Im not going to lie, MCC was one of the reasons we took a trip to South Africa. That and for other wines of course, and the nature, and family, and adventure. So we were thrilled to have the opportunity to taste some bubbly juice at Silverthorn Wines. Karen and John Loubser invited us into their home to taste the fruits of their labour, literally!
Having seen pictures on social media of their offerings, I sent them a message to ask if they did tastings, they didnt, but nevertheless they invited us over to their home for a private tasting usually reserved for press and other important-er people! They brought the big guns!
The Green Man 2009
The Green Man 2015
The Genie, Rose
The Jewel Box 2013
Before I regale you on how absolutely stunning these wines are, first a little info on Silverthorn. John and Karen have owned vines in Robertson since 1999, when they took over from Johns father-in-law. They did not produce their first vintage until 2004, under contract at Steenberg, where John was working doubly hard making his own label and those of Steenberg. In 2017, John decided to focus solely on Silverthorn, and while im sure this is a loss to Steenberg it is a wonderful gain for Silverthorn.
The name. What is in a name? Well, everything! Coming up with a suitable name for your business that reflects all your passion, hard work and your origins can be tricky. John and Karen were not exempt from this. They wanted a name for their brand that would sing of Africa, but not all up in your face type thing. As many people do, they researched, and came across the Karoo Acaccia tree with its impressive white/silver thorns. Thus Silverthorn was born.
The operation is based in Robertson, a prime wine making region, where they grow Chardonnay and Shiraz in shale and limestone soil from ancient river beds, giving that chalky champagne like flavour. Their oldest vines are Chardonnay planted in 1991, which they use in their Blancs de Blanc, The Green Man.
Anyone who follows the South African wine scene will be aware of the drought that has plagued the Western Cape for the past few years, record low rainfall means that the reservoirs are dangerously low and day zero is approaching. When asked how this has affected him John says that the drought has been challenging, however surprisingly it has boosted their wines in terms of flavour. Grapes may be fewer and smaller, but they are more intensely concentrated.
RIGHT, now the juicy stuff. MCC is what John and Karen make, Method Cap Classique, or South African “Champagne”. This is Sparkling wine made in the exact method of champagne, legalities means it must be called different, But for all intents and purposes, it is champagne, both in its methods and flavour profiles. Which is good considering that John is very inspired by Krug and Bollinger, his 2 favourites. John makes his wine to age, wine that only gets better the longer you forget about it. Sound familiar?
First up, The Green Man, named after the pagan spirit of spring and re-birth, much like the life cycle the vines go through to produce the 100% chardonnay in this sparkler. The flavour profile of this wine is very driven by its terroir, that chalky limestone soil.
The 2015 vintage is the newest release, after spending its 28 months on the lees, this wine exhibits green flavours of pear and granny smith apple, with a flinty, oyster shell minerality to it. Still young, this wine is the product of a cool year and a low yield and at time of tasting, was more like a young Premier Cru champagne. This wine is cared for by John, who hand riddles these babies, then disgorges and allows them to sleep for a little while longer under their cork. Buy it, age it, drink it.
2009 Green Man shows you how the amazing difference a few years can have on these wines. NOW WE ARE TALKING. Hand me this vintage and a glass of champagne from the same year and I promise you, you will be guessing for a while which one is champagne. Brilliant yeast, brioche and almond paste, and I must stress the almond. John will tell you that this is the true taste of summer 2009 and I believe him! This wine made me want to sit on my terrace back home and drink this non stop in the heat of the summer. Possibly making me an alcoholic, possibly not. Its all depends on whose perspective!
Rose sparklers, champagne or otherwise have always disappointed me. I have now found 2 exceptions to this. Forget-Brimont Grand Rose and Silverthorn The Genie. Made from 100% shiraz, this is as unique a rose as they come. It has a deep pink colour, like velvety rose petals and turkish delight. Amazingly, this is also how it smells! Legend says that shiraz is persian grape of origin, so if we run with this, then the arabian nights theme is singing beautifully, and I am happy to sing along. The grapes surprisingly are green when they are picked, and left on the skins, and bunch pressed. This, as you can imagine produces a white wine, so during the dosage some still shiraz wine is added to give that delectable deep pink colour. The Genie spends 14 months on the lees, in steel tanks and presents incredible kasbah aromas of roses, raspberries, pomegranate and turkish delight. Its like being back in Morocco, if alcohol was allowed there.
2013 Jewel Box sounds decadent and this little gem in their collection delivers just that. Named not in fact after any sparkly jewelry you or I own, but by the jewel like stars of the Southern Cross constellation. This is a wine with a story behind it, a story of exploration and discovery, of stars and adventure.
Jewel Box is their smallest production, and very much inspired by the great champagne houses and their offerings. It is made up of 60% Chardonnay, a portion of which is barrel fermented in old french oak and 40% Pinot Noir, which they buy in. The initial aromas of gunsmoke, marzipan and roasted almond are delivered up by the chardonnay. The Pinot Noir provides a juicy red fruit background with strawberries and cherries making this a very well rounded blend. However, not one John is 100% happy with, his next vintage will see 70% chardonnay and 30% Pinot to increase the balance and roundness.
One commonality in all of these wines is that they have very punchy aromas that will knock your socks off, but they are incredibly balanced, well rounded, and rich but surprisingly easy to drink, but that might just be me! No, but really, every wine is individually excellent, made with passion to bring out the different characters of each grape in each bottle.
We left Silverthorn feeling very lucky to have been welcomed into their home, and to taste their wines with them. Karen and John are wonderful, friendly people who are passionate and excited about what they do. As I write this, they are expanding their operation to include a cellar, which is planned for 2020 so they can receive more visitors and do more tastings. We will most certainly be back.
If you want to get your hands on Silverthorn in The Netherlands, you can find them here: