Tin Soldier is a skin-fermented Semillon gris. Semillon gris is almost unique to South Africa, and a vestige of a time when Semillon was the grape on which the South African wine industry was built.
The colour of the wine is unusual, having taken some bright copper tones from its time on skins. The nose is striking, with a briney, oyster-bed note coming out under subtle red fruit, licorice and white pepper notes. The interplay between savoury and sweet is a key point of interest in Tin Soldier, and makes for a subtle and engaging wine. The palate is finely structured, with fresh acidity and full flavours of strawberry leaf, sweet herbs and pink peppercorn. It is dry and delicate, while at the same time showing a core of richness and depth.
Tin Soldier 2017 – Nuts and bolts
Semillon gris – Swartland (5 years old) – alluvial soils
Alcohol – 12.74%; Residual sugar – 1.7 g/L; Total acidity – 5.8 g/L; pH 3.5
About the wine
If we go back 100 years, Semillon was responsible for probably 95% of the wine made in this country. Tim James’ research on the variety suggests that the red mutation may at one time have been even more common than the white. I’m really fascinated by the idea of the kind of wines that would have been made in the old days using these mixed vineyards, and this led me to the idea of fermenting a blend of the white and red Semillon.
The Semillon gris appeals to me simply because it is incredibly South African in that no significant plantings are found anywhere else in the world. As it is, it is extremely rare now in South African vineyards, and we were obliged to pick small amounts from vines dotted around in an old white Semillon vineyard.
The one thing I wanted to avoid was making a ‘gimmick’ wine. In the run up to the first harvest I was still considering what my approach might be and while walking through the vineyard and tasting the grapes, I began to formulate an idea of fermenting white and red Semillon together on their skins to build a structure into the wine and hopefully extract some of that wonderful colour. Fermenting a white wine on skins extracts some grape tannins which a lot of modern white winemaking tends to avoid. I’ve managed the extraction very carefully to retain a delicacy in the wine, while bringing out a lot of complexity.
It is truly a wine we love.
All of our wines take their names from archetypal childrens’ toys, and Tin Soldier takes its name from Semillon’s status as the old footsoldier of the South African industry. Much like the old toy soldiers buried in the garden, Semillon has been reduced to a mere shadow of its former glory days in the Cape.
Thorne & Daughters Tin Soldier Semillon (Gris) 2017 Stellenbosch, South Africa
The grapes are destemmed into poly bins and have a couple of punch downs a day, and a ton was done whole bunch. This is powerful and expressive, pure and detailed, with amazing finesse as well as purity and interest. It’s a little bit saline with some aniseed hints, and has an amazing mouthfeel, finishing with some green tea notes. Profound and detailed. 96/100 Jamie Goode
‘The 2017 Tin Soldier now comes from a single vineyard in the Paardeberg of Sémillon Gris, the vines five or six years old with a portion that is whole-bunch-pressed. I love the bouquet here: gorgeous scents of mirabelle, jasmine, a hint of cracked peppercorns and melted wax. The palate is waxy in texture and quite spicy in the mouth, featuring touches of ginger and lemongrass, peach skin and pithy yellow fruit toward the persistent finish. Drink now or keep for a couple of years.’ – Neal Martin Report 2018, 91/100
‘From Swartland Semillon Gris fermented on the skins. Pale bronze in colour, the nose is not particularly aromatic but shows hints of red apple, fennel and spice plus a little reduction. Light, fresh and savoury on the palate – lovely texture without being weighty or greasy. An understated, very pleasing wine. Alcohol: 12.5%.’ – Christian Eedes, Winemag.co.za, 93/100
Score Tim Atkin