Chris and Suzaan Alheit, together with their assistant Franco Lourens and recently-appointed viticultural consultant Etienne Terblanche, are the dream team that firmly establishes Alheit Vineyards as SA’s premier white wine producer. Their focus, together with the time spent in the vineyards and the exceptional 2017 vintage itself, has worked to bring us these 8 scintillating wines. Simply put, this line-up includes the best young wines we have tasted to date.
None of these should be overlooked. The Cartology, Hemelrand Vine Garden and La Colline are their best yet and the Magnetic North Mountain Makstok and Radio Lazarus are, as always, sensational. Of the new Chenin Blanc releases, the Huilkrans is simply one of the greatest whites ever made in SA while the Nautical Dawn and Fire By Night are profound examples of Stellenbosch and Paardeberg Chenin. Needless to say, these are all produced in very small quantities and even less is going to be available in 2018.
Why are South African white wines getting better? Reviving our vineyards with better viticulture must be at the fore and the healthy competition among our top wine producers, who are continuously honing their craft, means that there is no resting on one’s laurels. On top of this, 2017 has proved to be an excellent vintage, especially for whites. There has been a shift in the Alheits’ focus towards single origin wines which further highlights this better understanding and translation of the vineyard.
For details on the wines, please see the notes below.
Alheit, Cartology 2017 – R 330
If you’re a fan of Cartology, please don’t miss this one. This vintage sees the inclusion of four ‘new’ old vineyards. One from Stellenbosch, one from Tygerberg, one from the Paardeberg and one from Piekenierskloof. Cartology 2017 is complex and refreshing – high and low, deep and wide. This vintage achieves the ‘gymnast’ target – plenty of power, no extra weight. We’ve never felt so confident about a Cartology bottling. Even if you just buy one to taste, please buy one. – Chris Alheit
87% Chenin Blanc, 13% Semillon. A complex and subtle nose of pear, peach, apple, even some blackcurrant plus herbs and a little wet wool. Pure and fresh – hangs together really well – the finish long and dry. This is perhaps not as thrilling as Alheit’s single-vineyard bottlings but it does have a completeness about it. Drawn from vineyards across the Western Cape, this is, as always, a subtle and intellectually demanding wine. Alcohol: 13.5%. – Christian Eedes, Winemag.co.za, 94/100
Alheit, Hemelrand Vine Garden 2017 – R 280
This wine comes from the young vineyard planted on Hemelrand farm, at 360m above sea-level on the Hemel en Aarde Ridge. It’s a blend of Roussanne, Chenin, Chardonnay, Verdelho, and a pinch of Muscat. This is a slow ripening site, resulting in full flavour and high acidity. This wine exemplifies the push and pull between those two elements. The nose is exotic, the palate is bracing. I can also say with certainty that this is the best vintage for Hemelrand so far. – Chris Alheit
26% Chenin Blanc, 26% Chardonnay, 23% Roussanne, 21% Verdelho and 4% Muscat. An enticing nose – floral perfume and dried herbs before citrus, stone fruit and quince. Impressive concentration, punchy acidity and just a touch of yeasty complexity before a pithy finish. Textured without being weighty – big fruit, big acidity. From young Hemel en Aarde Ridge vineyards, this is the most compelling and convincing bottling to date. Alcohol: 13.66%. – Christian Eedes, Winemag.co.za, 95/100
Alheit, Radio Lazarus 2017 – R 625
As you already know, this will be the final release of Radio Lazarus. Fortuitously it was the perfect vintage for a farewell. 2017 shows the same dusty/stony character that this wine is known for. It also shows very good concentration and poise – like the 2015, but slightly more open and generous. Along with 2012, this is my favourite vintage of RL. – Chris Alheit
Grapes from two Bottelary vineyards, one planted in 1971 and the other in 1978. Vinified in amphorae. A pronounced herbal note before lime, pear and peach. Dense, thick textured and very flavourful, the finish long and strikingly savoury – most particular. The final release of this wine as the relevant blocks have reached the end of their lives. – Christian Eedes, Winemag.co.za, 94/100
Alheit, Magnetic North Mountain Makstok 2017 – R 625
Ah yes. My precious. Two small ungrafted Chenin parcels from one high-lying Skurfberg farm. Great vintage. Enough said. The less you buy the more we can keep. It’s terrible, don’t buy it. – Chris Alheit
Grapes from Basie van Lill’s Skurfberg farm. A haunting nose: First a hint of gun-smoke-like reduction before elusive notes of citrus, peach and fynbos. Rich and thick textured but not unctuous – there’s an acidity here that would be neck snapping if it weren’t for all the fruit concentration. This is a power-packed wine which also manages to be extraordinarily detailed. Think of Tendai ‘Beast’ Mtawarira with ball under arm when drinking it. Alcohol: 14%. – Christian Eedes, Winemag.co.za, 97/100
Alheit, La Colline Sémillon 2017 – R 625
If you’re looking for some Cape heritage to show people, this is it. It’s not just the age of the vineyard, but the fact these types of old field selections (selection massale) are likely to come from the original genetic material brought to the Cape in the 1600s. More than three centuries of selection by generations of farmers to has lead something quite unique. Our 2017 La Colline Vineyard Semillon comes from two parts of the block: the shallow soil at very top, giving power, and the heart of the mid-slope, giving finesse. Every year this special old vineyard blows me away. – Chris Alheit
From a 1936 Franschhoek vineyard. Plenty going on aromatically – a thatchy note before pear, peach, yellow apple and Fanta grape while the merest hint of reduction plays off against an oxidative nuttiness. The palate has lovely weight and texture – it’s relatively broad with coated acidity and just a touch of phenolic grip on the finish. Alcohol: 13.8%. – Christian Eedes, Winemag.co.za, 95/100
Alheit, Huilkrans Chenin Blanc 2017 – R 625
This is the first vintage that we’ve bottled something from Oudam farm as a stand-alone wine. We’ve been working with the Visser family since 2011 and have been planning this wine since 2015. They chose the name Huilkrans, the name of a cliff on the farm that weeps when it rains. Since the untimely passing of their son Kallie last year, the name now has an unintended double meaning. Even so, they’ve elected to keep it unchanged. For us, the wine is absolutely thrilling. Despite the good form of Magnetic North, Huilkrans might well be the best wine of the vintage for us. It’s so typical of Skurfberg Chenin: loaded with energy, drenched with citrus, epic acid, savoury/rusty undertow. Just like that. – Chris Alheit
Grapes from the Skurfberg farm called Oudam owned by the Visser family. A captivating nose of hay, pear, peach, citrus and apple plus earth and a little leesy complexity. Extraordinary fruit concentration making for a palate that’s rich but perfectly balanced and absolutely flavour packed. Lovely proportions, plenty of detail, the finish extremely long. Neat and tidy, which is to say so very well judged when it comes to the winemaking, but there’s also no denying that there’s a very special site involved making for something utterly distinctive. Alcohol: 14.24%. – Christian Eedes, Winemag.co.za, 98/100
Alheit, Fire by Night Chenin Blanc 2017 – R 455
This wine is something like an ode to the Paardeberg. We’ve wanted to make a Paardeberg wine for some time, but I suppose we’ve never had the courage or confidence to do what we’re doing now. The Paardeberg holds a mythical place in our minds. It really is the landscape that sparked the wine revolution that’s currently sweeping the Cape. It’s home to modern heroes like Sadie Family, AA Badenhorst, and David & Nadia. Several other top producers also buy parcels from the mountain. What’s so special about it? In a few words: pure decomposed granite soils, and an abundance of old dry farmed bushvines, much of which is Chenin. Typically, the wines from Paardeberg have a real purity or clarity about them. At their best they can be powerful without being heavy. Fire by Night comes from the Joubertskloof side of the mountain, from three very special parcels of Chenin Blanc grown on Nuwedam farm, planted between 1974 and 1980. We’ve worked with these parcels since 2011 and feel that they exemplify the beauty of the mountain. – Chris Alheit
From three parcels on Christa von La Chevallerie’s Paardeberg farm planted between 1974 and 1980. Arresting aromatics of flowers, dried herbs, peach and apple. Beautifully pure fruit plus plenty of zip – bright but not aggressive acidity. The finish, meanwhile, is long and saline. A wine that’s all about clarity. – Christian Eedes, Winemag.co.za, 95/100
Alheit, Nautical Dawn Chenin Blanc 2017 – R 375
In 2013 we were introduced to the Rustenhof vineyards by a friend. At that time (in my dogma/stupidity) I was not keen to work with anything lower than 300m above sea-level. These old Chenin parcels are much lower down, very close to the False Bay coast of Stellenbosch. So close that on a clear day you can see the waves breaking. I gave them a try. By 2015 they’d become irreplaceable. If we want to tell the story of Cape Chenin then it’s paramount to show you this coastline, with its poor soils (pale decomposed granite) and clear ocean influence. These cool southern parts of Stellenbosch are very different to the central and northern parts of the appellation where the days are warmer, and the soils are darker. Nautical Dawn 2017 is made from two parcels that we think display the nature of False Bay Chenin perfectly: The 1978 bushvine planting on Rustenhof at 60m above sea-level, 4kms from the bay and the 1988 planting on Karibib farm at 220m above sea-level, 13kms from the bay. Both plots are dry farmed, both on granite, both face south-east toward Kaap Hangklip. – Chris Alheit
Grapes from a 1978 Helderberg vineyard and a 1988 Polkadraai vineyard both relatively close to False Bay. An exotic breakfast punch nose – guava, pear and peach in particular. Lots of sweet, bouncy fruit on the palate but there’s also snappy acidity before a suitably dry finish. Dead sexy. Alcohol: 13.47%. – Christian Eedes, Winemag.co.za, 93/100