It’s always a privilege to visit premium wineries and in mid-February I fortuitously managed a pre-lockdown trip to South Africa and the Cape winelands. One of the highlights and surprises was certainly dropping in to taste the new Vilafonte Series C and M releases at their cellar in Stellenbosch only to be met and hosted by Mike Ratcliffe’s co-owners, Phil Freese and Zelma Long, both of who were out visiting from California for the new harvest as well as the prestigious Cape Wine Auction charity event.
After a quick sweep around the cellar catching up on the latest 2020 vintage news with Phil and Zelma as well as winemaker Chris de Vries, we hit the 2019 barrels to get a sneak peak of what treats lie just around the corner for Vilafonte lovers.
With the 2018s having just been bottled weeks earlier in January, we all gave them a respectful pass before sitting down for a thrilling masterclass with both Phil and Zelma tasting not only the 2017 Series C but also the new Series M, due for general release in South Africa in May 2020.
After the incredibly dry and hot 2016, the 2017 harvest presented an abundant crop of sterling quality. Yields rose by +57% despite the fourth year in a sequence of below-average rainfall for the Western Cape Province. This follows Vilafonte’s smallest per-hectare crop in 2016 and moves back closer to long-term average yields. Welcome post-harvest rains in the preceding year before leaf fall, coupled with well-timed nutrient applications, allowed the vines to build up reserves before going into winter dormancy.
Winter rains in 2016 approached normal levels, but fell below average in late winter to spring. Bud-break in the spring was very even, with rapid shoot growth which ceased well before bloom, allowing excellent fruit-set. Weather leading up to the 2017 harvest was warm and fair – perfect ripening conditions. Harvest commenced on the 6th of February with a few short pauses, and concluded on the 1st of March 2017.
Vilafonte Series M 2017, WO Paarl, 14 Abv.
Deliciously opulent and hedonistic, this 2017 Series M blend of 42% Merlot, 39% Malbec and 19% Cabernet Sauvignon is loaded with complex dark fruit notes of blue berries, black berry crumble, creme de cassis and a dusting of vanilla pod spice. Immaculately integrated oak is expertly applied but never overwhelms the lifted perfume notes of violets and fresh iris flowers. The palate shows all the vintage character elegance of 2017 displaying amazing weightless concentration, sleek sweet tannins and a lithe, opulent silky soft sweet fruited structure. This really is precision winemaking anchored around supreme balance and sublime harmony. Fabulously persistent and intense on the finish, this wine will seduce drinkers from release with its accessibility, generosity and finesse but is undoubtedly going to be another superb age worthy premium red for the cellar. Drink from release and for 20+ years.
(Wine Safari Score: 96+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)