Cape South Coast Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2020 – Kershaw Wines.
For this review we venture to South Africa’s Cape Coast, reviewing the 2020 Cape South Coast Sauvignon Blanc – Semillon, by Kershaw wines. This is South Africa’s take on the well-known white Bordeaux wines.
White Bordeaux Blend
Consisting of roughly equal parts Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc, this wine is what is known as a ‘white Bordeaux blend’. Prime examples of this style can be found in Pessac-Léognan, within the Bordeaux region. Here famous estates such as Smith Haut Lafitte, Haut-Brion, Carbonnieux, and Domaine de Chevalier produce outstanding examples – especially in the cooler years of 2014, 2017, and 2021.
Currently, 11 of the 61 classified estates of the Médoc produce a white Bordeaux blend, with hopefully more to come in the future. This category is also gaining popularity in Sauternes, as its traditional sweet wines have difficulty selling in today’s market. Apart from Bordeaux, this blend is popular in Australia’s Margaret River (Atticus, Voyager Estate), and in South Africa (Vergelegen, David Nieuwoudt, Tokara), the country where this exciting 2020 blend originates from.
Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc ripen around the same time in similar climates, but yield very different wines. Semillon is known for its weight, complexity, round texture, and green and yellow fruits. Being a bit backwards and closed in youth, it ages very well despite its lower acidity, gaining notes of toast, dried yellow fruits, hay and honey. Australia’s Hunter Valley focusses on this style of aged Semillon, with ‘Tyrrell’s Vat 1 Semillon’ being a prime example.
Sauvignon Blanc on the other hand is very expressive and known for its freshness, with high acidity and notes of citrus fruit, flowers and buxus being its hallmarks. It tends to age less well than Semillon, losing its primary freshness and intense aromatics. Blended with Semillon, one can see the benefits that both varieties bring to the blend, creating a wine that is both accessible in youth but with great aging capacity and complexity.
About the Winery
Kershaw Wines was founded by British Master of Wine Richard Kershaw, who moved to South Africa in 1999. Prior to Kershaw Wines, he was head winemaker of Mulderbosch and Kanu Wines. Kershaw’s philosophy is to reflect a sense of the place in his wines, through both specific soils and clones, with a focus on premium Chardonnay, Syrah, and Pinot Noir.
His wines are known for their elegance, with a touch of new oak, but never losing their fresh and pure fruit characters. Also, they are known to age remarkably well. Kershaw’s wines are divided in the flagship ‘deconstructed’ range, the premium ‘clonal selection’ range, the ‘G.P.S.’ range, and the more affordable ‘Smuggler’s Boot’ range.
The Deconstructed Range
This range focusses on a single clone expressing itself on a single soil type, for example the CY95 clone of Chardonnay grown on Bokkeveld shale, or the SH9c clone of Syrah grown on granitic Cartref soils. These wines always come from Elgin, and intend to showcase the district’s (potential for) diversity in wine styles and grapes.
The Clonal Selection Range
This range blends the soils and clones listed above into single Elgin expressions of Chardonnay, Syrah and Pinot Noir. These wines are Kershaw’s benchmark wines, and intend to showcase the quality these varieties can yield in Elgin’s cooler climate.
The G.P.S. Range
Whereas the deconstructed and clonal selection ranges come from Elgin, the G.P.S. (Grape Positioning System) range is sourced from vineyard parcels outside of Elgin that Kershaw finds interesting. Examples include Lower Duiverhoks River Chardonnay (limestone soils, Burgundy-like) and Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge Pinot Noir (shale, elegant red fruit, floral).
Vineyard parcels are vinified separately with an algorithm determining how much new oak to use, using variables such as the clone of the variety and the vineyard soil. For example, fuller-bodied clones (such as CY95) from soils that give more structure (such as Bokkeveld shale) are given more new oak, whereas more elegant clones from lighter soils are given less new oak to preserve their delicacy.
Kershaw focusses on low-intervention winemaking, adding only a minimum amount of sulphites to the wines before bottling. He exclusively buys in grapes without owning vineyards, explaining the slight variance of production over the years. Deconstructed wines are only made when the quality is deemed to be high enough, and in other cases they are blended into the clonal selection range. All in all, Kershaw bottles over twenty separate wines each vintage.
About the Region
The Sauvignon Blanc for this wine is sourced from the Elgin district. Once known as the land of apple orchards, since the 2000’s the district is gaining momentum as one of South Africa’s premium areas for cooler climate wines, led by iconic producers such as Paul Cluver, Spioenkop, Iona Wines, and, as of 2012, Kershaw Wines.
Elgin is surrounded by mountains, trapping clouds and cold Atlantic breezes. The mountains are made up of old sandstone, with the valley floor consisting of shale. Pockets of more fertile loam are also to be found here, but those tend to be used for the higher-yielding apple orchards, which constitute over 8,000 hectares in the district (vines: 800 hectares) and are its main economic driver. The competition from the highly profitable apple orchards ensures that grape growers are focusing on the higher end of the market, usually €15 per bottle and above. Below that price point, planting apple orchards tends to be more profitable in Elgin, which has a strong name for premium apples.
The altitude of 200-400m, the cold Atlantic winds from the south-east and the cloud cover are all significant cooling influences, with the region rarely getting warmer than 33°C in summer. The temperature difference between Elgin, where Burgundian varieties dominate, and Stellenbosch, where red Bordeaux-blends dominate, is quite extreme, especially as the regions are only 25 kilometers apart. To indicate this substantial difference, Kershaw recalls a day where it was 15 °C and cloudy in Elgin, but when he crossed the mountains in a short drive to do some shopping in Somerset West in Stellenbosch, it was 28 °C and sunny.
The Sauvignon Blanc Kershaw uses is sourced from vineyards on shale, which moderate the tendency of the variety to be vigorous and high-yielding. This lower vigor combined with the unique cool climate in Elgin, and careful vineyard management, yields a concentrated, elegant expression of Sauvignon Blanc.
The Semillon is sourced from the ‘Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge’ ward. Kershaw located a plot of old Semillon vines in this most inland ward of the ‘Hemel-en-Aarde Valley’, with a few vines having mutated to Semillon Gris. The ‘Hemel-en-Aarde Valley’ is just 10 kilometers away from Elgin, separated by the Bot River ward. Situated just above the whale-watching town of Hermanus you will find ‘Hemel-en-Aarde Valley’, with ‘Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge’ being situated further inland in the valley.
The soils here are very similar to the shale found in Elgin, albeit with a higher clay content – comparable to Burgundy. These add a bit more phenolic concentration through lower nitrogen levels and slow ripening due to the water-holding capacity of the clay. The higher potassium levels found in clay-rich soils in turn slightly reduce the acidity of the wine, but are beneficial for the flavor concentration and roundness of the wine.
Apart from the soils, the cooling influences of Elgin are also largely shared. Being the most inland of the three ‘Hemel-en-Aarde wards’, the Ridge is the highest in altitude and ripens the latest of the three wards – experiencing a long growing season. Due to both grapes from the ‘Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge ward’ and Elgin district being used, the wine is classified under the encompassing ‘Cape South Coast region’. Both regions are relatively cooler climate regions for South Africa, enjoying a longer growing season than they would have when planted in the warmer ‘Constantia ward’ (famous for Sauvignon Blanc) or ‘Franschhoek district’ (famous for Semillon). This in turn gives the grapes the chance to more slowly ripen and develop their intense aromatics without becoming overripe and losing their acidity.
About the Wine
The Semillon used for this wine has had some skin contact, it was aged in oak (20% new) and had a relatively warm fermentation. The Sauvignon Blanc on the other hand was whole-bunch pressed and aged in stainless steel, with a cooler ferment in order to preserve its delicacy and freshness. Malolactic was blocked for both to preserve the wine’s natural acidity. The wines remained on their lees for four months, with regular stirring, oxygenating the wine and adding more mid-palate weight, structure and autolytic notes of bread dough and smoke. After the separate making and maturing of the wines, the two were blended and bottled.
All in all, the Semillon is made in a more structured, fuller style, where the Sauvignon Blanc is made to be very elegant and fresh. The two complement each other beautifully, and yield a complex blend with both structure and elegance.
After decanting the wine for two hours it shows grass, ripe yellow apple, lemon, lime, white flowers, nutmeg, bread dough and vanilla on the nose. On the palate, the wine is structured with a round and smooth texture, with intense but nuanced flavours. The weighty influences of the Semillon, new oak and lees stirring is balanced by the wine’s high acidity and fresh fruit profile. The intensity of the detailed and pure fruit is beautifully complemented by the oak usage, resulting in a harmonious blend of oak and fruit flavours.
When tasted blind, it could compete with classified white wines from Pessac-Léognan, albeit with a much friendlier price tag and a bit more ripeness. Delicious and a solid price to quality ratio. Drink 2022-29. We reward this wine with a 92-point DWA score.
Taste date: February 2024
Score: 92/100 DWA Score
Website: Kershaw Wines