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Decanter Dec

Another month, another Decanter and, somewhat scarily, this one says December on the cover (but mercifully features no tinsel, angels or dancing snowmen):


The wines featured this month in Decanter - and that we list - appear at the foot of this page. The reviews for each wine from this current Decanter appear on each product page.


Now, we pride ourselves on offering the top wines from the panel reviews wherever a) we can and b) it makes a modicum of commercial sense to offer them (ie you want to buy them). This month is one where we deem b) to be in question, as we'll enlarge upon in a paragraph or two.

Let us tell you what we can offer and are particularly excited about. There's a very fine article (by Greg Sherwood MW), transparently entitled The Best Cape Wines Under £20. Which is exactly what it says: 30 high-scoring wines from South Africa that are attractively priced.

As Greg points out (and we 100% endorse these words), "If you haven’t been drinking South African wines over the past five years, you’ve been missing out big time. Where have you been? South Africa, in my opinion, is making the most exciting wines of any New World country at the moment, with several wineries producing reds and whites that are more dynamic than many equivalent offerings from the masters in France, Italy and Spain".

Praise indeed. We've taken a view for a while that the whites of South Africa are particularly fine, and we offer a handful of these top scorers, plus a top sparkling, being:-

- On 92 points, an excellent Blanc de Blancs (100% Chardonnay) sparkling from esteemed fizzmaker Graham Beck (ever popular with Exel customers, is he). Being an MCC (Methode Cap Classique), it's made in the Champagne/traditional method and provides incredible value at only £17.15. Sure, it's obviously not Champagne (and we'd get in trouuble in Reims if we pretended it was) but it's of a quality that we defy anyone to tell us isn't worth double its price. It spends 4 years on its lees, which is more than for a good many vintage Champagnes. It's also wonderfully dry. As Sherwood puts it, "possibly the best-value MCC on the market, this excels to new heights of quality". The whole Graham Beck range of sparklings is well worth a little experimentation.

- Perhaps the standout wine of the article - on 95 points - is one we knew plenty about already, being, as it is, a Platinum (97 pts) winner at DWWA19. Swartland's Bush Vine Chenin Blanc 2017, at just £13.70, is utterly outstanding. "Lovely, flavourful and classically styled" and "boasting rich aromas of lemon, apple pie and vanilla wafers in peaches and cream" writes the article author. Until recently, we had the 2015 on offer; we tried one the other evening, the depth/development of which demonstrated just how good a wine this is to squirrel away for a few years. FMC fans might like to note that this goes pretty close to that wine at less than half the cost.


Bush Vine Chenin Blanc 2017


- On 90 points, and for a cleaner, lighter, more Loire-esque style, try Radford Dale's Vinum Chenin 2017. "Crunchy fresh pineapple" is not far wide of the mark here. Again, it's amazing value at £12.25.

- Want even better value? Sauvignon Blanc fan? Try Strandveld's First Sighting 2018; again a winner at DWWA19 (Gold/95 pts) and a big seller here, it scores 93 points here. South African Sauvi Blanc is becoming/has become a "thing", and while it may never be the phenomenon that is NZSB, it has a dynamic style all of its own at an even better price point. This one, partly due to its 13% Semillon content (which gives it quite some body), is "very expressive, with typical cool-climate grass and white citrus notes and a wonderfully balanced palate that is both intense and fresh, with seriously persistent length and focus".

- Also in the mix is Springfield's Special Cuvée Sauvignon Blanc (91 points) - another excellent Cape SB. The 2018 is reviewed but has yet to land; we offer the 2017.

We've a fair representation in another article, Top 40 Piedmont reds beyond Nebbiolo. It's a interesting article which hinges mainly on Barbera (d'Alba and d'Asti). These are wines that have their fans here, but, if one is to be honest, the vast bulk of what we sell from Piemonte is Nebbiolo! We offer a very fine speciment from Michele Chiarlo on 93 points and two more-keenly-priced options from the excellent Bruno Rocca (he of the famed Barbarescos) on 92 points and Massolino (90 points).

Those panel reviews, then. One is Californian Cabernet. It's tremendous and luxurious stuff, of course ... but if we've learnt one thing over the years about Exel customers, it's that CaliCab is not popular on the grounds of (its typically high) price. It's also a pain to source (we take off our hats to those merchants who specialise in it). And so, painful as it is to say it, you won't be finding the Monte Bellos and Frog's Leaps at Exel. That said, you can always let us know if we've got that wrong.

The other panel is an interesting/wacky review of Champagnes in magnum and standard bottle, much of the exercise being to compare the tasting performance of the two formats. Chemistry, physics and conventional wisdom all say that Champagne should age more gracefuly and fully in larger vessels, and that's largely borne out by this test (23 of the 34 90+pointers are magnums). We've a good smattering of high-scoring Champagnes here, but, be warned, this is not the place to expect much change from £50, even for a standard, 750ml bottle. Top of the Pops, somewhat unsurprisingly, is 2008 Dom Pérignon, both in bottle (95 points) and magnum (98 points). The former, we can supply, but we do recommend a call to us first, as LVMH's all-new allocation process now makes this very hard to get hold of. Further down the order, we've some very classy options from Palmer & Co, Piper Heidsieck, Charles Heidsieck and Collet. Of course, if very affordable, high-rated Champagne is your thing, don't miss this.

Our old friend, Taylor's Quinta da Vargellas (single Quinta) Port 2004 pops up for yet another good review in a Vintage Port review. This remains staggeringly good value at £27.30.

And Cullen's excellent Red Moon - a Malbec-heavy blend from Margaret River - pops up for 92 points in Weekday Wines.

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Swartland Winery Bush Vine Chenin Blanc 2018 (1x75cl)

The 2017 vintage was awarded 95 points and Outstanding status by Decanter in their December 2019 edition article, The Best 30 Cape Wines Under £20 (see blue link below).

Swartland Winery Bush Vine Chenin Blanc 2017 - December 2019 Decanter review

The 2017 vintage was also awarded a Platinum medal and 97 points at the 2019 Decanter World Wine Awards (click link for details).

For other 2019 DWWA winners, click here.

Big open skies, arid deserts, the vast flowing landscape, with its unforgiving climate and rugged bush vines, this is wild country, this is Swartland. The contrast with manicured Constantia and oh-so-cool Stellenbosch couldn't be greater. But right now, Swartland is the most exciting wine region in South Africa. A new wave of winemakers are making ground-breaking wines from Rhône varietals and it is part of a revolution that has got everybody talking. The Swartland Winery is producing iconic and award winning wines in this fashionable and dynamic region, so we have joined forces with them to create a unique, distinctive and expressive wine range that has been masterfully blended for the UK palate. We think something this good, is definitely worth talking about!

The Swartland name originates from a description of the indigenous renosterbos or rhino bush, which appears to turn black, ("Swart" in Afrikaans), during the summer months. This hot, dry climate has an average temperature range of 25°C to 35°C and an annual rainfall of 450 mm and 600mm, but the altitude of these vineyards creates a cool oasis in this arid landscape. Minimal intervention and environmentally friendly farming practices are paramount. The soil types vary, but Malmesbury Shale dominates, with small patches of granite and Table Mountain sandstone. The gravel substructure of the soil promotes good moisture retention, essential in this hot, dry climate. The grapes came from a single vineyard, from 100% bush vines with an age range of between 25 to 30 years.

The berries were harvested at optimal phenolic ripeness. An extended skin contact was applied and fermentation took place at 13°C. The wine underwent an extended fine lees contact, following fermentation. The wine was aged in second and third fill French oak barrels for a period of six months, prior to being filtered and bottled.

Chenin Blanc 100%.

For more detail, see the blue link below for the excellent fiche technique/technical note from the winemakers themselves.

Swartland Winery Bush Vine Chenin Blanc 2018 - fiche technique

A full flavoured and classic Chenin Blanc with rich aromas of lemon, apple and vanilla wafer over a creamy texture. Forthcoming aromas of dried fruit, peach, apricot and citrus hints follow through on to a creamy palate. A crisp, well balanced and intense wine, with dried fruit, almond and citrus flavours underpinned by beautifully integrated oak and a creamy finish.

This wine is suitable for vegans and vegetarians.

ABV = 14.0%.


Strandveld Vineyards First Sighting Sauvignon Blanc 2018 (1x75cl)


Awarded 93 points and Highly Recommended status by Decanter in their December 2019 edition article, The Best 30 Cape Wines Under £20 (see blue link below).

Strandveld Vineyards First Sighting Sauvignon Blanc 2018 - December 2019 Decanter review

Awarded a Gold medal and 96 points at the 2019 Decanter World Wine Awards (click link for details)

For other 2019 DWWA winners, click here.

Nestled between Elim and Cape Agulhas, and just 9km from the sea, lies the secluded Strandveld Vineyards. This wind-swept winery derives its name from the belt of land which spans the tempestuous tip of Africa’s southernmost coastline. At almost 35 degrees below the equator, this part of the Cape is characterised by severe winds, billowing mist and below average temperatures. A unique combination of maritime climate and diverse soil types work together to create the terroir which distinguishes the wines of Strandveld Vineyards.

See blue link below for the fiche technique/technical note from the winemakers a Strandveld.

Strandveld Vineyards First Sighting Sauvignon Blanc 2018 - fiche technique

87% Sauvignon Blanc, 13% Semillon.

Genuine lively fresh nettle and elderflower aromas. Very typical and expressive wine with cool climate Sauvignon notes. Wonderful balance to the fresh, powerful palate.

ABV = 12.5%.

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