The Fine Wine Safari Top 10 Most Memorable South African Red Wines of 2017…

South Africa must possess some of the most distinguished and diverse high quality white wines in the world. But some how it seems that consumers, connoisseurs and collectors judge a country or region’s prestige almost exclusively based on the quality of the red wines produced. In 2017 South Africa fortuitously released many of its truly greatest 2015 red wines making it a bumper year for red wine ratings and reviews internationally.

My top 10 selection of reds and whites is based on wines that I tasted and drank through the year and that I considered supremely memorable as well as very high in quality. They were not selected purely based on scores.

So again, in no specific order…here is my Top 10 Most Memorable South African Red Wines of 2017.

MR de Compostella Bordeaux Blend 2015, Stellenboch – 98/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Bruwer Raats may be known as the Chenin King but it has to be his incredible red wines that have truly cemented his global reputation as an iconic fine wine producer. There can be no doubting the quality of his amazing Cabernet Franc reds which he is so proud of. Indeed, who can forget the high powered tasting in Europe where his 2001 Cabernet Franc trumped Cheval Blanc 2001 and was lauded by Jancis Robinson OBE MW as one of the greatest varietal Cabernet Francs in the world. But for me, it is another wine that has always captured my heart.

As a consummate Bordeaux lover, the MR de Compostella has been an absolute eye opener since the maiden 2004 was released. Tasted again recently, the 2004 is still youthfully dense, taught, concentrated and utterly majestic with another 20+ years of life left ahead of it. Having tasted every vintage pre-release since 2004, I like to think I have an intimate knowledge of this wine. So when Bruwer did a pre-release vertical tasting in London earlier this year, we got to see the 2015 in all its noble splendour. I received a few raised eye brows for scoring this wine 98 points, but my argument was simple… When tasted along side critically acclaimed MR vintages that scored 95 or 96 points internationally, the 2015 was considered 15% to 20% better. So I had no hesitation in scoring this wine 98 points and declaring it my 🍷🍷 South African Red Wine of the Year 2017.  

Congratulations Bruwer Raats and team.

Raats Family Wines Eden Single Vineyard High Density Cabernet Franc 2015, Stellenbosch – 97/100 Greg Sherwood MW 

As if making one of the highest rated reds in South Africa wasn’t enough, Bruwer has continued to pursue his passion for all things Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc related, launching the first Raats Eden High Density red and white releases last year to great acclaim. The Eden Cabernet Franc has seduced journalists from far and wide, astounding drinkers with the quality achieved from 6 year old vines. ‘Quality by Design’ is the buzz phrase attributed to these fascinating wines that have been recognised locally in South Africa and internationally as outstanding examples of Cabernet Franc varietal purity and precision. Made in tiny quantities, this is a red wine designed to impress the most accomplished and educated palates. I sense there will be very little disagreement on the inclusion of this wine.

Beeslaar Pinotage 2015, Stellenbosch – 96+/100 Greg Sherwood MW 

I recently attended the International Wines & Spirits Competition awards ceremony in London a few weeks ago and sat at the neighbouring table to Abrie Beeslaar and Johan Krige, to witness them being awarded the “International Winery of the Year” for the third year in a row and “Winemaker of the Year” for their outstanding wines at Kanonkop. What an honour. But Abrie also has a small project on the side producing limited amounts of this eponymously named wine from some exceptional Pinotage grapes. Only in its fourth vintage, this impressive Pinotage comes from a 22 year old single block close to Simonsig planted on shale soils. Seeing less new oak than the super premium Kanonkop Black Label, this expression is an opulent, sleek, textured glassful of brilliance with the most incredible harmony, purity and balance. This is exceptional Pinotage that really puts this unique variety on the world wine map. An outstanding effort from Abrie Beeslaar.

Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines Roundstone Schist Syrah 2015, Swartland – 95+/100 Greg Sherwood MW  

In March I paid a long awaited visit to Chris and Andrea at their Roundstone farm in the Swartland to taste the new releases of their Mullineux and the Leeu Passant wines. The Schist Syrah, sourced from grapes grown on the Roundstone farm,  has become one of their most sought after wines internationally due to its opulence, fragrance and balanced blueberry fruit intensity that harks back to the great icon wines of the northern Rhone in every way. I do have an inkling that their Granite or Iron Syrah Cuvées may age better over the very long term, but over the medium term, the Schist Syrah represents one of the most outstanding expressions of Syrah coming out of South Africa at the moment.

Duncan Savage Follow the Line 2016 – 95+/100 Greg Sherwood MW 

Of all the new red wine creations that have come out of the Cape in the past five years, few can rival Follow the Line for its mantel of most delicious cult wine! This wonderful Cinsault / Grenache / Syrah blend from Duncan Savage is a wine that effectively captured the mood of a new generation of wine drinkers looking for characterful, vibrant, energetic, crunchy fresh reds that could be drunk on release or cellared for 10+ years. Since the maiden 2014 release, this wine has got better and better and now that Duncan is settling into his own new urban winery in Salt River in Cape Town, you can expect all his whites and reds to become even more focused and distinguished. One of my favourite red wines from one of my favourite South African winemakers. If you have not tried this wine yet, get your skates on!

Sadie Family Wines Columella Red Blend 2015, Swartland – 96+/100 Greg Sherwood MW 

What a year it has been for Eben Sadie! Winemaker awards, sell out wines, continued growing cult status internationally, and high quality wines that seem to get better and better every year despite vintage conditions. With already two whites making my top 10, this has got to be the wine that Eben takes the most pride in producing. He has always been aware of the hype that surrounds the micro vinifications in the Old Vine Series, but the Palladius and Columella are his “day job” and his bread and butter and most certainly his pride and joy. So to have released two of the greatest ever expressions of both of these wines is a true testament to the upward trajectory that Eben continues to travel on. One of the truly great winemakers of the world and one of the greatest wineries. What an accolade to make South African’s proud.

Brian Smith & Niels Verburg The Cabernet Franc 2014, Bot River – 96+/100 Greg Sherwood MW 

While neither Brian Smith or Niels Verburg are newcomers to the South African wine scene, their new joint venture red certainly ruffled a few feathers in the local South African wine scene with the release of the THE Cabernet Franc sourced from a small vineyard in the Bot River region. Classy, polished, opulent, and distinguished, this wine has all the attributes of a Napa Valley cult wine including the matching price tag. The greatest thing about this wine has been the discussion and open debate that has resulted after its release… which was one of its primary aims to be fair. The contents is certainly very sexy and luxurious and drinking my first bottle was undoubtedly a very memorable moment.

Boschkloof Epilogue Syrah 2015, Stellenbsoch – 97/100 Greg Sherwood MW 

I remember seeing my Swartland based Rhone junkie friends Ryan Mostert and Samantha Suddons drinking bottles of Boschkloof Syrah and occasionally Epilogue Syrah years ago and thinking that I need to get to grips with these wines (I grew up drinking father Jacques Bormans’ wines!) When Jamet junkies are raving about them, they must be serious. Last Christmas I reviewed the Epilogue 2014 Syrah and rated it as one of my top reds of the year. Surely the epic 2015 vintage would have to be better!? Well, I would say it is equally as good but not better. It is the perennial trap we fall into thinking that block buster vintages always make better wines. For most producers they do, but for the likes of Reenen Borman, his real talents are revealed in the less than perfect vintages (2014 or 2016). But splitting hairs aside, this is one of the most profound northern Rhone, Cote Rotie’esque  expressions of Syrah available in the New World. Well done Reenen!

Naude Family Wines Grenache 2014 – 95+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

What a year of change it has been for Ian Naude. After years of serving other masters, he has finally gone solo and become his own boss. Under the Naude Family wines label he will now seduce us with his very best talents in the form of Old Vine Chenin Blanc, Cinsault and Semillon. But just like last year when I included his “older” Chenin Blanc 2013, this year I have found myself simply unable to exclude his most profound, complex and impressive Grenache 2014. Such is the intrigue surrounding this wine that we felt compelled to repeat the “Wine Cellar / Roland Peens” Rayas blind show down again in London at one of the top Michelin star restaurants. Yet again, this fabulous wine beat off the competition and trounced some of the world’s greatest Grenache reds with ease. Sadly, this vineyard grape contract was subsequently lost and has not been made again since. So it is now not only one of the great red wines of South Africa, but it is firmly moving into the Unicorn ranks of collectability. We stand in hope that Ian will venture back into the Grenache minefield and attempt to craft another gem from this temperamental Rhone grape. Meantime, if you find any of the 2014, snap it up immediately!

Vilafonte Series C 2015, Paarl – 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW 

This is another winery project that I have been following closely since its maiden vintage release in 2003. This joint venture between Warwick Estate’s Mike Ratcliffe and Californian wine guru power couple Phil Freese and Zelma long, unashamedly set out to produce the most precise, polished, high quality expressions of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot possible from their manicured vineyards in Paarl. There is a subtle gloss to the wines, there is incredible polish, and the wines are quite international in style in many ways, but above all, there is a sense that the end goal is extreme quality without compromise. Ok, this approach may not work quite as well with wilder Syrah, Grenache or Cinsault, but for international varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec… it is surely the path to greatness. Add to the ingredients a 5 star block buster vintage and hey presto, the Series C 2015 miraculously resembles some of the iconic high scoring Chateaux of Pauillac and St Julien from a riper left bank vintage in Bordeaux but with the precision and polish of Napa Valley.

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