Visiting South Africa's Swartland wine region, Part 5

Craig Hawkins 

Testalonga is Craig Hawkins’ own project; he’s also got a day job as winemaker at Lammershoek, where he’s making some really impressive wines. I tried these wines on two occasions: firstly, from barrel at the cellar (the wines are made at Lammershoek), and secondly at the Real Wine Fair in London.

Made from Chenin Blanc, these are unconventional wines, and Craig likes to experiment quite a bit. Typically, long macerations on skin are involved, and Craig is a believer in the importance of the lees for building the wine. El Bandito is made from grapes grown on the Lammershoek farm, while Cortez comes from a farm called The Observatory, which some readers will be familiar with because of Tom Lubbe’s wines from this property. 

Craig also makes a wine from the Douro, where he worked vintage a couple of years back with Dirk Niepoort. As a result of that connection, he’s taken over winemaking duties at Dirk and Dorli Muhr’s Carnuntum winery in Austria.

The Testalonga wines are made with no added sulphur dioxide, and sometimes none is added at bottling, or in other cases just a little added. It depends on the wine.

NOTE ADDED: Sadly the South African Wine and Spirits board have rejected the fabulous Cortez 2011, which means that even though most of it is already pre-ordered, Craig is not allowed to export it. This is crazy. It is a brilliant wine. 


Tank samples (rating: a really good wine gets *, an even better wine gets **, and an exceptional wine gets ***)

Testalonga Cortez 2011 (barrel sample)
This has no skin contact. Mineral, intense and very spicy with great acidity and some apple/pear characters. Brilliant wine. *** (93-96/100)

Testalonga El Bandito 2011 (barrel sample)
6 Weeks fermentation on the skins. Fabulous wine. Wonderful aromatics of mandarin peel, pear, peach and spice. The palate is lively, tannic, yet elegant with lovely fruit. *** (94-96/100)

Testalonga El Bandito 2010 (barrel sample)
This is still on skins in barrel! No Cortez was made in 2010. Slightly sherried warm, oxidative nose is broad with spice and pear notes. The palate is fresh with warm spicy notes and some grip. Thought-provoking wine. ** (90-93/100)

Testalonga Cortez 2011
Lovely apple and pear fruit with some mineral notes. Lively with a bit of spice and a long nutty finish. Really fine and complex with a lovely finish. 94/100 (05/12)

Testalonga El Bandito 2010
2 years on skins. Rich orange/brown colour. Round appley nose is rich and quite full. Powerful, intense palate with nuts, apples, minerals and some raisin, as well as apple pie. Remarkable, powerful wine with a lovely nutty finish. 93/100 (05/12)

Testalonga Cortez 2009
A beautiful wine. Lively, aromatic, fresh and mineral with warm, rounded nutty notes and apple, spice and citrus flavours. Long mineral finish. 94/100 (05/12)

Testalonga El Bandito 2009
Deep coloured. So mineral, spicy and fine, with notes of citrus, peach and a bit of toast. Expressive, long, mineral and mind-blowing. 95/100 (05/12)

Testalonga El Bandito Douro 2010
Six week’s skin contact, made in a similar way to Niepoort’s Charme but with white grapes. Rounded, textured, ripe and smooth with apple and pear fruit. Very sophisticated, with a lovely rounded character. 93/100 (05/12)

Part 1: Dinner at Callie's on the Porseleinberg
Part 2: Lammershoek  
Part 3: Photos of Lammershoek
Part 4: Intellego

Part 5: Testalonga
Part 6: Eben Sadie and a Columella vertical tasting
Part 7: Mullineux Family Wines
Part 8: Tobias/Bryan McRobert

Wines tasted 11/11  
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