Tasting notes from South Africa
text and photographs © 2013 Tom Cannavan
These notes accompany our in-depth feature on South Africa 2013
Newton Johnson is very much a family affair. Started by his father in the 1970s, today Gordon Newton Johnson and
his wife Nadia are making the wines and brother Bevan is in charge of the business side. Their vineyards and winery
offer stunning views to a distant Table Mountain, and are farmed on very careful, sustainable lines with
biological controls minimising the need to use chemical treatments, such as an introduced population of
ladybirds cleaning up more harmful insect pests in the vineyard.
The Newton Johnson vineyard runs to 18 hectares, mostly on decomposed granite soils with a band of clay deeper down,
and a few very stony sections - up to 80% stones in parts. Between them, Gordon and Nadia have chalked up considerable
experience including time spent in New Zealand and California. Their hugely impressive portfolio of wines is built
around Pinot Noir, and they also make wine on contract for other fine growers in the region including the excellent
I asked if anything much had changed in the winemaking philosophy since I last met up with Gordon and Nadia
. "Well, from the 2012
vintage we've been playing a little bit more with stems and whole bunch ferments for the single vineyards," Gordon
tells me. That experimentation is clearly paying off as the 2012 Pinots tasted are terrific wines that seem to have ramped up complexity.
UK importer of Newton Johnson is Bibendum Wines. See all stockists on wine-searcher
Newton Johnson, Resonance White 2011, South Africa
A blend of 86% Sauvignon Blanc from elevated vineyards on the estate and 14% Semillon from Elgin.
Very fresh, barrel fermentation of the Semillon component with natural yeasts doesn't give too much oaky character,
but does add a touch of lemon and lanolin roundness to the aromatic picture. The elegance and freshness of the
palate is delicious, with lots of fat lemon and lime, a touch of delicate herb or nettle, but savoury acidity
running through to a pithy finish. 90/100.
Newton Johnson, Estate Chardonnay 2012, South Africa
This wine sees 10 months in oak after a wild yeast barrel fermentation, and is made only from estate fruit.
Gordon say he did not need to adjust acidity in this vintage, but would if needed. Beautifully delicate
cashew and almond, with the oak deftly handled, nutty and allowing the creaminess and ripe orchard fruit
to come through with a hint of savoury saltiness. Superb palate too, lots of delicious nectarine
juiciness and sharper apple tang, completed by a citrussy, grapefruit and orange acid brightness
and, tight, savoury oak. 92-93/100.
Newton Johnson, Pinot Noir 2008, South Africa
All wild ferment, and Gordon says "it is worked very lightly, we are not going for a lot of extraction." Lovely
light colour. Beautiful nose of soft truffle and gentle rhubarb and beetroot vegatility. Charming little smoky
and tobacco influences and berry fruits. The palate has soft and elegant fruit, with delicious cherry and
soft, dry red cranberry nuances. The finish balances the crispness of cherry acids, fruit and a touch of that
earthy smokiness. Nicely maturing. 91/100.
Newton Johnson, Pinot Noir 2009, South Africa
More custardy notes here, with the oak a little more obvious aromatically, the fruit seeming a little riper
and more black fruited too. Lovely juiciness and a tighter profile, deliciously tight focus on the palate too,
a sheen of oak giving just a little more focus and concentration. Deliciously long, arguably a little bigger.
Newton Johnson, Pinot Noir 2010, South Africa
Fruit not quite so forward here, more about gentle earthy spice and cedar. Some dry redcurrant and a touch of
raspberry perhaps, and some definite herby/spicy notes. The palate is clean, lean and juicy. There's a really
nice freshness to this, some delicious tang and vibrancy, the long, fresh finish touched by cherry and floral
notes too. Lovely. 93/100.
Newton Johnson, Pinot Noir 2011, South Africa
Youthful aromas, but slightly vegetal rhubarb and beetroot notes are there, lots of Pinosity and a nice truffle
background. The oak is beautifully fragrant too, incense and Sandalwood touches. There is mouth-filling, creamy
and silky texture on this, with very good fruit and that lightly truffly richness and texture nutty and
long. Bright acidity cuts through the savoury richness and supple tannins. 92/100.
Newton Johnson, Pinot Noir Family Vineyards 2012, South Africa
Delightful nose, a touch of fudge and a
touch of chocolate even, with those lifted, burning incense aromas from that so nicely chosen oak. The
palate has the same fullness and richness of texture, but the cherry and herb-touched dry crunch of the fruit
and racy, tight focus of citrus pith and mineral tang gives excellent balance. A very good vintage this. 92-93/100.
Newton Johnson, Pinot Noir 'Mrs M' 2012, South Africa
From lighter soils where roots go deep, with 5% of clay beneath decomposed granite. Fresh and
tobacco-spiced, lightly leafy nose, the oak has the usual exotic fragrance, with the inclusion of
stems (possibly?) adding just nice little herbal notes that add another element of complexity.
Wonderfully fresh on the palate too, with a sweet-fruited appeal. There's a lightness of touch to this with
cherry and almost rose-hip elegance, and a lovely finish - long and beautifully poised. 93/100.
Newton Johnson, Pinot Noir Block 6 2012, South Africa
13.5% Our 'Flagship style' wine according to Nadia, coming from their oldest vineyard which has a good depth of
soil with 30% clay. Much darker and more dramatic, with a touch of toast and nicely ashy, incense-like oak. Not
heavy, the purity of the fruit more about juicy summer berries than fatter, blacker fruit. A lovely elegant,
exotic spice but definitely more firmness, more structure here. Juicy orange acidity and fruit quality, the
tannins fairly grippy and robust but tight, the structured finish balanced between fruit and the layering of
that tobacco and spice. 94/100.
Newton Johnson, Pinot Noir Windansea 2012, South Africa
From a vineyard only four kilometres from the sea with their shallowest soils over thick clay. Very tight on
the nose, the wood adding just a sheen of polish to glossy fruit which is the driving force along with
little pinpoints of clove and spices. Pure on the palate, this is all about the clean, tight, quite glossy
ripe fruit, but then that structure comes through, the ripeness of the fruit matched by a little vegatility.
Really fresh but powerful in the finish, an extra half degree of alcohol evident, but the balance is retained.
Newton Johnson, Family Vineyards Rhône Blend 2012, South Africa
Made from Syrah and a little bush vine Mourvèdre, Gordon says this might have Grenache in future too.
This barrel sample comes from a very stony portion at the bottom of the Windansea vineyard. "It's almost all rock
- not suitable for Pinot," says Gordon. It has a dramatically dark colour, spice and meatiness, with really
deep, glossy black fruit and a little tobacco coming through, a sprinkling of pepper too.
Lovely juiciness on the palate, big ripe black fruit flavours with a twist of liquorice and plum-skin tang
and tartness giving a bittersweet twist to the finish. 91/100.
||return to South Africa 2013