Greg Sherwood MW: Two of South Africa’s finest put to the test in a comparative tasting

By , 17 November 2022



Everybody loves a comparative taste-off between international fine wine nations to see if an upset can be delivered. If the tasting can be done blind, the results can potentially be all the more dramatic. I recently presented a tasting for 31 guests at the fine wine private members club 67 Pall Mall in London and presented five flights of fantastic international fine wines from Italy, California, South Africa and Australia. The wines were selected from the hosts cellar and tasted sighted, presented in five paired flights to allow a certain degree of stylistic comparative assessment.  

I explained to the audience that as fine wine buyers in the trade, we often get to taste wines initially out of the barrel or tank pre-bottling, then again later when the wines are bottled and “physical” on the fine wine market. But the most popular comparative tasting must be the “10 Years On” format where wines with a bit of bottle age can really be put through their paces and initial release scores and ratings reassessed. Did the critics get it right?

The comparative tasting I presented recently featured 10 wines from the 2012 vintage, as follows:

Flight 1

Isole e Olena Cepparello 2012, Tuscany IGT, Italy, 14% Abv.

100% Sangiovese

Fontodi Flaccianello delle Pieve 2012, Colli Toscana Centrale IGT, Italy, 15% Abv.

100% Sangiovese

In intriguing flight featuring two great pure Sangiovese wines that have always traditionally fallen outside of the Chianti Classico DOCG rules and now that they can be include, don’t want to be. The Cepparello rated 93/100 from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate on release and the Flaccianello 94/100 points. Both were sleek, taut, youthful and fresh with plenty of liquorice spice, fruit elegance and structure. Both a joy to drink now, preferably with some Italian cuisine or red meat, but certainly no rush if you have either of these beauties in your cellar. After tasting, the audience then voted for their favourite of the flight and it was fascinating to see the Cepparello score 15 votes and the Flaccianello score 16 votes. Very much a spilt vote along the lines of the original release ratings from Parker.

Flight 2

Sadie Family Wines Columella 2012, WO Swartland, South Africa, 14% Abv.

76% Syrah, 17% Mourvedre, 7% Grenache

Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines Syrah 2012, WO Swartland, South Africa, 13.5% Abv.

100% Syrah

Then came the two Swartland stalwarts from two producers very close to my own heart. At Eben Sadie’s recent masterclass in London, he described the 2004 Columella as one of his favourite vintages. On the 2012 spec sheet, many comparisons were made to the cooler 2004, declaring 2012 another exceptional vintage year. A small amount of earthy bottle stink blew off pretty quickly to reveal a compact, sophisticated, Northern Rhone styled Syrah led wine that was cool fruited and elegant with silky tannins and a charming savoury, brambly fruited finish. The Mullineux “estate” Syrah made from a blend of seven plots, four in the Kasteelberg, two in the Paardeberg and one from the Malmesbury area, was youthful and exotically perfumed with a feel of polished perfection, fabulous balance and intensity and beautiful depth and complexity. Also very much in the mould of a top Northern Rhone Cote Rotie or St Joseph. The audience vote seemed to prefer the extra mellow maturity on the Columella at the moment and it won the vote 18 to 13. But both were very popular styles with the audience impressing with their inherent quality.

Flight 3

Fattoria Le Pupille Saffredi 2012, Maremma IGT, Italy, 14.5% Abv.

60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 10% Petit Verdot

Dominus, Dominus 2012, Napa Valley AVA, USA, 14.5% Abv.

93% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Petit Verdot, 2% Cabernet Franc

Then on to flight 3 and two classical Bordeaux styled blends, one from Tuscany’s coastal Maremma and one from California’s Napa Valley. Saffredi was rated a perfect 100/100 by James Suckling when tasted it in 2015 and while this may be a little on the high side, the wine was certainly one of the true standout wines of the whole tasting in my opinion. Dense and compact with a harmonious weightless structure and balance, pure juicy black cherry and cassis fruits and plenty of freshness. What not to love. The Dominus, at the time of release, scored a massive 99/100 from Robert Parker and was also proclaimed by Christian Moueix as his best vintage since the maiden 1983, or at least until the 2013 came along. This pair of vintages is still often compared to the high scoring iconic duo of 1991 and 1994 from Dominus, but despite the 2012s depth and power, the wine still felt like it was holding a lot in reserve and deserved further ageing in the cellar to show at its best. Nevertheless, a cracking pair that the more showy and seductive Saffredi won 19 to 12 with the consumer vote.

Flight 4

Henschke Mount Edelstone Shiraz 2012, Eden Valley, Australia, 14.5% Abv.

100% Shiraz

Grant Burge Meshach Shiraz 2012, Barossa Valley, Australia, 14.5% Abv.

100% Shiraz

Then on to the first of two fascinating Australian flights from a very high-quality vintage in the country. No off-vintage shenanigans on display here! The Mount Edelstone was pure and polished, more feminine and elegant in structure showing lovely pure red and black fruits, a gentle savoury hint and fine grained, seductive tannins on the finish. Very classy indeed. The Grant Burge Meshach, owned by Accolade Wines since 2015, was rich and bold and unashamedly muscular and ripe with layers of sweet black berry and cherry kirsch liquor, sweet oak but also a beautiful framing acidity that kept the whole construction in equilibrium. Bold Barossa at its delicious best. I see it “only” scored 94+/100 from the Wine Advocate on release but it seemed to have plenty of gas in the tank and tricks up its sleeve for future drinking enjoyment. Certainly an undeniable consumer favourite taking the vote 18 to 13 over the more classically restrained Henschke.

Flight 5

Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz 2012, South Australia, 14.5% Abv.

54% Cabernet Sauvignon, 46% Shiraz from Wrattonbully, Barossa, Mclaren Vale, Langhorne Creek, and Robe

Yalumba The Caley 2012, South Australia, 14% Abv.

52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Barossa Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Barossa Shiraz

Last but not least, was the showdown between two big guns from Penfolds and Yalumba. Both super premium in pricing, the Bin 389 is often described as the “Baby Grange” due to it being aged in the previous vintage’s used Penfolds Grange barrels. Both wines represent wonderful expressions of the classic Aussie Cabernet / Shiraz blend, where there always seems to be such synergy and harmony when this blend is made down under. For a wine that only scored 91/100 from the Wine Advocate on release, it was certainly showing its pedigree now with a showy depth of fruit, wonderful palate weight and texture and real complexity and intensity on the finish. A really delicious wine from a cooler year. The Caley was the 96+/100 point maiden release of this top cuvee from the Yalumba stable and showed incredible finesse and balance, restrained Cabernet depth and just a faint hint of spicy, brambly, meaty complexity from the Shiraz. Built for the long haul, the was noticeably restrained but no less charming and alluring. One for further ageing in the cellar for sure! On the consumer vote, the more forward elegance and showy generosity of the Penfolds Bin 389 was hard to challenge and it romped home to a 21 to 10 vote victory. Both tantalisingly delicious wines that remind you that the best of Australia is definitely worth buying and cellaring.

The concluding act for me as the presenter was to ask the 31 tasters to retaste all their glasses in quick succession and to pick only one wine as their favourite out of the 10 wines. There was always a sense from the initial flights that certain wines were going to perform well. But for me, as an endless champion of South African fine wines, the final results were very pleasing indeed. This was a very impressive collection of top producer’s wines that were all showing incredibly well at the 10-year mark, making the final consumer preferences all the more relevant. Well done Team South Africa. If we can’t win at rugby, soccer or cricket, at least our winemakers can preserve South Africa’s honour overseas!

Final Consumer Results:

1st Place – Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz 2012 and Fattoria Le Pupille Saffredi 2012 (tie vote)

2nd Place – Sadie Family Wines Columella 2012

3rd Place – Mullineux Syrah 2012 and Dominus Napa Valley 2012 (tie vote)

  • 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.


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