I was in the Cape in 2018 around harvest time and again at the Vilafonte winery in February 2020 only days after the Series M 2018 had been bottled. Proprietor Mike Ratcliffe and US partners Phil Freese and Zelma Long, visiting for the 2020 harvest, struggled to contain their excitement over the final 2018 results. After reviewing the superb Series C 2018 in September 2020, I knew all eyes would be on the Series M that Mike described as possibly the best the winery had ever produced. With maturing vineyards, ever greater fine tuning of their precision viticulture techniques as well as winemaker Chris de Vries just getting to know his terroir better and better, further improvements in quality seem an almost certainty.
The 2018 vintage was certainly marked by one of the worst droughts on record and presented some significant challenges for all vine growers and winemakers in the Western Cape. With water resources at an all time low and strict rationing in effect, reduced water availability for irrigation led to reduced vine vigour and canopy sizes. Some unseasonable rains and low temperatures in October and November disrupted fruit set and further reduced the number and size of berries on grape clusters.
In the end, harvest timings were close to normal, beginning on February 2nd and continuing uninterrupted until February 27th. Overall, the vintage saw yields contract by -24% following a very generous crop in 2017 and the fruit was marked by berries being on average -25% smaller in size than normal leading to wines with an intense inky colour, piercing concentration and striking fruit richness.
Vilafonte Series M 2018, WO Paarl, 14.5% Abv.
The 2018 Series M is a blend of 45% Merlot, 41% Malbec, 13% Cabernet Sauvignon and 1% Cabernet Franc that was aged for 22 months in 24% new French oak barriques with the remainder aged in used French oak barrels. This wine exhibits an alluringly deep dark garnet-purple colour and wilfully offers forth an exhilarating aromatic array of seductive notions of blueberries, boysenberries, black plum and sweet cassis. The purity and detail is very impressive with delicate violet and vanilla pod nuances combining with notes of star anise, warm buttered brown toast smothered with black cherry preserve, freshly baked pastries, hints of mocha and espresso and some subtle background cedar spice complexing oak notes. The palate shows a wonderfully expansive and multi-dimensional flavour explosion together with a carefully measured richness, pinpoint purity and truly show stopping concentration all delivered with subtlety and jaw-dropping finesse. There is boldness and creamy textured fine-grained supporting tannins but first and foremost, there is freshness, supreme balance and sublime harmony. This very well may be one of the finest young Vilafonte reds I have ever tasted on release. Drink now or cellar for 15+ years.
(Wine Safari Score: 97+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)