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Tasting notes from South Africa

text and photographs © 2010 Tom Cannavan

These notes accompany our in-depth feature on South Africa 2010.


Newton Johnson is producing some of the most impressive wines of the region, all from its own domaine vineyards which are virus free and planted on virgin land. Winemaker Gordon Newton Johnson (pictured with his wife and assistant, Nadia) explained their farming philosophy: "We employ lots of biological controls," he says, "including introducing populations of ladybirds and parasitic wasps to keep down virus and disease-carrying pests." This means there is minimum requirement to spray insecticides in the vineyards: "The ladybugs do a better job of getting under foliage and cleaning things up than spraying ever could."   

Gordon's father Dave Johnson and mother Felicity (née 'Newton') entered the wine business in the 70s, and whilst the family lavishes love and attention on Newton Johnson, they are significant players in the Cape, also part-owners of the giant "First Cape" brand. Newton Johnson is a very different proposition to the supermarket level First Cape however, importing barrels directly from a small coopers in Burgundy and practising high-density planting on their 18 hectare vineyard. A mix of soils across two sites - one north-facing and one south-facing - includes variable concentrations and depths of decomposed granite, quartz, and clay. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay remain the bedrocks of the small portfolio, but now Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah and Mourvèdre too. Bush-vine Grenache has recently been planted on very stony soils "It looks just like Châteauneuf-du-Pape," says Gordon.

the wines

UK Agents are Bibendum, but see all stockists on wine-searcher.

Newton Johnson "D" Chardonnay 2007
First bottling of estate fruit (D for Domaine). Quite a heavy, complex nose, with some vegetal but figgy notes. Nicely apply fruit with honey. Creamy and nicely buttery and cabbagey (in a Burgundian way) but not at all blowsy, with lovely acids and length. 90/100.

Newton Johnson "D" Pinot Noir 2008
From a single estate vineyard. Light, soft, oxidative colour. Beautifully soft, fudge and chocolaty nose with plenty of spice and a little gamy edge. Soft pulpy fruit adds to a mellow picture. The palate has a delicious harmony, with a soft red fruit and spice palate, good tannins and juicy cherry acidity the lengthens and freshens the finish. Delicate and a very beautiful. 93/100.

Newton Johnson Syrah Mourvèdre 2007
A blend of the three Hemel-en-Aarde appellations . Much more delicate, more subdued nose., but then pepper and spice is more apparent, and on the palate there's no lack of fruit but a stylish, refined wine with lovely smoothness to the tannins. 91/100.

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