Crystallum: some of South Africa's most compelling Chardonnay and Pinot Noir

Crystallum is the wine label of Peter-Allan Finlayson (above), who set up in partnership with his brother (Andrew, a Hermanus-based architect) and his Dad (Peter, who was the first winemaker in Hemel-en-Arde with Hamilton Russel, and who for a long time now has been cellar master at Bouchard Finlayson).

Peter-Allan, though, is the main dude here, and he makes the wines. He started out in 2007 with just one wine, a Sauvignon Blanc, but since then the focus has been firmly on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, sourced from top vineyards sites in the Overberg, with an emphasis on Hemel-En-Aarde. Until very recently, the vineyard sources were all from growers, but more recently Crystallum has begun to get involved in vineyard ownership, which helps to protect grape supply for the future.

The wines are made at Gabrielskloof, where Peter-Allan is cellar master. Previously they were made at Hemelrand in Hemel-en-Aarde, a cellar shared with Chris Alheit and others (now Chris has grown to the point where he needs all the space). Winemaking is appropriate: low intervention, usually with no adds until fermentation is complete except for some organic nutrients during the middle of the Chardonnay fermentations or occasionally a bit of sulfur dioxide in the larger ferments, and with a high proportion of stem use in the Pinot Noir.

These are some of the (if not the) best expressions of the Burgundy grapes being produced in South Africa at the moment.

Crystallum The Agnes Chardonnay 2009 Western Cape, South Africa
The first vintage of The Agnes, drawing on three vineyard sources. Lovely toast and nut on the nose with some hazelnut and honeycomb. Lovely weight with fine spiciness and some pure pear and peach fruit. Nicely balanced, this has developed really well into this toasty maturity. 92/100 (02/18)

Crystallum Clay Shales Chardonnay 2016 Hemel en Aarde, South Africa
Made in a 2600 litre foudre, this is a lovely, textured Chardonnay. Pear and citrus fruit with a bit of depth, some silkiness in the mouth, and pretty tangerine detail. Subtle, elegant and lovely. 94/100 (03/17)

Crystallum Clay Shales Chardonnay 2017 Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, South Africa
Stony and mineral with a lovely spicy, lemony twist. Textural and fresh with a hint of pineapple richness. Really detailed and spicy with lovely weight. This is bright and precise with citrus and pear, and a hint of apple. A profound Chardonnay. 95/100 (02/18)

Crystallum Peter Max Pinot Noir 2017 Western Cape, South Africa
14% alcohol. Blend of the four different vineyards: three in Hemel en Aarde and Elandskloof. Nice density here: textured and sweetly fruited with a fine, sappy green hint to the fleshy, ripe raspberry and red cherry fruit. It’s really fine and elegant with nice sweetness and gentle extraction. Such a satisfying, elegant wine. 94/100 (02/18)

Crystallum Peter Max Pinot Noir 2015 South Africa
30% whole cluster. Pure floral aromatic nose with sweet cherries and plums. Elegant and supple with lovely purity and finesse on the palate. Red cherry, red currant and lovely silkiness and weight. 95/100 (03/17)

Crystallum Cuvée Cinéma Pinot Noir 2014 Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, South Africa
There’s a leafy, sappy edge to this wine, with some fine herb and undergrowth notes. It’s showing some maturity, but it’s really elegant and fine with a lovely graininess. It’s more advanced than it should be, but it may be a vintage thing. Drinking really nicely now but don’t keep it. 93/100 (02/18)

Crystallum Cuvée Cinéma Pinot Noir 2016 Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, South Africa
Supple and epressive with fine red cherries and nice raspberry bite. Has some sappiness. Very textural and freshwith nice graininess. Good definition and purity. 95/100 (02/18)

Crystallum Cuvée Cinéma 2016 Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, South Africa
Supple, fresh and elegant with fine spices and a bit of savoury grip with sleek cherry fruit. Serious but with lots of pleasure. 50% whole cluster, 4-5 weeks on skins. The whole bunch adds nice structure. 95/100 (02/18)

Crystallum Cuvée Cinema Pinot Noir 2016 Hemel en Aarde, South Africa
Fresh and vital with lovely red cherries and plums. Lovely finesse to this wine, which is juicy and lively but also has a silkiness to it. 94/100 (03/17)

Crystallum Whole Bunch Pinot Noir 2016 Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, South Africa
Same vineyard as Cuvée Cinéma, but 100% whole cluster. First release and  just two barrels made. Sweetly aromatic with lovely fine spices and supple greenness. The palate has elegance but also grip. Firm and with lovely spiciness. Has a warmth to it, with nice savoury complexity. Some mint on the finish. 95/100 (02/18)

Crystallum Bona Fide Pinot Noir 2016 Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa
From a vineyard next door to Bouchard-Finlayson. Supple and bright with a sour cherry edge to the focused fruit. Sweetly fruited with a nice spiciness and some structure. This has freshness, depth and elegance. After a while it opens up with sappy floral aromatics. 94/100 (02/18)

Crystallum Malabel Pinot Noir 2015 Overberg, South Africa
Supple, juicy and fine with lovely cherry fruit. Fine grained with freshness and detail to the elegant cherry fruit. 95/100 (08/16)

Crystallum Mabalel Pinot Noir 2016 Kaimansgaat, South Africa
115 clone. Sappy with nice integrated greenness and fine red cherry fruit. Supple and detailed with real finesse and purity. There’s a balance between richness and freshness here. 94/100 (03/17)

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