Greg Sherwood MW: Finding a place in the cellar for the quirky among the classics

By , 21 September 2022



It must be something in the air! The Autumnal September weather here in London or the fresh Spring breeze in the Cape, because so very often, contributor Tim James comes out with an opinion piece on a topic I too have been contemplating deeply in the broader world of wine at exactly the same moment. His recent piece on the trials and tribulations (as well as the not inconsiderable costs) of wine storage was one of those topics that is sure to resonate strongly with almost every passionate wine collector or wine hoarder around the world. For it is a very, very rare occasion that you will meet a passionate, even obsessive wine aficionado who does not feel compelled to buy and squirrel away varying amounts of fine wine with the expectation of pulling out a perfectly cellared bottle with friends over lunch or dinner at some point in the future. Wine is intoxicating for collectors in so many more ways than purely from the effects of the alcohol!

I am, of course, the consummate collector of not only fine wine but also antique Africana books, antique pre-1945 firearms, Champagne capsules, South African art, Boer war bandoliers, etc. You pretty much name it and I will have contemplated collecting it. But over the years, with two children growing up and getting ever more expensive to provide for, one of course needs to prioritise and rationalise on the range and extent of ones collecting. Recent firearm licensing laws, even as a certified collector, have acquired a tiresome amount of red tape, and so, has naturally tailed off over the years. Antique book collecting has slowed drastically as availability has dwindled while the costs have soared. But wine… oh’, Lordy… there seems to be no start and no end to this specific affliction.

In my initial days of buying and selling fine wine in London in the early noughties, I was introduced to a very wealthy, youngish hedge fund banker who I met at a tasting I was presenting at one of his work colleague’s houses. The theme that night was to be South African fine wine, still a fairly novel topic at this time. The evening progressed splendidly and the range of reds, mostly Cape Bordeaux blends or Cabernet Sauvignons including the likes of Meerlust Rubicon, Kanonkop Paul Sauer, Veenwouden Classic, Vergelegen V and Rustenberg Peter Barlow went down a treat.

As the evening started to draw to a close, the said young hedge fund banker, who was still fairly new on his greater journey into fine wine drinking and learning, asked me why he would possibly want to buy a case of any of the wines on the tasting if he could simply walk into a shop and buy a mature bottle when he actually wanted it? Of course, my first reply was because these exceptional wines were at their most affordable on release. But quickly realising that price was not an issue here, I explained that once these South African wines, imported in small quantities because they were wines of fairly limited production compared to the larger Bordeaux Chateaux, were sold out, they were practically unobtainable. In the event he wanted to drink a more mature example, this would simply be impossible to buy unless he pulled the bottle out of his own cellar.

For a person who had seemingly decided he did not want the shackles (or general inconvenience) of collecting fine wine because he already had the financial means to walk into a London fine wine merchant and buy a bottle of mature Chateau Lafite-Rothschild 1982 for circa £250 pounds a bottle, as it was back then, my explanation did not fully make sense. But telling someone who is used to being able to buy whatever they want, whenever they want, that they could not have something… well, that was the clincher. That night he bought his first six cases of wine for storage ever. I had flicked on the light switch. 20 years later, he owns his own hedge fund and possesses one of the greatest multi-million-pound collections of fine wine from Bordeaux, California, and yes, you guessed it, South Africa. Thankfully, despite his financial acumen, he is a drinker and not a collector buying for investment.

Having these older bottles to pull out of one’s cellar to share with friends and fellow enthusiast is indeed a wonderful luxury and rewarding indulgence, and one that requires some thought as well as a certain amount of the obsessive collector bug. Last week I finally managed to meet up with two very good friends from Bordeaux over dinner Chez Sherwood to enjoy some great steaks alongside some exceptional bottles of wine. This was a dinner proposed three years ago but which had been made impossible by the covid-19 pandemic. The ribeyes were cooked to perfection in my Kamado egg and the delicious whites and reds served blind, as is the tradition with these friends, were all exceptional. But once again, the highlight of the nine or ten bottles consumed over a long evening was the final pair of Bordeaux reds from Chateau Montrose 2010 and Chateau Haut Brion 1970. One young 100 Parker Pointer and one unbelievably old but still youthful first growth Pessac red that was picked blind by my Bordelaise friends as Chateau Haut Brion 1989. The perfect way to end an evening of indulgence!

The next day as I poured over the tantalising bottle shots from the dinner, I could not help wondering whether there really needs to be a special place for the more quirky wines in our cellars? If every fine wine lunch or dinner ended with the glorious bravado of a great Bordeaux first growth or a Grand Cru Burgundy, why was I filling my cellar with an assortment of red and white curiosities from South African and around the world? With so many wines in my cellar, nowadays I always stick to my new rule number one, which is that any new purchase not for near term drinking must be age worthy. Plain and simple. Being accosted by a long list of wines that need imminent drinking or are past their best is a nightmare I am keen to avoid.

But as an antidote to my classical Bordeaux and Burgundy predictability, I recently decided to enjoy two wines that I thought would be fun to age and pull out of my cellar with some maturity… to serve blind to friends.

Spice Route Obscura Darling Semillon 2019 Qvevri Wine, WO Darling, 12.5% Abv.

An eccentric and thoroughly quirky expression of Semillon made using large terracotta vessels known as qvevri imported from Georgia which are onion-shaped clay pots buried up to their necks in earth. The colour is a striking yellow honeyed amber and the aromatics lifted and spicy, layered with notes of dried bushveld grass, yellow capsicum, dusty herbs and crushed gravel minerality over hints of ginger, lemon grass, lime peel and exotic vermouth spices. On the palate there is plenty of interest and complexity with textured yellow peach stone fruits, sweet grilled herbs, botanicals, bitter lemon peel and Campari nuances. The finish is clean, bright and fresh with a lingering, saline, savoury dry length. Drink now or cellar further. 91/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Jasper Raats The Silk Weaver Sangiovese 2020, WO Stellenbosch, 14% Abv.

There certainly can’t be too much Sangiovese planted in South Africa? Apparently, the answer is only 69 hectares. When transplanting any Italian red variety outside of Italy, one runs the risk of creating something far removed from the classical Italian expression. This version shows a lovely plum and black cherry colour and displays attractive nuances of sweet cherry tobacco, plum pudding spice, black bramble berry fruits and black liquorice. On the palate there is a gentle vanilla pod spice that melts into tart red and black cherry fruits and red currant coulis. The tannins are plump and present but incredibly well-crafted and manicured, seamlessly balancing the tart bright electric acids. There is something genuinely Italian in feel on the palate but also an authentic South African character enhanced by a lovely sapidity and spiciness on the long, plush finish. So juicy one sip invites the next! Very smart indeed. 94/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Wine collecting is the undoubtedly the perfect convergence between the toxic mix of collecting a never-ending selection of vintage offerings and trying to age these wines to the perfect point of maturity. Most other collectors are normally driven by the wanting and not necessarily the having, which can often result in obsessive collectors selling off their lifelong accumulation when the specific collection is deemed complete. The challenge is gone. Wine is different because there is an incredibly personal and sociable element to the whole proverbial breaking bread and drinking wine with friends. Also, it is often the rarities and impossible curiosities that no one ever thought to buy let alone cellar, that can and should deserve more of the limelight.

So don’t feel too bad, Tim James. South Africa shares the “problem” of a warm climate with many other wine obsessed countries and regions like Australia and California, both of which are experiencing huge increases in energy costs. Buying fine wine will never be cheap and cellaring it properly is never going to be cheap either. But rest assured its not only a South African problem, but one we share with our global fine wine brothers and sisters. A problem shared is a problem halved… just sadly not the storage invoice.

  • Greg Sherwood was born in Pretoria, South Africa, and as the son of a career diplomat, spent his first 21 years travelling the globe with his parents. With a Business Management and Marketing degree from Webster University, St. Louis, Missouri, USA, Sherwood began his working career as a commodity trader. In 2000, he decided to make more of a long-held interest in wine taking a position at Handford Wines in South Kensington, London, working his way up to the position of Senior Wine Buyer. He became a Master of Wine in 2007.


6 comment(s)

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    Ruan | 30 September 2022

    Happy to see there are still a few Obscura Darling Semillon bottles about! 2019 was the first and only year Charl made it.


    Derek | 22 September 2022

    An Excellent article that I can certainly relate to. The joys of opening a bottle that you have lovingly cellared for years know no bounds when that first sip confirms its condition and quality. Fortunately I have been more often surprised than disappointed.

      Greg Sherwood | 22 September 2022

      Thanks Derek. The expectation and hopefully the reward of patience is the reason we live with the affliction of wine collecting. But I firmly feel South African wine collectors are normally on the right side of history as most South African red and white wines tend to age far better than even many classical French and Italian wines. I think its in the DNA of our wine industry.

        GillesP | 22 September 2022

        South African whites ageing far better than many classical French???? Wow that is news to me. I am still to find a South African top chardonnay that can outlive the 10 year mark. They all tend to oxidise pretty quickly after 7 to 8 years . Same with Chenin. I won’t even mention Sauvignon Blanc. While my Hermitage Blanc, St Joseph Blanc , CDP Blanc are all holding very well with time. Some white Burgundy yes some not. Great Bordeaux Blanc like Fieuzal or Chevalier also holding very well

          Greg Sherwood | 22 September 2022

          I was generalising but if you take our top fine wines, red and white, which cost a fraction of many French classics, our wines age very well in my experience. Cellaring temps and conditions are of course key. Choosing the correct wine to age is also of utmost importance. Some popular styles and producers in South Africa do not age and improve particularly well… but if you take the best producers, who regularly represent Brand South Africa overseas, we are spoilt for choice to buy ageable wines. Chardonnay… you really need to buy the right style, but the same is true of Burgundy. As for Sauvignon Blanc, we have a dearth of ageable Constantia, Elgin and Stellenbosch examples. White Bordeaux is not over its premox problems just yet – the elephant in the room no one wants to talk about. As for our reds… well, they are even better to age. As I say, its my personal experience, but then my list of producers I regularly drink may not be your average South African consumers selection, and I acknowledge this fact. But the overal picture hold true… South Africa’s top wines age very well on the whole.

            Daniel Hough | 22 September 2022

            I just finished a 2005 Tokara White (100% sauvignon blanc). Three days after being opened, the last drop was still as gorgeous and fresh as the first.


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