Such a special wine from Chris and Suzaan Alheit, a 2012 wine of the week chosen by Julia. 90% Chenin Blanc, 10% Sémillon, old-vine, bush vines chosen with extreme care from multiple sources. Ambient yeast. Certified Heritage Vineyards.
Such intensity! Salty beeswax on the nose and some green notes (Sémillon?) streak the liquid honey (though it’s a bone-dry wine) and real grip on the inside of the palate. Very tense but with masses of fruit. Still very youthful but it’s rather difficult to resist. Really throbs for ages on the finish.
Alheit’s Hemelrand is powerful and intense, yet fine and elegant and has a grippy, long-lasting tension and earthy saltiness. Its ripe fruit intensity can hardly be found in French Burgundy and not so cool and stony on the Rhône either. If you will, the Hemelrand is stylistically something like the golden center. And writes its very own story.
Complex, layered and refined with spice and honeysuckle aromas, laser-like focus, 99
The palate is well balanced with a fine bead of acidity, crisp and poised, with a lick of salinity toward the finish, and mango and dried pineapple toward the persistent, pixelated finish. This is another killer wine from Chris Alheit. 97
The palate is beautifully balanced with a pithy nectarine and clementine opening, dovetailing into gorgeous mango and spicy notes toward the lively, quite penetrating finish. Stunning.
The entrancing palate features tangerine and quince notes on the entry, pitch-perfect acidity and an effervescent finish that urges you to take another sip immediately. Feel that energy! This is a quite brilliant wine from Chris Alheit.
This is very harmonious and persistent, an effortless Cartology that should age with style. Superb.
The reinvention of South Africa’s wine industry has been one of the most remarkable and perhaps unexpected phenomena of the last 20 years. Spearheading that change has been a cluster of visionaries who rewrote, and continue to rewrite, the Capelands’ rulebook.
Why am I telling you about a wine you may never be able to so much as sip? First of all because it’s almost unheard-of for a wine to come from nowhere and grab such attention. Second, and far more importantly, because Cartology catches the zeitgeist. This isn’t just about one wine or even one winery, this bottle is representative of an entirely new and exciting wave of South African wines and winemakers.
I have never seen any wine go from nothing to something so quickly
Winemaker of the Year
There’s something happening in South Africa that is unique in the wine world. Call it energy, call it creativity, call it optimism, call it all three. But it’s apparent to anyone who visits the Cape.
His first wine, the Cartology, was incredibly well received when it was first released, and subsequent releases from single sites have gone from strength to strength. Perfectionism and attention to detail are what makes these wines so special: there’s no winemaking trickery involved, and they would qualify as natural wines by any sensible definition of the term.
Indeed, the thing that strikes most people about the South African wine industry is its energy. This is partly down to the youth of many of its best winemakers – there is a greater pool of talent in their twenties and thirties than in any other country
The palate is well balanced with a fine bead of acidity, crisp and poised, with a lick of salinity toward the finish, and mango and dried pineapple toward the persistent, pixelated finish. This is another killer wine from Chris Alheit
One of the finest exponents of minimal intervention Chenin Blanc
Rich, creamy, fresh and quite firm. Succulent and generous. Classic length of an Alheit wine.
Greengage and green plum. Herby citrus, grapefruit, straw. Mouth-watering, salty, very crisp. Taut and almost chalky in texture, chewy but not tannic, with lovely dry, zesty grapefruit and salty notes and smoky on the finish.
Totally thirst provoking, incredibly long.
Their Magnetic North is 100% Citrusdal Chenin and is a cult wine in South Africa.
They make some of South Africa’s finest wines, all sourced from specific sites, and only bottled under the vineyard name if the quality meets their own exacting standards (so no La Colline in 2019, for example)
This is Chris and Suzaan’s top release so far. Made from the now-famous, old-vine Chenin Skurfberg vineyard, it has received praise around the world for its incredible depth, texture and sheer complexity. It is just so hauntingly delicious and intriguing; I would love to see this wine in a decade or two.
THERE AREN’T many first releases that send wine writers into a lather, especially if they are made by relative unknowns. But the 2011 Alheit Cartology, described by Chris Alheit as “an exploration of the Cape’s heritage”, had critics purring with pleasure. A blend of mostly Chenin Blanc with 12% Semillon, it set a new benchmark for South African whites. Not bad for what Alheit describes, with characteristic modesty, as “village wine”.
With hindsight, Cartology may come to be seen as a milestone in the history of Cape wine, and this for two reasons. First, it focused people’s attention on the quality of some of the country’s old vines – a scarce and, until comparatively recently, dwindling resource thanks to the uprooting of venerable parcels of Chenin Blanc; and secondly, it underscored something that insiders have known for some time: South Africa’s best wines are its white blends.
The effort that goes into making this cuvée shows immediately on this wine with the most expressive aromatics that seduce you and draw you in. There are lovely notes of white peach, crunchy yellow fruits, yellow plum, white citrus, pear and green apple brightness. The palate is dusty and sappy with hints of stalk spice, crushed fynbos, green herbs, apple skins and crushed gravel minerality. The acids are bright and intense, not sharp at all, but coat the palate and make your mouth water with its sheer purity and clarity. This is a wine of a gnarled, struggling old vine vineyard that is more about dusty minerality, austerity and terroir than any kind of fruit opulence. A heartbreak venture, this is a true heritage wine of the Cape.
This young nervy Chenin shows a wonderful melange of pure minerality, a granitic heart, wet hay, grated apple, yellow citrus, white peach and crunchy green pear with subtle hints of orange blossom, tangerine and dried herb spice adding extra backing complexity. Incredible harmony and balance, this wine has a very precise, polished textural focus but piercing concentration, crystalline acids and a profound liquid mineral depth. A thought-provoking wine in so many ways, expertly delivered by Chris Alheit. This is Grand Cru in all but name and certainly ranks among the top Chenin Blancs ever produced in South Africa.
Old vine Chenin Blanc vines aged 38, 40, and 44 years old are conjured into an intense, complex white offering a bright crystalline purity, wonderful textural tension and intensity, loaded with liquid granite minerality, limestone, crunchy green gauge, apple, white peach and white pears. Pithy with slight phenolic nuances, the palate shows a spicy pear purée expression and such clarity and focus. Mouth watering acidity and subtle maritime salinity, this wine tells an amazing story of top old vine Chenin Blanc from decomposed granite soils made with incredible attention to detail.
If the Alheit project hadn’t existed it would have been necessary to invent it. Of course, ten years ago it didn’t exist; and the Cape landscape and old Cape vines and modern Cape wine culture did invent it. Fortunately, there was a winemaker with a rare magical touch to bring it into being. And, like the early wines in bottle, the project is developing splendidly.
One can’t drink Radio Lazarus now without a poignant sense of loss, knowing that this year no wine could be made from the Bottelary vineyard, nor will it be made again….and what a loss to South African wine that is! This became even clearer to me this week, when I broached my case of Radio Lazarus 2012, and shared a bottle of it over dinner with Michael Fridjhon. We had no trouble agreeing that it was drinking superbly….A few nights earlier I’d drunk the Cartology 2012, which is also an excellent wine that has developed well, even if it’s a touch less thrillingly poised, less expressively specific, than Radio Lazarus. But thrilling and expressively specific would be words I’d want to use again for Magnetic North Mountain Makstok 2013, from high-lying, ungrafted chenin vines in the area colloquially known as Skurfberg. I can still remember – the wine reminds me – how the hairs on my arm stood up when I first tried it four years ago, so electrifying, so different.
A haunting nose: First a hint of gun-smoke-like reduction before elusive notes of citrus, peach and fynbos. Rich and thick textured but not unctuous – there’s an acidity here that would be neck snapping if it weren’t for all the fruit concentration. This is a power-packed wine which also manages to be extraordinarily detailed
Will make you cry
Prior to my visit there was a great deal of hubbub about the quality of Chris Alheit’s 2017s and the speculation was well founded since these are stunning, quite cerebral wines.
The Cape is a visceral, unforgettable experience. Every single person whose feet have touched South African soil returns with shattered preconceptions and a desire to return as soon as possible. Maybe it is my job to shatter the preconceptions attached to the wines. I reiterate my claim that no country, no wine region has been as dynamic, progressive or indeed, as exciting as South Africa. It is almost unrecognisable compared to a decade ago.
I am occasionally asked: what is the most exciting New World country on the scene at the moment. New Zealand? Argentina? Chile? England? OK…maybe not the last one. The aforementioned all contribute their clutch of outstanding wines…even England. But if I have to give a single answer then I would reply: “South Africa.” Trust me when I say that I would not believe if someone had predicted I would answer as such several years ago… If I were to single out one wine that exemplifies what South Africa can achieve in 2012, then unquestionably it would be Chris Alheit’s stunning debut: Cartology. Everything from the philosophical, terroir-driven winemaker to the vines to the profound wine and even the packaging, attest to the pinnacles that can be reached
And what of sheer, instinctive talent? (Sadly, one can also see its direct opposite now and then.) Again, it’s in no short supply amongst the others, but I have never felt quite so convinced of it as with Chris Alheit. He demonstrates other vital criteria of great winemaking – hard work, awareness of the unity of vineyards and cellar, and infinite (and highly intelligent and well-informed) attention to detail. But somehow he has always seemed to me to have a magical touch, an unequalled flair and instinct.
The maiden 2011 Cartology Bush Vines is a blend of 92% Chenin Blanc and 8% Semillon from vines between 320m and 540m in altitude from Perdeberg, Citrusdal Mountains, Kasteelberg and Bottelary Hills, while the Semillon is from Franschhoek. It has a heavenly bouquet that blossoms from first opening: quince, wild honey, melted candle wax, a touch of almond developing with time and lemon curd. It offers brilliant delineation and gains complexity with time in the glass. The palate is succinctly balanced, fresh as a daisy, brimming with energy from its potent attack to its perfectly focused, mineral-laden finish. I confess? I aimed to see how the sample bottle unfurled over dinner, but somehow the wine “evaporated” by starters. Chris is already picking up accolades, all of them deserved. Please add mine to them.
So, you want a headline? a snappy eye-catching shelf-talker? Here’s one. “Chris and Suzaan Alheit have made South Africa’s greatest debut Chenin Blanc.”
Since 2011 Alheit Vineyards has become one of the hottest wineries in South Africa with flagship wine Cartology arguably the most highly sought after wine from South Africa
Hyperbole does not do it justice. This is one of the most profound white wines I have ever tasted, a blend of 88 percent chenin blanc and the rest semillon. Chenin’s homeland is the Loire Valley in France, but South Africa could make a rival claim with this wine, sourced from some of the country’s oldest vines. It almost defies description: It is mineral and intense, drawing you in with the first sip.
Very few wines sell out so quickly that there is a drought of several months before the next vintage comes on stream. Even fewer achieve this in their debut vintage. And I guess if I were to talk about ‘cult’ wines your mind would dart to California, Burgundy, the Tuscan coast and Pomerol and probably dozen or more places before it considered heading south to the Cape. But Cartology began to attract high scores and heady tasting notes from the moment of its first release. I remember it being whispered about in tasting rooms, becoming a touchstone of in-the-know-one-upmanship… It has an enchanting taste, combining the memory of waxy blossom, beeswax, quince, dried grass, orange and aniseed, but what’s really pleasing is the way its flavours change, kaleidoscoping in and out and lingering for an age in your mouth.
One of the most talked about new wineries in South Africa