Having travelled to South Africa twice in the year there was no surprise that Chris Wilson’s Top 10 wines of 2018 would include a fair number from SA; half, in fact. Chris highlights a Pinotage that was served in magnum and double magnum – a decade apart in vintage – a Colheita from his birth year and a ‘low alcohol’ Riesling from New Zealand.
Like all our wine experts, Chris had great difficulty in whittling down his long list to just 10 wines.
I make no apologies that half of the wines in my Top 10 are South African. I’ve been banging on (and on) about the quality, diversity and excitement of SA wine for many years now and this year I was thrilled to visit Cape Wine and taste many of these wines for the first time on African soil. It was a revelation seeing up-close-and-personal the verve and passion of an industry at the very top of its game and meeting many of the protagonists in their back yard (in some cases, literally).
The other five wines have intrigued, excited or lit-up a tasting or meal at various points in 2018. There are dozens more, of course, that could have easily made this list, but editorial guidelines and the desire to down tools for the Xmas break limit me to this motley 10.
This is listed chronologically. Merry Christmas, happy sipping.
Kaapzicht 1947 Chenin Blanc 2016
This was the first outstanding wine I tasted in 2018, I remember it clearly; it was enjoyed on the ‘stoep’ of a holiday cottage in Swellendam, South Africa. It was the 2ndof January and we’d just got the kids to bed after a long drive from Hermanus. From the first sniff to the last sip it was mesmerising; sweet, bright fruit, a dense texture, a richness that was generous but not over-bearing. A lush, beautiful thing.
Trimbach Clos Ste Hune Riesling 1989
Tasted in springtime at one of the great wine trade lunches of the year (nobody dared leave even though it overran horribly), this was the highlight. It showed great purity and poise – which is more than can be said of some of my tablemates, but that’s another story – and demonstrated just why Clos Ste Hune is one of the great Alsace wines of all time. Bright straw in colour with a nose of clementine pith, garden herbs and lime it was just as joyful in the mouth with petroleum, honey and passion fruit all joining the party.
Leeu Passant Dry Red Wine 2016
Rosa Krugar and André Morgenthal from South Africa’s Old Vine Project know how to host a lunch. Desperate to try some European wines they ordered various by-the-glass offerings during the early part of the meal – chewing each over, sharing sniffs and sips – then when the main course arrived André produced this big gun from under the table. Made by Chris and Andrea Mullineux in collaboration with The Leeu Collection’s Analjit Singh it’s an impressive blend of old vine Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Cinsault that’s dark and brooding with Assam tea, red cherry, perfume and spice. Incredibly pure.
Peter Lehmann Stonewall Barossa Shiraz 1998
This was a lost bottle, rescued from the cellar in the summer during the heatwave. With steak on the barbecue and friends in the garden it seemed an obvious choice, and boy did it deliver. Amarone-like in weight and complexity, there was such detail in the generous black fruit, but best of all was the herby, dark choc tang on the finish.
Kanonkop Pinotage 2006/16
The second ‘official’ outing of Cape Wine 2018 (Brexit-fuelled near fisticuffs the night before in a Stellenbosch bar wasn’t on the itinerary) was a lunchtime braai at the famous Kanopkop estate. Big bottles was the theme and the two standout wines were both Pinotages, made ten years apart, and served in magnum and double magnum respectively. The 2006 was textured, polished and complex with dried raspberry fruit, liquorice and leather, while the 2016 was more primary and grubby with black fruit, vanilla and cardamom. Together they shone, bringing out the best in each other.
Lismore Reserve Syrah 2017
There’s a very good reason why everyone raves about Samantha O’Keefe’s wines – made miles from anywhere in Greyton – it’s because they are rare things; wines that are able to touch you on an emotional as well as physical level. Her outstanding wine at Cape Wine was this silky, deft Syrah made from 40% whole bunch-fermented fruit which is matured in 500 litre oak barrels. Mulberry and cherry fruit dominate but there’s savoury leather and pepper, and spicy coriander too. The tannins are present but beautifully integrated and it has a wonderfully precise, spotless finish.
Klein Constantia Sauvignon Blanc 1994
One of the highlights of Cape Wine was a retrospective tasting featuring eight wineries where each showed five vintages of the same wine, some spanning four decades. 1998 Warwick Cab Franc, 2005 Palladius, 1991 Rubicon… it was quite the embarrassment of riches. For me the standout was this 24-year-old Sauvignon Blanc, proving once and for all that this variety can age. It was remarkably fresh with a bold, textured mouthfeel and a bombardment of flavours; figs, garden peas, honey, dried fruit.
Barros Colheita 1978
What better way to celebrate your 40th birthday than with a bottle of nutty sunlight from the year you were born. This was divine; crystallised hazelnuts, prunes and winter spice all suspended in a lush envelope of sweetness and power. Simply stunning, and will likely live on longer than me.
Ministry of Clouds Mataro 2015
Winemaking couple Bernice Ong and Julian Forwood made it quite clear that this wine was made as much for themselves as for their customers when they pulled it out during lunch in September. “We make Mataro because we cook with pork belly and lamb and we need something that can cope with fat,” announced Julian. It was served with grouse and confit potatoes, which ticked the ‘fat’ boxes. It was chewy and full with iron filing tannins, crisp, acidic raspberry characters and softer notes of dusty plum and leather.
The Doctors’ Riesling 2017
I tasted this with inspirational winemaker John Forrest in London in autumn 2018. It’s part of the low(er) alcohol range he has painstakingly developed through pioneering viticulture techniques which revolve around canopy management. Weighing in at 9% abv it’s lively, clear and crisp with fresh lime and spiced apple characters and a salty, stony tension. You wouldn’t know that this is a ‘moderation occasion’ wine, as John eloquently put it.