​Lismore Chardonnay 2014 Greyton

Samantha O'Keefe of Lismore

From 215 rand, £18.40, 29.90 Swiss francs, $33.93, €28.75 

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Okay, who knows where Greyton is? I’m rather inclined not to disclose its location until the very end of this article because in my experience so many wine drinkers, especially in the US, are prejudiced against South African wines even though they offer some of the finest value in the world.

I’m delighted therefore that in this case Wine-Searcher lists an American stockist, Timeless Wines of Middletown, Virginia, as well as many retailers in the UK and others in Ireland, South Africa and the Netherlands. The UK importers also cite as stockists Great Wines Direct, Spirited Wines, Wine Poole and Strictly Wine.

It was ultra-experienced professional wine buyer Steve Daniel who first alerted me to Samantha O’Keefe‘s noble experiment in the cool wilds inland and upwards from Hermanus on the south coast. I was knocked out by her 2011 and 2013 Chardonnays then and had a chance to see that her winning streak continues with this 2014 vintage at my recent tasting of Steve Daniel's latest finds.

The British online retailer Swig (also mentioned in Tam’s tasting article published today) initially put Daniel in touch with O’Keefe and it seems to have been professional love at first sight. He says that he ‘really liked her and her wines and where she was going and her amazing story. Her wines have got better with every vintage. She has just made her first wines in her own cellar.’ Up to now she has made her wines at Olifantsberg in Breedekloof, another of Daniel's protegés.

She came from California, dreaming of raising a family in a beautiful bit of the world. She is now solely responsible for both her children and her wine business, in an isolated area on slopes at the foot of the Riviersonderend Mountains in which, until recently, Lismore was, according to the UK importers, the only registered wine estate.  

When I met her, at the New Wave South African tasting a couple of years ago, she said she was about to be joined by a second vigneron in the area, and I see that the map in the latest Platter’s South Africa Wine Guide (which lavishes praise on O’Keefe and Lismore but, strangely, does not review any of her wines) suggests there are two other wineries, Andy Mitchell and Swallow Hill.

I asked her back in 2015, wasn’t she lonely, a lone vigneron in such an isolated location? Yes, she said.

The purity of the wines suggest that she had a very clear vision of what she wanted to achieve with Lismore. Her 12.5 ha of vines, the great majority of them Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, grow at an elevation of 300 m and regularly see snow in winter. The harvest here tends to be three to four weeks later than the more traditional wine-growing areas in the Western Cape, the product of an extended growing season.

The Overberg district is the source of some of the most crystalline South African whites, and she suppresses malolactic conversion in about 90% of the wine, but her wines have great depth too. Her Chardonnay is barrel-fermented and aged for 11 months in used barriques and 300-litre casks with some lees stirring but not to an excessive extent.

This 2014 Chardonnay tastes like a classic cool-climate Chardonnay, more refreshing than a typical California example and not a copy of white burgundy either but with its own confident local character. (I am a huge fan of South Africa’s finest, coolest Chardonnays and the value and longevity they offer.) It’s no infant but has already evolved to some extent, but I think it will provide refined, rewarding drinking for at least the next three years.

It’s medium body, has an alcohol level of 13.5%, and a Diam closure so there should be no need to worry about cork taint or inconsistency of evolution.

In our database of 150,000 tasting notes are my reviews of her other vintages of Chardonnay, her barrel fermented Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier and Syrah and she has just produced her first Pinot Noir, a 2016 from bought-in fruit, which is pretty fine for a debut. 

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