Home / Awards / Neal Martin reviews South Africa – part one

Neal Martin reviews South Africa – part one

Neal Martin reviews South Africa – part one

Against the background of COVID-19, the South African export ban and lockdowns, Neal Martin has just released his reviews of a number of recent vintages from South African estates. Part two is to follow later in the year.

Bouchard Finlayson

2018 Tête de Cuvée Pinot Noir, Bouchard Finlayson – 92 pts

The 2018 Tête de Cuvée Pinot Noir has a clean and pleasant nose with upfront crushed strawberry, red cherry and undergrowth scents and a subtle complementary nettle tea note. The palate is fresh on the entry with sour cherry and strawberry. Quite tart and edgy at first thanks to the acidity, this coheres toward the finish and has sufficient sapidity to beckon you back for another sip. A fine Hemel Pinot. Four barrels produced this vintage.

Catherine Marshall Wines

2019 Chenin Blanc Fermented in Clay, Catherine Marshall Wines – 92 pts

The 2019 Chenin Blanc Fermented in Clay is what is says on the tin. It has a superb bouquet of yellow plum, a touch of petrol, orange zest and just a light curry leaf note. The well-balanced palate is fresh and focused, with a fine bead of acidity and a pinch of spice toward the pretty finish. A lovely Chenin Blanc from Catherine Marshall that should age with style.

2018 Pinot Noir on Sandstone Soils, Catherine Marshall Wines – 91 pts

The 2018 Pinot Noir on Sandstone Soils, aged for nine months in French barriques, has a slightly gamey nose, hints of dried blood coming through with time. The palate is medium-bodied with supple tannins and a fine bead of acidity. There is a pleasant piquancy toward the finish and a very gentle grip. Enjoy over the next 6–8 years.

2020 Red Slate Riesling, Catherine Marshall Wines – 90 pts

The 2020 Riesling has a clean, attractive bouquet of fresh pear and yellow plum plus a touch of jasmine, all nicely defined. The palate is crisp on the entry and quite malic in style, with a twist of sour lemon on the finish. Needs to be partnered carefully with, say, some fruits de mer, but overall a very decent Riesling reminiscent of Eden Valley rather than the Mosel.

2019 Pinot Noir on Clay Soils, Catherine Marshall Wines – 90 pts

The 2019 Pinot Noir on Clay Soils, which spent nine months in barrel, has a generous crushed strawberry and red cherry nose that translates the character of the grape variety well. The palate is crisp and slightly leafy on the entry, a leaner style of Pinot Noir but balanced and focused, with sufficient weight on the finish. It has an easy-drinking sensibility about it. For those that like their Pinot with a lighter touch.


2015 Lady May, Glenelly – 92 pts

The 2015 Lady May, a blend of 69% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Cabernet Franc, 11% Merlot and 7% Petit Verdot, offers plenty of ripe raspberry, wild strawberry, tobacco and menthol notes on the nose. It is quite heady in style but manages to retain delineation. The palate is medium-bodied with grainy tannins on the entry. There’s plenty of tarry black fruit here, and a sappy, marine-tinged finish urges you back for another sip. This Bordeaux blend deserves a few months in bottle and should repay cellaring.

2019 Estate Reserve Chardonnay, Glenelly – 90 pts

The 2019 Estate Reserve Chardonnay has a well-defined bouquet, the oak (500-liter French for 10 months) neatly integrated. The palate is well balanced with tropical notes of pineapple and passion fruit on the entry, fine acidity and a rounded, lightly honeyed finish. Enjoy this Chardonnay over the next decade.


2019 The 1947 Chenin Blanc, Kaapzicht – 93 pts               

The 2019 “The 1947” comes from 72-year-old Chenin Blanc bush vines, apparently the second-oldest in South Africa. It has a complex bouquet of white peach, mirabelle, jasmine and a light waxy aroma, all very enticing and beautifully defined. The palate is well balanced with a clean, precise entry, hints of clementine and pear, and later more exotic notes of mango and passion fruit, though always well controlled. The finish offers a hint of custard creams and vanilla pod. A wonderful Chenin Blanc. Just 900 bottles produced.


2018 Black Label Pinotage, Kanonkop – 94 pts

The 2018 Black Label Pinotage offers enticing black cherry, raspberry coulis, pressed rose petal and orange pith aromas that gain intensity with aeration. The palate is medium-bodied with fine-grained, supple tannins, wonderful harmony and a caressing texture. This (as always) displays so much purity and refinement, and a classy, velvety finish that does not outstay its welcome. Superb.

2018 Estate Pinotage, Kanonkop – 93 pts

The 2018 Pinotage comes from vines up to 65 years old, cropped at 5 tons/ha, and raised for 16 months in 80% new oak and 20% second fill. There is a little reduction on the nose, though this is brushed away with aeration to reveal black plum mixed with Christmas cake and a hint of licorice; fine delineation here. The palate is medium-bodied with impressive harmony and focus, the oak seamlessly integrated. There is fine backbone to this Pinotage, and a sustained white pepper finish that lingers. Outstanding.

2018 Kadette Cape Blend, Kanonkop – 91 pts

The 2018 Kadette Cape Blend comprises 37% Pinotage, 33% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc and 1% Petit Verdot, matured for 12–24 months in French barrels from Nevers. The bouquet offers a mixture of red and black plums, a touch of white pepper and a light Provençal herb note. It opens nicely with aeration. The palate is very well balanced with fine tannins and crisp acidity that lends an appealing edginess. A little earthy in style, but the fruit comes through toward the finish and leaves residues of black pepper and tangy seaweed on the finish. This is a supremely well made Cape Blend from Kanonkop.

2016 Cabernet Sauvignon, Kanonkop – 91 pts

The 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon has to shake off a bit of reduction, but eventually offers plenty of black fruit, pressed violets and light marine/seaweed aromas. The medium-bodied palate delivers fine-grained tannins and a mixture of red and black fruit laced with tobacco and white pepper, leading to an elegant and quite persistent finish. There’s some quality winemaking on show here             .


2018 Five Soldiers Chardonnay, Rustenberg – 93 pts

The 2018 Five Soldiers Chardonnay, named after the five pine trees that overlook the estate, is matured in oak for 15 months. It has a delightful nose of citrus fruit, marzipan, orange blossom and hints of crushed stone, the oak nicely integrated. The palate is very well balanced with a precise, slightly mineral-driven entry that segues into lovely pithy, white peach and dried pineapple notes toward the finely sculpted finish. This is a superb Chardonnay from Rustenberg.

2018 John X Merriman, Rustenberg – 92 pts

The 2018 John X Merriman is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec matured in oak for 20 months. It offers an attractive nose of black plum, blueberry and violet scents, plus a subtle marine note in the background. The palate is medium-bodied with supple tannins, a generous pinch of black pepper on the entry, good weight and the focus and precision I have come to expect from this tp cuvée from Rustenberg. Classy.

2017 Peter Barlow Cabernet Sauvignon, Rustenberg – 92 pts

The 2017 Peter Barlow Cabernet Sauvignon is deep in color. The attractive aromatics include intense blackberries, raspberry coulis, star anise and light licorice scents that are well defined and focused. The palate is medium-bodied with supple tannins and a slightly grainy texture. The oak is nicely enmeshed with black toasty fruit that segues into a spicy, almost Oriental-tinged (hoisin?) finish. This has a lot to offer, though I would be inclined to afford it another couple of years in bottle.

2018 Buzzard Kloof Syrah, Rustenberg – 90 pts

The 2018 Buzzard Kloof Syrah has an overtly floral nose, bunches of violets and iris flower mixed with the black and blue fruit. The palate is fleshy and silky on the entry. Not deep, and with less grip than expected, though it feels cohesive and quite persistent on the finish. A well crafted Syrah that veers toward the plush side.

Rust en Vrede

2017 Estate Vineyards Syrah, Rust en Vrede – 90+ pts

The 2017 Syrah Estate Vineyards comes across a little anonymous on the nose. It doesn’t leap from the glass with floral aromas as Syrahs are wont to do. The palate is medium-bodied, with sappy black fruit, white pepper, black pepper, sage and fennel. Finally, at the finish, the grape variety begins to flex its muscles, so perhaps to give it the benefit of doubt, it just needs another few months for those aromatics to bloom.

2018 Estate Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Rust en Vrede – 90 pts

The 2018 Estate Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon has an attractive nose of brambly black fruit, singed leather, menthol and licorice, quite contained and focused. The palate is a little chewy on the entry, but then it settles down, offering blackberry and raspberry fruit mixed with hoisin and star anise, and a pinch of white pepper toward the finish. Enjoy this over the next decade.