Tim Atkin MW's South Africa 2020 Special Report

Tim Atkin MW has published his eighth annual South Africa Special Report, with several of our producers and their wines receiving high praise. Tim remarks that “South Africa is making the greatest wines in its history” and the country’s top producers are “making some of the best and most distinctive wines in the world.”

Tim classifies the Cape’s best producers into six categories (loosely based on the 1855 Bordeaux Classification), this year awarding First Growth status to Crystallum and our new additions Leeu Passant, Mullineux and Thorne & Daughters, as well as Second Growth status to Gabriëlskloof.

We’re delighted that 18 of our wines have made Tim’s Wines of the Year 2020 list. Please see full details and Tim’s reviews below. Special mention goes to the “stunning first release” of Thorne & Daughters’ Snakes & Ladders Sauvignon Blanc 2019, which Tim has named his ‘White Wine Discovery of the Year’.

The full South Africa 2020 Special Report can be purchased from TimAtkin.com.


White Wine Discovery of the Year (and one of Tim’s Sauvignon Blancs of the Year)

2019 Thorne & Daughters Snakes & Ladders Sauvignon Blanc, Citrusdal Mountain

95 points

Yields were tiny in 2019 at only 2.2 tons per hectare, but this small parcel of Sauvignon Blanc on Basie van Lill's celebrated farm has produced a stunning first release. Previously sold to a co-operative, it has made something special in John Seccombe's hands. Tangy, reductive and saline, with notes of kelp and rock pools, some subtle wood and plenty of underlying extract.

 

Chardonnays of the Year

2019 Crystallum Clay Shales Chardonnay, Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge

96 points

As its name suggests, this superb Chardonnay comes from a vineyard that is rich in clay, making it a very good bet in drier vintages. Produced from just 0.5 hectares on the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, it's bright, salty, leesy and judiciously oaked, with the kind of precision and palate length that wouldn't look out of place in Puligny-Montrachet.

 

2018 Leeu Passant Chardonnay, Stellenbosch

96 points

Andrea Mullineux makes this brilliant Chardonnay from a cool, False Bay-influenced vineyard at 600 metres on the Helderberg, using full malolactic, even in a warm, dry year like 2018 and 30% new wood. Leesy, vivid and focused, it has racy, stony acidity and flavours of lemongrass and buttered toast.

(Available from end September 2020)

 

Chenin Blancs of the Year

2019 Mullineux Granite Chenin Blanc, Swartland

96 points

"The hardest wine to make," says Andrea Mullineux of this Chenin Blanc from a nutrition-poor vineyard on the Kasteelbeg. But the effort is certainly worth it. Showing aromas of white flowers and gunflint, it has amazing focus, salinity and depth with linear acidity and notes of green apple, kitchen spices and umami.

(2018 vintage is available from end September 2020)

 

2019 Gabriëlskloof The Landscape Series Elodie Chenin Blanc, Swartland

95 points

Combining fruit from two superb Swartland sources, this is a taut, tight, very youthful Chenin that needs time in bottle to open up. With aromas of lime and cucumber, it's pithy and slightly green, with mouth-watering acidity, a kiss of oak and remarkable intensity and palate length.

Current vintage: 2018

 

Semillons of the Year

2019 Thorne & Daughters Paper Kite Old Vine Semillon, Swartland

95 points

This exceptional white comes from a Semillon vineyard planted in 1963, where 5% of the vines are Semillon Gris. Whole bunch pressed, oxidatively handled and fermented and aged in old wood, it's focused, stony and pithy, despite going through full malolactic, with lime, lanolin and fresh dough notes and wonderful line and length.

 

White Blends of the Year

2019 Mullineux Old Vines White Blend, Swartland

95 points

Chenin Blanc is the marquee variety here, with support from 26% Clairette Blanche, Grenache Blanc, Viognier, Semillon Gris, Viura and Verdelho, most of which is sourced from 37 to 70-year-old vines. Lemon, lime and wet stone flavours with some phenolic grip and remarkable palate length.

(Available from end September 2020)

 

2019 Thorne & Daughters Rocking Horse Cape White Blend, Western Cape

95 points

Produced from grapes purchased across the Western Cape, with the bulk from the Swartland and Stellenbosch, this is Roussanne dominated with 64% Semillon, Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay and Clairette Blanche. Handled oxidatively and aged in older wood, it's complex and savoury with peach, greengage and citrus fruit and some phenolic grip.

 

Syrahs of the Year

2018 Mullineux Schist Syrah Roundstone, Swartland

97 points

My pick of the three top Mullineux Syrahs in 2018, this world-class red is the most perfumed and alluring of the trio right now. Combining fruit from the Kasteelberg and Roundstone, this has violet and lavender aromas, some sap and grip from 100% whole bunches, incredible focus and grip and a plush, seductive mid palate.

(2017 vintage is available from end September 2020)

 

2018 Mullineux Granite Syrah, Swartland

96 points

One of a trio of brilliant soil-based Syrahs from the Mullineux in 2018, Granite hails from a 30-year-old vineyard on the Paardeberg. Structured and grippy, it's a wine that will reward patience, with clove spice from 100% whole bunches, notes of blood orange and blackberry, fine oak and a tangy, refreshing finish.

(2018 vintage is available from end September 2020)

 

2018 Mullineux Iron Syrah, Swartland

96 points

Now that Porseleinberg has changed in style, the Mullineux's Iron Syrah can adopt the mantle of the Cornas taste alike of the Swartland. Tannic and intense, it's a wild, dense, blood and guts style wine with lots of whole bunch intensity and a ferrous finish.

(2017 vintage is available from end September 2020)

 

2018 Gabriëlskloof The Landscape Series Syrah on Sandstone, Bot River

95 points

One of a pair of superb Syrahs from Peter-Allan Finlayson, this comes from a parcel at the back of the estate at 220 metres that faces northeast. White pepper and clove aromas segue into a palate that's focused, savoury and spicy with considerable complexity and ageing potential and a core of red berry fruit. Long and elegant.

Current vintage: 2017

 

Cinsaults of the Year

2017 Leeu Passant Old Vines Basson Cinsault, Wellington

96 points

Basson is probably the oldest red wine vineyard in the Cape, planted back in 1900 and resurrected by Chris and Andrea Mullineux and Rosa Kruger. There are only 1,000 bottles from the 0.8 hectares, alas, but what wine this is: complex, long and refined with palatecaressing sweetness and layered, fine-boned tannins. The Musigny of the Cinsault world.

(Available from end September 2020)

 

2018 Leeu Passant Old Vines Lötter Cinsault, Franschhoek

95 points

Andrea Mullineux used to make Lötter as a Cape Winemakers' Guild auction lot, but the 3,000 bottles are now sold under the Leeu Passant label. Rose petal and Turkish delight aromas segue into a palate that's surprisingly dense and concentrated with sappy, old-vine complexity.

(Available from end September 2020)

 

Pinot Noirs of the Year

2018 Crystallum Whole Bunch Pinot Noir, Overberg

97 points

There was no 2017 release of this small volume wine, but the thrilling second bottling was well worth waiting for. Made from an equal blend of Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge and Shaw's Mountain fruit, it was fermented with 100% whole bunches to "see where it goes", according to Peter-Allan Finlayson. The result is stunningly good: sappy, savoury and spicy, with layers of complexity, fine oak and tapering, scented finish. Only 1,200 bottles, alas.

Current vintage: 2019

 

2019 Crystallum Cuvée Cinéma Pinot Noir, Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge

95 points

Cuvée Cinéma is sourced from the top end of the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley from a clayshales vineyard planted in 2009. The stems were unusually mature in 2019, so Peter-Allan Finlayson added 70% whole bunches. The result is sappy, spicy and quite dense, with effortless concentration, black cherry and plum fruit, sinewy tannins and good ageing potential.

 

2019 Crystallum Mabalel Pinot Noir, Overberg

95 points

The yields were the lowest ever - one third of the average - from this Elandskloof vineyard in 2019, but there's nothing wrong with the quality and no sign of over-concentration on the nose or palate. Dark, intense and vigorous, with floral top notes, impressive structure, some sweet spices from 20% new wood and the raciness that's typical of the site. Consistently impressive.

 

Sweets of the Year

NV Mullineux Olerasay Straw Wine #2, Swartland

97 points

A total one-off in the world of South African wine, this is the second release from the Mullineux's Chenin Blanc solera, made with components that date back to 2008. It has a cavity-challenging 331 grams of sugar, but you don't notice the sweetness because of the balancing acidity. Almond, marzipan, apple tart, citrus peel and layers of balsamic complexity make this one of the best sweet wines in the Cape.

(Available from end September 2020)