012s are spot on. The Steepside Syrah on the ‘vertiginous slopes of the Helderberg Mountain’ stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Porseleinberg and Mullineux Schist (and even top-end Cornas) as one of the Cape’s finest. Their Terrasse white blend is consistently super value, and their Riverside Chenin is an old-vine gem.

Reyneke Syrah 2013, Stellenbosch – R 115
The Reyneke Syrah has been the best value red in SA for 4 or 5 vintages. There is just no other SA wine that offers this kind of complexity and character at the R100 level. Incidentally, Johan Reyneke has been biodynamic for 10 years now – the same period required to start tasting the full impact of bio farming. Each wine seems to have an incredible balance of savoury and pure fruit, with the power of Stellenbosch in a more natural style. Be warned though: the Reyneke wines do tend to go through numb phases during their first few years of life, so I would recommend drinking all at 3-4 years and later.

Naudé Old Vines Chenin Blanc 2013 – R 255
A blend of 3 vineyards, between 30 and 50 years old, from the Swartland and Stellenbosch. This cross- regional blend gives a steely acidity, creamy texture and sultry richness of baked apple marzipan. I can’t think of a Chenin that is so classically styled, delicious and hauntingly complex, with the earthy/nutty finish reminding me of mature Vouvray. The Naudé Cinsault 2014 is another tremendous debut and is one of SA’s best.

Sadie Family Mev Kirsten, Stellenbosch 2014 – R 755 (Sold Out)
There is sadly very little crop that comes off this century-old Jonkershoek Chenin Blanc vineyard – mostly because of birds, decades of bad farming, old age and children eating the grapes! The 2014 is a little more ‘loose’ than the taut, captivating 2013. Both are prodigious wines, however, and a really special experience to drink. Sadie’s 2015 releases are once again enthralling and many could have cut the top 10 list.

Mullineux Olerasay, Swartland NV – R 435
When we first heard about this wine and then finally tasted it, we knew it was going to be something magical. The ‘solera-styled’ blend of previous vintage straw wine delivers even more complexity and guile, while still remaining vibrant and rich. Which other producer can master red, white and sweet wines?

Richard Kershaw Clonal Selection Chardonnay, Elgin 2014 – R 375
Richard Kershaw, Master of Wine, is now also master of Chardonnay. Nobody has researched Chardonnay in Elgin quite like Richard, at the same time imprinting this region as our leading Chardonnay terroir. 2014 is richer and more forward than the more classic 2013, but there is still unbelievable precision and length. His Syrah is good, but has a way to go to match the astonishing quality of the Chardonnay.

I have picked only one wine per producer, but these would have made my top 20: MR de Compostella 2013, Waterford Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, David Aristargos 2014, Alheit Makstok 2014, Lismore Viognier 2014, Newton Johnson Family Chardonnay 2013, Thorne & Daughters Zoetrope 2014, Columella 2013, Palladius 2013 and Mullineux Schist Syrah 2013.

Vintage and international wines

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Alto Cabernet Sauvignon 1970, Stellenbosch – N/A
This was one of the finest wine experiences of my year. I had little hope when drawing a flimsy, wine-soaked cork from a bottle of unknown provenance. But what unfolded was really special, unveiling a kaleidoscope of smoked meats, cassis, spice and sweet, chalky tannins. It is hardly fading too; well stored bottles (if they even exist) will age another few decades. Along with the 1965 Alto, this is one of South Africa’s greatest wines.

Pieve Santa Restituta Brunello di Montalcino 2010, Tuscany – R 600 (Sold Out)
2015 was a great year for Brunello as the prodigious 2010s were released onto the market. I sampled hordes of exceptional 2010s at VinItaly, and many of these were some of the finest young wines I have ever tasted! Valdicava, Poggione and of course Gaja’s Pieve Santa Restituta were my favourites. The single vineyards of Rennina and Sugarille are astonishing wines, but the ‘straight’ Brunello, which is a blend of a few vineyards, is just as good, perhaps more complete. Few wines around the world can achieve this precision and finesse built around a monstrously tannic backbone. One for your children.

Monis Collectors Port, Western Cape 1948 – R 4,950
A wine served post dinner at our ‘Grand Taste-Off’ this year, it should have been centre stage. Only 5,000 bottles were produced and this is another legendary SA wine. More defined, fresh and detailed than the KWV 1948, it astounded us with waves of complexity wafting from the glass: candied figs, melon rind, nuts, molasses and a touch of cold coffee. The palate is rich but not sticky, while the finish is deep, spicy and delicious.

Château Rayas Fonsalette Syrah 1999, Rhône – R 1,450 (Sold Out)
Rayas are of course known for their incredible Grenache, but their rarest wine is a small vineyard planted in 1965 from cuttings of Chave Hermitage. Think of a hypothetical blend of Château Rayas’ unctuous intensity coupled with northern Rhône structure and notes of bacon fat and florals. I cried when the bottle was finished.

Klein Constantia Vin de Constance, Constantia 1987 – Not Available
Cape Wine will go down in history as South Africa’s finest wine showcase, as each producer brought out their very best. A vertical of Klein Constantia’s Vin de Constance was my highlight, reminding me of how astonishingly this sweet Muscat can age. The 1987 is still wonderfully balanced, with limy freshness, nutty complexity and dabs of tropical fruit. A true legend.

Château L’Évangile, Pomerol 1998 – R 4,500 (On Request)
The smaller right-bank properties don’t get the attention of the large Médoc châteaux, but they are some of Bordeaux’s finest. The likes of L’Évangile, La Fleur Pétrus, Vieux Château Certan and of course Petrus are magical expressions of Merlot and can dazzle you in a medium-bodied style. On an evening with 20-odd Bordeaux from top vintages, L’Évangile stood out for its depth and elegance. Why can’t all Merlots be like this?

Boekenhoutskloof Noble Late Harvest, Franschhoek 2005 – R 450
Marc Kent’s Sauternes-styled Semillon Noble Late Harvest is extremely difficult to find. The small vineyard below the cellar is heavily influenced by botrytis and, depending on the vintage, produces as little as 1 barrel per vintage. The 2005 is uber-concentrated and yet lively, with wonderful layers of complexity behind a citrus compote of viscosity. Close your eyes and you may think you are drinking top Sauternes! 2005 was great for Boekenhoutskloof. The Syrah, Cabernet and Journeyman 2005 are some of the finest wines they have produced.

Château d’Yquem 2005, Sauternes – R 3,500 (375ml)
2005 is the finest young vintage of Bordeaux I have tasted and the brilliant quality extends to the sweet wines. In such a structured, powerful vintage, d’Yquem can be very difficult to appreciate when young as it is usually covered in sweetness and lots of sulphur. But with a decade of age, the 2005 d’Yquem is starting to unveil its greatness, and this bottle will win over wine and non-wine lovers alike. It needs another decade and then, like its length, it will last forever…

GS Cabernet 1966, Durbanville – R 20,000
What more can this iconic wine achieve? 2015 saw a perfect score from Jancis Robinson, the highest ever price at the Nederburg Auction, and a drubbing of Latour 1966 in a blind tasting. The mystery of this wine continues, as parts of its puzzle are slowly put together. With very few well-stored bottles left, this is already South Africa’s most treasured wine.

Taylor’s Vintage Port 1948 – R 18,950
We tasted this against the KWV 1948, which, unfortunately, was no match. The 1948 Taylor’s sent shivers down my spine! Once poured and after a few minutes of air, the palate came alive with red berry fruit, fine Ceylon tea, braised meats and fragrant spice. So delicately balanced, the fortification is magically integrated into the soft, fruit-coated tannins with a length that seems to carry on for hours. On a trip to Portugal, I also experienced the greatness of the 2011 Vintage Ports (and table wines).

 

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