With two months of the year spent in Australia and South Africa it is no surprise that Geoffrey Dean has picked almost all of his top wines of 2022 from these two countries, with only the Tommasi, Deburis Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Riserva DOCG 2010 being the ‘odd one out’. With so much time spent in the field Dean has a knack of discovering wines that are not the usual suspects and which other wine experts seem to have missed.
“The 2021 Chardonnay is perhaps their best yet, with florality, freshness and finesse its hallmarks,” writes Dean about Daniel and Bill Pannell’s new wine.
Benguela Cove Lagoon Wine Estate, Catalina Semillon 2019, Walker Bay, South Africa 14% abv
Vineyards planted on clay and shale soils where sheep grazed on the banks of the Bot River estuary near Hermanus are now producing outstanding wines like this predominantly barrel-fermented Semillon. There is history in the label, for the lagoon bordering the estate was used as a base for the RAF’s Catalina flying boats in World War II. One such flying boat is on the label. Johann Fourie, one of South Africa’s most capable winemakers, says the wine “was made to be remembered.” It certainly has been by this correspondent, who was enchanted by its complexity, texture and length, underpinned by vibrant acidity and oystershell minerality. Hay and lanolin notes add to its allure. Ethereally gorgeous now but with long cellaring potential.
Deep Woods, Single Vineyard Cabernet Malbec 2020, Margaret River, Western Australia 14% abv
Cabernet-Malbec blends work brilliantly in the Margaret River, with an 80/20 percentage split here. Some of the older vines found in the region – these were planted in 1985 at the northern end of it in the Yallingup Hills – have been coaxed by viticulturist John Fogarty to produce some glorious intense fruit for senior winemaker Andrew Bretherton. He has judged the oak regime deftly, with maturation for 18 months in 30% new French barriques with medium toast. Supple, fine-grained tannins, fresh angular acidity and concentrated blackcurrant notes with the Malbec providing some frisky red fruit lift. A wonderful wine from a producer that keeps reaching ever higher levels of quality.
Dewaldt Heyns, Weathered Hands Chenin Blanc 2019, Swartland, South Africa 14% abv
Dewaldt Heyns, the highly regarded Saronsberg winemaker, also produces his own eponymous label from fruit on his family’s old farm, Uitvlug, in the Paardeberg. “My father’s weathered hands testify to a lifetime of faithful toil among the vineyards of his Swartland farm,” reflected Heyns on his choice of name for the range (which includes a superb Shiraz). This outstanding Chenin Blanc, from low-yielding dry-grown bush vines planted on weathered granite in the 1970s, was barrel-fermented in 40% new French barriques, spending 11 months in them. Sumptuous, textural yet refined, the wine is truly evocative of the Paardeberg ward.
Faber Vineyard, Liqueur Muscat NV, Swan Valley, Western Australia 16.8% abv
John Griffiths, former Houghton winemaker, now farms 11 hectares of his own vines in the Swan Valley sub-region just outside Perth. His still wines are excellent but this luscious sticky is simply sensational, a reminder that not just Rutherglen produces great fortified Muscats. Faber Vineyard is dry-grown in a Mediterranean climate that has mild, wet winters and hot, dry summers. A cornucopia of oriental sweet spices and complex flavours including silken toffee, dried raisins, caramel, dates, figs and honeycomb. Wondrous concentration and length, together with 300 g/l of residual sugar make it the perfect accompaniment for Christmas or ultra-rich puddings.
Graham Beck, Cuvee Clive 2017, Robertson, South Africa 12.5% abv
One of the New World’s best sparkling wines, this is named after the late son of Graham Beck who died in his thirties. It spent four and a half years on the lees, being disgorged in September 2021. Made up of 60% Chardonnay, which came from both Robertson and Napier and was barrel-fermented, and 40% Pinot Noir, all from Durbanville and tank-fermented, its dosage was 3.8g/l and pH 3.15. Very persistent mousse and voluptuous yet fresh, with seductive brioche and biscuit notes. Creamy texture with exceptional length.
Picardy, Chardonnay 2021, Pemberton, Western Australia 12.5% abv
Bill Pannell, widely regarded as the doyen of Western Australia winemakers, made this top-class Chardonnay in partnership with son Daniel in the cool climate region of Pemberton, 200 miles south of Perth. Pannell senior founded iconic Margaret River winery Moss Wood before moving to Pemberton as he craved Burgundian-style Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The dynamic duo make world-class examples of both from vines planted as far back as 1993. The 2021 Chardonnay is perhaps their best yet, with florality, freshness and finesse its hallmarks. The oak (25% new) is already perfectly integrated, while partial malolactic fermentation (40%) leaves sufficient residual malic acid for some minerality. The quality of the fruit establishes itself in a millisecond, swooping in and gliding across the palate with citrus, white peach and cumquat notes. A very classy Chardonnay with great length.
Pikes, EWP Shiraz 2020, Clare Valley, South Australia 14% abv
Named after Edgar Walter Pike, father of owner and renowned viticulturist Andrew, this is a superb example of medium-bodied Clare Valley Shiraz. A multitude of enticing flavours with blackberry and black cherry fruit complemented by meaty, clove-like and undergrowth notes as well as peppercorn spiciness. New oak restricted to 15%, with supple tannins giving plenty of structure, while a low pH of 3.52 affords juicy freshness. Everything is in perfect balance in this savoury, complex and long wine that will cellar for another decade or more. Alternatively have a bottle at Pikes’ award-winning restaurant, Slate, built four years ago next to the tasting-room.
Tommasi, Deburis Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Riserva DOCG 2010, Veneto 15.9% abv
One of Italy’s greatest wines, the fruit for this spectacular four-grape blend comes mainly from Tommasi’s best-known vineyard, La Groletta, a 1.9 hectare plot at 250 metres overlooking the town of Negrar in Veneto. Corvina makes up 60% along with Corvinone Veronese (25%), Oseleta (10%), Rondinella (5%). Oseleta is added to give colour and structure. Tommasi do not release this wine until ten years after vintage – the first five years being spent in 20-hectolitre Slavonian oak vessels and the next five in bottle. The tannins, already soft from La Groletta’s chalky soils, are beautifully integrated. Notwithstanding an abv of 15.9%, the balance of this powerful yet elegant Amarone is pitch-perfect, with a pH of 3.65, residual sugar of 4.5 g/l and TA of 6.29 g/l. Incredibly long, complex and concentrated, layer after layer unfurls with notes of blueberry, dark cherries, coffee, dates and leather.
Voyager Estate, MJW Cabernet Sauvignon 2018, Margaret River, Western Australia, 14% abv
Who doesn’t love a Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon, and a brilliant one like this? Taking the initials of the late Michael Wright, who bought Voyager in 1991, expanded it and handed the reins over to his daughter Alexandra Burt, this is a special label from an exceptional vintage. Produced from organically-farmed 41-year old vines that yielded less than three tons per hectare, the wine sings then soars. Deftly balanced and neatly structured, with ageing for 18 months in fine-grained French barriques, 46% new, this is a medium-bodied wine of real elegance yet power, with fine powdery tannins. Sumptuously flavoured with a core of red fruit, and blessed with great persistence and freshness, this superbly structured and deeply perfumed Cabernet has a long life ahead of it. Hard to resist even now though.
Whistler Wines, Estate Shiraz 2021, Barossa Valley, South Australia, 14.3% abv
Penfold’s former head vineyard manager, Martin Pfeiffer, established this gem of a boutique winery in 1999. He planted the Shiraz clone that goes into Grange – Kalimna 3C – as well as two other top clones of the varietal, 1654 and BVRC30. These vines are producing some superlative fruit with super-low yields of less than a ton per acre. Martin’s son, Sam and his Canadian wife Kelsey, have taken over the vineyard with Michael Corbett the new winemaker. The Wine Society were so impressed with this wine that they bought a substantial allocation that will be offered to members in the New Year. Snap up this wonderfully expressive Shiraz. It has aromas of dark plum, coffee and black pepper while blue/black fruits and smooth silky tannins, allied with freshness and vitality, render it a delight on the palate. The oak regime has been well judged, with one in every three barrels being new (both French and American). A wine that will reward cellaring, but a delight now.