The Anwilka and Chateau Angelus Blind Tasting Challenge ~ A New Era of Quality in South African Red Wines Confirmed Yet Again…

I recall the pronouncement from Robert Parker Jr. well… “This is the finest red wine I have ever had from South Africa.” He was of course referring to his tasting of the first vintage of the Anwilka red blend 2005. I always knew which vintage was specifically mentioned, but I somehow struggled to find this quote again when a year later, I wanted to reference it to introduce a release offer of Anwilka 2005. 

This statement made a surprise come back today being boldly quoted in the introductory tasting brochure for the blind tasting arranged in London by Klein Constantia’s Managing Director Hans Astrom and Stephanie de Bouard-Rivoal of Chateau Angelus fame. 

Anwilka is of course a 48 hectare maritime influenced property in the Helderberg region purchased in the 1990s by the previous owners of Klein Constantia along with Hubert de Bouard of Angelus and Bruno Prats, formerly of Cos d’Estournel. The estate was extensively replanted with exclusively Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Petit Verdot vines.

Today’s tasting was an exercise in removing preconceptions surrounding premium South African wines and confirming that they can and do stand shoulder to shoulder quality wise with some of the greatest wines in the world. The tasting featured 8 wines, specifically chosen from multiple vintages, from all over the world. 

My tasting notes below were written tasting the wines blind, and with out guidance as to their provenance other than assuming there would be several Anwilka wines and several Angelus wines. The results were intriguing. Here are my 8 wines and their scores:

Wine No.1

What I Said: Old World, Bordeaux 

Actual Wine: Chateau Angelus 2006

Score: 93/100 GS

Blind Note: Dark, rich fruits, perfume, red fruit spice and fine dry classical tannins, peppery restraint, some alcohol heat, finishing with power, grip and good concentration.

Wine No. 2

What I Said: New World, South Africa

Actual Wine: Anwilka 2005 

Score: 88/100 GS

Blind Note: Sweet meaty stewed flavours, spice and warm ripeness, evolved tertiary notes, with 8 to 10 years development, finishing with savoury earthy berry fruit, green bean hints and wet leaves and chocolate.

Wine No. 3

What I Said: Old World, Italy

Actual Wine: Ridge Monte Bello 2011

Score: 93+/100

Blind Note: Rich, opulent lifted nose, with kirsch, cherry blossom, violets, and cassis. Sleek, fresh and vibrant with masses of elegance and finesse. 2012 vintage?

Wine No. 4

What I Said: Old World, French Bordeaux

Actual Wine: Ornellaia 2008, Bolgheri

Score: 93+/100

Blind Note: Ripe, kirsch cherry nose, cherry confit, spice, dusty cedar oak, violets, and creme de cassis. Earthy forest fruits, suave tannins, warm finish but plenty of elegance.

Wine No. 5

What I Said: New World, Australia

Actual Wine: Anwilka 2012

Score: 94/100 GS

Blind Note: Rich, opulent lifted nose of salty cassis, black currants, and dark pastille sweets. Refined and perfumed with Parma violets and hints of boiled Bon Bon sweets. Soft sleek textured wine that’s plush and fleshy. Laced with mocha spice and dark chocolate oranges. Almost Chilean characters to the black saline fruit finish.

Wine No. 6

What I Said: Old World, French Bordeaux

Actual Wine: Chateau Angelus 2012

Score: 93+/100 GS

Blind Note: Dusty spice of cinnamon, and mocha, vanilla pod and hints of medicine chest. Classically proportioned palate with dry mineral tannins, restraint, and grainy black cassis and mulberry confit. Powerful cherry spice laden finish. Young Bordeaux… 2011 or 2014?

Wine No. 7

What I Said: New World, USA

Actual Wine: Anwilka 2013

Score: 95/100 GS

Blind Note: Sweet creme brûlée and cassis, blue berry crumble, cherry and kirsch liqueur, ripe black currant. Very polished texture, super fine tannins, sweet / sour black cherry and cassis density, freshness with ultra fine tannins. Juicy fresh acids and a whole lot of finesse. 

Wine No. 8

What I Said: New World, South Africa

Actual Wine: Cullen Diana Madeline 2014

Score: 94/100

Blind Note: Dark, dense core of black fruits, black currants, liquorice, Xmas cake, and sweet oak spice. Polished tannins, fleshy and opulent, good concentration with balance. Fine effort with ripe core but a classically layered texture and tannins. Classy wine in its youth.

So, there you have my humble scribblings for what they’re worth. As any wine judge or journalist will tell you, tasting blind and noting ones own mistakes can be very humbling, but oh so much fun… and massively enlightening in hindsight. I was of course sitting next to the very great Stephen Spurrier, who has his own endless array of stories about a group of judges’ blind notes, scores and comments from a certain little tasting that took place back in 1976!

With Stephen, Hans and Stephanie after the tasting

I feel if this had been an exam, I would have passed. But more importantly I have to tip my hat to Hans and Stephanie for organising such an enlightening tasting. 20 years ago when regularly tasting reds blind, we would pick out Californian wines by their polished finesse, purity, opulence, balance and precision. We all wished that South African wines could aspire to this greatness. 

Today I fittingly picked a South African wine as not only my top scorer, but also placed it in a quality realm so good it had to be Californian! Oh how times have changed. 

Venue was private members club Home House at 20 Portman Square, London

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