This is a wine that I’ve consistently enjoyed over the last few years since first meeting Bevan Newton Johnson at the Bibendum annual tasting in 2010. I just happened to be visiting South Africa a couple of weeks later and Bevan kindly invited me over to see the winery. Set in the rugged beauty of the Hemel-en-Aarde valley, the drive out from Cape Town is worthwhile for the scenery alone, but the opportunity to taste some of South Africa’s finest Pinot Noir is the real reason for oenophiles to visit.
Kept relatively cool by the Cape Doctor, Pinot Noir has found its South African home in this valley and in the hands of husband and wife winemakers, Gordon & Nadia Newton Johnson, is beginning to find its own expression. Keeping their approach as natural as possible is the aim at Newton Johnson – hand picking and sorting, no chemical additions, natural yeast, gravity used instead of mechanical pumping, soft extraction (pigeage) by hand. The use of Stéphane Chassin oak barrels completes this Burgundian approach but the results take on their own South African form.
Of course there are general stylistics similarities, the generosity of fruit of Chambertin, the elegance of Chambolle and the silkiness of Volnay but the essence of Pinot Noir is its ability to transmit that most French of concepts, terroir. In the hands of a skilled winemaker Pinot Noir shouldn’t be used to just copy another region but to express and represent the land where it is grown. Gordon and Nadia understand this and have the confidence to allow their unique terroir to shine through.
And what a delight it is. Time in the bottle has added some flesh and weight to the wine but the Newton Johnson hallmark elegant and complex perfume is still the immediately engaging aspect. Cranberries and strawberry are noticeable straightaway but then the floral notes emerge, violets and roses with a spicy perfume. The tannins are almost imperceptible and incredibly smooth but they lend authority to the wine and give it a silky structure that frames the sinewy body and lively acidity. The oak treatment is harmonious and the toasted notes wrap around the strawberry, juniper and cherry flavours with a little vanilla fleshing out now. This wine is seamless, flowing elegantly from the perfumed start to the long full finish. 93/100
5 stars from Platter for the past 4 vintages, 2008 – 2011, are an indication of how good and consistent the Family Pinot Noir is from Newton Johnson. Not the obvious choice for South Africa but with committed and talented winemakers like the team at Newton Johnson, Pinot Noir would appear to have a promising future there.